Private Flohr’s America
From Newport to Yorktown and the battle that won the war: A German foot soldier who fought for American independence tells all about it in a newly discovered memoir
December 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 8
“Under these conditions we conquered the redoubt by storm, and Count William was wounded, but not dangerously. Anyone can imagine what happened once we were inside the redoubt. People of four nations were thrown together: Frenchmen, Englishmen, Scots, and Germans. The Hessians and Hanoverians [fighting on the English side] surrendered the moment they saw that everything was lost, but the noise was so great that our general could not become master of the situation. The soldiers everywhere were so furious that our people were killing one another. The French were striking down everyone in a blue coat. Since the Deux-Ponts wore blue, many of us were stabbed to death. Some of the Hessian and Anspach troops wore uniforms almost identical to ours, and the English wore red that in the dark of the night seemed blue as well, so things went very unmercifully that night.”
“On our side every soldier was determined to win booty, and many did. … Our general gave orders that the first soldier who harmed a prisoner would pay for it with his life. Things started to quiet down. You heard nothing but lamenting and commiseration. Here one screamed; there one cried that for God’s sake we should kill him off completely. The whole redoubt was so full of dead and wounded that you couldn’t walk without stepping on them.”
The whole battle took less than ten minutes, during which the French alone lost approximately five officers and eighty men dead or wounded—more than a third of their casualties for the entire siege. Three days later, on the morning of October 18, the articles of capitulation of the English army in Yorktown were signed. The defeated army marched out that afternoon, and the Royal-Deux-Ponts held the place of honor among the French troops present. Afterward the troops were freed to inspect the damage they had inflicted. Flohr was horrified: “Everywhere dead bodies lay around unburied, the majority of them blacks.”
On July 3, 1782, the Royal-Deux-Ponts broke camp in Virginia and began their march back to New England. That November they reached Providence. There, Flohr wrote, “we received a nice farewell letter from the governing men of America, in which they and the country thanked us very politely for the help we had rendered in the country’s cause. But when we remained there a while longer the Americans were never quite at ease with us, but kept on thinking that we might want to keep this area for ourselves since we just did not seem to want to leave.” On December 23, 1782, they set sail, and the American portion of Flohr’s journal ended.
Flohr was discharged by the Royal-Deux-Ponts in 1784 and settled in Strasbourg. Nothing is known of his later life. His manuscript eventually passed to a half brother who used empty pages at the back to record the births of his five children. Sometime after 1870 it entered the city library of Strasbourg (which was under German rule at the time). Its existence became known in the mid-1970, when excerpts were published in a local paper by a Zweibrücken resident. Still, it attracted no attention.
I learned about it when I doing research on the Royal-Deux-Ponts in 1987 and first had a chance to read the manuscript, at the Strasbourg library, three years later. Soon anyone who wants to should have the same opportunity, for arrangements are being made for a scholarly press (we’re not yet certain which one) to publish Flohr’s unique book in its entirety, after two centuries of eclipse.
Robert A. Selig is a visiting assistant professor of history at Hope College, in Holland, Michigan. He would like to thank the city of Strasbourg for its permission to publish text and images from the Flohr diary.