United States History: The Hessians in America Part 4

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

The Hessians

In the late spring of '77, far north of Trenton, an army of 9,000 moved down the sparkling blue waters of Lake Champlain. The British general, John Burgoyne, was on the 1st leg of his campaign to invade North America from Canada. An impressive sight, Burgoyne's flotilla of 3 large vessels, 20 gun-boats, 200 flat-bottomed bateaux and canoes covered a mile of the lake. The sound of music from both German and British regiments echoed gaily across the shimmering waters. Of the 9,000 soldiers, more than half-about 5,000-were Hessians. Burgoyne's 2nd in command was the chubby, earnest-looking General Baron Friedrich von Riedesel. Only 39, but highly regarded by his British peers, Von Riedesel was not only an excellent battle officer, but he directed all the building of bridges and roads between Ticonderoga and Saratoga, an almost insurmountable feat through the mosquito-infested wilderness. He was no armchair general, and fought bravely with his men at Saratoga before Burgoyne's surrender.

His wife, Baroness Fredrika von Riedesel, a petite, vivacious woman, was probably one of the most remarkable women of the Revolutionary War. To be with her husband, she had traveled all the way from Quebec to Ticonderoga by various means-canoe, calash (a 2-wheeled cart) and gunboat-with her 3 little girls, all under 6, 3 servants and her husband's British aide, a Lieutenant Willoe. They spent one night on a wild island to escape the fury of a storm on Lake Champlain, unaware until the next day that it was called Isle aux Sonnettes, or Rattlesnake Island. At Fort Edward, she ran a well-ordered household, tutored her little girls, dressed for dinner and dined on bear's paws, a rare delicacy. But when Burgoyne's army retreated after the battles of Saratoga, she took refuge in the cellar of an abandoned farmhouse with wounded soldiers, women and children. Appalled by the stench from human defecation because people were afraid to venture out, the baroness, who had been reared in the protective atmosphere afforded by the German aristocracy, organized a clean-up squad, fed the soldiers broth, comforted the children, and by her own cheerful presence was "commanding general" in her own sphere. The Riedesels spent 6 years in America, some of that time near Charlottesville, where they became friends of Thomas Jefferson. The baron and his wife both published books about their experiences in America when they returned to Germany.

The 5-month period between June and October of 1777 was to thin out Riedesel's army due to the shattering defeat at Bennington, wholesale desertion, and the battles of Saratoga. (Of the 336 Hessian officers who started out at Quebec, only 20 or so were left at Saratoga.)

The Battle of Bennington was one of Burgoyne's many mistakes. At his headquarters in Fort Edward, he learned that the little village of Bennington in the Hampshire Grants-overflowing with provisions-was guarded by only a handful of patriots. On August 11 he sent out a diversionary force, led by the young, stout, blond Colonel Baume, who spoke no English, with 500 Hessians and about 100 Indians to "take" Bennington.

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