Target Practice in Canada, 1776/77

In late spring of 1776, several thousand soldiers from Braunschweig and Hanau arrived in Quebec, Canada. The first division of Braunschweigers, including 2,238 men and around 100 women, had departed from the German port of Stade in mid-March. Traveling with them was a Hanau infantry regiment of around 760 men. The second division, numbering 2,144 men and around 100 women, embarked on the last day of May. It was accompanied by 128 men belonging of the Hanau artillery company. It is impossible to determine with certainty how many children were with these troops, but they probably numbered in the dozens.

Many of the men were inexperienced in warfare, and even the veterans among them had never fought in terrain like Canada’s. The American war would require some changes to conventional military tactics. For example, the topography of the land essentially forced the army to balance the necessity for soldiers to make crucial decisions without orders from their superiors with the need to maintain discipline and keep the line intact. The men were encouraged to determine the right moment to fire at the enemy, and when to seek protection behind rocks and trees and the like. After several weeks of training specifically of the new recruits, all of the troops were exercised in the Canadian terrain, first as companies and then as regiments. The men practiced moving through thick brush and dense forests, and they had to learn how to row the small boats, or bateaux, that would be used for transportation. In addition, in order to motivate the soldiers to target practice with their firearms, the commander of the Braunschweig corps, General Adolph von Riedesel, gave awards to the best shooters in each regiment.

The document summarizes the prizes paid to the best shooters among Braunschweig dragoons. The heading of the document reads: “By order of General Riedesel, the following dragoons were the best shots at target practice, and they were paid the following prizes.” The men were paid different amounts, depending on the number of shots before they had hit the nail (“Nagel”) or rings. Jacob Gerecke, for example, hit the nail with his second shot.

The document is signed by the Braunschweig Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum. He is best known as the commander of the mostly German detachment that was defeated at Bennington in August 1777. Baum was mortally wounded during the battle.

TRANSCRIPTION

Citation: [Nach der ordre …], in Thomas Addis Emmet Collection, Series IX. Lossing’s Field Book of the Revolution, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library Digital Collections. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/bb266ec4-a786-320d-e040-e00a180616a6

4 thoughts on “Target Practice in Canada, 1776/77

  1. Absolutely fantastic. Thank you, Friederike, for showcasing this document. It’s important because it provides yet more proof that Baum’s Braunschweig dragoons were adept at fighting on foot and at taking aim – things that ride against the stereotype, particularly as relates to the Battle of Bennington. Please note, however, that the dragoons were armed with and utilized bayonet-mounting carbines, not rifles (which further demonstrates how good they were).

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    1. Hi Eric, Thank you for your comment. I am pleased to hear that you find this helpful! Thanks also for the note about the arms used by dragoons. I used rifles in the brief introduction as a kind of generic term since the target practice was not limited to dragoons.

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      1. Happy to help, Friederike. “Firearms” is a good catchall for the variety of smallarms carried by the Germans in question. These would include muskets (Gewehre / Musketen), which were in the hands of most (ie, musketeers and grenadiers). The Dragoons carried shorter, lighter muskets called carbines (Carabiner). Rifles (Buechsen) were carried by Jaeger only. There was only one Jaeger company (a little over 100) included in the Braunschweig forces in Canada 1776-77, which was a subdivision of the Light Infantry Battalion von Baerner. This battalion consisted of five companies; the other four companies carried carbines (the Dragoons and Light Infantry were light troops). Standard muskets and carbines were smoothbore pieces not known for great accuracy; on the other hand, rifles had rifled bores which increased accuracy substantially.

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