United States History: The Hessians in America Part 1

About the German Hessians who came to the United States to fight against the Americans and remained.

The Hessians

Unlike those who flocked to the New World around 1750 to escape religious discrimination, the Germans who came to America during the Revolutionary War were mercenaries, hired by England's King George III.

Because many British openly sympathized with the American rebels, deploring the tactics of a government that would take up arms against brothers and cousins, George III was hard put to round up a decent-sized army. Forced to turn to other sources for hired help, he signed a contract in 1775 with the Landgrave Frederick of Hesse-Cassel that would supply Britain with 22,000 soldiers. Six German principalities furnished Britain with troops, but since half came from Hesse-Cassel, all were called Hessians. By 1777, of the 21,000 British troops in America, 15,000 were Hessians.

Since the principality of Hesse-Cassel was poverty-stricken, the Landgrave greedily seized the opportunity to make money, filling the ranks with peasants. No one in the lower classes was immune from recruitment, and many a hapless lad was carried off by press gangs. Discipline was of the harshest kind; the officers were martinets, demanding instant obedience, floggings among the rank and file were common, and desertion was punishable by death. Recruits were subjected to endless close-order drills, and even when they rode in the flatboats as assault troops, they were forced to stand at rigid attention, with arms sloped, in tight ranks, like puppets.

They were outfitted smartly in blue uniforms with turned-back tails and the tall metal caps resembling a bishop's miter. And the Jaegers, the elite sharpshooters recruited from the German forests, wore green uniforms with scarlet cuffs and carried short rifles. But smartly dressed or not, they were Hessians, a name synonymous with brutality.

Because of their brutality, the Colonists called them the "Huns from Hell." Since most of the Hessians had known nothing but dire poverty, they saw no reason for not taking what they wanted from the neat homes and flourishing farms. Few understood English, so they made no distinction between Whig and Tory, looting and despoiling all that stood in their path.

Though they fought side by side with the British, the Hessians were not comrades-in-arms. The British took an immediate dislike to these heavy-going, hard-drinking foreigners whose guttural language fell harshly on English ears. So many brawls erupted between the 2 that they had to be kept separate when not in battle. And many British went over to the rebel side, so outraged were they by these Huns from Hell.

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