To Henry Laurens
[White Plains, 9 August 1778]1
Mr Fuhrer & Mr Kleinsmit2 have lately left the British lines and come in to us. The account they give of themselves is this—That they had been first lieutenants in the Hessian Corps—were taken prisoners at Trenton, resided during their captivity at Dumfries in Virginia—were lately exchanged and have since resigned their commissions—That having solicited permission to come out from the enemy and being refused, they determined to leave them at all hazards, and have now put their design in execution. The circumstances of their captivity are known to several Officers in our army.
They are desirous of entering into our service, observing that there are a number of German Officers in the same disposition with themselves, who will resign and join us, if they find that these meet with proper countenance. It appears to me, that important advantages may attend the encouraging a disposition of this nature, if it really exists, which is far from being impossible; from the influence it will necessarily have upon the soldiery, by increasing that spirit of desertion and discontent, which already prevails among them.
Congress will best judge of the propriety of employing these Gentlemen.3 I have been thinking in what manner it might be done; and the mode least exceptionable, which at present occurs to me, is to authorise them to raise a Corps for themselves, by inlisting such German inhabitants, and such of the prisoners and deserters from the foreign troops, as may be willing to engage. The Corps at first as it is only by way of experiment need not be large; but may be afterwards encreased, as circumstances shall point out. This measure, I apprehend, cannot be attended with any material inconvenience and may be productive of utility. If the Gentlemen are employed at all it must be in a new Corps, as they could not be introduced into any of those already formed, without injuring the Officers in them, and producing dissatisfaction, murmurs and resignations.
I have sounded them on the plan here suggested and they seem to be very sanguine in it’s success and anxious to undertake it. They expect some augmentation in ra⟨nk⟩ and indeed it seems necessary in order the more effectually to interest others to follow their example; but caution should be used not to carry the idea too far, because besides other weighty considerations, the higher the rank conferred on them, the more difficult it will be to provide for those, who may hereafter come to us and who will of course frame their expectations by comparison. I have the honor to be With the greatest respect, Sir Your most Obedt Servt
P.S. An additional grade to the rank they held in the corps they come from will in my opinion be sufficient.4
LS, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Dockets on the cover of the LS read in part: “Recd & Read in Congress 18 Augt 1778” and “Referred to the board of war” (see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 11:809).
1. The LS is undated, but the draft is dated “Aug. 9th 1778.”
2. The preceding five words were written in different ink, apparently after the rest of the letter was completed. On the draft and the Varick transcript, the text reads, “Two persons.” Carl Friedrich Führer (1756–1794) from Felsberg, an ensign in Knyphausen’s regiment, and Carl Wilhelm Kleinschmit (born c.1755) from Landau, an ensign in what was formerly Rall’s regiment, deserted to the American lines on 7 August. On 3 Sept., Congress resolved to grant them captains’ commissions, provided that they each enlisted at least thirty men to serve in a new corps of troops to be raised from German deserters. According to the Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister, the two had some success in persuading those captured at Trenton to take service in the American army. However, after the Board of War questioned their characters, Congress voted on 5 Dec. to cancel the project and pay them off. By October 1780, according to Baurmeister, they were making “very humble requests to be pardoned and received” within the British lines (Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 228, 390; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 12:866–67, 1192–93). No pardons were forthcoming; indeed, on 2 Oct. 1781 the British advocate general announced that the landgrave of Hesse had approved sentences of death for their “Treason and Desertion” and ordered that they be hanged in effigy “till their Persons (now absent) shall fall within the reach of Justice” (Royal Gazette [New York], 3 Oct. 1781). Führer, at least, remained in America. He unsuccessfully petitioned Congress for a pension on 15 Nov. 1781, asserting that his property in Germany had been confiscated and claiming, in addition to his service with the stillborn German volunteer corps, that he had commanded some Virginia state troops sent to the Carolinas in 1779 but not “Established” (DNA:PCC, item 42). When Führer, who had taken the name Charles Fierer, made the same claim to the Virginia legislature in 1793, he was given compensation for his service ( Va. House of Delegates Journal 1793 description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond, on Monday, the Twenty-First day of October, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Three. Richmond, 1793. description ends , 15–16, 97–98; Shepherd, Va. Statutes at Large description begins Samuel Shepherd, ed. The Statutes at Large of Virginia, from October Session 1792, to December Session 1806, Inclusive. n.s. 3 vols. Richmond, 1835–36. description ends , 1:282; see also Charles Fierer to GW, 10 July 1793, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, which requests a copy of this letter to support the Virginia claim). As Fierer, he printed newspapers in Georgetown, D.C., 1789–91, and in Dumfries, Va., 1791–93.
3. On the draft, Alexander Hamilton wrote the preceding sentence to replace text that he had previously written and struck out: “I submit to Congress whether it may not be proper to give them some suitable employment and.”
4. The postscript does not appear on the draft or Varick transcript.