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"Why did Hessian regiments in AWI have only one battalion?" Topic

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878 hits since 21 Oct 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 1:01 p.m. PST

If, as is generally accepted, they were armed, uniformed and organized "on the Prussian model", why and when did they abandon the 2 battalion per regiment organization the Prussians used?
Or am I wrong on all assumptions? grin

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 1:04 p.m. PST

And of course The Brunswick contingent.

clibinarium22 Oct 2017 2:13 p.m. PST

Hesse-Kassel appears to have only switched to the Prussian model of two battalions per regiment in 1760, with a comprehensive reform of the army. Brunswick, on the other hand seems to have two battalions per regiment from the outset of the SYW. Detailed info by army here; link

I don't know for sure (currently away from my books) but I imagine that one battalion was sent to America and one battalion stayed at home for defence; it would be foolish to send the whole armed force overseas I guess.

JimDuncanUK22 Oct 2017 2:23 p.m. PST

The Hessians were there as mercenaries.

Maybe only one battalion was hired at a time.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 2:34 p.m. PST

No, there were not "mercenaries".
They were rented standing regiments from the state that supplied them.

skinkmasterreturns22 Oct 2017 3:20 p.m. PST

It would be interesting to know if that was written into their contracts or if it was just standard practice for hiring mercenaries out.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 4:06 p.m. PST

They were soldiers in the army of the "nation". The ruler rented out the various regiments and the soldiers had no say in the matter.
Certainly no "mercenary contract". They were enlisted, pressed, recruited, released from prison to join, etc, just as soldiers in other nations' regiments were.
The soldiers were not consulted over their being sent to fight in America. The regiment was rented out and they were sent where the regiments were ordered to go.
Contract? Seriously? They were the property of their regiment.


Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 4:07 p.m. PST

So, back to my original question. grin

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 4:09 p.m. PST

Thank you clibanarium. That's kind of what I'm looking for.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 5:05 p.m. PST

Speaking as a distant descendant of German soldiers from the revolution, have to agree that in terms of being hired, the local princeling got the cash and great-great grandpa just got the shaft

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 5:52 p.m. PST

If someone has Berg's Encyclopedia of British, Provincial and German Army Units within reach, we could all stop guessing. My recollection is that Hesse-Kassel at least reorganized post-SYW into single-battalion regiments. Operating as two-battalion regiments was something the Prussians normally did, but it wasn't critical to the system the way close-fitting uniforms and rapid volleys were.
As for why, I've never heard it said, but usually when you see something like that, I suspect it means the Elector got to appoint more imhabers than there would have been otherwise. (Don't laugh. Does anyone else remember the US "Roundout" Divisions?)

skinkmasterreturns22 Oct 2017 6:24 p.m. PST

Oh,so there was no written agreement between ministers as to who owed what and for how long? I guess everybody just took it on faith back in that day. Not that paper was really worth anything.:)

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 6:53 p.m. PST

I thought you were talking about individual soldiers signing mercenary contracts. My mistake.
See Fischer's Washington's Crossing for some insight into contracts between Britain and the German principalities.

Personal logo Der Alte Fritz Sponsoring Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 7:01 p.m. PST

The Hessian army was reorganized in 1760. Each existing battalion/regiment was divided into two battalions of half the strength of the original battalion. According to Westphalen, this was done to induce the French to thnk thatnthe Hessian army had been greatly increased.

Presumably the Hessian army was reorganized again after the conclusion of the SYW back to single battalion regiments.

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 8:08 p.m. PST

To the point of 'They were not mercenaries' rant, this is a good overview of the Hessian soldier rented out by their Landgrave: link

Reading this post and the comments that follow, it looks like 3,0005,000 deserted. We offered each soldier 50 acres, and eventual citizenship once we had won a country to citizen in.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 8:24 p.m. PST

Thanks, Jim.
But I do like the idea that it was to make more jobs for nobility. grin

Supercilius Maximus In the TMP Dawghouse22 Oct 2017 11:06 p.m. PST

@ miniMo, Up to 5,000 Germans remained in America after the war, but they were not all deserters; many were simply left in America when their regiments went home in 1783 (either through their own choice, or by design, as the princes did not want them back).

Whilst Americans like to make a lot of "Hessian desertion", for most of the war, their desertion rates were actually far less than those of the Continental Army. The French sent the Deux-Ponts regiment to America in the hope that it (and Lauzun's Legion) would attract German deserters; again, the very small number of recruits it attracted never matched their own number who deserted in America.

Dn Jackson22 Oct 2017 11:08 p.m. PST


Not to hijack your thread Winston, but… I would say it depends on the definition of 'mercenary'. At this time, until at least the mid-19th century, Americans considered anyone who fought for money to be a mercenary. Prior to the final assault on John Brown's 'fort', (the fire engine house). Colonel Robert E. Lee offered the local militia the honor of leading the attack. The response he got was no, let your mercenaries do it, referring to Lt. Greene and the US Marines who were present. So, by that, now antiquated, definition, the Hessians were mercenaries.

de Ligne Sponsoring Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 1:10 a.m. PST

To answer the original question, I think the Hessians maintained their two battalion strength after the reforms of 1760 but that they only sent one battalion, probably at close to full strength by drawing from the other battalion, while the weaker remained at home. By studying their flags it would appear that at times they sent the 2nd battalion and on other occasions they chose to send the 1st battalion.
This explains the bewildering choice of Hessian flags.

As for calling them mercenaries this is absurd because these soldiers were not paid. The Landgraf of Hessen-Cassel was paid by the British Government but there was no contract with individual soldiers. Furthermore this was a conventional practice in 18th century Europe.

Ed von HesseFedora23 Oct 2017 5:49 a.m. PST

According to the article here link

the Brunswickers actually were in two-battalion regiments and the British redesignated them as individual regiments.

Personal logo 22ndFoot Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 5:50 a.m. PST

de Ligne, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that the Hessian soldiers continued to be paid by the Landgraff who was, in turn, paid by the British government?

Either way, they were not mercenaries in the modern sense. If we apply the archaic definition from above, everybody would be a mercenary – British regulars, the French and, significantly, the Continentals so why the term is only used with respect to the Hessians, and then pejoratively, is a mystery. And nonsense.

Bill N23 Oct 2017 8:16 a.m. PST

whether the 'Hessians' were mercenaries depends on whose definition you use. Not everyone accepted the mid 18th century European technical distinction between rented standing regiments and mercenaries. The Continental Congress in the Declaration of Independence called them mercenaries. Since the Americans had no problem hiring foreigners to fight on their side I guess being a mercenary wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Does the presence of only one battalion per regiment in the Americas necessarily mean that the second battalion was retained in Hesse Kassel? I am not so sure. The contingents that the Landgrave sent over included supposedly inferior garrison regiments. If you were the British paymaster why would you accept inferior troops when there were better ones available? If you were the Landgrave and thought the British were indifferent as to which troops you sent, why not send both battalions of the garrison regiments and keep your better troops at home?

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 10:09 a.m. PST

Because the Landgrave cared deeply about how "his" troops performed. So much so that he convened a Court of Inquiry over what happened at Trenton to explain the disaster. Which court of course blamed only dead officers, but that's beside the point.
He cared so much, he micromanaged from Hess, declaring that the more open formations being used by the British were not for his Lads. I've often wondered if lone regiments like von Bose at Guilford Courthouse followed the mandated march time and close order.

But my point is that he would not deliberately send over inferior troops. Garrison troops have a purpose, and that is to be a garrison.

Hesse Cassel has been called the most militarized state in " Germany", even more than Prussia.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 10:15 a.m. PST

Suffice it to say that I have had at least 3 mutually exclusive answers to my OP, all of which make sense.
I'm just glad it doesn't matter with any of the rules I use. grin

Supercilius Maximus In the TMP Dawghouse23 Oct 2017 2:21 p.m. PST

Hessian (as in Hesse Cassel) troops had been allies of the British from the Jacobite Rebellions, through the WAS and SYW, in fact Riedesel (born a Hessian, despite commanding the Brunswick contingent) had served in Scotland during the '45. Three of the rulers were blood relatives of George III.

RudyNelson23 Oct 2017 2:40 p.m. PST

I did an extensive study on German Allies for an Osprey style book proposal.
The Hessian Desertion at high rates was a myth. Seems that several hessian men and officers transferred to the Provential establishment to get promotions and more pay. One unit in particular was Stackoff or Stackhoff who9 was a Lt. in a hessian Battalion in South Carolina and transferred to the Provincial establishment and received a promotion to Captain. He brought enough Germans along to raise a Troop of Cavalry or Mounted Infantry. The men got higher pay because they were no longer only infantry. So this is only one example of a transfer that reduced the number on men in a Hessian unit which had to be filled. Annual rolls also do not reflect mass desertions nor does the end of war tally.
One battalion for Home service and another battalion for Foreign or overseas service was common in that era. Any units raised had to be clothed and financed by the Colonel. So excessive companies ended up being a high bill. Just something to consider.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2017 8:53 p.m. PST

Sending either the first or second battalion over is something I will use in the future as an explanation I will use as an excuse for the flags of my first two regiments being dead wrong. grin
I hand painted mine for von Bose and Erbprinz back in the 80s, before those fancy schmancy printed ones were available commercially.
No false modesty here, I think I did a good job. I just got the colors of the field and flames completely wrong. But the lads have fought well beneath them, and I would be risking mutiny to take them away.

I have read above perfectly plausible explanations that Hessian regiments had two battalions and sent one overseas.
I have also read perfectly plausible explanations that they were reorganized into one battalion regiments.
I shall choose to believe both.
If anyone asks me "Did Hessian regiments have one or two battalions?", I will answer "Yes."

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