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"Hessian tactics" Topic


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890 hits since 28 Jun 2021
©1994-2021 Bill Armintrout
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historygamer28 Jun 2021 9:29 a.m. PST

In line with a previous thread – question:

According to the new Osprey book on AWI tactics, the 5companies of Hessian hat companies (fusiliers and musketeers) organized themselves into 8 firing platoons. This would be done regardless of their company affiliation. Shade of the pre-1764 British system. This Hessian formation followed the practice of the Prussians. Of course the grenadier company was stripped away to fight in the combined grenadier battalions.

The author noted that this tactical formation added to the confusion at Trenton, as men could be quartered with their company, but when forming had to find their firing platoon. Makes sense.

The British had this system in the previous war, but discarded it, first under Braddock's field reforms, then later during the field camps when the discarding of leveled (equal sized( 16 firing platoons were created regardless of company affiliation.

The author also notes that the Hessians eventually adopted the two rank formation, but remained at closed files, unlike the British in open order.

Skipped to that chapter first, as I recalled this previous question.

Here is the link to the Osprey book. Just picked mine up in that excellent bookshop in Gettysburg:

link

Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP28 Jun 2021 10:06 p.m. PST

I didn't know the firing system was organized like this. Seems terribly inefficent…..to modern eyes. I'm sure it made sense at the time.

To hijack your thread…… Cornwallis had a single battalion of Hessians during the Carolinas campaign, (working from memory). I have often wondered if that battalion adopted British march rates and formations to keep up with the rest of the army in combat. Again, it seems daft not to considering how small the army was. Anyone know?

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP28 Jun 2021 10:40 p.m. PST

The Landgraf of Hesse Cassel kept a tight rein on his army, even from 3000 miles away. He wouldn't allow the "open" order adopted by the British because … just because. I don't know if von Bose was allowed to copy the British down South, but being a lone regiment certainly helped.
He also called a Court of Inquiry after the disaster at Trenton. It blamed all the dead officers. That's how you conduct a proper Court.

von Winterfeldt28 Jun 2021 10:49 p.m. PST

Of course did the Hessians adapt the British march rates, they were not daft but highly professional soldiers, as to the firing system, I have to check on that, the Prussians – in case I remember correctly used the same system in the 7YW.

Trenton was a surprise attack and cause confusion by that alone.

What is eventually?

from Robert Sulentic, he should have written that book

Those I can look up: One of the Baurmeister quotes does not mention ranks. The other was a review of the Hessian Corps in Philadelphia in May of 1778. Baurmeister was kind enough to furnish the unit strengths, which I had not remembered:
von Donop's regiment:
15 officers
55 NCO's
22 Musicians
432 Soldiers
Leib regiment:
15 officers
58 NCO's
22 Musicians
408 Soldiers
Woellwarth's "Brigade" (the Trenton survivors)
23 Officers
99 NCO's
21 Musicians
536 Soldiers
(This was really three regiments combined. Don't ask me how they formed. I think there were a lot of Officers and NCO's not doing a lot)
Grenadier Brigade (3 battalions)
41 Officers
120 NCO's
60 Musicians
871 Soldiers
Jaeger Corps:
18 Officers
67 NCO's
17 Musicians
574 Jaegers
90 Horses
Artillery:
7 Officers
13 NCO's
3 Musicians
164 Soldiers
(Unfortunately, no number of guns listed)
What's obvious from above is that all the units are understrength. I suspect that the units are trying to form the same frontage as they usually would, but being understrength, are losing the 3rd rank to make a proper front.
Ah, here's the money quote from Atwood, on pages 82-83--a letter from Heister to the the Landgraf, 21 March 1777:
"…Old Heister reported to his sovereign that he was unimpressed with the new-fangled ideas of the British. Although the Hessians had deployed in two ranks, the method proposed to him in August-that the men should not be closed up arm to arm, but somewhat more open- had not been employed by any battalion during the campaign. The grenadiers, who formed the advanced corps of the army with the British grenadiers and light infantry, had fought just as the other regiments had done, with close ranks; but despite this, had suffered fewer losses than most units. From the other regiments, detachments had been sent ahead to skirmish, rendering excellent service on all occasions. But the main body of each regiment had followed at a musket shot's distance, always closed up arm to arm. Only when the broken terrain and woods obliged them to, did they break ranks…"
Again, this sounds like pulling off the third rank to make skirmishers for the battalion. I want to see that modeled in anybody's rules. (although come to think of it, Black powder does something like that for Naploeonics).
Robert Sulentic, TMP

LETTER OF A HESSIAN OFFICER

to the ruling Landgrave Frederick of Hesse-Kassel,

Long Island, 1 September 1776

(most probably written by Colonel Heringen of the Regiment ‘Von Schenck')
translated by Geert van Uythoven

(…)
On the 28th [27th?] the army marched out of camp, left all tents standing, and send back their equipage. The enemy stood on some dominating heights, of which the tops were covered with thick wood. The regiments advanced up the slope with great bravery and the highest order, music playing and colours flying, blowing the ‘hautboisten' as well. They pulled the cannon, despite their heavy weight, up that same slope as well. The enemy fired fiercely, but all aimed too high. As soon as the heights were reached the regiments dressed ranks. The flankers and volunteers were placed ‘à la tête', and in this way the enemy was attacked and soon driven from all its positions. The regiments marched after the flankers all the time without firing one shot, having shouldered their muskets. These have won the action on their own. The enemy had impassable brushwood, lines, ‘abatis' and redoubts in front of him. The riflemen were for the greater pinned to the trees with bayonets; these terrible fellows deserve pity instead of fear. They need a quarter of an hour to reload their rifle, and in that period of time they feel our bullet or bayonet.
(…)

The way battle is waged over here is very special. We stay constantly two men strong, and do not fall down. The flankers have to take the brunt of the fighting, and as there are many watches and purses to acquire, the whole regiment wants to act as flanker. I wish to get rid of our caps; we are send into the thickest bushes, in a hot climate as well. Many of these caps of all regiments have already been lost in the bushes. The sabres are carried across the shoulder, so that the men can leave their waistcoat unbuttoned. We must melt in our puffed coats altogether. The English have been clothed according to the hot climate, with very short and light coats and long linen trousers, down to the shoes. The officers are clothed the same as the men, they wear the same distinctions. The latter we have copied, or have ordered to be copied, to secure the officers for the riflemen. These rascals [sic!] climb up trees, lie in the high grass, and lie in wait for the officers. These however march inside the closed battalion, and those that are with the flankers are armed with bayonet and musket, so that the officers cannot be distinguished from the men.

historygamer29 Jun 2021 5:25 a.m. PST

I suspect the organizing by platoons – 8 from 5 companies, is correct. The English kind of did the same thing during the SYW- they organized 16 equal platoons from their 8 companies. Men were moved regardless of their company or officer affiliation to achieve this leveling of the platoons. This is well documented in all their period drill manuals. Braddock chucked it out in 1755, and that was eventually done throughout the army in 1758-59, eventually to become official with the 1764 Manual.

It was reported by the English that the Germans were slow and their officers old (and slow). The early satisfaction (1776) with the Germans turned sour after Trenton and Fort Mercer. Heister was sent home, at Howe's doing. Knyphausen and the other German officers with the main army (Howe/Clinton) were never included in councils of war nor their opinions sought. Riedesel perhaps was the exception with Burgoyne. The exception too were the Jagers as the Brits had a high opinion of them.

It's kind of hard to gauge the effectiveness of the German troops though. With the exception of the Brunswickers and Jagers, and the debacle of Fort Mercer, they don't have a lot of combat experiences to judge them by.

I agree with the questions raised about von Bose too.

Bill N29 Jun 2021 7:13 a.m. PST

Bose wasn't the only Hessian regiment serving in the south. It was the only Hessian regiment that served with Conrwallis's field army. Prevost used some of his Hessians in his 1779 raid to Charleston. Some were also used in anti-partisan warfare. Mostly they were used to garrison Charleston and Savannah.

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2021 9:58 a.m. PST

So it .ooks like lines with sk ahead "doing the job"? Very 1790s+ already.

historygamer29 Jun 2021 10:20 a.m. PST

It's what the Jagers did well. Not surprising. The art work shows them paired up in twos (files). I wonder what their training was like?

von Winterfeldt01 Jul 2021 6:10 a.m. PST

the original two Jäger companies of Hessen Kassel were recruited from huntsmen by trade who knew how to shoot and how to lay in ambush or stalk the enemy (deer).

A good account is Ewalds diary of the American War.

Here for full download – in Anglo American speak


link

42flanker01 Jul 2021 11:28 a.m. PST

What proportion of the jäger contingent were Brunswickers?

historygamer01 Jul 2021 11:30 a.m. PST

I don't think they sent any over (If they even had any). I believe those with Burgoyne were from Hesse-Hanau.

Blasted Brains15 Jul 2021 8:03 p.m. PST

"Four companies of jägers from Hesse-Hanau and one from Brunswick served with Major General John Burgoyne's expedition from Canada in 1777." From Encyclopedia.com. Can't speak to the accuracy but as I remember my reading, long time back mostly, their were Brunswick jaegers. Didn't realize the ratio of Hesse-Hanau to Brunswick.

Virginia Tory16 Jul 2021 6:56 a.m. PST

There was one company of Brunswick Jaegers under Captain Geyso with Burgoyne. Probably around 100 men. Were attached to Fraser's Wing and fought with Light Infantry Battalion von Barner, who supported them with musket/bayonet armed troops.

The Hesse-Hanau Jaegers were with St Leger, but only one company due to transport problems. They fought at Oriskany and during the siege. So they didn't get captured at Saratoga.

historygamer16 Jul 2021 8:19 a.m. PST

Thanks for the info. Wasn't sure, thought you'd know. :-)

Virginia Tory16 Jul 2021 8:25 a.m. PST

Well, I had just been reading about this, based on my Freeman's Farm project--as you well know!

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