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jeudi 23 octobre 2014

No 6

Who were the Hessians?

Originally, back in the 17th century, the Hessian regiment came from Hesse. Later, other Principalities (autonomous territories of Germany) imitated Hesse in forming on a large scale soldiers that they went rent to other countries. 

Where is Hesse located? The following map shows you its location in Germany (dark area). The other principalities are all adjacent to Hesse.
Here’s what I found on a Wiki about Hesse, Germany:

   The cultural region of Hesse includes both the State of Hesse and the area known as Rhenish Hesse (Rheinhessen) in the neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate state. The oldest city of the cultural region of Hesse, Mainz, is in Rhineland-Palatinate.
   The State of Hesse (German: Land Hessen) is part of the larger cultural region. It has an area of 21,110 km2 (8,150 sq mi) and just over six million inhabitants. The capital is Wiesbaden. Hesse's largest city is Frankfurt am Main.
From the beginning of the 17th century, this small State started to train professional soldiers and offer friendly countries its regiments to fight beside their domestic soldiers. The Germans were involved in many wars during the 18th century, especially the ARW. They were called Hessians during the ARW because 43% of the 30 000 soldiers came from Hesse-Kassel.

The discipline within the troops would go as far as beating or hanging deserters. Why were they so feared by the enemy? They were well trained and well equipped, much more than anyone else on the battleground. While the enemy was using muskets, they responded with three-pounder cannons. Most of the soldiers were sharpshooters. Their cavalry was efficient and implemented combat strategies that would confound their adversaries. War, for these mercenaries, was a profession. Training was tough, ruthless, and those farm boys, on the long run, became tough, too!

Here is what Rodney Attwood wrote about the Hessians on page 59 of his book:

« While American leaders looked on the Hessians with calculation, the local civilians regarded them with nothing less than sheer horror. »
Attwood, Rodney. The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution. Cambridge University Press. 1980
Dennis Showalter wrote: « Recent research is revising those traditional impressions. Hessians made up only about half of the German troops that served in North America during the Revolution, and scholars point out that almost half of these settled here after the war, intermarrying along classic immigrant lines. Military historians have even vindicated the Hessians at Trenton, demonstrating they were in fact alert and ready—just outfought by the Ameri­cans. The Hessian image nevertheless remains incomplete: They appear on the American stage without context then vanish with little explanation. What's missing is a clear sense of who they were, where they originated, and why they came to America to fight, kill and die in a war that was not their own.

To begin with, the Declaration of Independence was wrong: Hessians were not mercenaries in the generally accepted sense of the term—men serving the British as individuals under specified conditions of enlistment. Instead, they were classified under international law as "auxiliaries," subjects of a ruler who assisted another by providing soldiers in return for money. »

He says also about the Hessians: « Hessian troops established a solid reputation for discipline in the field, steadiness under fire and willingness to endure the high casualties characteristic of flintlock-and-saber battles. »

But, if those German soldiers were highly regarded in their community, the Prince who owned them considered them more or less like replaceable pawns on a checkerboard. Dave Conrad, a Nova Scotia descendant of one of those German soldiers who joined the Loyalists in Nova Scotia after the ARW, wrote this about the attitude of the German Prince:

« At the end of the ARW, the German Prince who owned the army advised Britain that he did not want the soldiers returned to him as he had already replaced them and would have to pension them off. The British accepted these soldiers as settlers in Nova Scotia (and elsewhere) but listed them all as "deserters". »

The following information is very revealing about the role of the German army in Hesse-Cassel.

« Hiring a foreign army was not unusual in the eighteenth century. For Hesse-Cassel, soldiers were a major export. By renting its army to the British, Hesse-Cassel took in an amount equal to about thirteen years' worth of tax revenue. This allowed the state's prince, the Landgraf Wilhelm II, to keep taxes low and public spending high. A man of the Enlightenment, Wilhelm oversaw public works projects, administered a public welfare system, and encouraged education.

Even so, military needs dominated the country. When boys turned seven they were registered for military service, and each year men ages sixteen to thirty had to present themselves to an official for possible induction. Some men were exempted because their occupations were considered vital to the state. But others, such as school dropouts, bankrupts, servants without masters, idlers, and the unemployed, were deemed "expendable people" and could be forced into service at any time.

Life in the Hessian Army was harsh. The system aimed to instill iron discipline and the punishments could be brutal. Still, morale was generally high. Officers were well-educated, promotion was by merit, and soldiers took pride in serving their prince and their people. Furthermore, military service provided economic benefits.

The families of soldiers were exempt from certain taxes, wages were higher than in farm work, and there was the promise of booty (money earned through the sale of captured military property) and plunder (property taken from civilians). Officially plunder was verboten, but officers, who also had a taste for looted goods, often looked the other way. »

Bruce E. Burgoyne talked about the Waldeckers in the following terms in the introduction of his book:

« ...the Waldeckers were not just fighting men, they were human beings with all the characteristis that the term implies. Most military historians describe battles and leaders, both military and civilian, but the «Mini-Bios» which follow describe the Waldeck soldiers who were called upon to serve and if needed be, to die. »
Burgoyne, Bruce E. (2008) Waldeck Soldiers of the American Revolutionary War. Heritage Books, Maryland USA.

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