Wilhelm von Knyphausen
|Wilhelm Reichsfreiherr zu Innhausen und Knyphausen|
Wilhelm von Knyphausen
|Born||4 November 1716
|Died||7 December 1800
|Commands held||Hessian mercenaries|
Wilhelm, Reichsfreiherr zu Innhausen und Knyphausen (4 November 1716 Lütetsburg ((Ostfriesland))–7 December 1800 Kassel) was a general from Hesse-Cassel. He fought in the American Revolutionary War, during which he led Hessian mercenaries on behalf of the British Empire.[a]
His father was colonel in a German regiment under the Duke of Marlborough. Knyphausen was educated in Berlin, entered the Prussian military service in 1734, and in 1775 became a general officer in the army of Frederick the Great. In the army of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), Knyphausen was a lieutenant general. In 1776, with 42 years of military experience, he came to the Thirteen Colonies of North America as second in command of an army of 12,000 so-called “Hessians” under General von Heister.
Knyphausen led the Hessian troops in the Battles of White Plains, Fort Washington, Brandywine, Germantown, Springfield, and Monmouth. In 1779 and 1780, he commanded British-held New York City. When Heister left for Germany, von Knyphausen took command of the German troops serving under Sir William Howe. Because of von Knyphausen's seniority, ranking British officers held dormant commissions outranking him in case the British commander became disabled. Despite this, von Knyphausen was trusted by his British superiors.
Von Knyphausen's regiment took part in the attack on Fort Washington and was in garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. Major von Dechow, who was in command in late 1776, warned Colonel Johann Rall to fortify the town, advice that was ignored. During the Battle of Trenton the regiment tried to escape across Assunpink Creek but was forced to surrender. Major von Dechow was mortally wounded during the battle.
Sir William Howe gave von Knyphausen responsibility for the right flank at the Brandywine, tasked with keeping the attention of the Continental commanders on the river line at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. He also commanded the vanguard of the army withdrawing from Philadelphia at the time of the Battle of Monmouth.
Von Knyphausen's regiment served in the Americas from 1776 to 1783. Knyphausen left the North American theater in 1782 in part because of ill health, including blindness in one eye caused by a cataract. (His wife had died in 1778.) Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg succeeded to command of the Hessian troops in New York.
Von Knyphausen returned to Europe, having, as he said, achieved neither glory nor advancement. At the end of his life Knyphausen became military governor of Cassel. He was a taciturn and discreet officer, who understood the temper of his troops, and rarely entered on hazardous exploits. His was a hireling army of recruits gathered from work-houses, and by impressment, and drilled in the use of arms on shipboard. As he frequently declared, on such forces a judicious commander could place little reliance; they dwindled less by death than by desertion.
- Rosengarten, Joseph George (1886), The German Soldier in the Wars of the United States, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippencott Company (Reprint: Kessinger, 2010, ISBN 1-4286-5432-1)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). "Knyphausen, Wilhelm von". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton