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The Saga of the Hessian Soldier


It was August 16, 1777. A young German soldier named Johann Michael Kasler was a Private in the "Hessian" troops of the Duke of Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany who had been sent to America to aid King George in his war against the Colonists. Michael, as he was always called, was embarked upon an unbelievable journey, as we shall see.

The British General John Burgoyne's invasion of New York had progressed as far south as Fort Edward (immediately east of Glens Falls). The plan was to capture Albany and join with other British forces advancing from New York City and the Mohawk Valley. The state would again be under British control and the rebellious colonies would be divided.

However, Burgoyne's supply lines from Canada were growing longer and less secure. His German mercenaries, mostly Brunswickers (the Americans tended to call all such mercenaries "Hessians") had no cavalry horses and his army was short of beef, wagons, and draft animals. With little regard for the rebels' military skills, he proposed that Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum lead an expedition into Vermont and New Hampshire to forage for supplies. Hearing that the American storehouses at Bennington, Vermont were poorly defended, Burgoyne ordered instead that Baum capture them. Half of Baum's troops were Brunswickers; the remainder were Canadians, British sharpshooters, Tories and Indians.

The intelligence Burgoyne had received was inaccurate. General John Stark had arrived from New Hampshire with 1,500 men and had a smaller force of Vermont Rangers (militiamen) known as the Green Mountain Boys under Seth Garner. They were near Bennington as Baum's forces approached. The battle was fierce and hard and the Americans soundly defeated the Hessian troops, killing Baum, whose Indian and Canadian troops had fled when the battle started.

Michael Kasler was one of the wounded Hessians. Michael had received a musket ball in his leg, breaking the leg. He had pulled himself over to a tree stump and sat up against it to await the battle's end. The battle was over and the wounded lay about when some American troops passed by returning to their quarters. Michael motioned to the troops, pointing to his Canteen and to his mouth to let them know he was thirsty. A Vermont militiaman approached him, yelling at him and obviously very angry but Michael knew not what he was saying, as he knew no English. Instead of giving Michael a drink of water, the militiaman shoved his gun to Michael's chest and shot him. That was all Michael was to remember of that scene.

Fortunately for Michael another Vermonter saw what had happened and went to him. Peter Howe was a Private in Ebenezer Allen's company of Colonel Herrick's regiment. He had enlisted in that year of 1777. Peter Howe gave the gravely wounded Michael a drink of water and called for other men to help carry him to their quarters where there was a surgeon. Peter Howe left the wounded Hessian in the hands of a surgeon, Dr. Jacob Roebeck (Ruback), and then departed from the scene to fight in several more battles in Allen's company. Dr. Roebeck has told of the badly wounded soldier and his tales are published in the "Vermont Historical Gazetteer."

Michael Kasler was unconscious for three weeks when he woke up to see a doctor dressing his wounds. According to Dr. Roebeck the shot missed Michael's heart but had went completely through both lobes of the lungs, invariably fatal in the words of the Doctor. Michael Kasler lived, but had no idea of being saved or whom the man was that saved him.

The Americans at that time didn't build stockades to hold prisoners of war. Instead they assigned them to local families to work for their keep and the family would see to their wounds, house and feed them and guard against escape. Michael was assigned to such a family and eventually married the woman who was his nursemaid. After his death in 1839, Kasler's widow moved to live with one of her children near Athens, Ohio. While living there, one of the widow's neighbors learned of her husband's past and offered her his personal account of the rescue. It was Peter Howe, the individual who had rescued her husband so many years ago.

The legend of the kind American soldier saving the German soldier was passed from generation to generation of the Kasler family, but the name of the soldier was lost over the following 160 years after the encounter.

While searching the Internet in November 2000, Michael Kasler, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Johann Michael Kasler found an account of the incident of the Aug. 16, 1777, Battle of Bennington written by Peter Howe's daughter Sophronia Howe Trowbridge.

Sophronia Howe Trowbridge wrote her autobiography in 1874 when she was 84 years old. She ended her exposition with a memorial to her father, Peter Howe. Her autobiography is entitled, "Grandma Trowbridge's Narrative." The details of the battlefield incident as related by Grandma Trowbridge in the memorial to her father meshed perfectly with the data and the details the younger Michael Kasler had gleaned for his family information.

"Grandma Trowbridge's Narrative" was published on A & A Steele's web site, which deals primarily with genealogy for the Steele, Trowbridge and Gidlund families. Then, in addition to Michael's discovery, a couple of Peter Howe descendants also discovered the Steele's web site and Grandma's Narrative about June 7, 2001. Linda Rae Lind, of Bremerton, WA and Eileen Shulenbarger, of Spokane, WA are descendants of Grandma Trowbridge's sister, Diantha S. Howe Prouty. Linda Lind was scheduled at the time to return to Ohio to take part in a DAR ceremony to place a marker on Diantha Howe Prouty's grave on June 24!

Michael Kasler noted in the local (Kenton, Ohio) paper that a ceremony to honor Peter Howe's daughter was to be held. He could hardly believe it, he had lived near Kenton for nearly ten years and had no idea that the daughter of the man who saved his ancestor was buried so close to his home. He felt the need to thank the Howe family. He was put into contact with Linda Lind and she invited him to take part in the DAR services.

"This is an amazing coincidence," said Kasler. "There were only two times our families have come in contact. Except today. This is the third time. I live in the same county as Diantha S. Howe is buried. Her father's compassion saved my great-great-great-great-grandfather's life. Without him I wouldn't be here."

Therefore, "Grandma Trowbridge's Narrative," an autobiography written by an 84 year old woman in 1874, has brought together, in year 2000, these two families who were bonded by an act of kindness and compassion in a war 223 years before. A war known as the American Revolution.

Yet without the modern technology known as the "Internet", would this reunion have occurred? I doubt it.

[Copyright by Art Steele whose website appears to be defunct]