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Hessian (German) Soldiers (Mercenaries) In The Revolutionary War

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Whenever you ask someone about the Revolutionary War they think of one thing and one thing only... the Americans fighting off the British for their independence. And although it is true that they fought of the British for their independence, a lot of people miss the fact that there were others fighting on the British side that greatly added to their number. These men were the Hessian soldiers, or as other historians call them, “German Mercenaries”. These men were hired by the British and made up a large portion of Britain’s mobilized armies (American). So who are these Hessian soldiers and how did they impact the British in the American Revolution?

Every army has a beginning, and with the beginning comes rules to set it straight. The Hessian army originated when King Charles of Hesse-Kassel adopted the system of hiring out soldiers to foreign powers as mercenaries to help improve the national finance (Reese). The country of Hesse-Kassel was located between two parts of Prussia between some of their major military routes (Showalter). This resulted in war on many levels between the two nations. The country side was completely wasted and the only thing a lot of people had to talk about was war. So when King Charles put forth this plan, it seemed like a normal way of increasing finance. The Hessian army was already small and insignificant, and when the plan of selling out soldiers for profit came around, the army was divided into smaller cantons each responsible for maintaining a field regiment for home defense (Showalter). The selection of soldiers under the plan was plain and simple. All men between the ages of 16 and 30, and taller than 5’ 6” were listed as available for military service. But if someone owned property worth more than 250 thalers, they had the option of paying the army in money instead of blood. Also, craftsmen, apprentices, slave workers in military related industry, and men essential for their farm’s success were also exempt. In the end, Hesse-Kassel stabilized an army at a strength of 24,000 men and became the most militarized state in Europe with a 1 to 15 soldier to citizen ratio (Showalter). And although Hesse-Kassel allowed foreigners to enlist in their ever-growing army, it overwhelmingly consisted of native sons. Surprisingly enough, the soldiers consisted mostly of the landless, jobless, and drifters. Military inspectors came from around Europe to frequently remark upon the size and fitness level of the Hessian regulars. These critics credited their fitness to their austere upbringing and ongoing participation in war (Showalter). People sometimes thought how the Hessians felt about being sold into war, and the truth is they had an unusual acceptance of military life. And once you were brought into the military, the only way out was to die, become a fugitive, or commit 24 years of your life to military service (Showalter). The motivation that fueled Hessians into war were stories told to them as children by their parents and grand-parents, about the adventures of war, while leaving out all the destruction and pain involved. However, not all Hessians wanted to fight in wars their whole life. So to prevent the case of a run away soldier before duty, parents were held responsible and jailed if their son fled from battle. They would then be kept in jail until their son reported for duty (Showalter). The Hessian army may have had some strict rules and regulations but it all played out to their actions in battle which is what ultimately gained their reputation as a fighting force.

Before the Hessians were hired to fight alongside British in the Revolutionary War, they were busy being hired to fight alongside other countries in other wars for money. Before their mercenary age, Hesse-Kassel was not popular for their military or for anything else (Showalter). They were very slow at recovering their army from warring and it was difficult for them to sustain a force to protect their borders and political peace. In 1676 their army totaled a measly amount of 23 companies. And when the selling of soldiers began, they lent all of their companies to Denmark for 3,200 thalers (Showalter). Being successful there, they then rented out 1,00 men to Venice for 50 thalers a piece (Showalter). And coming back successful there as well, their renting of soldiers suddenly caught the eye of the Estates of Holland. In 1658, 3,400 soldiers were sent to the Estates of Holland to fight under Sir William of Orange. And after the campaign, the Dutch wished to have more of the Hessian soldiers for longer periods of time (Showalter). The Hessians moved in to fight in wars such as the League of Harissburg (1688-97), and the Spanish Succession (1701-14), establishing great reputations as soldiers in these wars (Showalter). Britains Duke of Marlborough praised their valor for, “discipline in the field, steadiness under fire and

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