Friedrich Adolf Riedesel

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Friedrich Adolf Riedesel
Portret Friedricha Adolpha Riedesel, barona Eisenbach.jpg
Friedrich Adolf Riedesel, ca 1795
Birth nameFriedrich Adolf Riedesel zu Eisenbach
Born(1738-06-03)June 3, 1738
Lauterbach, Hesse, Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
DiedJanuary 6, 1800(1800-01-06) (aged 61)
Braunschweig, Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
AllegianceCoat of arms of the House of Welf-Brunswick (Braunschweig).svg Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
RankLieutenant general
Spouse(s)Charlotte von Massow

Freiherr Friedrich Adolf Riedesel Freiherr zu Eisenbach (3 June 1738 in Lauterbach/Hesse – 6 January 1800 in Braunschweig) was a German officer who served in the Seven Years' War and American War of Independence. He was the commander of the Braunschweiger Jäger, a regiment of soldiers from the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel that was among the German units hired by the British during the American War of Independence. He then commanded all German soldiers in the Saratoga Campaign.


Early career[edit]

Friedrich Adolf was born in Lauterbach, Hesse, into the Riedesel family of Hessian Uradel barons, the second son of Johann Wilhelm Riedesel, Freiherr zu Eisenbach (1705-1782) and Sophia von Borcke (1705-1769). His birth on June 3, 1738 and early education both took place in Lauterbach. The title of "Freiherr" (Baron) was carried by all men of his lineage who reached majority. His parents disagreed about his education; his mother wanted him prepared for a religious career, while his father sought a legal education and diplomatic service. Either of these was a proper career for a younger son.

Bowing to his father's wishes, when 15 years old, he left for the study of law at the University of Marburg.[1] Riedesel was an indifferent student, but spent time watching the Landgrave of Hesse's troops drill. An officer who had seen his interest befriended him, and later tricked him into enlisting. He was told that his father had consented to his enlistment, so at 17 he joined the Marburg battalion, only to have his allowance cut off when his angry father learned of it. The two were later reconciled, and Ensign Riedesel was granted an allowance from his father to help meet his expenses.[2]

Seven Years War[edit]

Ensign Riedesel's first assignment was near London. Riedesel knew no French nor English, but learned both while in England, and made friends with several English officers that he would later meet in the Americas.[2] The unit was recalled to the Holy Roman Empire in 1756, for what would become the Seven Years' War.[3] Friedrich was attached to the personal staff of Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick and distinguished himself at the Battle of Minden in 1759.[2] He served for a time (1760) in the Hessian Hussar regiment and had a portrait done wearing their uniform. Riedesel also gained the attention of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, and by 1761, he was in command of two Brunswicker regiments as their Colonel.

In August 1762, he was wounded in battle against the French, and sent back to Minden to recover. There he was cared for by the von Massow family and nursed by their daughter Charlotte. In December the couple wed at Paderborn and settled in Brunswick's capital city of Wolfenbüttel, where they lived quietly for several years. During these years, Riedesel commuted to Brunswick, where he was adjutant to the duke. He also fathered three daughters: Gustava (1771-1805), Frederica (1774-1854), and Caroline (1776-1861).

American War of Independence[edit]

Friedrich Adolf Riedesel, ca 1790

When the American Revolution broke out in 1775, the British government found itself in need of trained troops to suppress the rebellion. The rulers of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel came from the Bevern line of the House of Brunswick-Lüneburg, while the British throne was occupied by the Hanover line of the same family. In 1776, Duke Charles I signed a treaty with George III of the United Kingdom to provide 4,000 foot soldiers and 350 heavy dragoons for British service.

On 18 March, they sailed from Stade with the newly promoted Major General Riedesel as their commander. After a stop over in England, they arrived in Quebec City on 1 June. They supported the final expulsion from Canada of the American forces during the invasion of Canada. They were then distributed for the winter through various posts in Canada.

General Riedesel was put in command of all German[note 1] and American Indian forces during the Saratoga campaign of 1777. His letters to the Duke of Brunswick reveal discontent with British Generals Burgoyne and Howe. One example of Riedesel's disagreements with Burgoyne came after his victory at the Battle of Hubbardton, when rebels under Seth Warner gathered to attack loyalists under Philip Skene at Castle Town, Vermont. General Riedesel had promised protection to the loyalists, and wanted to attack the rebels at once. Burgoyne stalled, however, and ordered Riedesel to continue his advance instead of stopping to fight Warner's militia.[4] General Riedesel warned the Duke of Brunswick that even if the campaign went well, they could not hope to be back to Germany in 1778.[5]

During the campaign, Riedesel showed an ability to adapt to combat in the American wilderness. He issued new orders to his army to attack in open order from cover of trees, and when forced to fight in the open, to close order and immediately charge with the bayonet.[6]

Riedesel’s wife, Frederika Charlotte, became herself a relevant actor. She traveled to Canada with her infant daughters to be with her husband on the campaign. Her Letters and Journals Relating to the War of the American Revolution and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga is an important resource for knowledge of the campaign and its key personalities. Her harrowing account of her experiences in what is now known as the Marshall House where her husband had sent her to seek shelter during the closing days of the siege at Saratoga is one of the vivid episodes of the American Revolution.

Riedesel and his wife were captured when General John Burgoyne surrendered after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. He was imprisoned with the Convention Army in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Albemarle Barracks. They transferred to New York, where General Riedesel spent a year on parole, before being exchanged for American General William Thompson.[7] The Baron commanded troops on Long Island in Winter 1780-81. In 1781, Quebec governor Frederick Haldimand named Riedesel officer in charge of the Sorel District, where he and his family stayed until his departure from North America at the end of Summer 1783. According to Charlotte's diary [8] and local lore, the Riedesels introduced the custom of an illuminated Christmas tree in North America while in Sorel in 1781. [9][note 2]

Return to Europe[edit]

General Riedesel returned to Europe in late 1783, sailing first to England. He led the remainder of his Brunswick troops to a review by Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, who had become the ruler of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in 1780, while his army was being held captive in the United States.

Riedesel was promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1787, and given command of the Brunswick troops in the southern provinces of Holland.[10] He retired in 1793, but was named Commandant of the city of Braunschweig.[10] He met John Quincy Adams in 1797, and "made many enquiries about America, and in particular after General Schuyler."[11] General Riedesel died at Braunschweig in 1800.


General Riedesel and Charlotte had the following children, some born in North America:[12][13]

  • Hermann (1767-1767)
  • Philippine (1770-1771)
  • Auguste (1771-1805); married Count Heinrich von Reuss
  • Friederike (1774-1854); married Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Reden
  • Caroline (1776-1861); never married
  • Amerika (1780-1856); married Count Ernst von Bernsdorff
  • Canada (1782-1783)
  • Georg Karl (1785-1854); married Caroline Riedesel
  • Charlotte (1787-1848); married Wilhelm von Schöning


Beginning with the publication of the couple's letters from the American Revolution arranged by one of his sons-in-law (von Reuß), the General came to be referred to as "von Riedesel" in American scholarly and popular writing. This is historically incorrect. From its earliest known members in the 13th century down to the present, family members have rarely used the predicate "von" in their name. The patent from Emperor Leopold I in 1680 which raised them to the status of Barons (Freiherren) did not designate them as "von." In the initial volume of the authorized history of the family (1923), the author E. E. Becker clearly states that the Riedesel zu Eisenbach did not use the "von" in their names.[14]

Friedrich Adolf Riedesel.jpg




  1. ^ Riedesel's soldiers are mistakenly referred to as "Hessians" by some Americans, but were correctly identified as Brunswickers by their contemporaries.
  2. ^ A detailed account of Riedesel's work in Sorel and along the Richelieu River can be found in the Haldimand Collection in the National Archives of Canada (mainly in the series 136 to 139).


  1. ^ Stone, 2
  2. ^ a b c Stone, 3
  3. ^ Lowell, 118
  4. ^ Ketchum, 235-237
  5. ^ Eelking, 271-272
  6. ^ Eelking, 272-273
  7. ^ Baroness von Riedesel from the PBS series Liberty!. Website accessed 9 July 2010.
  8. ^ Stone
  9. ^ Christmas Tree at Sorel. Website accessed 14 December 2019
  10. ^ a b Robertson, John K.; Hagist, Don. "Biographies of Crown Forces Generals Commanding Troop Units". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016.
  11. ^ Adams, John Quincy (28 December 1797). "John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams, 28 December 1797". Founders Online, National Archives. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
    Martin, Sara; Taylor, C. James; Millikan, Neal E.; Mathews, Amanda A.; Woodward, Hobson Woodward, eds. (2015). The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 12, March 1797 – April 1798. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 337–343.
  12. ^ Von Galéra, 410ff
  13. ^ Private documents of the Riedesel zu Eisenbach
  14. ^ Becker, 16


  • Becker, Eduard Edwin (1923). Die Riedesel zu Eisenbach, Erster Band, vom ersten Auftreten des Namens bis zum Tod Hermanns III. Riedesel 1500. Wilhelm Gerstung, Offenbach am Main.
  • Eelking, Max von (1893). The German Allied Troops in the North American War of Independence, 1776-1783. Translated from German by J. G. Rosengarten. Joel Munsell's Sons, Albany, NY. LCCN 72081186.
  • Baron von Galéra, Karl Siegmar (1961). Die Riedesel zu Eisenbach, Fünfter Band, vom Reich zum Rheinbund 1713-1806. Verlag Diner & Co. Neustadt a.d. Aisch. Vierter Abschnitt, 6. Kapitel "Friedrich Adolpha Riedesel aus dem Hause Burg (Lauterbach) und Luise Charlotte von Massow (Pp. 410-435).
  • Ketchum, Richard M (1997). Saratoga : Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War. Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-8050-4681-X.
  • Lowell, Edward J (1884). The Hessians and the other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, New York. LCCN 02004604.
  • Riedesel, Friederike Charlotte Luise; Riedesel, Friedrich Adolf (1801). von Reuß, Heinrich (ed.). Die Berufs-Reise nach America: Briefe der Generalin von [sic] Riedesel auf dieser Reise und während ihres sechsjährigen Aufenthalts in America zur Zeit des dortigen Krieges ín den Jahren 1776 bis 1783 nach Deutschland geschrieben. Haude und Spener Berlin.
  • Stone, William Leete (1868). Memoirs, and Letters and Journals of Major General Riedesel, during his Residence in America. Vol. 1. Albany. ISBN 978-1-113-82146-1.

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