Thursday, September 21, 2017

“Weak and Imperfect:” The German Regiment of the Continental Army

Two men of the German Regiment
Dear Reader,

Today we have a guest post, written by Jack Weaver.[1] Jack has a longstanding interest in the German Regiment of the Continental Army.

One of the first ethnic regiments raised by the new United States during the American Revolutionary War was the German Regiment, also known as the German Battalion, which Congress authorized on 25 May 1776.[2] The German Regiment recruited mostly from the ethnic and immigrant German populations of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and served from 1776 until 1781. It was one of the worst regiments in the Continental Army, not because it was actually bad at fighting, but because it had a poor corps of officers, which may have contributed to its soldiers’ habit of mutiny. 

Its first mutiny, in September of 1776, was most tied to its officers’ lack of good leadership. Because many men were not working when they were in barracks in Philadelphia, Lt. Col. George Stricker decided to halt rations of food for any soldiers who did not work, writing: "I shall Hereafter Direct the provisions of the day to be drawn every morning after the return from Duty I Desire that the Capn. Return to me who do not attend his duty"[3] Stricker undermined the enlisted men’s trust, and the men protested the very day he issued that order.

In his book, A Man of No Country, Historian James Davis described what happened: 

"The men gathered on the parade ground and worked themselves up to the verge of rioting. Stricker turned out several soldiers with loaded muskets and threatened to shoot someone if order was not restored. A sullen calm prevailed in the regiment after the incident. Performances did not improve, and Stricker threatened them with dire punishment without taking any action."[4]

A recreated member of the German Regiment, as they might have appeared on the Sullivan Campaign
 The second mutiny occurred a couple of years later, when the German Regiment was part of Hand’s Brigade of Light Infantry during General John Sullivan’s campaign against the Iroquois in 1779. In spring of 1779, soldiers from Pennsylvania petitioned Congress, believing that they had been defrauded into serving for the duration of the war:'
"We Being First Inlisted for three years, and received Ten Dollars bounty, at the Expiration of three months there being Ten dollars more Given to Us, Being Persuadet that it was Only a Present, of the above state, But now we are tould by Our Officers that we are Inlisted During the War. Several of use Having Received the other Ten Dollars, and Several Have not."[5]

On 14 July of 1779, William Rogers, a chaplain in Sullivan’s army wrote that “Last Night thirty three of the German Regiment deserted under the plea of their time being out. They went off properly armed with drum and fife. … a detachment of fifty soldiers on horseback were ordered to pursue them.” [6]The deserters were captured, and made to remain with the army. Some soldiers, such as Jacob Bottomer, claimed that though “his inlistment was only for three years he continued 20 months in the service after the expiration of his time.”[7]

A map of early Pennsylvania
Bottomer, along with other German Regiment soldiers, may have also participated in the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line at Morristown in 1781, which occurred around the time of his discharge. While there is no direct evidence that the German Regiment participated in the mutiny en masse, its timing is coincidental: the German regiment arrived in Morristown on 31 December 1780, and the mutiny broke out on 1 January 1781.

The enlisted men of the German Regiment may have had such a penchant for insubordination because they lacked a good officer corps. The poor decisions of Lt. Col. Stricker have already been covered, but there were other poor leaders in the Regiment. Its first colonel, Nicholas Haussegger, though a competent commander and administrator, was also a notorious traitor whom the British captured at the Battle of Princeton. He turned his coat while a prisoner in New York City, and Washington refused to parole him.[8] The second Colonel of the German Regiment, Baron d’Arendt, a Prussian volunteer, was unpopular with the men and sought a transfer after a few months of being in charge of the German Regiment.[9] Henry Laurens described Arendt as “an Indolent worthless Creature.”[10] Samuel Smith described him as such: "He was a Prussian; a very military looking man, six feet high, and elegantly formed. Indeed, his whole appearance was that which would commend him to a command, where personal bravery was not required."[11]

The second Lieutenant Colonel of the German Regiment was Ludowick Weltner, who was the commanding officer of the German Regiment from Fall of 1777 until its dissolution. In 1780, the German Regiment was stationed at Sunbury in the Pennsylvania frontier. While in Sunbury, Weltner terrorized the local inhabitants: he encouraged his officers and men to beat the locals, steal from them, and destroy their property. [12] Besides the highest ranking officers in the unit, the junior officer corps also had a bevy of problems, which included physical infirmity, dueling, fraud, embezzlement, and cowardice in battle.

By its dissolution in early 1781, the German Regiment was one of the worst regiments in the Continental Army. It became a career dead end in August 1777 when a board of Generals decided its officers “had better rise regimentally,” meaning that they could only be promoted within the regiment.[13] At its disbandment, the German Regiment also had four vacant companies lacking a commanding officer.[14] The German Regiment was not one of the Continental Army’s worse regiments because its men were actively bad at their jobs. When the Army dissolved it, its men were transferred to other regiments from their respective states, where they continued to serve. However, they had poor leadership, which resulted in poor conduct, and that is why they were one of the worst regiments in the Continental Army. They were not wretched, but they were dysfunctional.

Thanks for Reading,

Jack Weaver

[1]Jack Weaver is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where he majored in History and minored in German Studies. His Honors Thesis: 'A Corps of much service: the German Regiment of the Continental Army,' received the Ellen Monk Krattiger Award for outstanding work in the study of Colonial North America. He is currently an English Teaching Assistant with Fulbright Austria, and plans to attend graduate school for history.
[2] Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford et al. (Washington, D.C., 1904-37), 4:390
[3] “Head Quarters Philadelphia Septbr. 24. 1776,” Nicholas Haussegger orderly book (Collection Am .623), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
[4] James F. Davis, A Man of No Country: the Case of Colonel Nicholas Haussegger 1729 – 1786 (Lebanon: Lebanon County Historical Society, 1989) 27.
[5] Pennsylvania Companies of the German Regiment to the Continental Congress,
[6] William Rogers, The Journal of a Brigade Chaplain in the Campaign of 1779 Against the Six Nations Under Command of Major-general John Sullivan ed. Sidney Smith Rider (Michigan State University: Sidney S. Rider, 1879) 62.
[7]Jacob Bottomer Pension Application, R1557. Fold3 Military Records,
[8] “From George Washington to John Beatty, 19 August 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified February 21, 2017,
[9]To George Washington from Colonel Arendt, 7 August 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016,
[10] January 8, 1778 letter from Henry Laurens to John Laurens, Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, Vol. 8, September 19, 1777 – January 31, 1778 (Washington, D.C.; Library of Congress, 1981), p. 547.
[11] “The Papers of General Samuel Smith,” The Historical Magazine, Second Series, Vol. VII, No. 2 (Morissania, NY; Henry B. Dawson, Feb. 1870), pp. 88-89.
[12] To George Washington from John Buyers, 18 May 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017,
[13] To George Washington from a Board of General Officers, 19 August 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017,
[14] Henry J. Retzer, The German Regiment of Maryland and Pennsylvania in the Continental Army, 1776 – 1781 (Westminster: Family Line Publications, 1991) 96.