Sunday, March 4, 2018

Primary Source: Hessian Description of the Battle of Long Island

Hessian Flanquers 

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to continue examining primary sources related to the Hessians in the American War of Independence. This source is from an anonymous Hessian soldier, likely a staff officer, who accompanied the Hessian troops to Long Island in 1776. I have taken excerpts of this account, which address the Hessian role in the Battle of Long Island, on August 27th, 1776. This source, like the previous one, comes from the large microfilm collection, Hessian Documents of the American Revolution. 

August 22nd...

...the signal for landing was given, and as not a single one of the enemy appeared, it was safely carried out without firing a shot. As soon as the boats had landed their men, they returned to the big ships and fetched away the others, who were thus landed in four journeys. Our Commander-in-Chief, General Howe, immediately led the first English troops which were landed inland in the direction of Gravesend, which he found to be quite deserted by the inhabitants, meeting none of the enemy. The other battalions, as soon as they had formed up, followed, and remained before the said village till towards midday. General Clinton, with a part of the English troops, including their Grenadiers, struck off to the left of the landing-place, occupied the heights of a wooded range of hills running down the whole length of the islands in the middle, and thus covered our left flank in the position assigned to it. General Howe made Gravesend his headquarters and retained the English Guards for its protection. General Cornwallis with the Scotch Highlanders and their light infantry, together with Colonel Donop and his Brigade of Hessian Jaegers and Grenadiers marched three English miles further on to a village named Flatbush at the foot of the above-named hills and occupied the avenue there. Another English corps, I do not know under whose orders, marched somewhat further forward, occupied the road to the ferry through the mountains and thereby covered our left flank. All this took place in the greatest stillness and without hearing a shot. But the next day the little war began; their riflemen and militia, (I have not seen anything yet of the regulars) began to harass our outposts without ceasing day and night; their mode of action is like the Pandours, they shoot from an unusual distance, for which reason our few wounded are only slightly so. For all that, the Hessian Jaegers, who have turned out right well, gave a good account of themselves; it was reckoned that they had caused a loss of 50 men, partly killed and partly wounded, to the enemy, and they had only one man killed a few slightly wounded. This harassing continued till the 26th.

August 26th...

We were much vexed that we could do nothing in retaliation for all these insults from such a despicable people, till at last the whole army, with the exemption of Colonel v. Lossberg, who commanded General Stirn's above-mentioned Brigade consisting of the four Regiments, which had remained on Staten Island, had been brought over here during the days spent here. Then on the evening of the 26th General Cornwallis marched with all the English Grenadiers and Light Infantry to the right and made the attack next day on the right had side: the Scotch Highlanders who were with us, marched to the left to General Clinton's and commenced the attack even before day-break. Towards six o'clock on the morning of

August 27th

the Hessian Grenadiers received orders to set out and advance upon Flatbush; Linsing took up its position on the right hand side of the village, Slock the left-hand side, and Minnigerode in the village street, in order to attack from that position. But as the attacks from the right and left-wings were already very furious and the Hessian Jaegers together with the Grenadiers, skirmishers, and scouts covered the battalions,  they [the battalions] had nothing to do, but found everything forsaken. Had the rebels wished to fight as honest soldiers, they would have given us a great deal of trouble, for now we discovered their position and retrenchments, which we could not reconnoiter before, because everything had been concealed in the wood. The Minnigerode Battalion came across a battery protected by three double barriers of felled trees, which would have cost a frightful amount of bloodshed to have taken, but which was deserted, so they had nothing further to do than clear away the barriers in order to bring the guns through. We then gained the heights behind the wood without any difficulty. The rebels, being an irregular horde, were now like a scattered herd of cattle, singly and in troops, but with no closed battalions; we now began to attack them in the rear and drove them towards our regiments in camp, who consequently took more of them prisoners than we did. Their whole loss is computed to amount to 2,500 men, including as prisoner, Lord Sterling, one of their most distinguished Generals. The loss on our side was 250 men, including one Hessian killed and 30 wounded, most slightly so. If they trophies take I know nothing further than that one was a flag, red in colour and bearing the device "Liberty"; this was captured by the Rall Regiment in camp, two guns and one howitzer all taken by English. The rebels, computed to number 14,000 men on the island on this day, withdrew after battle into a very finely fortified camp on the northern coast of the island opposite New York, and we pitched ours on the aforementioned heights in front of the wood.

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Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

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