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The term Hessian ( ) refers to hired eighteenth-century German regiments in service with the British Empire that fought against American colonists during the American Revolutionary War.


During the American Revolutionary War, Landgrave Frederick II of Hesse-Kassel (a principality in northern Hessemarker) and other German leaders hired out thousands of conscripted subjects as auxiliaries to Great Britainmarker to fight against the American revolutionaries. About 30,000 of these soldiers were sold into service. They were called Hessians, because 16,992 of the total 30,067 men came from Hesse-Kassel. Some were direct subjects of King George III; he ruled them as the Elector of Hanover. Other soldiers were sent by Count William of Hesse-Hanaumarker; Duke Charles I of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; Prince Frederick of Waldeckmarker; Margrave Karl Alexander of Ansbach-Bayreuth; and Prince Frederick Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst.

The troops were not mercenaries in the modern sense of military professionals who voluntarily hire out their own services for money. As in most armies of the eighteenth century, the men were mainly conscripts, debtors, or the victims of impressment; some were also petty criminals. Pay was low; some soldiers apparently received nothing but their daily food. The officer corps usually consisted of career officers who had served in earlier European wars. The revenues realized from the men's service went back to the German royalty. Nevertheless, some Hessian units were respected for their discipline and excellent military skills.

Hessians comprised approximately one-quarter of the British forces in the Revolution. They included jäger, hussars, three artillery companies, and four battalions of grenadiers. Most of the infantry were chasseurs (sharpshooters), musketeers, and fusiliers. They were armed mainly with smoothbore muskets, while the Hessian artillery used 3-pounder cannon. Initially the average regiment was made up of 500–600 men. Later in the war, the regiments had only 300–400 men.

About 18,000 Hessian troops arrived in the Thirteen Colonies in 1776, with more coming in later. They first landed at Staten Islandmarker on August 15, 1776, and their first engagement was in the Battle of Long Island. The Hessians fought in almost every battle, although after 1777 they were mainly used as garrison troops. An assortment of Hessians fought in the battles and campaigns in the southern states during 1778–80 (including Guilford Courthouse), and two regiments fought at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781.

The use of Hessian troops by the British further rankled American sentiment, and pushed more loyalists to be in favor of the revolution. Using foreign troops to put down the rebellion was seen as insulting, as it treated British subjects no differently than non-British subjects; pro-British Tories felt that the British nature of Americans should have entitled them to be above mercenary resistance.

Hessian captives

One of the most famous incidents involving the Hessian soldiers was the Battle of Trenton, where about 900 Hessians were captured out of a force of 1,400. General George Washington's Continental Army crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776, to carry out a highly successful surprise attack.

In addition to firepower, American rebels such as Andrew Norman Martin used propaganda against Hessians. They enticed Hessians to desert and join the large German-American population. One letter promised 50 acres (20 hectares) of land to every deserter. A satirical letter, "The Sale of the Hessians" was made on August 1777 and claimed that a Hessian commander wanted more of his soldiers dead so that he could be better compensated. For many years the letter was of unknown authorship, but in 1874 Andrew Martin translated it to English (from French) and claimed that Benjamin Franklin wrote it. There appears to be no evidence to support this claim, however.

When British General John Burgoyne surrendered to American General Horatio Gates during the Saratoga campaign, his surrender involved around 5,800 troops. The surrender was negotiated in the Convention of Saratoga, and Burgoyne's remnant army became known as the Convention Army. Soldiers from Brunswick-Lüneburg under General Riedesel comprised a high percentage of the Convention Army. The Americans marched the prisoners to Charlottesvillemarker, Virginiamarker, where they were imprisoned in the Albemarle Barracksmarker until 1781. From there they were sent to Readingmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker until 1783.

German soldiers in the American Revolution

Conclusion of the war

After the war ended in 1783, some 17,313 Hessians returned to their homelands. Of the 12,526 who did not return, about 7,700 had died. Some 1,200 were killed in action and 6,354 died from illness or accidents, mostly the former. Approximately 5,000 Hessians settled in North America, both in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker, some because their commanders refused to take them back to Germany because they were criminals or physically unfit. Most of them married and settled amongst the population of the newly formed United States. Many became farmers or craftsmen and were able to take advantage of opportunities in the new country. The number of their direct descendants living in the U.S. and Canadamarker today is a subject of debate.

Ireland, 1798

The British rushed Hessian mercenaries to Ireland in 1798 to assist in the suppression of rebellion, inspired by a revolutionary organization the United Irishmen. Baron Hompesch's 2nd battalion of riflemen embarked on 11th April 1798 from the Isle of Wightmarker bound for the port of Cork. They were later joined by the Jager (Hunter) 5th Battalion 60th regiment and were heavily involved in the battles of Vinegar Hillmarker and Foulksmills. They were more notorious in Ireland for their atrocities and brutality toward the population of Wexfordmarker in 1798.

Hessians Units of the American Revolution


  • Rauschenplatt's Princess of Anhalt's Regiment
  • Nuppenau's Jäger Company
  • Anhalt-Zerbst Company of Artillery


  • 1st Regiment Anspach-Bayreuth (later Regiment von Volt; 1st Anspach Battalion)
  • 2nd Regiment Anspach-Bayreuth (later Regiment Seybothen; 2nd Bayreuth Battalion)
  • Anspach Jäger Company
  • Ansbach Artillery Company


  • Dragoon Regiment Prinz Ludwig
  • Grenadier Battalion Breymann
  • Light Infantry Battalion von Barner
  • Regiment Riedesel
  • Regiment Specht
  • Regiment Prinz Friedrich
  • Regiment von Rhetz
  • Geyso's Company of Brunswick Jägers


  • Hesse-Kassel Jäger Corps
  • Fusilier Regiment von Ditfurth
  • Fusilier Regiment Erbprinz (later Musketeer Regiment Prinz Frederick (1780))
  • Fusilier Regiment von Knyphausen
  • Fusilier Regiment von Lossburg
  • Grenadier Regiment von Rall (later von Woellwarth (1777); von Trümbach (1779); d'Angelelli (1781))
    • 1st Battalion Grenadiers von Linsing
    • 2nd Battalion Grenadiers von Block (later von Lengerke)
    • 3rd Battalion Grenadiers von Minnigerode (later von Löwenstein)
    • 4th Battalion Grenadiers von Köhler (later von Graf; von Platte)
  • Garrison Regiment von Bünau
  • Garrison Regiment von Huyn (later von Benning)
  • Garrison Regiment von Stein (later von Seitz; von Porbeck)
  • Garrison Regiment von Wissenbach (later von Knoblauch)
  • Leib Infantry Regiment
  • Musketeer Regiment von Donop
  • Musketeer Regiment von Trümbach )
  • Musketeer Regiment von Mirbach (later Jung von Lossburg (1780))
  • Musketeer Regiment Prinz Carl
  • Musketeer Regiment von Wutgenau (later Landgraf (1777))
  • Hesse-Kassel Artillery corps


  • Pausch's Artillery Company
  • von Creuzbourg's Jäger Corps
  • Janecke's Frei Corps
  • Hesse Hanau Erbprinz Regiment


  • 3rd Waldeck Regiment

Hessians in pop culture

  • In 1819, Washington Irving's book The Sketch Book was published, which included several stories and essays. One of his tales was "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", which contained a figure now known as the "Headless Horseman". This figure was described by Irving as "the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannonball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War." The figure was also referred to as "the galloping Hessian" at the tale's resolution.

  • In the 1950 animated short Bunker Hill Bunny, Bugs Bunny faced off against Sam Von Schmamm the Hessian (played by Yosemite Sam). After Bugs' inevitable victory, the defeated Sam utters the line "I'm a Hessian without no aggression."

  • The term Hessian can also be used to refer to adherents of the metal subculture.

  • In the 2003 computer game Freelancer, the Red Hessians are a criminal group composed largely of unemployed miners operating out of Rheinland space who attack civilian and commercial targets of opportunity.


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