The British had tens of thousands of troops in America throughout the war, but still found it necessary to increase their numbers by hiring foreign troops. German rulers hired out some of their regular army units to Great Britain to fight against the Patriots in the American Revolution. By 1776 thousands of soldiers called “Hessians” were pouring into America via New York.
The term “Hessians” refers to the approximately 30,000 German troops hired, principally drawn from the German state of Hesse-Cassel, as well as other German states.
One of the battles where American troops met Hessian fighting forces happened in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island, a small state, located about 6 miles south of Boston, was the first of the 13 Colonies to declare its independence from Britain, May 4th, 1776. It borders the Atlantic Ocean, but is not actually an island. It got its name because there were early settlements on Aquidneck Island, which was then called “Rhode Island.”
A fierce battle was fought on Aquidneck. The British had strengthened the town of Newport, but the Americans wanted it. A French fleet set up a blockade forcing the British to scuttle their own small fleet. Then Colonial soldiers landed on the island, and the British withdrew.
But soon, a much larger British fleet appeared to take on the French ships. As the two fleets set for battle, a hurricane came up and damaged and scattered both fleets. The French withdrew for repairs.
Without the French, American land forces could not breach the British fortifications. As they withdrew, the British attacked. The Rhode Island regiments fought fiercely and well, and broke the British line, driving them back.
One of the Rhode Island regiments met up with Hessian troops, who attacked them in three waves. This particular regiment was predominantly made up of men of African descent, and many Native Americans. The Rhode Island regiment beat back the Hessians so fast and furiously that after the battle the Hessian commander asked for a transfer: It seems he was afraid that his men would kill him if he went into battle with them again, because he had subjected them to so much slaughter.
Although the campaign failed in its overall goal, the new American nation took pride in its fighting troops. The Hessians were known as tough, professional soldiers, but the Americans were pretty tough themselves, chasing them out. The Continental Army was clearly an effective hard fighting force.
American General Greene was at the battle, and wrote:
“To behold our fellows, chasing the Hessians off the field of battle, afforded a pleasure which you can better conceive than I describe.”
He went on to say, “I had the pleasure to see them run in worse disorder than they did at the Battle of Monmouth.”
So for now you can say, See! The Hessians are going!
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