The flotilla arrived at Mainz. About thirty officers and men had been sent by the Bishop-Elector to visit it and take off deserters. They were recalled, however, on account of the presence of the Margrave, and of the two Hessian princes who were with him. The bridge was opened in the night, without the formal consent of the Elector, and the boats went on their way.
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From this point, the voyage down the Rhine was unhindered, and the troops were mustered into the English service in Holland. Each regiment received a present of ducats from the Margrave, and extra rations during the journey. The Margrave had accomplished his purpose and could return with a light heart to Anspach. He set out for Paris on the 16th of October following, with his good friend Lady Craven, having arranged that a new body of about three hundred recruits and chasseurs should start down stream at the end of the month, taking with them uniforms for his regiments.
He had taken the trouble to write to his uncle, the great Frederick of Prussia, asking that the passage of these troops might be permitted; but he looked on this request as a mere formality, and travelled off without waiting for an answer. His ministers at Anspach received and opened in due time the following letter, written, as was usual with diplomatic correspondence, in the French language:. My astonishment increases when I remember in ancient history the wise and general aversion of our ancestors to wasting German blood for the defence of foreign rights, which even became a law in the German state.
You ask for free passage for the recruits and baggage which you wish to send to the corps of your troops in the service of Great Britain, and I take the liberty of observing that if you wish them to go to England, they will not even have to pass through my states, and that you can send them a shorter way to be embarked. I submit this idea to the judgment of your Most Serene Highness, and am none the less, with all the tenderness I owe you. Monsieur my Nephew, your Most Serene Highness's good uncle,. The ministers were perplexed.
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They thought it too late to keep back the troops, and hoped to gain their end by negotiation. In this they did not succeed. The soldiers were stopped on their passage down the Rhine, and after spending a month in their boats, lying, for the most part, off the little town of Bendorf, which belonged to the Margrave of Anspach, were finally brought back to winter at Hanau. Their sufferings while crowded on board the boats in the months of November and December, and only allowed occasional exercise on shore, must have been great; but there were but few desertions, for a cordon of troops lined the bank to prevent them.
About two hundred and fifty recruits from Hanau lay alongside of the Anspachers, similarly detained, and these suffered much from fever. The whole party of five hundred and thirty-four men marched in February and March, , overland to the coast, and was shipped in April for England and America. The sudden refusal of Frederick the Great to allow the passage of troops told most of all on the Zerbst regiment. In order to pass round the Prussian dominions, this body was obliged to march through seven different states and free cities.
The result was disastrous. In the village of Zeulenrode a deserter chased by a corporal sought refuge in an inn.
U.S. History: American Revolution: Personal Narratives
The corporal, in his anger and excitement, shot after him through the window and killed the innkeeper's wife, who was sitting quietly in the room. The peasants were enraged, and a riot shortly afterwards occurred, in which a lieutenant was mortally injured. Moreover, the Prussian recruiting officers saw their chance to pick up a few men, and once on the route there was a skirmish with them and bloodshed.
Three hundred and thirty-four men deserted in the course of ten days, leaving only four hundred and ninety-four under the banners. The colonel succeeded, however, in enlisting about one hundred and thirty recruits, to take the place of the deserters, and six hundred and twenty-five men were thus shipped on April 22, , at Stade.
Making a quick passage, they arrived before Quebec towards the last of May; but they had not come to the end of their troubles. The commander of the place had received no orders concerning them, and would not allow them to land.
For three months the poor fellows had to lie on shipboard in the St. Lawrence, before instructions could be received from England. Frederick the Great has left in his memoirs his own account of his reasons for his conduct on this occasion. With little consideration for the misfortunes which fell on his people, he became all the more ardent in the execution of his designs; and in order to obtain a superiority of force over the Americans, he had negotiations carried on with all the courts of Germany to obtain what little help they could still furnish.
Germany already felt the evil consequences of sending so many of her men into those distant climes, and the King of Prussia did not like to see the Empire deprived of all its defenders, especially in case of a new war; for in the troubles of , Lower Saxony and Westphalia alone had set on foot an army with which the progress of the French had been stopped and disorganized.
For this reason he made difficulties about the passage of the troops of the princes allied to England when they had to pass through Magdeburg, Minden, and the district on the Lower Rhine. That was but a weak revenge for the bad attitude which the court of London had assumed towards him concerning the city and harbor of Dantzic. Nevertheless, the king did not care to push matters too far, for long experience had taught him that one always finds a host of enemies in the world, without taking the trouble to raise them wantonly against oneself. These troublesome measures of Frederick were but temporary, and in the business returned to its old channels.
The whole relation of the King of Prussia to our Revolutionary War is hardly worth the attention that has been bestowed on it. It would appear that Frederick, owing to his dislike for the British, and on grounds of general policy, gave orders to his ministers to treat the American agents, Arthur and William Lee, with politeness, though he was prevented by his political judgment from according them the smallest advantage.
As for the importance to America of the hinderance thus thrown in the way of the mercenary princes, it seems to me that Kapp overrates it. It may possibly have been the want of the reinforcements thus delayed and the uncertainty of obtaining more men in the future that prevented Sir William Howe from destroying Washington's army at Valley Forge, and completely stamping out the rebellion.
Is there any reason to suppose that Sir William would have made a better use of the fifteen hundred German soldiers he expected than of the twelve or fifteen thousand he had already? The great king, as we have seen, confined himself to small annoyances. One authoritative word from him might probably have sufficed to put a stop to the whole disgraceful business.
The march of the auxiliaries from their national headquarters to the sea can have been, at least after the first year, no cheerful or martial spectacle.
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The poor fellows travelled partially armed, escorted by picked men. The villages in which they slept were surrounded by a double chain of sentries. We have seen how they were treated on the Rhine. Seume, the captive poet, has left a graphic description of his experiences on shipboard. The men were packed like herring, A tall man could not stand upright between decks, nor sit up straight in his berth.
To every such berth six men were allotted, but as there was room for only four, the last two had to squeeze in as best they might. The food was on a par with the lodging. Pork and pease were the chief of their diet. The pork seemed to be four or five years old. It was streaked with black towards the outside, and was yellow farther in, with a little white in the middle. The salt beef was in much the same condition. The ship biscuit was often full of maggots. It does not seem to have been God's will, exactly. The water was all spoiled.
They held their noses while they drank, and yet it was so scarce that they fought to get it. Rum, and sometimes a little strong beer, completed their fare. With the influential prince of Hesse-Cassel being an exemplar throughout Germany, many other princes followed, making their regiments available as well to the British cause. They would play a large role in some of the most famous and decisive battles of the Revolutionary War. Almost every country in the eastern hemisphere at one time or another had contracted its military to other countries for profit.
In 18th-century Germany that was certainly the case. The growing hostilities that engulfed the American colonies prior to the outburst of open warfare at Lexington and Concord made the various princes of Germany well aware that the looming conflict in the American colonies could be a lucrative market for their own military. His Majesty welcomed the assistance of his fellow Europeans. British statesmen approached the court of St. Within a short time, the idea of using Russian troops was set aside. Other countries were considered, including the Netherlands and Prussia.
But Frederick the Great wanted nothing to do with the British, saying that the thought of lending his cherished army to Great Britain was akin to selling off his prize cattle to have their throats cut. He supposedly imposed a tax equal to that placed on cattle on all mercenaries crossing his border en route to America. Some members of Parliament even went so far as to suggest hiring an army of Moors from the ruler of Morocco. It was a logical choice. Under Friedrich Wilhelm, the landlocked state had developed a sophisticated army, one that enjoyed the support of an overwhelming majority of its citizens.
The prince, who idolized Frederick the Great, modeled his army after the Prussians.
He encouraged aristocrats to send their sons into the army, and at one time more than two-thirds of all Hessian nobles were in the pay of the military. With a standing army of 12, men and another 12, in the militia, Hesse-Cassel had a ratio of one soldier for every 15 civilians, as opposed to a 1-in ratio in Great Britain.
While the highest ranking officers came from the ranks of the aristocracy, most of the other officers came from the hard-working middle class. At the bottom of the hierarchy were the entbehrliche Leute , or expendable people.