Monday, July 24, 2017

"In what a bad condition I found the Regiment Prinz Friedrich!": A Worst Regiment

Staff and volunteers at Ft. Ticonderoga doing a phenomenal portrayal of Prinz Friedrich .

Dear Reader,

Having examined one of the best units in the eighteenth century, the Delaware Regiment, we will now turn to examining one of the worst: Brunwick Regiment Prinz Friedrich. Some reenactors portray this unit quite well, particularly when displaying its garrison duty at Fort Ticonderoga. This post is not intended to be a hit-job on anyone's favorite unit, or reenacting career.

Despite all of that, I have to assert that Regiment Prinz Friedrich was one of the worst regular infantry units in Revolutionary era North America. This pains me to say, as the regimental commander, Christian Julius Prätorius, is one of my favorite figures from the revolutionary era. I have worked with his records a number of times, in the course of writing my masters thesis, as well as an article I wrote for the Seven Years' War Association Journal.[1]

Members of the recreated Regiment Prinz Friedrich enjoy garrison service at Fort Ticonderoga
The regiment hailed from the small state of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel in the latter half of the eighteenth century. It served in the Seven Years' War in Europe, before being sent to Canada during the American War of Independence. The main evidence against Regiment Prinz Friedrich comes from the second and third factors of our criteria: performance on campaign and opinions of its army commander. In the other three areas, we are left with a relatively slim pile of evidence, Prinz Friedrich was certainly mentioned by the diarists of the Burgoyne campaign, but only in passing, Christian Julius Prätorius had a rather normal reputation, and historians have been relatively silent on individual qualities of the regiment, preferring to examine Burgoyne's Brunswickers as a whole. Finally, in a rather unique case, the reputation of the regiment suffered as a result of a scandal involving a regimental chaplain.

In the course of its tour to North America, Regiment Prinz Friedrich was usually utilized as a garrison force. Excepting the advance to Fort Ticonderoga, and a minor role in the Battle of Hubbardton, the regiment spent most of the war in garrison service. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, its very role as a garrison prevented the regiment from being captured at the debacle of Saratoga. In John Brown's raid on Fort Ticonderoga, Regiment Prinz Friedrich performed very well, certainly outshining the efforts of the British 53rd Regiment of Foot. So, if it performed adequately, if not exceptionally under fire, why might we think it was a poor regiment?

First of all, garrison regiments did not enjoy a high reputation in Germanic military circles and were often referred to as Mauerscheisser, a less than polite term intentionally calling out their status as low-quality fortress soldiers.[2] Thus, by choosing to leave Regiment Prinz Friedrich behind, Brunswick General Riedesel indicated it was the least trustworthy of the regiments he had available. In an ironic twist, the American rebels captured Riedesel and his regiments in the Burgoyne campaign. However, since the Regiment Prinz Friedrich stayed at Fort Ticonderoga, they remained in British service, out of American hands. At times, it paid to be a poor soldier.

However, being relegated to a minor, garrison role did not necessarily mean that that the men of Regiment Prinz Friedrich were poor soldiers. What possible reason could Riedesel have had for placing them in the garrison at Fort Ticonderoga? Why did he choose Prinz Friedrich, rather any of his other five regiments?

A detachment of Prinz Friedrich, looking much better than they did on August 27th, 1776

It is possible that Riedesel's reasoning dates to an inspection in the late summer of 1776. In a report to headquarters on August 27th, 1776, Riedesel notes, "But as regards the Prinz Friedrich Regiment, I regret to say that I did not find it in the condition I desired, and which I had hoped for after the assurances given me by Lieutenant-Colonel Prätorius."[3] Riedesel unpacked his objections even further in a subsequent letter to Praetorius: "In what a bad condition I found the Regiment Prinz Friedrich! I am convinced that as long as the regiment has existed, it has never drilled so badly as on the day I saw it."[4] Riedesel included a number of specific complaints, which read like a litany of poor soldiering:
"Most of the men rest their heads on the right shoulder, consequently the left point on their hats is in a line with their guns. There is no life in their manual exercises, and their running fire lasts a quarter of an hour. After each exercise the men move their hands, knees and feet, touch their faces or grasp their hats, and even look to the left. The regiment is never in step when advancing, the line wavers constantly, the men bend their knees and stick out their heads, and they load their guns so slowly that not one of them has it resting firmly on his shoulder at 30 [seconds]. The platoons do not fire at the same time when advancing, and after the men have loaded they run back to the battalion line just as unevenly. The officers have no method when issuing commands, they give orders every moment and are not certain about anything, and when advancing they waver quite as much as the privates. In short, there are faults to find with everything, and that lies in the fact that the men have not been properly drilled in companies."[5]
The man dishing out the pain: Friedrich Adolph, Freiherr von Riedesel

 Ouch! It may seem from the following litany of complaints that Riedesel was a drill-square, by the book, soldier, but there is much evidence to suggest that he adapted to fighting in North America quite well. Context is everything, the proper drill-square performance was an invaluable part of the life of an eighteenth-century soldier, even if it usually did not match up with combat experience. You can see some of Riedesel's own thoughts on the importance of adapting to wilderness warfare in this post.

So, don't read the following to suggest that Riedesel was a drill-square tyrant (indeed, he was a dashing hussar officer in the Seven Years' War). Rather this is a display of his keen knowledge that drill-square perfection was an important indication of the quality and determination of the men performing it. Perhaps the most telling part of his indictment is that he saves his criticism at the speed of loading for the last, most important critique. So, how could Regiment Prinz Friedrich remedy the situation?

Riedesel sadly noted, “You will have to commence again from the beginning, first in files and then in companies, to march, do manual exercises, load, and repeat this until all the companies are equally well drilled.” He exhorts Prätorius to, “make the maladroit and the ignorant stop forward every time,” for punishment. The letter made clear that Riedesel no longer trusted Prätorius. Riedesel appointed another Lt. Colonel, Baum of the Braunschweig Dragoon Regiment, to oversee the drilling of Regiment Prinz Friedrich. “Baum… has received orders from me to see them drill frequently, and to tell you when he finds the companies so far advanced that you can draw the battalion together, and then you will unite all the companies[.]” By placing the decision making power in the hands of Baum, rather than Prätorius, Riedesel showed his lack of faith in Prätorius’ judgment. [6]

Riedesel continued,

"as soon as Lieutenant-Colonel Baum finds that the regiment drills well and reports it to me, you can cease drilling when [Baum] has given you permission, and then only drill once a week, so that the men do not forget what they have been taught. But until the regiment gets into proper condition, you must drill 4 times a week, and leave 2 days for resting." [7]

Riedesel closed his letter on a rather hopeful note, indicating that Prätorius would be able to achieve the outlined requirements. Regiment Prinz Friedrich did indeed join the invasion south into the rebellious colonies, even if Riedesel assigned them to a garrison role after the fall of Ticonderoga.

Finally, it is possible that the reputation of the regiment suffered in another way. The regimental chaplain (Feldprediger) Friedrich Fügerer, was brought up on charges of ill-conduct, which according to the morals of the time, included censure for homosexual relations. Regimental Auditor P.G. Wolpers worried that, "“not only everyone in the regiment, but the Canadian nation itself has been scandalized by him [Fügerer].” Wolpers indicated that the Prinz Friedrich Regiment's chaplain, as well as his perceived indiscretions, had become "the general talk at parties."[8]

Sketches of the Brunswick Infantry Regiments drawn by Ensign von Hille

A member of another Braunschweig infantry regiment, Lieutenant von Papet of the Rhetz regiment, recorded his views on Fügerer in his diary. On January 15th, 1779, Papet records that the commander of the Rhetz regiment received a letter of apology from Fügerer. According to von Papet, in this letter Fügerer, “cloaked all of his infamous actions under the influence of drunkenness.” Thus, according to Papet, Fügerer had much to hide. He also informs his reader that the letter, “will be put aside as future proof that he cared as little for us spiritually as bodily.” Thus, it is apparent that Fügerer had indeed created a bad name with the other regiments in Canada.[9]

It is certainly unfair to imply that this scandal impacted the military readiness of Regiment Prinz Friedrich, but it may have impacted the perception of the regiment, both among other regiments, and internally. As a result of their garrison assignments, censure from the army commander, and scandal marring the regimental reputation, it appears as though Regiment Prinz Friedrich may have had a low status during their deployment to North America.

Therefore, without demeaning the sacrifice of the soldiers, it may not be out of the realm of probability to suggest that Regiment Prinz Friedrich was one of the worst units in the American War of Independence. While the regiment's performance under fire was not necessarily poor, it drew censure from its army commander, and as a result, was placed in low-status garrison service. Oddly enough, this meant that Regiment Prinz Friedrich would escape capture with Burgoyne's army at Saratoga. Regiment Prinz Friedrich was then able to do what it apparently did best: relatively obscure garrison service.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Alexander Burns, "Honor, Religion, and Reputation: The Worldview of the German Subsidientruppen who fought in the American War of Independence." Ball State University, Masters Thesis, 2014. A portion of this post is taken from my 2016 article, "'A Question of Doing it Quickly:' Essential Qualities of North Germanic Infantrymen, 1756-1783," published in the Journal of the Seven Years' War Association. 
[2] Cathal J. Nolan, Wars of the Age of Louis XIV, 1650-1715: An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare and Civilization, 286.; Duffy, Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare, 81.
[3] "Correspondence of General Riedesel," in Hessian Documents of the American Revolution (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989), H.Z. 929, microform.
[4] Ibid, H.Z. 930.
[5] Ibid, H.Z. 930-1.
[6] Ibid, H.Z. 932.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Proceedings of the Military Court of the Prinz Friedrich Regiment, October 12, 1778, NdsStA Wf, 38 B (Alt 237), Acta Militaria.
[9] Von Papet and Burgoyne, Canada during the American Revolutionary War, 105.


  1. More fascinating information! Thank you for the illustrations, photos, and text.

  2. Very interesting post. I did wonder why some regiments seemed to have seen very little (or no) action during campaigns.