Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War

“We have long wanted a reliable and comprehensive study of the 30,000 Hessian soldiers who fought on behalf of the British in the American Revolutionary War. Friederike Baer, a very talented historian, has given us that much desired book, especially enriched by the use of hitherto unexploited German archives. A superb contribution to our understanding of the Revolution.”

Gordon S. Wood

“Friederike Baer’s extraordinary Hessians brilliantly analyzes the predicaments of thousands of German fighting men contracted into Britain’s American War from 1775 to 1783. Through exhaustive research on both sides of the Atlantic, Baer recovers the neglected perspective of these soldiers and their families, deployed to far off lands, to wage war against a variegated insurgency, on behalf of a nation not their own. That is achievement enough, but Hessians does more. Destined to be the authoritative work on its subject for a generation to come, Hessians challenges us to think anew about the landscapes, peoples, and ambitions of the new United States.”

Jane Kamensky

“This study offers fascinating insights into the experiences of German troops during the Revolutionary War; as newcomers, they saw the American conflict with fresh eyes. A marvel of archival research, it reveals an eighteenth-century civil war from the perspective of outsiders. Baer’s sharp observations give a vivid sense of the Germans’ wartime experiences and real sense of pride, frustration, and tragedy. The author successfully gets beyond the Hessians’ unfairly fearsome reputation and illuminates the soldiers’ own distinct impressions of the people, places, and combat they found in America. This richly textured account includes plenty of startling new revelations about the Revolutionary War.”

Benjamin L. Carp

Hessians is a deftly written, richly detailed study and appraisal of a complex and vital component in Revolutionary War history. …  Baer’s mastery of source material—twenty-six pages of bibliography, six of manuscript collections, mostly German—is reflected in her skillful weaving of first-hand accounts into her overall narrative. … Hessians is a superb work of scholarship and is an essential volume for any student of Revolutionary War history.”

The Journal of the American Revolution, August 22, 2022

My book about the German soldiers in the American Revolutionary War was published by Oxford University Press in April 2022. It is available at Amazon https://amzn.to/3wT036Z, Barnes and Noble https://bit.ly/3RaD8w4, or wherever else books are sold. You can also order directly from OUP https://bit.ly/3B5q4Tc (use code AAFLYG6 for 30% off cover price).

Between 1776 and 1783, Britain hired an estimated 30,000 German troops in the war against the American rebels. These troops were supplied by six German territories within the Holy Roman Empire: Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Hanau, Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, Ansbach-Bayreuth, Anhalt-Zerbst, and Waldeck. Because the majority were supplied by the territories of Hessen-Kassel and Hessen-Hanau, the label “Hessian” has been used to describe all German troops in British service in North America, regardless of place of origin.

Excerpt from “General Extract,” Amerika, H V: 9, Stadtarchiv Braunschweig, Germany

In her memoirs, Luise Wiedemann, the sister of the physician Christian Friedrich Michaelis who served in the Hessian corps, described the journey to America almost as adventurous as going to the moon. This comparison was not very far-fetched. As late as the 1770s, the average German probably did not know much about the Western hemisphere, especially North America, and they knew even less about the war they were about to enter. Many were eager to share their impressions of the American war, the land and the people with family and friends back home. Collectively they wrote thousands of letters, kept journals and wrote memoirs, some of which were published in German-speaking Europe during or after the war. In addition, military and civilian officials produced a voluminous body of official records, including correspondence, regimental diaries, muster rolls, and other kinds of material that documented the troops’ activities. Thankfully, a large amount of these records has been preserved in archival collections in Germany and the United States. My project is based largely on this material, the bulk of which remains unpublished (and only available in German in the original script), and has not previously been examined by historians of the American Revolutionary war.

Excerpt from Letter from August Wilhelm Balthasar Du Roi to his sister Concordia, Quartier zu Lotbiniere, 5 May 1781, Amerika, H V: 9, Stadtarchiv Braunschweig, Germany.

I previously published some of my research on German responses to Britain’s decision to hire German soldiers in the war against the Americans in Early American Studies 13 (1), (Winter 2015), pp. 111-150; and in the Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies 38 (3), (September 2015): 443-458. You can read the essays here: