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

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When it comes to the Revolutionary War, everyone’s first thought is identical.

While the Americans fought against the British to gain their independence, it is important to note that there were also individuals fighting on the British side who made significant contributions to their numbers.

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The Hessian soldiers, also called German Mercenaries by some historians, were employed by the British during the American Revolution (American). Their role in Britain’s mobilized armies raises questions about their identity and influence. The origins of the Hessian army can be traced back to King Charles of Hesse-Kassel, who hired out soldiers as mercenaries to foreign nations in order to boost national finances (Reese).

The country of Hesse-Kassel was situated between two sections of Prussia, amidst crucial military routes (Showalter). As a consequence, this led to warfare between the two nations on various fronts. The rural areas were devastated, and war became a predominant topic of discussion among the people. Therefore, when King Charles proposed this plan, it appeared to be a standard means of bolstering finances.

The Hessian army was initially small and unimportant. However, a plan was introduced to sell soldiers for profit. This led to the army being divided into smaller cantons, with each canton responsible for maintaining a field regiment for defending their own homes (Showalter). The selection process for soldiers under this plan was straightforward. All men between the ages of 16 and 30 who were taller than a certain height were considered eligible for military service. However, individuals who owned property valued at more than 250 thalers had the option to pay the army in money instead of serving as soldiers.

The group of people exempt from military service in Hesse-Kassel included craftsmen, apprentices, slave workers in military-related industries, and men vital for the success of their farms. Consequently, Hesse-Kassel managed to maintain an army of 24,000 men, establishing itself as the most militarized state in Europe, with a ratio of one soldier per every 15 citizens (Showalter). Although foreigners were permitted to join the expanding army of Hesse-Kassel, the majority of soldiers were native-born sons. Surprisingly, the soldiers primarily consisted of individuals without land, employment, or a fixed residence.

Military inspectors from different European countries often commented on the size and physical condition of the Hessian regulars. They believed that their fitness was a result of their strict upbringing and continuous involvement in warfare (Showalter). People often wondered about the feelings of the Hessians towards being sold into war, and it is true that they had a unique acceptance of military life. Once enlisted, the only means of leaving the military was through death, becoming a fugitive, or committing 24 years to military service (Showalter).

The motivation behind Hessian soldiers going to war was the stories they had heard in their childhood from their parents and grandparents, which portrayed war as adventurous but excluded the devastating and painful aspects. However, not all Hessians wished to be perpetually engaged in warfare. In order to avoid desertion by soldiers before their duty, parents were held accountable and imprisoned if their sons fled from battle. They would only be released from jail once their sons reported for duty (Showalter).

Despite their strict rules and regulations, the Hessian army gained a reputation as a formidable fighting force through their actions in battle. Prior to joining the British in the Revolutionary War, the Hessians were employed in various conflicts by other countries, serving as mercenaries. During this time, Hesse-Kassel was not known for its military prowess or any other distinguishing factors. Recovering from wars was a slow process for them, making it challenging to maintain a strong force and protect their borders and political stability (Showalter).

In 1676, they had a small army of only 23 companies. They lent all of their companies to Denmark for 3,200 thalers and later rented out 1,000 men to Venice for 50 thalers each. This caught the attention of the Estates of Holland.

In 1658, a group of 3,400 soldiers under Sir William of Orange was sent to the Estates of Holland to engage in a campaign. The Dutch, impressed by their performance, desired to have more Hessian soldiers for longer periods of time. As a result, the Hessians participated in subsequent wars such as the League of Harissburg (1688-97) and the Spanish Succession (1701-14), earning a formidable reputation as skilled soldiers. The news of the Hessian soldiers’ prowess reached Prince Eugene of Austria, who promptly enlisted 10,000 of them to join him in Italy in 1706 and later fought against the Turks in Hungary.

Although the Hessians were often perceived as mercenaries motivated by money, they saw their military service as a means of preserving sovereignty in Hesse-Kassel, rather than as a profit-making endeavor. In fact, even five sons of the king fought in battles, and sadly, two of them were killed (Showalter). Despite their military exploits, the Hessians remained steadfast in their native Calvinist beliefs and steadfastly refused to engage in any business with Protestant employers. France, a Protestant country, made numerous generous offers to Hesse-Kassel for soldiers but each time they were turned down due to Hesse-Kassel’s commitment to their religion (Showalter).

During the Scottish rebellion in Britain in 1715, British authorities enlisted 12,000 Hessian soldiers to suppress the uprising. Subsequently, as a gesture of gratitude, Britain agreed to pay Hesse-Kassel an annual sum of 125,000 pounds to secure priority access to the Hessian army in future conflicts. However, after five years passed without any signs of war, the British reached a settlement with Hesse-Kassel: a flat payment of 240,000 pounds in exchange for the readiness of 12,000 soldiers for British service (Showalter). Although Hesse-Kassel maintained the reserved troops for the British, they attempted to rent out the remaining soldiers to other nations but with no success.

Both sides of the War of the Austrian Succession witnessed the participation of the Hessians (Showalter). However, during the Seven-Years War, the Hessians had a significant presence on the battlefield with 24,000 men, surpassing the British by 2,000, thereby making a notable impact in the conflict. Demonstrating their exceptional skills, the Hessians once again proved to be among Europe’s finest soldiers as the American Revolution approached. The British referred to them as His Britannic Majesty’s Army in Germany (Showalter). With the American Revolution looming, the Hessians prepared to showcase their most memorable performance.

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Hessian (German) Soldiers (Mercenaries) In The Revolutionary War. (2018, Feb 18). Retrieved from


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