It’s been awful quiet here recently due to some big news on the personal front: a cross-country move and a new (non-academic) job while I finish work on the dissertation.
There are several posts planned with research updates, as well as some neat documentary finds. In the immediate future, I am excited to present ongoing research at the Northern Great Plains History Conference in Grand Forks, ND this October. My good friend and colleague Jesse Pyles and I are presenting together on a panel that examines Britain’s military alliances in two case studies: the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps in WWI and, of course, the Hessians in the American War of Independence. I look forward to sharing details about the conference after I return!
The US Army Center of Military History posted a reminder this morning that today marks the 62nd anniversary of the end of the military occupation of Germany. Ten years after the end of the Second World War, the Federal Republic of Germany (which had been formed in 1949 from the territories occupied by the western powers) became a sovereign state, a full-fledged member of NATO, and was authorized to rebuild its military as a new and important ally of its former enemies. Foreign military bases remained on German soil by special arrangements between the Bonn government Great Britain, France, Canada, and especially the United States. While most of these bases are now closed, dozens remain and are targeted for closure within the decade.
Unfortunately my Internet access has been inconsistent this trip, precluding detailed updates so far. On the other hand, I have not had time to post because this trip has been so eventful and productive – which is certainly a good thing.
Though I am currently in Freiburg (at the lovely Central Hotel, which I highly recommend) and on my way to a second day at the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv, here is a picture from a couple of days ago in Bad Tölz, Bavaria (taken from the Kalvarienberg):
It’s been an eventful new year so far (say we all)! While I am heading back to Germany soon for another short research trip (pictures and stories to follow next month), there will soon be a new post by Gabriela detailing her latest findings about the British Army in the eighteenth century.
“…I cannot conceal the fact that as much as I was pleased over the glorious behavior of my troops on their arrival in America, so much and greater is my present astonishment and anger over the unfortunate event at Trenton… Besides the loss of so many imprisoned regiments with their colors and cannons, it is an eternal disgrace to my troops, and according to the different accounts having reached me about this affair, it leads me to believe that these regiments disregarded their duty as well as their honor, which they previously won for themselves. I consider that such a shameful occurrence can be the result of nothing less than an utter neglect of all discipline and proper order.”
Landgrave Friedrich II of Hessen-Kassel to General de Heister, 7 April 1777. De Heister was recalled from service in America, making his second-in-command, General Knyphausen, the senior Hessian officer on campaign.
“The good fortune of the war which I had always such great cause to praise in my humble letters and of which I humbly venture to hope your Serene Highness may have read with great pleasure, has given to us, and to each brave Hessian, a sad example of her fickleness. It is needless for me to write of the sorrow caused to me by the first news and contriteness overwhelms me when duty’s dictates oblige me to communicate the news to your Higness, as I know only too well how the loss of these true subjects will affect your Serene Highness. The three regiments, namely Lossberg’s, Knyphausen’s and Rall’s, which had been stationed in New Jersey, were surprised by the rebels during the night of December 27th [sic], who in overpowering force surrounded and captured them after nearly one hour of resistance, during which time all the then staff officers and the greater part of the others were either killed or wounded… At the same time 15 standards and 6 cannon were lost.”
General de Heister, commander of Hessian troops in North America, in a letter to Landgrave Friedrich II of Hessen-Kassel, 5 January 1777.
240 years ago, British military leadership ignored common sense and the protestations of its officers in the field, and extended a defensive cordon along the Delaware River. Ostensibly designed to maintain pressure on Washington’s fleeing army, the new defensive line instead ensured that Britain’s forces were spread thinly and too distantly from one another for timely response to attack.
On the morning of 26 December, Washington crossed the Delaware with more than 2,400 troops and attacked a Hessian brigade quartered in Trenton. The Hessian outposts fought a fighting retreat to the town, where runners had already alerted the garrison. By the time the first of the enemy reached the treeline outside the town, the three Hessian regiments had formed for battle. Fortuitously, American riflemen dispatched the brigade commander, Colonel Johann Rall, and his XO with mortal wounds in the first minutes of engagement. In the ensuing confusion, the remaining Hessian officers realized too late that retreat was their only option. While some had managed to escape the town before encirclement, and brought news of the “Trenton Affaire” to the closest allied encampments, more than 900 Hessian troops fell into rebel captivity. It was the first major rebel victory of the war and, as the story goes, inspired countless soldiers to reenlist in the army for another year.
Victory had been made possible by Washington’s military acumen and the irresponsible overconfidence of British command in the wake of their victories in the New York – New Jersey Campaign. Contrary to popular belief, the Hessians (who, as Germans do, celebrated Christmas on the 24th) were not surprised in a hungover stupor. A Hessian court martial of the officers captured at Trenton was concerned foremost with what they thought was the most critical question of that fateful morning: why had these officers not recognized their situation more quickly and ordered an organized retreat?
Over the next few days, I will post more information about this fateful battle in commemoration of its 240th anniversary.
It is my distinct pleasure to welcome a new contributor to GermanHistorian.com: Gabriela Maduro. Gabriela comes to the project through Florida State’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, which pairs exceptional undergraduate students with faculty and graduate students who act as research mentors for the academic year.
Gabriela is a sophomore double-majoring in History and English. She is fluent in Slovak and an active student of German, which influenced her desire to work on this project. As the year progresses, Gabriela will post excerpts and summaries of her work here on the site, with a particular focus on the structure and role of the British Army in the American War of Independence.
I’ve really fallen behind on posts this busy semester, but will start making up for it now!
Another interesting, and purely accidental, find related to the American Revolution. A private home in the middle of rural upstate New York has an historical marker in its backyard. In the early nineteenth century, a number of Brothertown Indians, natives who had converted to Christianity and settled in New York after the Revolutionary War, were buried there. It appears as though the gravestones used to stand in place, but they have since been laid flat. Every year, representatives from the Brothertown Indians (a federally-unrecognized tribe) return here to pay their respects and ensure the upkeep of the site.
A quick stop at a local national historic site today yielded some surprise Revolutionary War connections. The town of White Store, NY, was founded in Chenango County in 1800. The White Store church was built in 1820 by “Baptists, Methodists, and Universalists” (according to the New York State Education Department marker, 1935), and remains in original condition aside from the pulpit that was modified in 1863. Beside the church lies the Evergreen Cemetery, the final resting place of twelve soldiers of the Revolutionary War: Colonel Stephen Winsor, Major David Richmond, Major Samuel May, Captain Edward Greene, Captain Anan Winsor, Captain Abner Wood, John Secor, Jeremiah Burlingham, Andrew Webb, Ezekial Wheeler, Philemon Shippey, and Caleb Arnold. Arnold’s son, Peleg, was a soldier in the War of 1812 and is also buried at the cemetery.
The local American Legion appears to have marked veterans’ graves in the cemetery for some time, with many old markers commemorating service in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, and, for many of the most recent graves, World War II. It is an impressive testament to the ways in which world events touch even the most remote places. RIP.