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  • About that War of Independence

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on July 5th, 2007 (All posts by )

    You know, it isn’t very sporting to sneak up on Hessians lying there in a drunken stupor.

    I’m just saying…

     

    18 Responses to “About that War of Independence”

    1. Lexington Green Says:

      They weren’t drunk! See David Hackett Fischer Washington’s Crossing, who makes it clear that the story of the drunk Hessians is a legend with no basis in fact. They were taken by surprise fair and square.

    2. david foster Says:

      I visited the Kings Mountain battlefield (North Carolia) a few years ago, and there was a Hessian re-enactment unit giving a demonstration. The guy claimed that the usual view of the Hessians as “mercenaries” is not quite fair: that they were a regular army unit of the Kingdom of Hesse and that the monarch had dispatched them to the U.S.–so any mercenary motives should attach to him, not to the individual troops (or, at least, to the individual troops no more than any other European regular army unit of the time)

      Which reminds me–there is a short but excellent novel called “The Hessian” by old lefty Howard Fast. It brings the American Revolution down to a microcosm, an encounter between a small Hessian detachment and a New England town. If you read it, you will not forget it.

    3. Helen Says:

      Some of those Hessians, drunk or otherwise, were the subjects of the Elector of Hanover who happened to be King George III.

    4. Mitch Townsend Says:

      I also understand that some 5,000, or 1/6, stayed in America. Most of them went to Pennsylvania, where many previous German immigrants had settled. The majority of the 900 captured at Trenton stayed here voluntarily after the war.

      The American policy was to try to induce desertions and diminish whatever enthusiasm the German troops may have had for this quarrel between strangers. German prisoners were often paroled out to farm families, German-speaking families where possible, and sometimes found their circumstances rather agreeable. Contrast this with the 10,000 American prisoners who died of disease, exposure, and starvation in the British prison hulks in New York.

    5. Sgt. Mom Says:

      It was just such a tempting target… we just could’t help ourselves! ;-)

      Quite a fair number of Hessians taken prisoner were paroled out locally, and were treated so well that some of them deserted and stayed. Which is why I can write a novel about the German settlers in Texas and include the following exchange:
      “(The Prince of Solms-Braunfels asks)
      “Becker… that is a proper German name, are you one of us?”
      “My grandfather was born in Kassel and served in the Landgrave’s army,” Carl answered, in German. He forbore to mention that his grandfather was reputed to have deserted that army at first opportunity…”

    6. Lexington Green Says:

      The Hessians were not drunk. That is a myth. The Hessians were simply taken by surprise, fair and square. David Hackett Fischer discusses this topic in Washington’s Crossing — which you really must read.

    7. James C. Bennett Says:

      David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing has a careful analysis of the Battle of Trenton — it seems to indicate that the business of the drunken Hessians was a myth.

      As for the relative treatment of prisoners in the War of Independence, it was generally miserable on both sides. Neither side had a lot of spare capacity for feeding prisoners; the Americans were generally broke, and the British were feeding themselves by sealift from Britain.

    8. Firehand Says:

      To quote Ms. von Shrakenberg, “Win. And if you can’t win, cheat”.

    9. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Look people, I wrote that tongue in cheek. I cant always add a smiley when I’m not entirely serious, now can I?

      Sgt Mom,

      “Becker… that is a proper German name, are you one of us?”
      “My grandfather was born in Kassel and served in the Landgrave’s army,” Carl answered, in German. He forbore to mention that his grandfather was reputed to have deserted that army at first opportunity…”

      Well, a lot of them hadn’t become soldiers by choice, so why not desert? Of course, it is tactful of him not to mention that. :)

      Lex,

      The Hessians were not drunk. That is a myth.

      So how come I am so hardpressed to find a non-drunk Hessian today? You could say that is the sober Hessians who are a myth.

    10. SFC SKI Says:

      It’s possible that the European units were happy to assist in any war, anywhere if it was a time of relative peace in Europe (Look at Von Steuben, Pulaski, Kosciusko to name a few who volunteered to assist the American side). It would allow seasoning of green troops, and most officers were put on half or no pay in between wars, so they would go where the fight was. Also, wasn’t King George of German descent?

    11. Lexington Green Says:

      “So how come I am so hardpressed to find a non-drunk Hessian today? You could say that is the sober Hessians who are a myth.”

      The sober ones all fought in America, saw how good we had it here, and the ones who survived the war just never went back. The only ones remaining to breed in Hesse were the ones who were too drunk to march off to war. A tragic tale.

    12. Ralf Goergens Says:

      SFC SKI:

      It’s possible that the European units were happy to assist in any war, anywhere if it was a time of relative peace in Europe (Look at Von Steuben, Pulaski, Kosciusko to name a few who volunteered to assist the American side). It would allow seasoning of green troops, and most officers were put on half or no pay in between wars, so they would go where the fight was.

      Actually, a lot of the soldiers were specifically drafted so that their services could be sold to the British.

      Also, wasn’t King George of German descent?

      Yes, he was.

    13. Ralf Goergens Says:

      The sober ones all fought in America, saw how good we had it here, and the ones who survived the war just never went back. The only ones remaining to breed in Hesse were the ones who were too drunk to march off to war.

      Natural selection in action!

    14. Tatyana Says:

      Ralph: Look people, I wrote that tongue in cheek. I cant always add a smiley when I’m not entirely serious, now can
      …or you could simply command them to “lighten up”.

    15. Ralf Goergens Says:

      …or you could simply command them to “lighten up”.

      Good idea! People *love* being commanded to be humorous. Just as they like being tickled to death by a squadron of Chinese Olympic swimmers on steroids. To use just one example.

    16. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Ok, that reads a bit unfreindly at first glance, so I should add that yet again I wasn’t that serious. Even so I won’t use any smiley here. I have my dignity.

    17. Tatyana Says:

      I, too, never use smilies, by the same reason.
      So I’ll just say THIS was funny: https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/5058.html#comment-84178

    18. Anonymous Says:

      “The sober ones all fought in America, saw how good we had it here, and the ones who survived the war just never went back. ”

      That is an out and out falsehood. ;-) My mother is descended on one side from some of the Hessian mercs who stayed in Frederick, MD (MD got almost as many Hessians as PA, because many were held in Winchester VA and moved through MD to PA, deserting in MD to avoid going back to Hesse-Kassel).

      I can say from what I know of the family history that none of the ones who stayed here were sober, either. They just switched from Schnapps to whiskey. I had no idea the ones back in the old country had the same reputation.

      Oh yes, I take after the Prussians on my father’s side. At least, when people ask what part of Germany my ancestors were from, I immdeiately answer Danzig. ;-p