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

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  • #87095
    OB
    Participant

    I understand the Hessian battalions were good professional soldiers would you rate them as regular or veteran?

    OB
    http://withob.blogspot.co.uk/

    #87102

    I’d certainly see nothing odd in veteran regular troops. What distinction are you drawing?

    #87106
    OB
    Participant

    Most rules rate ‘veteran’ higher than ‘regular’ though both of course are regulars.  What I’m asking is should Hessians have the higher rating as it were.

    As an example I’d rate British converged flank companies higher than Hat men so, say ‘veteran’ for the flank companies and ‘regular’ for the centre companies.  I’m less sure about the Hessians hence the question.

    OB
    http://withob.blogspot.co.uk/

    #87112
    General Slade
    Participant

    Apart from the Jagers I wouldn’t put the Hessians on a par with the British combined lights and grenadiers.  Most of them I would put on a par with the regular British battalions, though there seems to have been a perception among the British that they were ‘slow but steady’ and better kept in reserve because they were unsuited to the nature of combat in America (there is an idea that they were less inclined to form loose files in difficult terrain than the British were).

    British Grenadier rates the Hessian Jager Corps as ‘Elite’ (putting them on par with the post-April 1776 combined grenadier and light infantry battalions); the German combined grenadier battalions and the best line battalions (such as the Hesse Kassel Bose regiment at Guildford Court House) are rated as ‘Line’, putting them on a par with regular British Infantry battalions.  The majority of the Hessian line units are rated as ‘Second Line’ putting them on a par with inexperienced British line and the ‘less good’ Continental regiments.

    However, the low rating of the Hessians in these rules seems to have been done in part to make them move more slowly on the battlefield.  There was a view among the British that the German troops spent too much time dressing their ranks and preserving formation (in terrain that made this very difficult to do).  In British Grenadier lower quality troops have to pause more often to avoid becoming disrupted.  So this rating is more to do with maneuverability than morale.

    If you are just thinking in terms of morale then I would rate the majority of them as ‘regular’.

    #87114

    I was thinking the same. I recall reading the comment of a British officer from the flanking force at Brandywine:

    “We stepped off all together, and that was the last we saw of them”.

    #87122
    OB
    Participant

    That’s helpful lads thank you.

    OB
    http://withob.blogspot.co.uk/

    #87131

    Yeah, I’d rate the German troops as slightly less reliable than British regulars. A few years ago I had a ‘Hessian’ period and reading through several translated diaries and other books I got the impression that most of the German states who sent mercenaries tended to send their less dependable regiments sometimes full of new ‘recruits’. Tales abound of impressing the riff-raff and sending them away to war. The German desertion rate in America seemed to be considerably higher than the British, too. Of course, most of the petty German states were still emulating the Prussia of Frederick the Great so discipline was harsh to keep the rank and file in line and I think this made them fairly effective combat troops, though not as flexible as the British. Jaegers, of course, seem to be the exception to this.

    Self taught, persistently behind the times, never up to date. AKA ~ jeff
    More verbosity: http://petiteguerre.blogspot.com/

    #87132
    OB
    Participant

    Thanks Jeff.  Did you deduce what made the Jaegers better, training or previous experience?

    OB
    http://withob.blogspot.co.uk/

    #87137

    I know nothing of the training of the Jaegers. However, traditionally they would be woodsmen and hunters, so I would assume that experience gave them more esprit de corp. The other unit that seems to have been well respected were the Brunswick dagroons–those horse-less horsemen with Burgoyne for whom the battle of … senior moment… dammit! what was the name of that battle just before Saratoga?!

    Self taught, persistently behind the times, never up to date. AKA ~ jeff
    More verbosity: http://petiteguerre.blogspot.com/

    #87140

    Bennington?  They were there.

    On the jagers, there has been some discussion about whether all of the ones shipped over were what they were purported to be, for some of the same reasons mentioned above.

    But,if you’re hurting for skirmishers. . .

    #87142
    General Slade
    Participant

    According to Robin May in the Osprey The British Army in North America 1775-1783 the German jagers were “the élite marksmen of the British armies in America” and “were every bit at home in the woods as their American counterparts”.

    This means that they could be used rather differently than the British light troops who, Matthew Spring argues in With Zeal and Bayonets Only, were often used as ‘shock troops’ on the battlefield, making use of bayonet charges to dislodge the enemy.

    Essentially, on the battlefield, the jagers performed  a traditional skirmishing role while the combined light battalions were often used in much the same way as the combined grenadier battalions.

    It’s worth noting that the jagers didn’t carry bayonets so I think the British generally reckoned to support them with regular infantry so they had bayonet-armed troops to form back on if the need arose.

    #87143
    General Slade
    Participant

    Bennington? They were there. On the jagers, there has been some discussion about whether all of the ones shipped over were what they were purported to be, for some of the same reasons mentioned above. But,if you’re hurting for skirmishers. . .

    I hadn’t heard about that.  Is this a case of the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel duping the British government or was it that a load of guys turned up at the recruiting office claiming to be gamekeepers and nobody bothered to ask for references?

    #87145

    Gulp. I was afraid someone would ask for sources.

    It’s been several years, and I was reading several different books at the time, but I’ll make an effort to track it down.

    #87146
    General Slade
    Participant

    Don’t worry Hafen I wasn’t demanding sources.   I’m more than willing to take your word for it.   And it sounds quite likely to me.  After all how many spare gamekeepers can one principality produce?

     

    #87150

    OK, but now it’s worrying me.  One quick check of Greg Novak’s AWI book finds him wondering where all these jagers came from, since,for instance Hesse Cassel sent more units to America than they were able to raise during the SYW.

    I’ll do some more looking when I get back from my semiannual haircut.

    #87155

    Yes, Bennington! Thank you.

    Philip Katcher, ‘Encyclopedia of British, Provincial, and German Army Units, 1775-1783’ has this to say regarding jaegers (p. 106-107): “They were especially hired by the British government because it was thought they would be an advantage in the vast American forests. As it turned out, however, many plain peasants were put into jaeger uniforms rather than the especially-trained hunters, and the jaeger units were little better, at times, than the regular battalion soldiers.”

    He then goes on to identify the Anspach jaegers (3 companies arrive, approx 100 men each–though later reformed into six companies transferring all Anspachers into these companies.), the Brunswick jaegers (no numbers listed) but they served with the Hesse Cassel Jaeger Corp which had a strength of approximate 500.

    So maybe the jaeger reputation is better than their reality. If so, we can probably assigned that to British wishful thinking and memoirs of Johann Ewald, who I think was exceptional.

    There were some German fusilier units, too, which probably operated more as light infantry. Though, I think the British, especially under Howe, were using more advanced light tactics than any of the German states.

    Self taught, persistently behind the times, never up to date. AKA ~ jeff
    More verbosity: http://petiteguerre.blogspot.com/

    #87254
    General Slade
    Participant

    It’s beginning to sound like the Hessian jagers might have been a bit less ‘elite’ than I imagined.

    #87269
    OB
    Participant

    Two thoughts come to mind.

    Firstly if the men comprising the jaegers came from areas where hunting was permitted to the peasantry there is no need for them to have all been game keepers-they would already have the required stalking and shooting skills.

    Secondly, Spring makes a clear case for British lights being deployed as shock troops rather than operating as light infantry. Whatever progress had been made in developing their light infantry capability seems to have been set aside in order to produce more high quality shock troops.  That this option was chosen above ‘promoting’ another centre company might tell us something about the overall quality of British line regiments.

    Also Spring gives us an example of a Hessian Fusilier battalion being promoted to a Musket battalion which seems to indicate a direction of travel more in keeping with the German tradition than them operating as lights.

    OB
    http://withob.blogspot.co.uk/

    #89010
    Brendan Morrissey
    Participant

    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.

    #89014
    OB
    Participant

    Thanks Brendan that is very informative.  I’ve painted a couple of Hessian units since asking the original question.

    OB
    http://withob.blogspot.co.uk/

    #89015
    vtsaogames
    Participant

    Highly useful, Brendan. Thank you.

    This too shall pass

    #89211
    Brendan Morrissey
    Participant

    You’re very welcome, gents.  Most of my AWI info was kindly given to me freely by other enthusiasts, so I have no problem sharing it (with their prior permission, when necessary, of course).

    If there are any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.  As I mentioned on the uniform thread, the “von Donop Regiment” website has now been taken down, but I believe that the re-enactment group now has a Facebook site instead, so the information is still available, but you have to know what to ask for, rather than being able to find stuff by browsing.

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