I’ve been recovering from a major foot surgery and the other day received three very cool “get well” cards from some kids at my church. Many thanks to Noelle, Jackson and Calvin for the Scripture encouragement and very cool art work featuring Lego soldiers. These young folks know of my interest in history and decorated their cards with pictures of soldiers modeled on Legos.
All that to say it reminded me of a little article I wanted to write during my recovery. While doing some research on my genealogy I ran a Google search on my last name just for the hec of it. I was looking for something historical or noteworthy assigned to the family name.
One of the hits featured a certain Captain Von Roeder as the company commander of Anspach Jaegers during the American Revolution. I highly doubt that Captain Von Roeder is related to me given the fact there are many, many Roeders, Roders, Raeders and other spellings that drive up the total number of Roeders so chances are slim to none we are in the same family tree. Besides, I cannot trace my Roeder lineage in America any further back than roughly 1880 or so and Captain Von Roeder led the Jaegers around 1780. My German ancestors came from Pomerania in Germany and that’s a fair distance from Anspach and that too adds to the odds that Captain Roeder and I are not related.
Nevertheless, it’s fun to speculate what Captain Von Roeder was like and what his Anspach Jaegers were like so I did a little research. But before I get to that here’s a couple of things I know off the top of my head.
1. The Germans who fought on the British side during the American Revolution are collectively known as “Hessians.” This is probably because a majority of the units came from Hesse-Cassel. It was three Hessian Regiments that General George Washington surprised on Christmas Day, 1776 at the Battle of Trenton. Although many units did come from Hesse-Cassel many came from other small German states. For example, the majority of Germans that accompanied Burgoyne during the Saratoga Campaign (1777) were from Brunswick. Other small states like Anspach also contributed units like Von Reeder’s Jaegers to America during the revolution.
2. The German units that fought along the British during the American Revolution are usually called mercenaries, that is, a soldier that fights for money. This would be true only in the broadest application of the term mercenary. Because of Frederick the Great of Prussia German units in general were held in high regard for their training. Britain’s King George III was in fact a Hanoverian and had many connections with various German states including Hesse, Brunswick and Anspach. The British Army itself was rather small by continental standards and the British has a pretty large empire to patrol to boot so it made sense to recruit soldiers elsewhere.
So King George used his contacts to recruit German Regiments for the conflict but they were hardly mercenary in the sense that anyone got rich. They were mercenary only in the sense they got paid like any other British soldier would. The fellow that got rich would have been their Duke who hired them out. He would have been the mercenary while his soldiers did the actual campaigning.
It was useful for the patriots to paint them all as mercenary since the American Revolution was more like a Civil War than anything else. Everyone was British except for the Germans and the patriots wanted to paint King George III a scoundrel for using German mercenaries in a family squabble. In any event the proportion of German units to British units looks high but it must be remembered that many were used for garrison duty only with the notable exception of the Burgoyne expedition that involved all those Brunswickers.
3. Another misconception is that dull-witted British marched around in blocks and columns and were pretty good targets in their red coats for the sharp-eyed riflemen of the American militia. The British just as the Americans used linear tactics to fight major battles. That is, both sides lined up should-to-shoulder and blasted away at each other at ranges of less than 100 yards. This is because the muskets of the day, like the British Brown Bess were not accurate too much over 80 yards.
The idea of American rifles picking off British redcoats is not entirely without merit since some units on the American side were equipped with the Pennsylvania long rifle.
Rifling was not exactly new but it was uncommon to use rifles for war. This is because a rifle could not fit a bayonet like a smoothbore musket could and since bayonet charges were common a rifleman could be at a serious disadvantage.
On the other hand riflemen could be effective out to 300+ yards so it paid to have some of these guys around. Although the British had light infantry for skirmishing they were not rifle armed and instead carried the standard Brown Bess. To get genuine riflemen the British has to either get them from loyalist units (rifle armed units rare among the loyalists) or recruit them from the Germans who invented rifling in the first place.
Von Roeder’s Jaeger were specialists just as were their American opponents were who were armed with rifles instead of muskets. The term “Jaeger” in German means “hunter” and most Jaegers were indeed hunters and recruited from the various German game preserves where they hunted before being called up.
Jaeger units became popular during the reign of Frederick the Great of Prussia and in a short time most German states had units of Jaegers serving as skirmishers, raiding parties and snipers. They were an effective balance to the more numerous American riflemen during the Revolution.
Even the Jaeger’s uniform was a departure from the more conventional units of the time. The British as a whole wore red, the Germans blue, the French white and the Americans were a mixed bag of blue. brown and hunting shirts of various hues. Jaeger’s wore green and buff and thus the first attempts at camouflage were made.
The Jaeger’s of Captain Von Roeder’s company were armed with a German manufactured Jaeger rifle. It differed a little in appearance from the American Pennsylvania Rifle but both were effective out to about 300 yards.
Captain Von Roeder’s Anspach Jaegers served with the more famous Hessian units and in the Southern Campaign. They were present at Guildford Courthouse and some surrendered with Cornwallis at Yorktown which effectively ended the war.
As for Captain Von Roeder he ended the war as part of the garrison on Charlestown, South Carolina and presumably returned to Germany after the war.