After you give out the last piece of candy or consume the last piece of candy or just need a break from the doorbell ringing and handing out candy, join Emerging Revolutionary War for our latest “Rev War Revelry” this Sunday, at 7 p.m. EDT, on our Facebook page. This next installment of the historian happy hour will discuss Headless Hessians and other German tales from the American Revolution.
Joining Emerging Revolutionary War historians Kevin Pawlak and Mark Wilcox will be guest historian Ross Schwalm who specializes in the history of Hessians and their role in the American Revolutionary era. Besides diving into this tale on Halloween night, the history behind Washington Irving’s fictional tale will also be discussed.
Questions such as; Was the Headless Horsemen really a Headless Hessian? What is fact and what is fiction? The answers to these questions and more (and we encourage questions from the viewers) will be answered this Sunday. Grab your favorite pumpkin beverage and/or Halloween treat and tune in to this exciting “Rev War Revelry.”
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historians Karl G. Elsea and William W. Welsch for thefinal installment of their three part series
The v. Lossberg Artillery detachment:
Bombardier Conrad Volprecht was about 44 years old with over 27 years of service. He led the v. Lossberg artillery detachment consisting of another bombardier, 13 gunners and 3 matrosses, with two three-pounder guns and associated horses, harness, and limber.[i]
Over two years after the battle and being a prisoner Bombardier Volprecht gave testimony that indicated the sequence of battle for his detachment was roughly as follows: First went to field, second fired north, third ordered south, and fourth got stuck in the mud till the end of the battle. There is a problem though, the sequence that better fits the data from the battle was as follows: first went to field, second ordered south, third fired west, and fourth got stuck in the mud.
John Adams wrote “Facts are stubborn things. They cannot be altered by our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions.” In studying firsthand accounts of the battles in the Revolutionary War they are sometimes not correct or even true. For example, there is an enjoyable firsthand account (written many years later) by a patriot Sergeant White (The Good Soldier White) that is often quoted in accounts of the battle. Parts of his story are no doubt true. The problem is that when Sgt. White states he was with “Lieut. Munroe, our late President of the U. States” and “I was the first that reach them [cannons],” and “They had all left it, except one man tending vent,” those specific parts of the story cannot be true. Hessian Lt. Englehardt would not have time to do all that he did and then cross the Assunpink bridge before the Jagers if artillery men from Sullivan’s column were that far up King Street. Facts from the battle mean that part of that story does not work.
The most important place in all the 13 states fighting for independence on December 26, 1776 from 8:00 am to 9:00 am was the long, narrow bridge over the Assunpink creek. It was held by Hessian Sergeant Muller and 18 men. Sgt. Muller was about 50 years old with about 32 years of service. The importance of this place was not fully realized by the Hessians, but the Patriots knew it had to be closed, and General Washington had two full brigades, Sargent’s and Glover’s, tasked with taking, as quickly as possible, and then holding the bridge.
At about 8:03 am Patriot General Sullivan was about one mile from Trenton center along the River road when he attacked the outlying Jager pickets. General Sullivan had the artillery fire several canister shots at the Jagers. This firing also served as a signal to General Washington so he would know his other wing was attacking. It was to be recalled that General Washington started his attack about 8:00 am on the Pennington road and he also was about a mile from Trenton center. This cannon firing was also a signal to General Ewing so he knew when to start his distraction. General Ewing heard the three cannon shots and he quickly followed with his guns and howitzers firing ten shots from across the Delaware River. General Ewing kept up his firing until he could make out that Patriots were approaching. The v. Knyphausen regiment was forming on Second Street and was the logical unit to resist any attack coming from the River Road.
Volprecht’s detachment with its two guns followed Lt. Fischer’s detachment east on Fourth Street from the Methodist church into the field north and east of the Quaker lane. Lt. Fischer’s detachment was falling back from its earlier engagement and picked up the v. Lossberg detachment as it passed by. It took longer for the v. Lossberg artillery detachment to prepare for the battle because the horses had to be collected, harnessed, hitched, and the guns limbered. Fischer testified that the “cannon were unhorsed, and the horses unharnessed and brought back again into the stable” from the cancelled early morning patrol.[ii] For the morning patrol the horses had been hitched and guns limbered at 4:00 am but the patrol was cancelled so the men/horses/limber/guns were brought back to the Methodist church and waited for sunrise to unhorse.
The infantry of the v. Lossberg and Rall regiments followed Volprecht’s detachment into the field. It was in this field that these two regiments would form a line for battle. While waiting for the v. Lossberg regiment to form Volprecht was ordered by Lt. Weiderhold, “Artillery men, come here with the cannon” meaning they were to join the v. Knyphausen regiment.[iii] The v. Knyphausen regiment was on Second Street heading to the open field just east of Trenton and away from the Assunpink bridge. Volprecht and his v. Lossberg artillery detachment moved south on Quaker lane, linked up with the v. Knyphausen regiment, and set up his gun position facing threats coming from Trenton. The following map presents Trenton as it was in 1776.[iv]
While this was happening on the Hessian side, the right wing of the Patriot forces was moving east on River Road. General Sullivan rushed two of his brigades toward the Assunpink bridge. Neil’s battery with Sargent’s brigade and Sargent’s battery with Glover’s brigade made it to the bridge and across. Glover’s brigade with Sargent’s battery continued along the Assunpink creek to cut off possible exits for the v. Knyphausen regiment. St Clair’s brigade was moving east on Second Street with Moulder’s (three four-pounders) and Hugg’s artillery (two three-pounders).
Hessian Bombardier Volprecht testified that he fired his gun five times and the other gun fired one time.[v] One of those six shots hit the fore horse of one of Hugg’s three-pounder guns as they advanced in support of Patriot St. Clair‘s brigade. John Greenwood, a fifer in the 15th Continental, recorded that one of Hugg’s guns had the fore horse shot by a Hessian three-pounder gun, ”the ball from which struck the fore horse that was dragging our only piece of artillery, a 3-pounder. The animal, which was near me … was struck in its belly and knocked over on its back. While it lay there kicking the cannon was stopped.”[vi] That was the only hit scored by the Hessian artillery that day. St. Clair’s brigade with Col. Stark’s infantry in the lead applied great pressure causing the v. Knyphausen regiment to pull back farther east. Volprecht’s artillery detachment pulled back with the regiment.
As the Hessian artillery detachment pulled back east disaster struck both guns. Volprecht had been ordered into a valley without the ground being checked. Both guns got stuck in the mud. The rest of the battle the men of the artillery, with some aid from nearby infantry, was spent trying to extract the guns from the mud. One gun was extracted just before the surrender, the other gun was extracted after the battle was over.
Mud ended the third artillery engagement. The battle at Trenton was over. The Patriots had a great victory. What is shocking was the limited number of shots from the Hessian artillery. The Rall artillery detachment fired twelve solid shot and one grape, the v. Knyphausen artillery detachment fired “seven or eight shots,” and the v. Lossberg artillery detachment fired six shots.[vii] These few shots lend support for how quickly the Patriots won the Battle of Trenton.
[i] William S. Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton (The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1898), 388
[ii]Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 337
[iii] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 277
[v] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 277
[vi] John Greenwood, Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood of Boston and New York, 1775-1783, 40-41. “the first intimation I received of our going to fight was the firing of a 6- pound cannon at us, the ball from which struck the fore horse that was dragging our only piece of artillery a 3-pounder.” Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/revolutionaryser00gree/page/38/mode/2u
[vii] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 341
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historians Karl G. Elsea and William M. Welsch.
The Rall Artillery Detachment:
It is well known that the Battle of Trenton saved the American Revolution from defeat. What is not well known is the story of two of the three Hessian artillery detachments and the description of their field guns. This series of articles tells the story of the three Hessian artillery engagements at the First Battle of Trenton. These three fights largely determined the victory for the patriots.
The field guns used by the patriots in the artillery engagement at Trenton were fairly well documented. The Patriots used British Armstrong design M1736 six-pounders, British commercial iron four-pounder barrels on Patriot designed carriages, and the Common Pattern British designed three-pounders (looked like scaled down six-pounders).
The Hessian three-pounder field guns were primarily designed to be beautiful, symmetric and fill both the roles of field (light) artillery and garrison (medium) artillery. The “brass” barrel was one caliber (caliber was equal to 3.01 English inch) thick at the breech, one half caliber thick at the muzzle, and was twenty calibers long from breech ring to muzzle. This symmetry came at a price, namely, the barrel alone weighted over 700 pounds. As a comparison, the 1776 designed British Congreve three-pounder barrel had a weight of 212 pounds and was 12.4 calibers long while the “Common” pattern three-pounder barrel used by the Patriots was 287 pounds and 14.5 calibers long.[i] This flaw in the Hessian guns concerning the weight required four horses to pull each gun and made each gun more vulnerable to sinking in mud. Field guns were supposed to be” light,” something these Hessian guns were not.
When I was in elementary school, my father who worked for the Department of Defense was tasked with a job in Wiesbaden, Germany. Located in the central part of the country, the town was located in the German province of Hesse. Never thought much of the connection between this province and the founding of the country whose government my father was actively employed with at the time. To cut myself some slack I was nine years old when we moved to Deutschland.
Fast-forward to graduate school and my studies focused on the social and military world of the Maryland Line and the American Revolutionary War in general. One does not have to do too much research to find “Hessian” in a publication about battles and campaigns from the conflict. Furthermore, one always hears a line similar to the following…
“Although known generally as Hessians, soldiers under this label actually hailed from multiple German principalities”
“Grouped together as ‘Hessians’ the mercenaries hailed from other German states besides Hesse-Kassel”
To be honest, never thought more of it, then a trip in December to Mount Vernon where a display in their museum showing the various German states brought the idea back to the forefront where the question lingered. With a few other projects, interruptions that 2020 brought, and my curiosity was subdued for the last nine months.
Until the term “Hessians” popped up again, fortunately, on a weekend, when I had time to go down the proverbial research rabbit hole.
Approximately 34,000 German soldiers were hired by King George III to augment the British army in their subduing of the rebellious colonies. Numbers range from 12,000 on the low-end to 18,000 on the high-end of that number consisting of soldiers from the Landgraviate (or Principality) of Hesse-Kassel. Chief among the reasons that this principality furnished 35% to 53% of the total soldiery could be attributed to the fact that Frederick II, ruler of Hesse-Kassel was an uncle to the British monarch. Secondly, 7% of the adult male population this small principality was already under arms and was ready for deployment; being well-supplied and equipped for foreign service.
Sharing a name with the larger landgraviate, was Hesse-Hanau, a semi-autonomous principality that did not wait for the British government to come calling for troops. After news reached the German state of the bloody engagement at Bunker Hill, the rule of Hesse-Hanau Landgrave William offered King George III a regiment of infantry. Volunteers also flocked to the chance of service in America, with many relocating permanently at the end of hostilities, rather than returning. Numbers from Hanau list 2,422 men who served the British in the American Revolution.
Continuing the familial connection, Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, with King George III’s sister, Augusta married to the heir of Duke Charles I, the use of soldiers from this German principality was another guarantee. As early as 1775, the duke sent an offer of troops to King George III and 4,000 sons of Wolfenbuttel would cross the Atlantic.
In a controversial clause, the British government agreed to pay a certain fee for every soldier of Duke Charles’s killed in battle, with three wounded Wolfenbuttel soldiers equaling one killed. In return, King George III and his forces would be repaid for any soldier that deserted or fell ill outside what was listed as an “uncommon malady.”
When he heard news of this stipulation, Frederick the Great of Prussia, supposedly snickered that “cattle tax” on all the soldiers passing through Prussia en-route to British service “because though human beings they had been sold as beasts.”
Ansbach-Bayreuth under Margrave Charles Alexander, deeply in debt, gave the British cause 2,361 soldiers to subdue the rebellion in North America to help rescue his finances. This proved unsuccessful in the long run as he would eventually sell his dual margraviates to Prussia in 1791 and life off the sale in England.
Waldeck, under Prince Frederich Karl August had three standing regiments ready for foreign service as part of their governing structure. One of these regiments helped in the defense of Pensacola, along with companies being stationed in Mobile and Baton Rouge, probably the move diverse, geographically, of any of the German regiments in the American war. Waldeckers, numbering 1,225, served in the various theaters of the American Revolution.
Five battalions from Hanover, the ancestral lands of King George III’s family saw service in Minorca and Gibraltar which freed British troops in those duty stations for service in North America.
Anhalt-Zerbst, in 1777, agreed to send 1,160 men to buttress British forces in North America, including garrisoning New York City in 1780.
From Saratoga to Yorktown, from Quebec to New York City, these German mercenaries aided the cause of the British, providing much-needed manpower in an attempt to recover the rebellious American colonies. However, the cause of freedom from King George III that prompted the rebellion resonated with thousands of these German soldiers, who decided to stay after the war or after exchange when captured, or walked away in service. In fact, slightly over 50%, around 17,300 actually returned to their German home principalities upon the conclusion of the war in 1783.
An introduction to another aspect of how the American Revolution had far reaching international complications and commitments.
The largest, in terms of military forces deployed, engagement in the American Revolutionary War occurred on September 11, 1777 in southeastern Pennsylvania. The Battle of Brandywine was a pivotal moment in the British campaign that captured the patriot capital in Philadelphia. With the anniversary of the engagement happening the Friday before, the Emerging Revolutionary War crew will make this engagement and campaign the focal point of Sunday’s “Rev War Roundtable with ERW.”
Joining the “Rev War Revelry” this Sunday, at 7pm on Emerging Revolutionary War’s Facebook page will be Michael C. Harris, historian and author of Brandywine: A History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphiabut Saved America, September 11, 1777, which was published and is available for purchase by Savas Beatie. Click here to order.
Besides authoring the history mentioned above, Harris has an upcoming release, on another important battle in Pennsylvania, Germantown, fought on October 4, 1777. Rumor on the street has it that he will be joining ERW at a future date to discuss this important battle and talk about his new book.
A bit of a background on Harris. He is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington and the American Military University. He has worked for the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Fort Mott State Park in New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at Brandywine Battlefield. He has conducted tours and staff rides of many east coast battlefields. Michael is certified in secondary education and currently teaches in the Philadelphia region. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Michelle and son, Nathanael.
Although the battle lost Philadelphia for the patriots, Harris does not hold back on the culprit for the setback:
“Washington failed the army, the army did not fail Washington.”
To hear the reasoning behind that emphatic quote we hope you join us this Sunday!
The first post in this series looked at the various prisons established in Frederick, Maryland to hold British, German, and Loyalist prisoners. We’ll wrap this up by examining a notorious trial that took place in 1781.
Perhaps the most well-known case involving Loyalist prisoners in Frederick occurred in the summer of 1781. By this point in the war, enthusiasm for the American cause was on the wane in many communities. Conscription and heavy taxation to support the war effort were unpopular, especially as there was little battlefield success to boost morale. British forces were campaigning deep in Virginia and the Carolinas, giving hope to local Loyalists. Some Loyalists chose to declare their allegiance publicly, leading to a number of short-lived “uprisings” against American rule.[i] The Council of Maryland got wind of one such conspiracy in June, 1781, when orders were given to the lieutenants of the Frederick and Washington County militias to arrest a number of “disaffected and Dangerous Persons whose going at Large may be detrimental to the State.”[ii] Among those singled out for arrest were “Henry Newcomer and Bleachy of Washington County and Fritchy, Kelly, and Tinckles of Frederick County.” All these men had been connected to a supposed plot to raise a group of armed Loyalists in western Maryland, free the prisoners of war in Frederick, and march to support Lord Cornwallis in Virginia.
The details of the plot were uncovered by Christian Orendorff, an enterprising militia captain from the vicinity of Sharpsburg, in Washington County. His neighbor, Henry Newcomber, had confided to him one night that “we have raised a body of men for the Service of the King” to be commanded by a “Dutch Man” from Frederick named Fritchey. Orendorff feigned sympathy with Newcomber’s cause and soon met with Caspar Fritchey, who revealed more of the plot to him – including names of some of his co-conspirators. Captain Orendorff sent word to the authorities, who acted quickly to break up the insurrection and round up the ringleaders. Although Orendorff claimed that the Loyalists had recruited 6,000 men, only seven were brought to trial.
Frederick’s 1752 Courthouse as depicted on the 1858 Isaac Bond Map. The Courthouse burned in 1861 and was replaced the following year. The former courthouse now serves as city hall. (Library of Congress)
The seven men condemned to stand trial – Peter Sueman, Nicholas Andrews, John Graves, Yost Plecker, Adam Graves, Henry Shell, and Caspar Fritchie[iii] – were singled out as the leaders of the plot. All were brought to Frederick under a heavy guard while a special court convened. Thomas Sprigg, serving as Lieutenant of Washington County, wrote to the Council that “[they Acknowledge themselves to be Captains that they have Misted and Admin’d the Oath of Allegeance to many persons, one of them to the Amot of 42 they Confess very freely they say they expect and deserve to be hang’d, and I pray God they may not be disappoint’d…”[iv]
On June 17th, 1781 a special court of oyer and terminer was called. Derived from old English law, these special courts were overseen by a panel of commissioners, and typically presided over serious crimes like treason. Among the judges were the local militia commander Col. James Johnson, Alexander Hanson (son of President of the Continental Congress, John Hanson), and Upton Sheredine. All were men with staunch patriot sympathies. It wasn’t a surprise, then, that the trial was a short one. Relying primarily on Orendorff’s testimony, the court found all seven men guilty of treason against the state of Maryland. For the crime of enlisting men for the service of the King, Judge Hanson handed down a grisly punishment:
“You, Peter Sueman, Nicholas Andrews, Yost Plecker, Adam
Graves, Henry Shell, John George Graves, and Casper Fritchie,
and each of you, attend to your sentence. You shall be carried
to the gaol of Fredericktown, and be hanged therein; you shall
be cut down to the earth alive, and your entrails shall be taken
out and burnt while you are yet alive, your heads shall be cut off,
your body shall be divided into four parts, and your heads and
quarters shall be placed where his excellency the Governor
shall appoint. So Lord have mercy upon your poor souls.”[v]
Four of the accused – Andrews, Shell, and the Graves brothers – were subsequently pardoned due to their “want of education and experience.” It appears that the court saw them as young men duped by the real leaders of the plot. The other three men were not so lucky.
The former courthouse square in Frederick, near where the county jail once stood. It’s likely that the executions took place very near this location in August 1781. The large brick structure is the 1862 courthouse (now Frederick’s City Hall).
While the plot and trial are well documented, the aftermath is not. Later historians cannot agree on whether the entire sentence of hanging, drawing, and quartering was ever carried out, or if the three men were simply hung. On August 28, 1781 the Baltimore Advertiser simply reported that “On Friday the 17th instant, Caspar Fritichie, Peter Sueman, and Yost Plecker, suffered Death in Frederick Town for High Treason.” Many family stories that have been passed down in the area, however, firmly state that the full punishment was meted out on the unlucky Loyalists. Today the only physical reminder of this “First American Civil War” in Frederick is a simple bronze plaque and a small sign near the courthouse where the executions likely took place. The episode, however, still sheds light on the darker side of Maryland’s Revolutionary story.
[i] A perfect example was “Claypool’s Rebellion” on the Virginia frontier. In June 1781 John Claypool of Hampshire County, Virginia led a large body of men in resisting efforts to tax or raise troops for the State of Virginia. After dozens of men took up arms alongside Claypool a body of militia was sent to put down the “rebellion.” For more information visit https://secondvirginia.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/claypools-rebellion/
[ii]Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1780-1781. p 467
[iii] John Caspar Fritchie was the father-in-law of legendary Civil War heroine Barbara Fritchie
[iv]Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1781. p 298
I grew up in a suburb of Reading, Pennsylvania. Reading is the county seat of Berks County, and is located about sixty miles northwest of Philadelphia. Reading is an old town; Richard and Thomas Penn, the sons of William Penn, founded the town in 1743. It is situated on the banks of the Schuylkill River, and has always been an important logistics center as a result. German immigrants settled much of Berks County, and many in the area spoke the language. Today, Reading remains the gateway to the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch region.
There’s a part of the east side of the city, situated at the base of Mt. Penn, the dominating high ground that overlooks the city, called Hessian Camp. This is what a local newspaper writer said about that part of town a few years ago: “Reading’s Hessian Camp section is arguably the city’s finest neighborhood. Mansions line the curvy, hilly streets…The neighborhood, tucked into the side of Mount Penn, is hidden from the hustle and bustle of the downtown.” My mother’s favorite aunt and uncle lived in Hessian Camp.
A historical marker erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Hessian Camp stands out. As a child, I thought it an odd name, so I started asking questions. I eventually learned that it was the site of a Hessian prisoner of war camp during the Revolutionary War. That satisfied my youthful curiosity, but as an adult who has traveled back to Reading regularly since moving away in 1983, I retained my interest in it and remained curious about it. Consequently, I decided to tackle it and see what I could learn of it. Eventually, the story took shape.
After George Washington crossed the Delaware River and surprised Hessian mercenaries at the Battle of Trenton, the Hessian prisoners of war were take inland for detention. Due to the heavy German presence in Reading, it was a perfect place to house these men because so many of the locals spoke the language and could converse with these men. They also hoped that the Hessians would desert and take up residence—and perhaps their loyalty—with the Patriot cause. Further, as a result of Reading’s location, it would require a determined campaign to free the prisoners of war.
The initial prisoners of war were housed in a temporary prison along the banks of the Schuylkill River. They spent a cold, rough winter, and many died of disease and/or cold. After the Battle of Saratoga, when it became obvious that more Hessian prisoners of war would be heading to Reading for detention, the local citizenry demanded that the POW’s be moved to a more remote location. The original campsite was about 12 acres in size, and housed about 1,000 detainees—about the same as the permanent population of Reading. There was plenty of fresh water from a spring and plenty of lumber to construct huts, so the site was chosen.
There are two surviving accounts from German POW’s housed in Reading. Johann Bense, from the Duchy of Brunswick, arrived in Reading on June 16, 1781:
On the bank of the Schuylkill, we had been camping on a meadow in the open air for 8 weeks and were plagued by the great heat during the day and by rain and cold during the night. On August 9, we marched from the Schuylkill via Reading onto a high, rocky mountain.
We were supposed to build barracks there. But because we did not want to agree to that right away, but rather made ourselves straw huts, we were treated very severely. A sharp command from the corporal forced us to build the barracks and it was our good fortune because all our straw huts were consumed by fire on October 21, 1781.
Therefore, those who had not yet completed their barracks, had to do more now to get them ready. Through that, the men got some freedom to go into the country and work and so they kept their supplies. They are read out twice a month [report for roll call twice a month].
On April 26, 1782, we received money, linen trousers, shirts, and 1 pair of shoes from Lieutenant du Roi [of the Regiment Prinz Friederich]. Now, our situation was pretty good.
It did not last long, however, that they locked us up and all who were in the country and worked there, had to come in [to the city].
In the month of July, they read us an order from Congress. Any one of us wanting to be free, and that immediately, should give 80 silver talers [one British pound was worth 5 5/6 talers] as ransom and if he did not have that much money, a citizen should pay it for him with whom he should work in bondage for 3 years.
But if we wished to enter service with them [in the American army], each would get 8 silver talers as gratuity and after the end of the war, he would be given 100 acres of land. This now was voluntary, to be sure, but because our men did not want to agree to that, we were treated very harshly.
Since a few of us deserted, 356 men [of ours] were suddenly taken to the Reading jail and because there was not enough room, they had to lie in the court yard in the rain and the cold. They had to buy wood and water.
Two hundred of our men were sent to the prison in Lancaster; the artisans were also taken there. Afterwards another 100 men were taken into prison, among them was myself. Because a few non-commissioned officers deserted, 42 sergeants and non-commissioned officers were also taken to jail. These had to lie in the cellar and below in the dungeon [at Lancaster]. Many of our men who could not stand it entered [American] service or sold themselves as indentured slaves for 3 years. The rest, who had been prisoners since September 11, were let out on December 16 but each had to give 1 taler.
The non-commissioned officers were let out after 17 days but because some deserted right away again, those having been in jail before were quickly taken back to prison and had to remain there up to the exchange.
Some of our men took up service on a pirate ship which was captured immediately at its departure from Philadelphia, and taken to New York. In the last year of our captivity, we thus were the most wretched and most miserable men. None of us could go out and none of the inhabitants were allowed to see us…
On February 13, we had our first news of peace [from a Hessian Quartermaster]. We continued being in doubt until finally in March a French ship arrived in Philadelphia with the same message. It was made known to us at the barracks on the 26th that there was peace with France, Spain, Holland, and England and now we were daily hoping for our release. . . On April 16 in the afternoon, the non-commissioned officers came out of the city jail and [returned] to the barracks.
On April 21, which was also the second day of Easter, at 12 Noon, 13 cannon shots were fired for the 13 free colonies. The whole city was illuminated in the evening and fires were made on April 24. In the morning the English Commissary Maclean came to give us each a blanket. Other staff officers came and we prisoners found out we would march to New York.
Bense departed Reading on May 3, 1783, and by May 10, had arrived in New York City. He eventually returned home to the Duchy of Brunswick,
The second account comes from a letter by Sgt.-Maj. Samuel Vaupel, who served in the Leib Company, Erbprinz Regiment of Hessen-Hanau. He reported to his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Lentz, in New York:
Your Excellency, I have a report to humbly send you, also a resolution from the Board of War of Congress and the address of Captain Thomas Bowen. From these, your Excellency will see in what a depressing situation we are in….We were told everyone must choose to either buy himself free or join the American service. The king would not help us, and our prince did not want us… Nobody [from the ranks] responded to this reading and speech. It was immediately ordered that now nobody could leave camp and the proclamation read three times daily. But our people pretty much stuck together.
On August 7, 1782, we were visited by Major-General [Benjamin] Lincoln and Brigadier-General [Moses] Hazen from Lancaster. The Corps had to form up and we were reviewed but they didn’t speak. They rode our regimental street and around the barracks, then went on to Reading.
On the morning of the 10th instant, Brigadier-General Hazen returned with a German Captain [Anthony] Selin from his regiment. The troops had to turn out again and form a circle. The General spoke, which was translated by the above mentioned captain. We should choose to either make ourselves free by paying 80 Dollars or join the American army; the King of England did not care enough about us to exchange us or pay for our provisions; they cannot provide for us any longer when they have problems feeding their own men; and if we continue refusing to make our decision, serious measures will be taken.
After the speech we NCOs said that we could not agree to these conditions, and asked if he would allow two NCOs from our Corps to go to New York to report these conditions to our commanding officer. If he says all hope is gone and doesn’t need us any longer, then every man can do as he wishes. The general’s answer was: He wanted to report it to Congress, but we have not heard anything as of now and don’t expect to.
The above mentioned Captain Selin is Swiss-born and cannot be described badly enough; he was introduced to us as our commander. The new captain called together all the NCOs and gave orders that nobody will dare go 10 paces beyond the post without being termed a deserter and when the provost guard calls and they don’t stop, the guard should fire on them
The water is located just outside the post, but nobody may go for it alone. The NCO of the guard has to call for water and one of his armed guards goes along to the well. This captain has ordered the guard to allow nobody out of camp, not even a woman or child, without permission. [Some of for-hire soldiers were allowed to have wives and children with them.]
He also said he has forbidden the local residents into the camp. It is not permitted to openly bring us an apple. Since all this did not help, the above mentioned captain announced the NCOs were to blame for the lack of enlistments – that they discouraged the men from enlisting.
This lasted until September 7, when he unexpectedly came to the barracks at daybreak and gave the order to march; our people were to go to the mountain with sack and pack. We all packed our things and when we were formed up on the barracks mountain, the captain went from right to left without saying anything. Finally, with the Brunswickers, he began pulling young people from the ranks.
When he came to our regiment he only said the married men and NCOs should step forward. The remainder dressed ranks, were turned right and joined up with the Brunswickers to march to the jail in Reading.
There were 142 men of our regiments and 158 Brunswickers, 300 in all. They filled up the jail and the remainder had to camp in the jail yard. The first day these people had to pay 2 pence for a pail of water and also had to pay for firewood to cook with. They were in this jail through the 10th instant.
On the 11th instant 102 men from the regiment and 84 Brunswickers were taken to the jail in Lancaster.
On the 24th instant, 21 men from the regiment and 25 Brunswickers were again taken to the jail in Lancaster. There is now nobody from the regiment in the Reading jail except the baker Muller from the Lt. Colonel’s Company.
Private Wiskermann of the Leib Company was employed in Reading by a rich widow. On September 2, the captain had him brought in from the widow and asked him to enlist, buy himself free, or be sent to an underground prison or dungeon as the English call it. He decided he would rather be free and the above mentioned madam, named Mifflin, ransomed him.
Fourteen men from the regiment who were employed at an iron smelter, have returned to the barracks. On September 23, 10 of these men were taken to the Reading jail. The other 4 men remained sick in the barracks; the other 10 men were taken, with others, on September 24 to Lancaster. They also had to each pay the jail keeper in Reading 1/4 Dollar for the one night lodging.
Concerning us here in the barracks, we expect daily and hourly to go to the jail. Captain Selin indicated, when the others went to jail, that at the slightest incident or attempt at desertion, the others would also go into the jail. We have to hear daily from this captain how our tyrannical prince no longer needs us and that we will not get any more clothing or money from him. We collectively humbly beg your Excellency to have mercy on us and rescue us from this unhappy and depressing situation.
Should this be impossible, we beg you to have the grace to send us uniforms, blankets, and money. Otherwise it will be impossible to withstand the coming winter as our blankets are torn and so little firewood is issued that we can’t make the fires small enough. . . nobody is allowed out to gather firewood.
Sergeant-Major Vaupel ransomed himself on or about December 8, 1782. His fate is unknown. The fates of the poor German soldiers sent to fight in North America remains a fascinating mystery.
Other than large, handsome houses, there is nothing left of the Hessian campsite in Reading. The historical marker and the name of the neighborhood are the only reflection of the former occupants of the area. However, the presence of those prisoners of war was among the earliest things to draw my interest in the Revolutionary War.
Debuting yesterday, the Campaign 1776, an initiative by the Civil War Trust, released an animated map that covers the “entirety of the American Revolution,” according to Civil War Trust Communications Manager Meg Martin.
At eighteen minutes in length, the video is a “succinct and engaging” access to gaining an overview of the entirety of the American Revolution, from the first shots in Massachusetts at Lexington and Concord to the culmination of the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. The video even includes a segment entitled “The Twilight Years” which explains the two years the war continued on after the victory at Yorktown; from 1781 to 1783. One can also jump to different parts, as the video has subheadings at the bottom to break the eighteen minute video into segments.
The video combines modern photography,with “live-action footage, 3-D animation, and in-depth battle maps” to give the viewer a sense of what the American Revolution, the pivotal event that “shaped America” was like.
Furthermore, “The Revolutionary War” animated map is part of a larger series of animated battle maps of battles on Civil War battles, which can be found here.
This animated map may be the first in the series of American Revolution and War of 1812 battles that the Campaign 1776 and Civil War Trust team is contemplating doing. We will all have to stay tuned and find out.
Yet, this animated map, of the entire American Revolution, is a great beginning introduction, so sit back, dedicate eighteen minutes, and learn about this defining moment in American history.
*Emerging Revolutionary War would like to thank Meg Martin of the Civil War Trust for the information about this release.*
When a historian, author, or student of the American Revolutionary War mentions the following three words, “Green Mountain Boys” there is usually one name that comes to the forefront.
Seth Warner is usually not that name. Yet, he is one of the two names that should be forever linked with the great history of the “Green Mountain Boys.”
For those that are drawing a blank, the other name usually associated with this famous unit is Ethan Allen.
Warner, born in hilly Woodbury, Connecticut on May 17, 1743, the fourth of ten children to Dr. Benjamin Warner and Silence Hurd Warner. The young Seth was a product of the western frontier, growing up on the fringes of the English world, and thus learning from an early age to live and survive in the woods, rivers, and hills of Connecticut and what would become Vermont.
He did attend what limited schooling was available and from his father, rudimentary medical practice. In an 18th century biography, Warner was remembered to have vast information on the nature and uses of indigenous plants.
During the French and Indian War, Warner served two summers fighting in the cause of the British and would serve as a captain in the “Green Mountain Boys” following the French and Indian War. One biography states that Warner was part of the famous ranger outfit known as Major Roger’s Rangers, yet there is no primary evidence that supports this biographical claim.
With war on the horizon following the action at Lexington and Concord, Warner was elected third in command, with Ethan Allen being elected in top command, on May 8, 1775 for the task of capturing Fort Ticonderoga in western New York.
Born where Native American still threatened the westward-minded colonists, with the training during two summers in the last major war on the American Continent, Warner would now play a major role in the upcoming American Revolution.
With that, Seth Warner and the “Green Mountain Boys” marched off to help make the dream of American independence a reality. Following Ethan Allen, Warner found himself embroiled in the first campaign outside the environs of Boston when on May 10, 1775 he took part in the American capture of Fort Ticonderoga in western New York. Following up the next day, Warner, serving as second-in-command, attacked and captured the British garrison at Crown Point, approximately 13 miles away from Fort Ticonderoga. When news broke of the exploit, the “Green Mountain Boys” and subsequently Warner quickly became a household name for the patriot cause.
With the turn of the season to summer, Allen and Warner appeared in Philadelphia to appeal directly to the Continental Congress. Their aim was to achieve recognition as a regiment for the “Green Mountain Boys.” On June 23, 1775, the day the two men appeared in front of the governing body of the American cause, the Congress agreed and sent the endorsement to the state of New York. After some debate in provincial Congress of the Empire State, the endorsement was finally agreed upon.
With the ensuing vote of officers, surprisingly, Allen was not elected as commander, but Warner survived in an officer capacity, garnering 41 of 46 votes for lieutenant colonel. No reason or notes from this convention, held on July 6, 1775 has ever surfaced.
Before 1775 was out, Warner, who would lead the command, found themselves on the way to Canada. Initially stationed along the St. Lawrence River on the way to Montreal and near the end of October, Warner’s men repulsed an amphibious landing and attack by Sir Guy Carleton, the British Governor-General of Canada. With the repulse, at the Battle of Longeuill led to the surrender of Fort St. John on November 3, 1775.
Ten days later Montreal fell to the American forces and Warner and his “Green Mountain Boys” entered the fallen city later that same day. The American commander, General Richard Montgomery wanted this crack unit to continue with him by canoe to Quebec but because of the lack of winter clothing, the command was forced to head south, for supplies.
Not to stay in a support role for long, Warner’s men marched north shortly after the turn of the year in January 1776 to reinforce the Americans laying siege to Quebec. While there Warner showed the depth of his concern for the welfare of his men. With the smallpox epidemic ravaging the American ranks–in fact more American soldiers would die of that disease than any single other cause–Warner allowed his men to be inoculated, which was not not akin to what inoculations are like today.
Click this link, courtesy of Mount Vernon, on what smallpox inoculation was like in Colonial America.
After the return from Canada, on July 5, 1776, Warner was elevated to the rank of colonel and tasked with raising another regiment from the New Hampshire Grants (the area now comprising Vermont). Yet, it was one year and one day later that Warner showed how valuable his role as a general officer was.
During the Battle of Hubbardton, Warner oversaw the rearguard of General Arthur St. Clair’s retreating American forces. Outside this frontier settlement, Warner’s men suffered more casualties and eventually yielded the field to the British, but the toll extracted from the British (over 200 killed, wounded, and captured) was high enough to cause the British to stop their pursuit of the retreating American army.
A month later, on August 16, 1777, Warner played another critical role in the American victory at Bennington. Under the overall command of General John Stark–another of the fiery, yet competent, and overlooked American general officers–Warner provided invaluable assistance because of his familiarity with the region. His home was a scant few miles from where the engagement would unfold.
Warner would oversee the left wing of the American assault and have as his goal the “Tory Redoubt” that fell on the east side of the Walloomsac River, which would be a dominant feature in the ensuing battle.
The Americans routed the German, British, and Loyalist forces, even halting a 600-man reinforcement column under German Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich Breymann who arrived on the field in the latter stages.
Stark reported to Congress that Warner showed “superior skill in the action.”
Unbeknownst to Warner at the time, the campaign that culminated with British General John Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga, was the defining moment in Warner’s American Revolutionary War career. Warner would stay in the service, reaching the rank of brigadier general, bestowed upon him in 1778 by the new state of Vermont courtesy of the state legislature. That made him the only brigadier general in the newly formed state. On September 6, 1780 Warner received his only wound of the war, in an ambush by Native Americans outside Fort George in New York.
Unfortunately for the old “Green Mountain Boys” commander, the years after his retirement in 1780 were not kind. He fell out of favor with his former commander, Ethan Allen which led Warner to confront him in 1781 about contact with the British when Allen was a prisoner-of-war. This was all in conjunction with some contact Vermont had with British Canada about possible negotiations in reunifying Vermont with the British Empire. The extent of the negotiations and the seriousness of the idea has been in question by historians ever since.
Regardless, Warner, in failing health in 1784, returned to Woodbury, where he died on December 26, 1784, at the age of 41. Warner’s remains lay in Roxbury, Connecticut.
*For more information on the campaigns of New York in which Warner played a role in, consult Michael O. Logusz’s two-volume “With Musket and Tomahawk” series published by Savas Beatie LLC. at http://www.savasbeatie.com*
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Robert “Bert” Dunkerly to the blog as the author of this post.
It is well known that German troops (commonly called Hessians) fought alongside the British during the war. One of the more intriguing questions of the Revolution remains; how did they communicate? At any given time, German units could comprise from one third to one half of the larger British armies. They were also present in equal numbers in smaller detachments.
French was a common language that many European officers would have known, and there is evidence that German and English officers communicated in French during campaigns. The language barrier also impacted daily army operations. For example, Georg Pausch of the Hesse-Hanau Artillery requested an English officer who spoke German for a court martial. Yet most of that procedure was conducted in French.
Written orders from General Phillips in Montreal in 1777 to Hessian Artillery units were given in French, suggesting that this was commonly done in these calm, routine situations.
It wasn’t a perfect system but it worked well enough. Adjutant General Major Bauermister of Hesse-Cassel, for example, notes that the English spoke poor French, when communicating with them. Yet what about among small units like companies or battalions?
Would mediocre command of a language suffice for communication in combat situations? Often small groups of British and German troops operated together on patrols or raids. Marching to Freeman’s Farm (Saratoga) in 1777 was a column that included Germans on the left, English on the right, and English troops as flankers. Such situations required close coordination.
Other times they were side by side on battlefields, such as at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781, where the German Von Bose Regiment was aligned next to the British 71st Highland Regiment. Close coordination in these cases was essential.
Still another example is from Brandywine, where Captain Johann Ewald wrote that in the army’s advance, were 60 jaegers on foot, fifteen mounted jaegers, a company of Highlanders, and a company of British light infantry. All these troops worked in tandem to protect the army from ambush and clear the way for the advance. Yet Ewald was silent on how they did so.
Captain Ewald, also wrote of his experiences in Virginia, where, in the advance on Richmond, small numbers of troops were interspersed. They marched into the town in this order: Jaegers, British dragoons, more jaegers, and British Light Infantry. There are dozens of other examples.
Despite the many instances of German and British units mingling, there is precious little documentary evidence of how officers, or the common soldiers, communicated. Perhaps they used a combination of French, translators who spoke either English or German, and hand signals or other agreed- upon methods.
Timing and clarity are key in close quarters combat, there is no chance to second guess in an ambush or a raid. There were likely instances of misunderstanding that may have led to mistakes and even led to friendly fire incidents.
Of the many accounts this author has researched, only a few mention how they communicated. Perhaps it was something so mundane, or so well understood, that they saw no need to comment on it in their writings. It is hoped that further research will shed light on this question.