The Hessian perspective
Writing as a unique American advantage
On 2 December 1776, an American patrol bested nine Hessians outside of Philadelphia. Bumping into each other on that cold winter morning, the Hessians attacked and pursued the Americans. But an ambush waited for them. The American ambush killed one Hessian and two horses, wounded two, and captured another.
How did these American amateurs best this mercenary Hessian patrol? According to Johann Edwald, a Hessian Captain, effective professional reading and writing helped the Continental Army overcome their experience gap. In Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal, Edwald describes how the Americans invested in writing even when they didn’t have much.
Take a read:
During these two years the Americans have trained a great many excellent officers who very often shame and excell our experienced officers, who consider it sinful to read a book or to think of learning anything during the war. For the love of justice and in praise of this nation, I must admit that when we examined a haversack of the enemy, which contained only two shirts, we also found the most excellent military books translated into their language. For example, Turpin, Jenny, Grandmaison, La Croix, Tielke’s Field Engineer, and the Instructions of the great Frederick to his generals I have found more than one hundred times. Moreover, several among their officers had designed excellent small handbooks and distributed them in the army. Upon finding these books, I have exhorted our gentlemen many times to read and emulate these people, who only two years before were hunters, lawyers, physicians, clergymen, tradesmen, innkeepers, shoemakers, and tailors.1
Today’s Army inherits this rich tradition of warfighting prowess undergirded by a pathological passion to share lessons. Where “small handbooks” distributed widely developed effective leaders in the Revolutionary period, so too will renewed professional journals today.