Anyone who has ever tried to determine estimates for the number of soldiers in the American Revolutionary War (or any other war) knows how frustrating this task can be. Whether unintentionally inaccurate or deliberately misleading, contemporary records typically include conflicting and inconsistent information about the strength of military units and the number of casualties during battles and other military encounters. More often than not, it is impossible to arrive at accurate numbers with any degree of certainty.
This frustration was also experienced by British and German military officers and officials in charge of keeping track of the troops in North America. Accurate reports about German soldiers in British service were essential for determining pays as well as the need for supplies, provisions, and replacements. As muster master general of the British forces and Inspector of the Foreign Troops, the British General George Osborn was responsible for generating regular estimates on the strength and state of the German troops in America. He spent considerable time visiting the German contingents to count the men, collect relevant information, and draw up reports. After comparing his numbers with estimates compiled by the Hessian paymaster Richard Lorentz, Osborn sent his reports to England to be presented to Parliament. They served as the basis of British payments for the German troops.
Naturally, it was expected that British and German estimates were in agreement. However, this was not always the case. Officials in Germany sometimes challenged British calculations as inaccurate or incomplete. Not surprisingly, they typically complained about British under-estimating the strength of German military units. This not only affected pay and provisions; it could also potentially mean that the territory would be compelled to bring the unit up to strength by sending additional recruits to America. Accusations of deliberate attempts to distort the numbers were rare. Rather, all sides acknowledged that maintaining an accurate count of the troops was largely impossible. Over the course of the war, keeping track of them became only more challenging as some of the contingents were dispersed across vast geographic regions, and the number of soldiers that were captured, went missing, or had deserted increased steadily. As a result, records such as the ones included with this post tend to provide estimates; the numbers are hardly ever accurate.
“State of the Foreign Troops in North America, 24 June 1777,” in Das dritte-waldeckische Regiment in Amerika …, Hessian State Archives, Marburg, HStAM Fonds 118 a No 944 a.
The documents included with this post deal with disagreements over the total strength of the Third Waldeck Regiment in New York in the summer of 1777. According to General Osborn’s “State of the Foreign troops in North America” from June 1777, the Waldeck regiment counted 679 men at that time. The Waldeck official in charge of overseeing financial matters pertaining to the Regiment, Georg August Frensdorff, disagreed. He claimed that several men that should have been counted had not been included in Osborn’s list. Moreover, he found that that the general’s numbers were not consistent with previous English lists as well as rapports that had been compiled by Waldeck officers in North America. In short, Frensdorff argued that Osborn’s estimates simply did not add up. He requested more detailed information from the regiment before he could determine its true state.
“Anmerkungen …,” in Das dritte-waldeckische Regiment in Amerika …, Hessian State Archives, Marburg, HStAM Fonds 118 a No 944 a.
Featured Image: “Return of the Waldeck Regiment of Infantry …,” in Rückkehr des dritten englisch-waldeckischen Soldregiments aus Amerika in die Heimat, 1783-1784, Hessian State Archives Marburg, HSTAM 118 a No 961. This item has been digitized: https://arcinsys.hessen.de/arcinsys/detailAction?detailid=v3531913
Citation: Both documents (from the Hessian State Archives Marburg) have been digitized: https://arcinsys.hessen.de/arcinsys/detailAction?detailid=v2152037 (Osborn list is f. 32; Frensdorff remarks is ff. 37-38).