Hessian soldiers in the Revolutionary War

In the latter part of 1775 the situation of England was a grave one. The opponents in Parliament to the action of the ministry were numerous, and comprised some of the foremost men in that body The military position of the country was still worse. Twenty-eight thousand sailors and fifty thousand soldiers had been asked for; but these were insufficient for the purposes required, and a bill enabling the king to call out the militia, to use in America, was passed.

Yet the need of soldiers was immediate, and application was made to various Continental powers, among them Holland, where a so-called Scottish brigade had existed since early in the seventeenth century. But Holland refused the use of this body, except for employment in Europe. This George III. declined. He had, indeed, obtained assistance from another quarter. Contracts had been made for the enlistment of soldiers in some of the petty German states. These were in part secret, but open negotiations were carried on with the Duke of Brunswick and the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. The subjects of these magnates were bought like so many cattle, it being arranged with the duke that every soldier killed should be paid for at the rate of the levy-money, and that three wounded should be reckoned as one killed. An annual subsidy was to be paid.

The German troops obtained in this discreditable manner numbered seventeen thousand men. Of these, Hesse-Cassel supplied twelve thousand, and Brunswick and other petty states the remainder. The affair was a disgraceful one on both sides, and aroused indignation throughout Europe. Frederick the Great, a man not over-scrupulous in his own measures, viewed it as an abominable traffic in human lives, and it is said that whenever any of these hirelings passed through his territory he levied on them the usual toll for cattle, saying that they had been sold as such.

Many in England entertained a similar feeling; yet the treaties were ratified by large majorities in Parliament, and these disgracefully-obtained troops were shipped to America. There the proceeding was viewed with the utmost indignation, and served to increase the bitterness and determination of the colonists, whose rebellious energy was greatly added to by the means thus taken to overcome it, and particularly by the measures employed to bring the Indians into the conflict in support of the British cause. Such was the state of affairs in America and England at the period at which we have now arrived. In the Declaration of Independence America had flung the gauntlet of defiance at the feet of the British government, and both sides prepared for a stern continuance of the war.

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