United States History: The Hessians in America Part 2

About the German Hessians who came to the United States to fight against the Americans and remained.

It was during the summer of 1776, however, that a one-man crusade got under way. Christopher Ludwick, a German-born Philadelphia baker, had Washington's blessing to pose as a rebel deserter, infiltrate the British lines at Staten Island, and persuade the Hessians stationed there to desert. This tall, erect man established an immediate rapport with the Hessians. He talked of the lush farmlands in Pennsylvania that could be had for the asking, filling the Hessians' minds with visions of wealth. In Pennsylvania, he assured them, they could speak their own tongue, work their own farms, and the Pennsylvania Dutch girls were buxom and willing. Ludwick's plan worked. Hundreds of Hessians slipped away by night, with Ludwick accompanying them. Many did indeed escape to Pennsylvania where they turned to the nonaggressive life of farming. And later on, at Ludwick's suggestion, many captured Germans were sent to Pennsylvania to become useful citizens of this new country.

The loss of a few hundred Hessians, however, was negligible, for on July 12, 1776, Admiral Richard Howe arrived in New York harbor with 150 ships and a reported 15,000 reinforcements for his brother, Gen. William Howe. And on August 1, another 40 ships dropped anchor with 3,000 more troops to join those already stationed on Staten Island, that stronghold of Tories. Such a gathering of might made it obvious that George Washington's days were numbered in New York.

The Battle of Long Island ensued on August 22 and lasted 7 days. The British and Hessians were victorious, and a British officer wrote: "Rejoice, my friend, that we have given the Rebels a damned crush. . . . The Hessians and our brave Highlanders gave no quarter, and it was a fine sight to see with what alacrity they dispatched the Rebels with their bayonets after we had them surrounded. . . ."

Washington suffered another crushing defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington, that supposedly impregnable fortress on the Hudson opposite the Palisades, at the hands of the Hessians under the command of Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen, known to his tablemates as the man who buttered his bread with his thumb. At least 2,500 Americans were taken prisoner, and tormented after being forced to strip by their German captors, until some disgusted British officers put a stop to it. The incident prompted the famed British orator, Edmund Burke, to say in Parliament that "This sort of glory, won by German mercenaries against free-born English subjects has no charms for me."

Thus began Washington's humiliating retreat south across the Jersey flats. He arrived on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware on December 8 with only 3,000 men, many of them dispirited and broken, and most of them without shoes and coats.

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