JÄGERS (JAEGERS). Jägers (literally "huntsmen") were a form of light infantry that had their origin in the companies raised by Frederick II of Prussia to counter Austrian mobile light forces called Croats during the War of the Austrian Succession. They were recruited from foresters and gamekeepers, expert marksmen armed with rifles who knew how to use terrain and cover to best advantage; some were mounted for greater mobility. The French followed suit in 1759 and formed a corps of chasseurs (also, literally, "huntsmen"). One jäger company from Hesse-Cassel went to America with Major General Leopold von Heister in August 1776, and a second (under Captain Johann Ewald) went with Major General Wilhelm von Knyphausen in October 1776. They proved to be so useful in America that, by a special treaty in December 1777, Hesse-Cassel raised its jäger establishment from 260 to 1,067 men, although it is not likely that more than 700 effectives actually were raised. In the summer of 1777 all the Hesse-Cassel and Anspach-Bayreuth jägers, about 600 men, were put under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ludwig von Wurmb to form the Feld Jäger Corps, which served with the main British army at New York City and in the South. The jägers seldom operated as a single unit but generally were detached for such special missions as reconnaissance, headquarters security, advance guards, and to occupy the front trenches at sieges to snipe at the American defenses. Four companies of jägers from Hesse-Hanau and one from Brunswick served with Major General John Burgoyne's expedition from Canada in 1777.
The term "chasseurs" generally was applied to those jägers who served as part of German regiments, as opposed to those gathered together in the Jäger Corps of von Wurmb. A Brunswick chasseur battalion under Lieutenant Colonel von Barner (four companies plus the Brunswick jäger company) formed an important component of Burgoyne's light troops in 1777. And 120 to 200 regimental chasseurs from Hesse-Cassel were formed into a company under Captain George Hanger for the Charleston campaign of 1780. They were among the unlucky passengers on board the Anna, which was blown across the Atlantic to England.
Because of their uniforms the jägers were called greencoats. Green remains the traditional uniform color of modern regiments of European (including British) armies who trace their lineage to these light infantry organizations of the eighteenth century.
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revised by Harold E. Selesky