Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Making and Unmaking the Will to Fight: Morale and Motivation in the Armies of the American War for Independence
Abstract: Our panel examines morale and motivation in the Continental Army and the forces of Hessen-Kassel during the American War for Independence. We aim to illuminate ways in which cultural, institutional, and personal forces intertwined to affect the ways men in opposing armies related to their military service - and reinforced or undermined their will to fight.
Krysten Blackstone takes prevailing contemporary cultural transformation into consideration, as the Enlightenment impacted the military sciences and changed the way leaders related to their charges. In particular, she examines how the military leadership of the Continental Army attempted to foster morale among the troops, and how the soldiers responded to these efforts and the officers who attempted to implement them.
Chris Juergens analyzes morale and desertion among the forces of the German principality of Hessen-Kassel. While the Continental Congress was initially optimistic that widespread desertion could be incited among these "mercenary" soldiers, these attempts largely failed due to a fundamental misunderstanding of Hessian soldiering. The desertions which did occur are contextualized through the socio-economic backgrounds of deserters and the laws governing military justice in the field and at home.
Finally, Matthew Hollis returns attention to the Continental Army and illuminates ways in which soldiers' hopes for a post-war future influenced their perceptions of military service. By examining the personal writings of regular soldiers, he chronicles the changing morale of the Continental Army and its strong relationship with optimism about the fledgling nation's agricultural, material, and territorial future.
Christian Juergens, Florida State University
Participant's Paper Title: Morale and Desertion in the Army of Hessen-Kassel
Participant's Paper Abstract: Soon after news of Britain's German "mercenaries" reached America, plans were hatched by a committee of the Continental Congress to persuade German soldiers to desert their army and settle in the New World as farmers or possibly even serve the rebel cause. Contrary to optimistic expectations, the land and monetary bounties offered to German soldiers failed to incite widespread desertion. This paper focuses on the forces of Hessen-Kassel, the largest supplier of German troops to the Crown. By evaluating both soldiers' motivations to fight as well as the repressive institutions designed to dissuade desertion, it contextualizes the sources of Hessian morale and the unexpectedly low rates of desertion among these subsidy troops.
This paper rests primarily upon material consulted at the Fred W. Smith Library for the Study of George Washington, the Army Heritage and Education Center, and the Hessian State Archives in Marburg, Germany. Sources include the papers of the Continental Congress, letters and diaries of Hessian troops, and Hessian laws governing desertion and military justice. Together, these demonstrate why rebel estimations of German morale rested on false assumptions about Hessian military service, and contextualize the desertion which did occur. Thus this research will augment our understanding of German military service in the American War for Independence, as well as early attempts at psychological warfare on the part of the Continental Congress.
Krysten Blackstone, University of Edinburg
Participant's Paper Title: He Should Endeavor to Gain the Love of His Men: The Relationship Between Leadership and Morale in the Continental Army
Participant's Paper Abstract: The Enlightenment, a period of expanding knowledge of all fronts, resulted in significant developments in military sciences. Enlightenment ideas about humanity, specifically the individual, and education, had a great impact on military theory. These changes largely took from in the considerations of soldiers. Soldiers were recognized for their humanity, rather than being treated as cogs in a regimental machine, transforming the way they were trained. The humanity of soldiers, and an understanding that the toils of war on an individual person reached a psychological and emotional level, not just a physical one, can be seen from the outset of the American War of Independence, and is noticeable in considerations of morale within the Continental Army.
Morale is fundamentally both a collective and individual experience, which is fostered from above, in the form of an institution and leadership but also crucially manifested below, in the soldiers. Such intricacies in the measurement of morale, and attempts to foster it, are clear in considerations of leadership during the war. The effect leadership has on morale is multifaceted. It encompassed the attempts to foster troop morale from officers, how those attempts were perceived by soldiers, and even the effect that the officers themselves, good or bad, had on the spirit of the soldiers. This paper will utilize a variety of sources to nuance the levels and opinions surrounding morale, including soldiers' diaries and letters, officers' papers and reports from the Continental Congress. In evaluating the leadership of the army this paper seeks to foster a broader discussion on the processes and tensions involved in building an army and eighteenth century considerations of soldiers.
Matthew Hollis, Binghamton University SUNY
Participant's Paper Title: Localist Landscapes: Soldiers' Visions and Nostalgic Optimism in the Continental Army
Participant's Paper Abstract: The military diaries written during the American Revolution provide some of the most numerous and detailed first-hand accounts of the conflict, and revealed several changes within the minds of the servicemen during service. The intent of this presentation is to show how soldiers' innermost thoughts on their experiences gradually started to move away from the trials and tribulations of a hardening and hopeless military, and more towards a confirmation of a manifest purpose. Since the several reformations of supply lines and organization following the initial failures of the Northern Theater (1775-1777), these servicemen's entries were noticeably less concerned with inefficiency of supply, and the supposedly inept officers who commanded its distribution. While disobedience related to material distribution still challenged the officer corps, diaries and letters of participating officers show that the army was becoming increasingly streamlined in its regulatory efficiency.
What is more telling is that several soldier journals later in the war frequently reference the abundance of farmland and its resulting produce, the comforting nature of the territory, and most importantly its potential for future settlement and expansion. Regular mentions of the environment suggest that officers and soldiers alike saw the peacetime landscape as a means to return to rural agricultural and material cultivation. In contrast to the "localist" sentiments of previous campaigns, this particular form of localist sentiment was within the service of a more highly organized and centralized Continental military establishment. It was only through participating in the military structure of the Continental Army and under the leadership of the Continental Congress that these settlements, and this potential future could be ensured. In other words, the continuation of the "old ways" of life could only be achieved by direct and supportive participation in the "national" project, under the centralized apparatus of the Continental Army.
Joseph Stoltz, Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington

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