United States History: The Hessians in America Part 5

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

The Hessians

Baume had no way of knowing that the men drifting into his encampment were crack riflemen, part of Col. John Stark's New Hampshire Militia, and not Loyalist sympathizers. He couldn't understand this strange language anyway. But the message was undeniably clear when, too late, Baume realized he was surrounded. Stark attacked Baume with all the precision of a jungle cat, in an ever-closing circle that contracted like an iron fist. The well-disciplined Hessians fought manfully, but were ultimately slaughtered in fierce hand-to-hand combat. The clumsy, overburdened Hessians were no match for Stark's tough, forest-trained men. The note Baume hastily scribbled in German for a runner to take back to Fort Edward brought reinforcements, under command of Col. Heinrich Breymann, but it was too late. Hessian casualties were heavy; 300 dead or wounded, 700 taken prisoner from both Baume's and Breymann's troops. When darkness fell, those Hessians who got away crept back through the woods to Fort Edward, leaving their cannon, ammunition, baggage wagons, and dead and wounded behind them. Many of them deserted.

On October 9, during the height of the 2nd battle of Saratoga, the lean, "emotionless" Breymann suddenly went berserk and started slashing at his own men with his broadsword, screaming in German, until one of his officers sent a bullet into his brain. It was at the Breymann Redoubt, too, that a Hessian soldier changed the course of Benedict Arnold's life. Arnold-clearly the hero of Saratoga because of the wound that left him unable to walk without aid of a cane-was never again to take up arms for his country as the brilliant battle officer that he was. Instead he was made commander of Philadelphia where he met his future wife, the beautiful Peggy Shippen. The daughter of a Tory judge, she was instrumental in Arnold's ultimate treason. But at the Breymann Redoubt on October 9, when one of Arnold's men raised his rifle to shoot the Hessian who had wounded his general, Arnold stopped him with, "For God's sake! Don't kill him; he's only doing his duty."

Although the Hessians fought in every major battle from Ticonderoga to Yorktown, Congress passed a resolution in July, 1776, which offered tracts of land to Hessians who would desert and settle in America. It isn't certain how many accepted this calculated offer, but by 1782, the estimated number of Hessians who had fought on American soil alongside the British was 29,867. About 7,555 of these were killed in action, or died from wounds or disease. Another 5,000 remained in America, settling down here as new citizens.

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