Nombre total de pages vues

jeudi 23 octobre 2014


Hessian desertion during the ARW 
In August 1778, Philip Long was not the only one to desert his regiment: 185 more Hessians did the same thing. Here is a screen capture taken from HETRINA in Marburg, Germany.
Such an event is more than enough to feel a need to learn more about desertion during the ARW. 

Desertion has been an interesting but confusing subject of discussion between many of us since a muster roll was discovered with a note saying that Philip Long had deserted. The muster roll was discovered by Ghislain Long. 

Once again, we forgot to pick up an history book in order to understand the process of desertion during the ARW. Rodney Attwood wrote over 20 pages on the subject in his book, The Hessians. Because of its importance to the understanding of  my ancestor’s life as a Hessian who « deserted » to a loyalist company, and « deserted » again to another company, I’m copying a series of excerpts of Attwood’s chapter labeled, Hessian desertion.
Attwood, Rodney. The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution. Cambridge University Press, 1980.

NOTE. Having worked in research for 25 years, I’ve always known that the Web was not a reliable source of sound information on a subject, but books are. It is clear to me now that the difficulties we have encountered in our quest for Philip’s origins are largely due to the fact that we should have given more time to reading books than searching the Web in a compulsive way, so much that we have been stuck on square one for years, if not decades. Everyday, there is a good lesson to be learned.

« The view of society, which they brought with them to America, disposed most Hessian officers to look unfavorably on the new Republic. But some did find the American way of life attractive. »

« The attraction of America to the private soldiers lay in the prosperity of the common folk and the excellent wages paid to craftsmen and laborers. German soldiers were accustomed to supplement their incomes at home as artisans or farm workers; in America, as prisoners ‘farmed-out’ to work in agriculture or iron-works, they were to find they could make better wages than they had ever known. »

« James Luttrell said that the mercenaries’ former countrymen, settled in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and along the Mohawk river, would invite them to desert, offering land and protection. The transports of mercenaries would people America with Germans just as surely as the Palatine ships had done. »

« The Americans were quick to direct their arts of seduction at the German auxiliaries. As early as May 1776, Congress had decided to offer lands and protection to German deserters…»

« The Hessians themselves took precautions: General Orders of 15 August 1776 instructed all ranks not to go outside camp without special permission because of rebel attempts to get them to desert, all apparent deserters from the enemy were to be sent to headquarters for prompt interrogation. »

« The Hessians soon had evidence other than handbills of the American policy (of encouraging desertion in Hessian ranks). Two capture Jaeger whom the American returned in late October (1776) could not praise enough the good treatment they had received. They had been given German-speaking companions who promised them great rewards if they would enter rebel service and urge their countrymen to do likewise. »

« John Hancock was at this time urging the early exchange of these prisoners so they could carry the good word to their comrades. »

Dr James Thatcher, a surgeon in the American army, wrote in 
« A number of Hessians and Waldeckers have fallen into our hands. The German officers and soldiers, by a finesse of the British, to increase their ferocity, had been led to believe that Americans are savages and barbarians, and if taken (prisoners), their men would have their bodies stuck full of pieces of dry wood, and in that manner burnt to death. But they were very agreeably disappointed, and much pleased, on meeting civil and kind treatment. »

« Two Hessian officers who later deserted to the Americans said in their manifesto that as Hessians they had been taught from early infancy the highest reverence and respect for a sovereign. »

« A third deterrent was confiscation of a deserter’s goods after a period of two years. Soldiers with families still in Hessen (Germany) would think carefully before deserting. Yet this prohibition had decreasing effect: the majority of Hessian soldiers were young men without property, and the majority of recruits arriving after 1776 were non-Hessian. »

« After Trenton and Princeton, 10 046 Hessians in American hands were exposed to the attractions of the new Republic. Officers and men were segregated so that the privates could have the proper principles instilled into them and on their return ‘open the eyes of their countrymen’. »

Other reports tell a different story and it seems that Hessian prisoners were relieved to come back to their German regiment, having been treated like slaves during their detention in the Continentals’ camp.

« With time, however, American efforts succeeded. Loyal NCOs and soldiers like Reuben might spurn the offers, but others were more susceptible. Knyphausen reported, after the first prisoners were exchanged, that some had not returned, deciding to settle down amongst the farmers of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. »

« When 460 prisoners were exchange on 17 September 1778, a number showed great aversion to rejoining their regiments. They had been promised the best treatment if they deserted by American officers….Many of those who returned were also instrumental in causing further desertion among their comrades. »

« Such appeals had little attraction for veteran soldiers like Lossberg, but Hessian leaders were unable to prevent desertion indefinitely. Only rapid victory and return to Europe could have done that. The absence of national or religious enthusiasms, the brutal and unremitting discipline, the class of people from which recruits were drawn, all these made desertion endemic in mercenary armies, who by definition were composed of men who had no interest in the cause. »

« By the end of the campaigns in the southern colonies, the armies included so many of the enemy’s deserters that General Nathaniel Green remarked, ‘we fought the enemy with British soldiers and they fought us with those of America’ ».

« In Canada, a practice was made of sending out Indians after would-be deserters, with orders to bring back their scalps within twenty-four hours. In the southern garrisons, Charleston and Savannah, Loyalists and black dragoons served the same purpose. »

Knyphausen (Hessian officer) reported:
« The cause of this (heavy desertion), so far as I can guess, is that printed leaflets were spread amongst the men in a secret manner, in which each man who would desert and settle here in the country was promised a quantity of land, two horses, one cow, and similar encouragements. »

« After Yorktown Hessian desertion reached its highest figures. Particularly in the two battalions captured with Cornwallis: Bose’s lost 103 men, the Erbprinz’s 145, two thirds of its total desertion for the war. It is nevertheless worth noting that while 248 captives elected to remain in America, 408 rank and file returned to the Hessians. »

« Regiments not in captivity suffered increasing desertion from late 1781 onwards, when the British had lost and it was clear that those who took land could not be returned to Hessen. After the Treat of Versailles was made public on 7 April 1783, desertion became particularly bad. Large numbers of non-Hessians, many of whom had enlisted only for the duration of the war, clamored for discharge when they saw the other Germans contingents releasing their ‘foreigners’. »

« The desire for land and a new life was undoubtedly a powerful motive in Hessian desertion, but even more important were the attachments which the Hessians soldiers formed with local girls and their families wherever they were in garrison or captivity. On closer examination, the colonists found the bloodthirsty Hessians not so fierce after all. »

How did American families treat the Hessians, when they were invited for dinner? You might not believe your eyes when you will read what an Hessian officer, Friedrich von der Lith wrote about it.

« …The father himself brings the two to bed without further formalities, where the stranger (Hessian soldier) is granted the complete fulfillment of his wishes. The wonderful practice is called in English bundle…The only inconvenience of it that the stranger, as soon as he has lain together with the daughter of the house and if such a night has consequences, must marry the young lady or at least support her together with the child. »

« Both local connections and American overtures caused desertion in the troops garrisoning Charleston and Savannah. Major general Alexander Leslie reported to Clinton that Hessian troops at Charleston, forming various connections in the town, had become so untrustworthy that they allowed prisoners to escape. »

« The Board of War reported to Washington on 3 January 1780 that they had to let out as many prisoners as possible, chiefly Germans, to local farmers in order ‘to save public Provisions and because we had not Guards to keep them safely’. »

« Baumeister then visited various bodies of Hessian, Brunswick and Hanau prisoners, with mixed results: some wished to settle in America, others who had been initially persuaded to desert desired to return to Germany. »

« Beside the rank and file, a small but significant number of officers deserted. »

« Washington had regarded all German deserters as unreliable recruits, who caused his own men to desert. The defection of two Hessian officers caused him to alter his opinion. He recommended that a corps of German deserters, prisoners of war, and inhabitants be formed. »

« Lieutenant Carl Juliad, serving with the Regiment Landgraf on Rhode Island, was reported as having deserted to the enemy in August 1778. But in October he and five other soldiers from Pulaski’s Legion stole out of Little Egg Harbour and brought Captain Patrick Ferguson information of enemy dispositions that enabled him to surprise Pulaski’s infantry on 5 October. »

(Don’t you think that this story has some similarity with Philip’s story about his ‘stolen bag of mail’?)

« Was the Franklin-Jefferson plan to cause Hessian desertion a success? One historian writes, ‘The American psychological warfare campaign against the mercenaries was the most successful one of the Revolution.’ »

Rodney Attwood goes on to write 15 more pages about desertion. If you’re not afraid of throwing away pre-conceived ideas about this aspect of the ARW, I urge you to read his book, especially this section on desertion. His book has changed my whole mind-set of the ARW.

In his book, The Hessians in the Revolution, Edward J. Lovell, explains what desertion really meant during the ARW.

« If it be true, as the German writers assert, and as seems to be the case, that the German soldiers deserted less than the English in this War, the cause is not far to seek. The troops were employed for the most part in the neighborhoods where the inhabitants could speak no German....Neither among the English nor among the Germans was desertion so prevalent as among the Americans. But in saying this, one great difference must be noted. The British or German soldier could only desert to the enemy. The American militiaman generally returned to his home ».

Even among the privates, the desertion was less than might have been expected. It was proportionally large among the prisoners of war (POW). The army that surrendered at Saratoga in October, 1777, numbered 5 791 men, of whom 2 431 were Germans. From this army 655 Englishmen and 160 had deserted by the 1st of April 1778. There is no doubt that continual efforts were made to induce these and others prisoners to desert and enlist in the American army ».

« One proclamation, dated on the 29th of April, 1778, promises 50 acres of land to every soldier that will come over, and any captain who brings 40 men with him shall receive 800 acres of woodland, four oxens, one bull, two cows, and four sows. Deserters were not to be obliged to serve on the American side, but might devote themselves at once to the improvement of their estates....These promises were not entirely without result ».

Lovell, Edward J. The Hessians in the Revolution. Corner House Publishers 2nd printing 1975. SBN: 0-87928-012-3
Sulouf (1998) wrote about desertion also.

« Congress declared on 11 July 1782 that any German prisoner of war who desired to stay in the States could (1) take the Oath Of Allegiance to the United States and (2) make cash payment of $80 to the Finance Minister (purportedly a reimbursement for the prisoner's subsistence which the English King had refused to provide) and thereby obtain from the Board Of War a certificate stating he was (1) discharged from confinement, (2) was no longer considered a prisoner of war, and (3) was entitled to the rights and privileges of the free citizens of the United States. Of course, neither British nor German officials concurred with such pronouncements by Congress. They would label a POW going this route a deserter. The phrase "purchase of redemption" in receipts issued upon payment of the $80 led to the certificates obtained from the Board of War being called "redemption certificates." If the soldier, himself, had insufficient funds to purchase his redemption, sometimes he would become indentured (a maximum of three years) to another person who furnished the money ».

Sulouf, Nelson R. RootsWeb Archives, 1998

The editor of the Journal of the American revolution, Don H. Hagist, has a view of desertion that is very close to those actors of the Revolution who told us about the ARW through their diaries and letters.
Don N. Hagist is talking about a subject that most modern writers avoid, believing that the customer doesn’t have to know everything that is going on in the kitchen. Desertion is directly linked to the life conditions of the soldiers. No one wants to hear about the soldiers who had to make themselves trousers out of old rotten tents. Nobody wants to know about the cavalry men who had to feed their horses out of the straw on the roof of houses, because the fields had been turned to ashes before they went by. No one wants to read about soldiers suffering from hunger, thirst and diseases of all kinds. Hagist cares to shed some light on desertion and its understanding. Moreover, he doesn’t take side. He looks at it with an objective and honest look.

Don N. Hagist (2014). Would they change their names? The Journal of the American Revolution. No 24, July 28 2014.

Desertion has been the subject of many books and writings. Here are two more books about it.

« Bounties, a cash bonus for enlisting, were offered by both the states and Congress. At one point Virginia offered 400 dollars and 300 acres of land to men who would enlist for the duration of the war. The "bounty war" resulted in states bidding against each other for the services of a potential soldier. This motivated some men to enlist, receive a bounty, and then desert and re-enlist in another unit, in order to get another bounty ».

(Excerpted from the Introduction to Mr. Boyle's new book, "'He Loves a Good Deal of Rum': Military Desertions during the American Revolution, 1775 1783.")

« A non-commissioned officer to whom an Englishman said over their cups, ' - you, Frenchman, you take our pay,' answered coldly, ' I am a German and you are a -.' Both drew, and the Englishman was so badly wounded that he died. Not only was the good German pardoned by the English general, but orders were given that the English should treat the Germans like brothers. All this happens since our teachable Germans have learned a little English ». (Schlozer's "Briefwechsel," vol. vii. p. 362.)
Lowell, Edward J. (1884). The Hessians and the other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York.

Jeremy Long sent me a 45-pages article by Klaus Wust in which desertion is the main subject. I have extracted two citations that summarize the extent of desertion especially if 1778.

Hiring mercenaries to fight for England in America during the Revolutionary War in 1775 meant an opportunity for desertion. James Luttrell, a member of Parliament in London, expressed his opposition to this strategy by saying: « I think it an excellent opportunity for hired troops to desert, because they will most likely be offered lands, and protection. These warlike transports, we are to fit out may then be considered as good as the Palatine ships for peopling America with Germans. »
Wust, Klaus, New York City. Military Immigration from German Lands 1776-1783.

I understand now 
   (1) why I wasn’t looking at the right place to find my ancestor’s origins,
   (2) why I misinterpreted documents we had about his military life, 
   (3) why my perceptions lead me away from facts
   (4) why most of what I knew about his life was the product of individuals who wanted Philip to be in line with their own modern values
   (5) why I lost most of my energies running around in circle like a dog running after its tail 
   (6) and why the whole research has been on a standstill for decades.

I must say, though, that one researcher stayed close to documents more than anybody else. I guess his sound basis in science kept him steady on the right track. That is my brother Ghislain Long who, even though he passed away, is still helping me today with my research.

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire