Book Review: Hessians: Mercenaries, Rebels, and the War for British North America


by Brady J. Crytzer

Yardley, Pa.: Westholme Publishing, 2015. Pp. xxiv, 296. Maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1594162247

The Much Maligned “Hessians” of the American Revolution

Prof. Crytzer (Robert Morris), author of Major Washington's Pittsburgh, Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America, and other works on colonial and Revolutionary America, here takes a unique look at the much maligned “Hessians” of the Revolutionary War.  Although he opens with a short discussion of how a large contingent of German soldiers, often with their dependents, came to serve the British crown, Crytzer discusses the role of these troops in the war by examining the experiences of three individuals who happened to have kept letters or diaries recounting their experiences during the war, Johann von Ewald, the Baroness von Riedesel, and Philipp Waldeck.

Johann von Ewald, from Hesse-Kassel,  a veteran of the Seven Years’ War, was a light infantry officer  who campaigned extensively in the war, from the Hudson Valley and the Carolinas and then in Virginia, before being captured at Yorktown. His diary, which only survives in part, is an important source on the Revolutionary war and light infantry tactics.

Frederika Charlotte von Riedesel was the wife of the commander of the Brunswick contingent in the war, and, with her infant daughters, accompanied her husband during the American invasion of Canada and the Saratoga Campaign, after which she spent several years as a well respected prisoner-of-war, until her husband was exchanged. Her letters and journals are also of great value as sources on the war and life in the period.  

Philipp Waldeck was a Protestant clergyman, and chaplain of a regiment from the Duchy of Waldeck, which saw service in Florida and the Caribbean, before being captured by the Spanish, events recounted in his diary, which has proven of great value to historians. 

This approach allows Crytzer not only to tell the story of the German troops in America, but also that of some of the more overlooked aspects of the war, notably the experience of the Saratoga prisoners, most of whom never returned to their motherlands, and offer unusual little insights into life and military service during the late eighteenth century. In a short epilogue, Crytzer outlines the postwar lives of the three principals. 

Hessians is a good read for any student of military history, and an important one for those studying the Revolutionary War.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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