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jeudi 23 octobre 2014

No 8

The German mercenary regiments in Canada
1. First stop: Quebec
Musée du Fort in front of the Château Frontenac, Quebec, Qc

Early in 1776, around 30 ships left Portsmouth, England, for Quebec. On board, there were 3 000 German soldiers and 77 wives, the wives of the officers. Many of these officers accepted to participate in the American civil war on the strict condition that their wife would be allowed to accompany them. These women are certainly not the wives of the lower level soldiers.

The commander in charge was Friedrich Adolphus von Riedesel. Most of the ships arrived in Trois-Rivières and Quebec around the 1st of June. One third of the soldiers stayed in Quebec City to increase its level of security, while the others continue to LaPrairie where they set camp.

During the same year, many more German soldiers would arrive, increasing the total number to 5 000. During the first period of the ARW, an average of 4 000 German soldiers were staying in the Quebec and Montreal region. During the last years of the war, that number increased to 5 000.

2. The first campaign of the German mercenaries in Canada
View of Quebec City, after the American attack, in 1775. 
On the forefront, the houses that were burned down.
 (George Heriot, National Archives of Canada, C-12744)

The Germans didn’t loose any time to cross swords with the Continentals. Many of the Hessian soldiers, though, never got on the battlefield. They would simply replace the British soldiers in the Fortress of Quebec and serve as guards. Some of them became policeman and spy agents in the region of Richelieu where the Continentals had many French-Canadian friends supplying them with information about the military activities of the British and Hessian troops. Once more, this time through Jean-Pierre Wilhelmy’s writings, we learn of the continuing effort by both sides to gather information about their opponents. Stealing military mail from the enemy would surely be one of the goals pursued by these spies.

The Germans got involved soon after their arrival, in the autumn of 1776, on Lac Champlain in New York where they destroyed the enemy’s naval fleet. The next year, at Ticonderoga, 3 958 German soldiers were part of an overall 8 000 soldiers contingent: they accompanied the British troops as they would all through the ARW. 

This second battle ended up in Saratoga and was a disaster for the British and German troops. Officers were captured along with a great many of their soldiers. From then on, not a single campaign was launched from Canada, from 1778 through 1783. Most of the Continental soldiers captured came back as a result of an exchange of prisoners.

3. Another enemy against the German troops in Canada: winter!

Since public facilities were insufficient to shelter thousands of soldiers, the general population was coerced to accept the soldiers in their homes for the winter. As the war dragged on, these families had to put up with their guests, two to six per dwelling, winter after winter. There were no gunshots fired in these peaceful villages, but the population was indirectly involved in the war, more or less against their will.
4. The Germans went through seven winters in Canada.
Members of these families wrote few documents about their relationship with the German soldiers. However, from the military reports of Canadian and German officers, both parties seem to have maintained a good relationship throughout this seven-year period.

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