What was a Hessian? – Update

See the comment at the end of this post.


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Hessian

This period image shows Hessian soldiers as heartless warriors.

Was Chrétien Lemaire a Hessian?

Was Chrétien Lemaire a heartless warrior?

Read on…

Every school child in America has heard the term “Hessian” in the context of Washington having crossed the Delaware to attack them on Christmas night in 1776. Few people know anything about them, or, if they do, they have a rather “cartoonish” image. In some circles the term has become synonymous with “soldier of fortune,” perhaps because, even in the 18th Century, they were referred to as “mercenaries”.

We must begin by noting that our current concept of a unified, German nation (in no way to be confused with the more recent fall of the Berlin Wall), is a product of the 1870’s. The Germany of the 18th Century was what was left of the old “Holy Roman Empire” of the Middle Ages. It was a somewhat bewildering collection of separate, and autonomous, city-states, duchies, and principalities as large and important as Prussia, and as small and nearly forgotten as Anhalt-Zerbst.

When trying to understand their role in the American Revolution, it is important to recognize that one of these principalities was Hanover, which was governed by it’s “Elector”. That “Elector” happened to be George III of Great Britain (hence the current ruling family of Britain is still, technically known as the “House of Hanover”). Great Britain traditionally relied on its impressive, defensive “moat” — the English Channel, and always maintained a relatively small army in peacetime. These German city-states, being a part of Continental Europe with few natural boundaries, of necessity, had to maintain comparatively large, standing armies for their own safety. Many regarded Great Britain as a natural ally and fought alongside her as such during the Seven Years’ War and earlier conflicts.

Hessian troops

Rich Buser
Hessian reenactors show their drilling style at a Park event.

 

Being a Constitutional Monarchy, Britain was one of the more liberal governments on Earth. The economy was generally in good shape, so labor was almost always at a premium. Consequently, Britain always found it difficult to raise many new regiments for its army during times of war. Those new men it did recruit (or impress), needed to be trained. The new regiments needed to be exercised with others to become militarily viable. The German princes would often see Britain’s military needs as opportunities to, at the same time:

  • assist an ally
  • provide combat experience for their officer corps
  • keep a portion of their own regiments embodied while someone else was paying for their upkeep.

The soldiers were themselves only mercenaries in the sense that they were paid for their service to their own ruler, just as any member of the U.S. Military is today. A “soldier of fortune” would be someone who acted, on his own, in a sense as a “free agent”, contracting his services to whoever would pay him. In all, George III was able to contract with six of his fellow German princes for the use of some of their troops:

  • Hesse-Cassel
  • Brunswick
  • Hesse Hanau
  • Anspach-Bayreuth
  • Waldeck
  • Anhalt-Zerbst
  • Friedrich, Landgraff of Hesse-Cassel, by far, contributed the most men, so today, as then, we tend to refer to them all as “Hessians” for convenience. This is technically incorrect, but has become a kind of convention to ease understanding. All three of the regiments who occupied Trenton, in December of 1776, along with the detachments of artillery and jaegers (or riflemen), were, in fact from Hesse-Cassel, thus, truly Hessians. They were:
  • The Grenadier Regiment Rall
  • The Fusilier Regiment von Knyphausen
  • The Fusilier Regiment von Lossberg

All of these regiments were under the command of Col. Johann Gottlieb Rall. As grenadiers and fusiliers, they considered themselves elite units and thus, all the enlisted men wore a form of the well known, tall brass miter cap.

These units had already served with valor at the Battle of Long Island, the Battle of White Plains, and the taking of Ft. Washington in the several months prior to their occupation of Trenton.

stop

Chrétien Lemaire was with the Hesse Hanau Chasseur Corps. That I am sure of.

Did Chrétien Lemaire fight in the U.S. against the Patriots?

Chrétien Lemaire

Chrétien was with Creuzbourg’s Jäger Corps.

Creuzbourg’s Jäger Corps (Jäger-Corps von Creuzbourg) was an independent Jäger battalion raised by the county of Hesse-Hanau and put to the disposition of the British Crown, as part of the German Allied contingent during the American Revolutionary War. The corps fought at the Battle of Oriskany, although mostly serving as garrison of different Canadian posts. (Wikipedia)

Maybe he fought in one battle.

The Battle of Oriskany, fought on August 6, 1777, was one of the bloodiest battles in the North American theater of the American Revolutionary War and a significant engagement of the Saratoga campaign. Early in the siege of Fort Stanwix, an American relief force from the Mohawk Valley under General Nicholas Herkimer, numbering around 800 men of the Tryon County militia and a party of Oneida Indians, approached in an attempt to raise the siege. British commander Barry St. Leger authorized an intercept force consisting of a Hanau Jäger (light infantry) detachment, Sir John Johnson‘s King’s Royal Regiment of New York, Indian allies from the Six Nations and other tribes to the north and west, and Indian Department Rangers totaling at least 450 men.

The Loyalist and Indian force ambushed Herkimer’s force in a small valley about six miles (10 km) east of Fort Stanwix, near the present-day village of Oriskany, New York. During the battle, Herkimer was mortally wounded. The battle cost the Patriots approximately 450 casualties, while the Loyalists and Indians lost approximately 150 dead and wounded. The result of the battle remains ambiguous to this day because the advantage of the Loyalist victory was countered when a party sortied from Fort Stanwix and sacked their camp, spoiling morale among the Indians.

This was one the few battles in the war where almost all of the participants were North American: Loyalists and Indians fought against Patriots in the absence of British soldiers. For the Iroquois nations, the battle marked the beginning of a civil war, as Oneidas under Colonel Louis and Han Yerry allied with the American cause and fought against members of other Iroquois nations. (Wikipedia)

For what I was able to find out, most of the Hesse Hanau soldiers stayed in Canada from 1777 to 1783. I guess we will never be certain Chrétien Lemaire fought at the Battle of Oriskany.

For more information on Germans in the American Revolution, you can click here.

Infanterie_Regiment_von_Donop_-_officer_and_private_1783

– Chrétien what will you do after your discharge?
– I am going to stay here, get married to a lovely fraulein, and raise a family.

UPDATE

Comment made about this post.

Pierre was right except that he forgot to mention the Anspach-Bayreuth troops that were part of that 30,000 soldiers…some two thousand of them. They fought well at Newport and Elizabethtown, NJ and were captured at Yorktown along with their flags. They were imprisoned at Frederick, MD until 1783 when they were “freed” to go back to Germany. My ancestor, George Christhilf did not. A musician, he not only played for his militia unit, but also Gen. Washington at the City Tavern in 1787, and the patrons of the city’s events and in 1792 with Phile and Roth, etc. at Harrowgate. He died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 with a couple of his children, but his surviving son, Heinrich, came to Baltimore and fought against the British in 1814. You can read about George on academia.edu. Thank you, Nick

More reading

http://teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/citytavern/

Excerpt

Nick Christhilf, family genealogist, informs me that his “G4 grandfather,” George Christhilf, served during the Revolutionary War as a German auxiliary fighting for the British in 1777 while in his early twenties. He was captured, released, and rather than return to Germany, he defected to the United States, and subsequently joined the Philadelphia County Militia in 1784. He lived in the German area between Vine and Race Streets in Philadelphia where he befriended Trenier, Shultz, and Spangenberg, all named in the list of musicians providing entertainment for Washington in 1787. He died in the 1793 Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic.

 

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4 thoughts on “What was a Hessian? – Update

  1. Great blog! My 5th great grandfather, Friedrich Knapp, was also part of the Hesse-Hanau Chasseurs. He was in Newfoundland in 1777 and again in 1783 (or that entire time as you mentioned). By about 1787 he was in Berthier, Quebec, with Marie Marguerite Schwaab (last name varies with each record) where their first Catherine is born. I would love to know where you found the personal data record so I could find one for Friedrich.

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