Baroness On The Battlefield


We spent our time as pleasantly as possible. Our peace, however, was disturbed by the fever epidemic in New York at the time. [Following the smallpox epidemic, cholera had broken out in the city.] Twenty in our house alone grew ill, and eight of them were in great danger; among these eight were my husband and my daughter, little Augusta. My sorrow and anxiety can be imagined! I did nothing day and night but divide my time nursing my husband and daughter. My husband was so ill that we often thought he would not live through the day, and little Augusta had such fever attacks that when she had a chill she begged me to lie on her, and although she was only nine years old, she thoroughly shook me and the whole bed. It was during chills like this that the patients usually passed away, and I was told daily that fifty or sixty more people had been buried, which, of course, did not help to make me more cheerful. Also temperatures during this fever were so frightful that pulses were 135. All our servants were ill, and I had to do everything myself. I was nursing my little America at the time, and my care of the sick left me neither the time nor the desire to lie in bed, except while I was nursing the baby. Then while doing this I lay down in my bed and slept. At night I was usually busy making lemonade for my patients, which I made with absinthiated salts, lemon juice, sugar, and water. In the space of two weeks I used two cases of lemons containing five hundred each, as all my patients were given this drink. …

Of the thirty persons in our house, only ten stayed well. The cook, the kitchen maid, and so on, all became sick and could only alternate in performing their duties on their better days. And besides all this we had horribly hot weather. It is amazing what a human can bear . . . but nevertheless it makes me happy to think that I have been useful, and that without my efforts my dear ones, who now make me so happy, perhaps would no longer be with me.

At last all of our household who had been sick became well again, and not one had died, which was a rich reward for my efforts. We spent the whole summer of 1780 at this most lovely country seat. … My husband, General Phillips, and their aides were finally exchanged in the autumn of 1780.

After nearly a year on parole in New York, General von Riedesel, along with General Phillips, was exchanged for the American General Benjamin Lincoln, who had been captured by the British at Charleston during the previous summer. The exchange agreement permitted the Baron to go back on active duty, and he commanded troops on Long Island during the winter of 1780-81. The following summer, he was transferred to Canada to take command of all German troops there. The Riedesels lived on “a magnificent farm” in Sorel, where the Richelieu and St. Lawrence rivers converge. In August, 1783, having been informed that a preliminary peace treaty between England and America had been signed, General von Riedesel took his family—including three-year-old America—and his troops home to Germany.