Knyphausen, Wilhelm, Baron von

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Knyphausen, Wilhelm, Baron von

KNYPHAUSEN, WILHELM, BARON VON. (1716–1800). German commander in chief after Leopold Philipp von Heister. Knyphausen entered the Prussian army in 1734 and became a general in 1775. Having been placed in command of the second division of the German troops that were sent for service in America, Knyphausen sailed from Bremen, reaching New York Harbor on 18 October 1776, with 3,997 Hessians and 670 Waldeckers (mercenaries of Germanic descent), and a company of jägers (light infantry). In the same convoy were 3,400 British recruits. The Germans were sent on by water to New Rochelle, and with this base secured, General William Howe continued his pursuit of General George Washington north toward White Plains. General von Heister, the senior German officer in America at the time, led the Hessians at White Plains, New York, on 28 October 1776. Knyphausen led his forces into combat at Fort Washington, New York, on 16 November 1776, where the Germans claimed the honor of making the main attack and where they sustained 330 casualties in heavy fighting, whereas the British lost 122 men.

Disagreements between General Howe and the elderly von Heister, aggravated by the German disaster at Trenton, New Jersey, on 26 December 1776 (where the black uniformed "Regiment Knyphausen" was captured with two others), led to von Heister's recall in 1777. Knyphausen remained as commander in chief of the German troops in America for the remainder of the war. In addition, his seniority made him the successor of the British commander in chief as well, which would give him command over all British forces in America. To forestall this outcome, special precautions regarding so-called "dormant commissions" were adopted by the London authorities.

During the Philadelphia campaign, Knyphausen commanded one of the two divisions of Howe's army. He led this force at Brandywine, where his mission was to make Washington believe the main attack was against Chadd's Ford while General Charles Cornwallis led the other division in a strategic envelopment. His forces were not engaged to any significant degree at Germantown. In the Monmouth campaign he commanded the column that escorted Clinton's baggage train across New Jersey, and only a body of his grenadiers saw any action on 28 June. Germans deserted in large numbers while the invading army was in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. As many as 440 of them left during the Monmouth campaign alone.

Three months later, Knyphausen led 3,000 men up the east side of the Hudson River in the large-scale foraging expedition that led to the Tappan massacre, but his forces were not involved in that affair. For the remainder of the war he was based in New York, where he commanded during General Henry Clinton's absence in the Charleston Campaign of 1780. Knyphausen led the Springfield raid into New Jersey in June 1780. As the most senior officer in British service in North America after Clinton, Knyphausen would have taken command had Clinton followed Cornwallis's request to come to his aid in the Chesapeake. Clinton used Knyphausen's poor health to justify hesitating to respond to this summons from Cornwallis. Knyphausen returned to Germany in 1782. Before his death in 1800 he was given the post of military governor of Kassel.

SEE ALSO Dormant Commission; Fort Washington, New York; Springfield, New Jersey, Raid of Knyphausen.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles