Riedesel, Baron Friedrich Adolphus

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Riedesel, Baron Friedrich Adolphus

RIEDESEL, BARON FRIEDRICH ADOLPHUS. (1738–1800). German general. Born in Lauterbach, Hesse, on June 3, 1738, Riedesel was attending the law school at Marburg when he was commissioned as an ensign in the Hessian battalion on duty in the city. At the age of 18 he went to England with a German regiment in the service of King George II. In the following year he returned to the Continent to serve in the Seven Years' War. He became aide-de-camp to Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, distinguishing himself in the duke's campaigns, particularly at the Battle of Minden. Feeling that he was not advancing rapidly enough in the Hessian army, he entered the service of the Duke of Brunswick, where he could capitalize on his friendship with Ferdinand. By 1761 he commanded two Brunswick regiments.

As a 37-year-old colonel of carabineers, Riedesel was commanding the garrison at Wolfenbuttel in January 1776 when the Duke of Brunswick contracted with King George III to furnish a body of 3,936 infantrymen and 336 dismounted dragoons for service in America. Riedesel, promoted to major general, was named commander of the first contingent of 2,282 troops, and on 4 April he sailed from Dover for America. On 1 June 1776 the convoy reached Quebec, bringing the reinforcements that Sir Guy Carleton needed to restore British control of Canada. After spending a year in Canada, where he was joined by his wife and three daughters, Riedesel took part in General John Burgoyne's offensive, which was an attempt to isolate New England from the rest of the colonies. He particularly distinguished himself at Hubbardton on 7 July 1777, strongly objected to the disastrous raid on Bennington Raid, and showed particularly vigorous leadership in the first battle of Saratoga. When Burgoyne was forced to surrender on 17 October 1777, Riedesel and General William Phillips were eventually exchanged for General Benjamin Lincoln on 13 October 1780.

After being given the local rank of lieutenant general and named commander on Long Island, Riedesel was ordered back to Canada in the summer of 1781. He went with a plan proposed by Sir Henry Clinton to Sir Frederick Haldimand for an offensive from the north. However, he did not submit this proposal until 25 September 1781, so it is obvious that Clinton could not expect this assistance to arrive until the campaign of 1782. By that time, the war was effectively over.

In mid-August 1783 the Riedesel family sailed from Quebec, reached England a month later, and were cordially received by the royal family. After a stay in London, they returned to Brunswick. Of the 4,000 troops who had followed Riedesel to Canada, only 2,800 returned. On 8 October 1783 he led these soldiers in a grand review for the new Duke of Brunswick. It was Riedesel's good fortune to be received as a hero, unlike another old Hessian, General Leopold von Heister, whom General William Howe blamed for the defeat at Trenton and had recalled in 1777, never to see further military duty. In contrast, the disaster at Saratoga was so great that the British hierarchy carefully avoided blaming anyone for the surrender and praised Riedesel for his bravery and fortitude. In 1787 Riedesel was promoted to lieutenant general and sent as commander of the Brunswick troops to support the Stadtholder (analogous to governor) of the southern provinces of Holland. After six years on this assignment he retired, only to be recalled to become commandant of the city of Brunswick, an office he held until he died on 6 January 1800. After his death, his wife, Friederike C. L. von Riedesel (1746–1808), published what has been called one of the most memorable memoirs to emerge from the American Revolution. It first appeared in Berlin in 1800.

SEE ALSO Bennington Raid; Burgoyne's Offensive; Hubbardton, Vermont; Saratoga, First Battle of.


Riedesel, Friederike C. L. von. Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution: Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty, 1776–1783. Translated by Marvin L. Brown, Jr. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965.

Tharp, Louise H. The Baroness and the General. Boston: Little Brown, 1962.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles