Thursday, July 27, 2017

"He was a Blue and Bloody Man!": The Von Bose Regiment (No. 8)

A reenactor portraying a soldier of Regiment von Bose
Photo Credit: Andrew Shook

Dear Reader,

Despite the harsh criticism of Regiment Prinz Friedrich by Riedesel, the "German" forces who served alongside the British in the American War of Independence were not inferior to their Anglo counterparts. Despite several notable defeats, Germanic Subsidientruppen were capable of fighting as well as their British allies and American foes. Today, we are going to examine one of the best regiments in the American War of Independence- the von Trümbach/von Bose Regiment.

The regimental name change indicates a change in the regimental Chef, or colonel-proprietor. Raised in 1701, the regiment had a long history of serving as British allies. In 1746, the regiment served alongside Hanoverian forces in Scotland, during the suppression of the Jacobite rebellion. Though not serving at Culloden, the regiment was involved in combat operations, and blocked the movement of the Jacobite army. Around this time there was a small confrontation between Jacobite forces and Hessians. This small action received a mention in Jacobite Dougal Graham's lyric history of the rebellion, in which the Jacobites beat a hasty retreat after the Hessian battalion guns opened fire:

"Their grenadiers had caps of brass,
Thus order'd were the men of Hesse
Who' camp'd for some time near Dunkel'
And kept that pass, till they heard tell...
How at Culloden all were broke
And they had never fought a stroke,
Except one cannonading 'bout.
The Clans afar came on a scout,
To view their camp from a hill-top
Who soon retir'd when they drew up;
Whene'er their cannon began to play,
They skilled [scattered] like rams and ran away:
Described the Hessians even as they can,
Said, 'He was a blue and bloody man!'"[1]

Later, on October 11th 1746, at the Battle of Rocoux, the regiment (at this point in the time, called the Mansbach Regiment) served with distinction. Christopher Duffy described the scene: "Frederick, [the future landgrave of Hessen-Kassel], with tears in his eyes, succeed in rallying his battered troops, and at the end of the battle the regiment of Mansbach... stood its ground to cover the allied retreat and was almost wiped out."[2] Likewise, The Gentleman's Magazine for 1746 reports that the Mansbach regiment, "stood their ground to the last, and refused quarter, so that few of them escaped."[3]

Hessian Troops at the Battle of Krefeld (Richard Knötel)

During the course of the Seven Years' War in Europe, the regiment served with Prinz Ferdinand of Brunswick in the western European theater. In the course of this war, the regiment served in a number battles, such as Krefeld, Minden, Bergen, Emsdorf,  Vellinghausen, and Wilhelmsthal. It served directly alongside Prussian troops at the combat of Langensalza. Although not performing poorly in any of these engagements, the regiment also failed to win great distinction and fame in the course of the Seven Years' War. Rather, they provided good, solid service.

For much of the American War of Independence, the Trümbach Regiment was not heavily engaged. The regiment took part in the New York and New Jersey campaign of 1776, but failed to accompany the main British army on campaign around Philadelphia in 1777.  Clinton utilized it in the abortive move to assist Burgoyne.  In 1780, the British transferred the newly renamed Von Bose Regiment to the Southern theater of war. Some authors claim that they fought in other battles of the Southern theater, such as Eutaw Springs. If so, it is likely that this means a company sized force or smaller, since the main regiment stayed with Cornwallis, or that the author is refering to the Von Rall/Von Trumbach regiment, rather than the Von Trümbach/Von Bose Regiment.

Two soldiers of varying ages in Regiment von Bose 
During the Southern Campaign in 1781, the average age in the regiment was 33, compared with the American age of 23, and the British age of 28.[5] As a result, experienced men such as Sargeant Berthold Koch were prevalent in the regiment. Koch was born in 1742, (not recruited into the army that year, as Rodney Atwood claims), and joined the (then) Mansbach Regiment at 15, at the onset of the Seven Years' War. During this time, he served in battles such as Bergen.[6] The commander of the regiment in the Southern campaign, Johann Christian du Buy, had joined the military at 14, and was now in his mid-forties. He was a veteran of 13 major battles in the European Seven Years' War.[7]

Von Bose at Guilford in miniature
However, the regiment fought its most famous action on March 15th, 1781, at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. In the course of this battle, the Von Bose Regiment, together with the 1st battalion of British Guards, broke through two lines of American defenders. Circumstantial evidence suggests that by this point, the regiment had adopted the British standard style of advance during the War of Independence. Sargeant Berthold Koch noted that the regiment moved with a high degree of speed in this engagement.[8]Johann Christian du Buy reported the following to Knyphausen:
"After quickly laying aside our tornisters and everything that could impede a soldier, the 71st and von Bose recieved orders to more forward and attack the enemy... We had not advanced more than 300 yards when we found a deep ditch in front of us, with tall banks and full of water. After crossing it with difficulty, we then came to a fenced wheat field; on the other side of this field 1500 continentals and militia were deployed in line... I formed the battalion into line with the greatest of speed and we ran to meet the enemy in tolerable order."[9] 
A Soldier of the Von Bose Regiment, reimagined by Don Troiani

It was then, together with the 1st Guards, drawn into a running firefight in the woods. Major du Buy, and Major von Scheer first fought the Regiment back-to-back, and then led the regiment in two parts against the colonial enemy.  Bertold Koch, a sergeant with Von Bose, recalled,
"before we knew it, the enemy attacked us again in the rear. The regiment, therefore, had to divide into two parts. The second, command by Major Scheer, had to attack toward the rear, against the enemy who were behind us, and forced them once again to take flight... during this time, Colonel du Buy advanced with the first part of the regiment, and Major Scheer returned with the second part of the regiment and rejoined the first..."[10]  
It may seem a bit odd that Koch refers to du Buy as a Lt. Colonel, most sources from the battle indicate his rank as major. It is likely that Koch is simply remembering things in the wrong order, du Buy's April 18th after-action report indicates that he was a Lt. Colonel at that time. Whatever the case, in his own after-action report, British General Cornwallis reported that, "the 1st Battalion of Guards and Regiment von Bose were warmly engaged, in front, flank, and rear."[11]

After this battle drew to a close, the regiment continued with Cornwallis to Wilmington, and then to Virginia and finally Yorktown. At the close of the siege, the Von Bose regiment went into captivity, alongside some of the best regiments in the British army, including the 23rd Regiment of Foot. So, with their eighteenth-century service briefly described, let us turn to the other criteria, aside from service on campaign, that were outlined in the series introduction.

A soldier of von Bose in the wilds of North America
The Von Bose Regiment won the praise of its army commander. In the aftermath of the Battle of Guilford Court House, Cornwallis praised Von Bose, and listed them directly behind the Guards in his dispatches. Cornwallis believed, "The Hessian Regiment von Bose deserves my warmest praises for its discipline, alacrity, and Courage, and does honour to Major Du Buy who commands it, and who is an Officer of superior merit."[12]

On that note, let us turn to evaluations of the regimental commander in the field: Major du Buy. Aside of the praise of Cornwallis, du Buy was praised as an astute soldier by his commanders and fellow officers. Reichsfreiherr Wilhelm von Knyphausen the commander of the Hessians in North America for much of the war, suggest that du Buy was a, "most capable, gallant, and meritorious man."[13] John Graves Simcoe, observed du Buy's conduct of the surprise attack on Paramus in 1780. According to Simcoe, du Buy directed the attack with great skill, "The plan of this expedition was well laid, and as well executed: Major Du Buy seemed to be the master of the country through which he had to pass... the major was particularly attentive..."[14]

Reenactors portraying Von Bose perform drill at the Guilford Court House 

Finally, a point of analysis might be helpful in understanding the adaptability of the regiment to conditions in North America. It seems possible, if not concretely proven, that Major du Buy had a knack for knowing when British or Hessian practice was superior. There was a problem with the two-rank open order system adopted by the British in the American War of Independence: it failed to produce the volume of fire that troops with closed ranks might. This is not new information, Stephen Brumwell clearly points to this as the cause of the British defeat at Sainte-Foy in 1760.[15] Likewise, Matthew Spring indicates that a reliance on open-order bayonet charges may have become detrimental to the British by the end of the war.[16]

By contrast, at the Battle of Guilford Court House, du Buy led the regiment at great speed, speed which matched the standard British style of advance. His statements that von Bose, "ran to meet the enemy" taken together with Koch's assertion that the regiment moved, "at the double," indicates a departure from normal Hessian practice.[17] Although it is possible that these commands came directly from Campbell or Cornwallis, the relative amount of independence (especially at Guilford Court House) displayed by regiment commanders indicates that these orders were du Buy's ideas, especially considering his astute attention to terrain.

An image of Von Bose circa 1785
At this juncture,  having rambled on a bit, it may be helpful to condense my points. I believe that the Hessian Regiment Mansbach/Trümbach/Von Bose deserves to be considered as one the best regiments in the American War of Independence (and perhaps the whole of the eighteenth century), for the following reasons:

1) The regiment possessed a tradition of admirable service, from Rocoux to Guilford.
2) The praise of its fellow/superior/army officers, even when serving with allied forces. 
3) The great depth of military experience present in the regiment by 1781.
4) The reputation and skill set of the man commanding it: Johann Christian du Buy. 
5) The tradition AND adaptability present in the regiment. 

Please feel free to share this post if you know anyone who might be interested.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Dougal Graham, An Impartial History, 64.
[2] Christopher Duffy, The Best of Enemies, 150.
[3] The Gentleman's Magazine, (1746), 541.
[4] Babits and Howard, Long, Obstinate, and Bloody, 89.
[5] Rodney Atwood, The Hessians, 41. The source Atwood cites makes a different claim: K. Rogge-Ludwig, Mitteilungen an die mitglierder des Vereins für Hessische Geschichte und Landeskunde, 1876, 1-2.
[6] Atwood, The Hessians, 138.
[7]Berthold Koch, The Battle of Guilford Courthouse and the Siege and Surrender at Yorktown, 8.
[8]Du Buy, Raports vom Oberst Lieut. du Buy Regts v. Bose zu der General Lieutenant v. Knyphausen, Staatsarchiv Marburg, Best. 4h Nr. 3101.
[9]Berthold Koch, The Battle of Guilford Courthouse and the Siege and Surrender at Yorktown, 9.
[10] British National Archives, CO 5/184 112.
[11] British National Archives, CO 5/184 114-5
[12]Staatsarchiv Marburg, quoted in Atwood, The Hessians, 138.
[13]John Simcoe, Simcoe's Military Journal, A History of the Operations..., 142, 140.
[14]Stephen Brumwell, Redcoats, 261
[15]Matthew Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 244.
[16] Koch, The Battle of Guilford Court House, 9, Matthew Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 146-149


  1. I think the Trumbach Regiment in the south (Stono Ferry, etc) was the former Rall Regiment; nothing to to with Trumbach/Von Bose. The whole naming by commander concept gets very confusing! :-)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Steve! I think you are absolutely correct, and I have updated the post to reflect that.

  2. I believe the Trumbach/Von Bose Grenadier company of the Regt was separated from the Regt early, into a German Combined Grenadier Battalion. They are noted as serving near New York City in 1782.