- Historic Sites
A Hessian Visits The Victors: 1783
August/September 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 5
I became totally lost in my meditations as I tried to imagine the American army in its wretched condition, such as we had often encountered it during the year 1776 and chased it from hill to hill. On the other side I tried to envisage the splendid and formidable army of the English, consisting mostly of veterans who despite all dangers had swum across nearly a half of the earth’s diameter. But they were put to such poor use that eight campaigns were lost, followed by the loss of thirteen provinces, which, in a word, had torn down the crown of England from its loftiest peak. How ashamed must a man like General Grant [the British Major General James Grant] now feel, who at the outbreak of the war declared in Parliament that he could make America obedient again with six thousand men, since according to his reports most people were loyalists. [Actually, Grant claimed he would only need five thousand men.]
Since the hour of three had passed during the course of this walk, and it was time to return to the general, Captain Lillie offered to show us the rest of the fortifications after dinner or early in the morning. Once more we were courteously received by the general and by Madam [Lucy] Knox, and introduced to some twenty American staff and other officers, whose names I have completely forgotten except that of a Colonel Vose, a distinguished and talkative gentleman [probably Colonel Joseph Vose of Massachusetts]. After a short time we went to the table, where I had the good fortune of being seated between madam and the general. Madam Knox had a quite pleasant face and very lively brown eyes, but I heard no other sound from her than those words I could extract. The general, who had been a bookdealer in Boston before the war, appeared to be a reasonable and well-read man, considering all the books he had studied in his business, which he showed especially when the conversation turned to finance and accounting. One could see the fancied happiness of this company from the look in everyone’s eyes as soon as the conversation turned to free trade, with which they complimented themselves to a great extent. But when one talked to them as soldiers, they made it known at once that they would be happy to disband as soon as the order was issued for the remainder of the army, which still consisted of five thousand men. Then that object for which they had drawn their swords would have been obtained, and they considered themselves fortunate enough to be independent and at peace, and now able to reap their flax.
Toward half-past five we arose from the table and strolled to the parade ground, where the entire garrison, consisting of about 3,200 men, was drawn up in battalion formation and accounted for and inspected as usual. The shortest men formed the first rank, which was introduced by General Baron von Steuben, the Inspector General, who has his usefulness in the field but who makes a very poor figure on parade.
The men looked haggard and pallid and were poorly dressed. Indeed, very many stood quite proudly under arms without shoes and stockings. Although I shuddered at the distress of these men, it filled me with awe for them, for I did not think there was an army in the world which could be maintained as cheaply as the American army. It was not even permitted to requisition straw during the campaigns, since the country could not have borne the expense. The barracks at West Point as well as those at all permanent places had to be built by the soldiers with their own hands, without compensation. Shoemakers and tailors who are assigned to regiments must work for nothing for their officers and regiments; their only benefit being exemption from guard duty—What army could be maintained in this manner? None, certainly, for the whole army would gradually run away.—This, too, is a part of that “Liberty and Independence” for which these poor fellows had to have their arms and legs smashed.—But to what cannot enthusiasm lead a people!