Home Forums Horse and Musket 18th Century Rating Hessians for the AWI/Revolutionary War Reply To: Rating Hessians for the AWI/Revolutionary War

Brendan Morrissey

Sorry, a bit late to this one!

The issue here is which “Hessians” you are talking about.  There were six contingents sent to North America and, in order of size, they were:  Hesse Cassel (HC), Brunswick (BW), Hesse Hanau (HH), Anspach-Bayreuth (AB), Anhalt-Zerbst (AZ), and Waldeck (WD).  Of these, the most heavily engaged were the first four, all of which sent Jaeger detachments of varying kinds; the last two were never present in more than regimental strength and did not see a huge amount of action (none at all, in the case of the AZ contingent).  All of these tend to be lumped together as “Hessians” (they should more properly be called Germans) and consequently some tend to suffer for the reputation of the others.  The term “battalion” was generally used to describe units of grenadiers and other non-line infantry; however, although the latter were called “regiments” they were all single-battalion units.  There was no tactical or functional difference between musketeers, fusiliers or garrison regiments.

Going through them one by one:

Hesse Cassel sent 6 musketeer regiments, 4 fusilier regiments, 4 garrison regiments, a “land-miliz” grenadier regiment, three artillery companies, and several companies of jaeger.  All except one garrison regiment donated their grenadier companies to form grenadier battalions: two were formed from the six musketeer grenadier companies, together with two companies of grenadiers from the Garde regiment which remained in Hesse; one was formed from all four fusilier grenadier companies; and one was formed from three of the garrison grenadier companies plus the “grenadier grenadier” company of Rall’s land-miliz regiment.  The artillery exclusively manned battalion guns, usually a pair of Swedish 4-pdrs in each regiment/battalion.

Brunswick sent 4 musketeer regiments, a light battalion (incorporating one company of jaeger), and a dragoon regiment of 6 troops.  The four musketeer grenadier companies formed a single grenadier battalion; theoretically, the light battalion’s four musket-armed companies were supposed to be there to support the jaeger company, but more typically it was supported by detached platoons grenadiers.

Hesse-Hanau sent one infantry regiment (which retained its grenadier company), an artillery company which was split between providing battalion guns for the Brunswick grenadier and light battalions, and a more typical “position battery”, and (mostly later) a strong battalion of jaeger.

Anspach-Bayreuth sent two infantry regiments (which retained their grenadier companies), a company of artillery to man their battalion guns, and a jaeger detachment.

Anhalt-Zerbst sent two infantry units (difficult to know what to call them as they were organised differently) which undertook garrison duty in NYC and Canada, neither seeing any active service.

Waldeck provided a single infantry regiment/battalion, which served in the latter half of the NYC campaign, then in garrison, and then saw action against the Spanish at Pensacola.  This was not the same unit that served as mercenaries in the Dutch army of the period, but was raised for the AWI.

In terms of performance, the HC contingent was generally adequate, although when serving away from British troops they could underperform; the jaeger varied from “all right” to “outstanding”, especially when led by dedicated officers such as von Donop (who actually “outdrew” and shot dead an American rifleman at Long Island), and Wurmb, and company commanders such as Ewald.  The HC contingent adopted two ranks, almost from the start of the war (source: Rodney Attwood – “The Hessians”), but appear to have never adopted the “loose files” used by their British and Loyalist allies, as a result of their Elector back in Germany refusing to give them permission.  The BW (Braunschweig-Wolfenbuttel) contingent did adopt British tactics and formations, however, and their commander took great delight in arranging a field day prior to the Saratoga campaign to demonstrate this accomplishment to Burgoyne and Fraser.  Generally, they seem to have fought well, saving Fraser’s bacon at Hubbardton, and Burgoyne’s at Freeman’s Farm, but tend to be written off because of the Bennington raid, which was badly handle by all concerned from Burgoyne downwards.  As noted above, the jaeger tended to be supported by grenadiers, rather than by their light battalion colleague for some reason; I have been unable to discover why in any detail, but since the unit was formed in Brunswick from men seconded from units that were remaining behind in Brunswick, just before the expedition left for America, it is quite possible that the quality of the men “released” by these units was not good.

The HH contingent saw relatively little action in the Saratoga campaign, the main regiment being left to garrison Fort Ticonderoga, leaving only Pausch’s artillery company serving with Burgoyne’s army; overall, though, this last unit seems to have performed very well in all actions.  From 1777 onwards, detachments of jaeger began to arrive in Canada, and these companies served on the frontier, often in mixed forces containing British regulars, Loyalist rangers, and Iroquois.  Although the quality of some of these later arrivals has been questioned, there is no doubt that they did some good work in several campaigns.

The AB contingent arrived in Philadelphia in 1777, and during the withdrawal to NYC the following year, was sent off by ship with some suggestion that their discipline was not great.  That said, the jaeger company served alongside Ewald in the South, and the entire regiment was present at Yorktown.

The AZ and WD contingents have already been covered; the Waldeckers appear to have fought competently at Pensacola.

Using British Grenadier as an example, HC infantry generally rate as one level lower than their British counterparts (ie grenadiers are 1st Line, instead of Elite, musketeer/fusilier/garrison regiments are 2nd Line instead of 1st Line), whilst jaeger are rated as “first rate” skirmishers (ie based and firing in pairs, rather than threes).  I usually do the same for the BW and HH jaeger.  The AB jaeger are “first rate” when serving alongside HC jaeger, but “second rate” (ie one dice per three figures) when serving alone.