H E A D L E S S
H E S S I A N(S)
thanks to Joyce Stevenson, of Mullica Hill, N.J., for providing a copy of this
story to me.
OF THE HEADLESS HESSIAN
[Slightly edited by the
Count Kurt von Donop was sent
from Philadelphia with four batallions of picket Hessians, 2000 strong to New
Jersey. This was in preparation on their way to Red
Bank [in Gloucester County, N.J.]. They came to Haddonfield in the evening
of October 21 where they bivouaced for a short time. They went off in the night
and proceeded down to the fort. On their way they took prisoner every person they
thought might give information of their movements ("Const. 3 III 1846; vol
12, 32 wh 602--Fithian, Jos. Col.; p. 1. col 2).
group travelled over the old Hessian Road, as it is now called, on their way to
the Fort [Fort Mercer]. "It crosses the head of a stream that runs up in
the country called Hessian Run," named for a soldier, a Hessian, who had
been left wounded by his comrades near by" (Ib. 17 II 1846; vol 12 #30 wh
600 p1 col 3; Fithian Col.)
Count von Donop, with his
small army, came to the edge of the woods at Fort Mercer on the morning of October
22 and stopped within cannon shot where the line of battle was formed. The small
garison [garrison] of 400 within the Fort under the command of Lieutenant Colonel
Christopher Greene consisted of two regiments from Rhode Island belonging to Varnum's
Brigade, had expected no land attack. Their sentry lines did not even extend beyond
the fortification. There were the sixty-four ships that grimly swung at anchor
against the green shore of the Delaware. With only fourteen cannons mounted and
the feeble earthworks, Colonel Greene was not dismayed with his three hundred.
Preparations were ordered at once for the defence with the guns "double shotted
and primed." There was a hurrying footfall of the men forming their line
along the parapets; there was the rattling of snapping flints, the clash of steel,
the tatoo of the ramrods--calling to quarters, and the roll of the drums.
was the roll of the Hessian drums with a slight silence as though the men were
saying their last prayers. The Hessian officer, with an aid [aide] bearing a flag
of truce, advanced from out of the wood, and crossed the open field, followed
by a drummer. Tauntingly the drummer's sticks fourished upon the drumhead when
Colonel Greene leaped upon the earthworks. The Hessians were suffered to approach,
but his insolent harrangue irritated the garison [garrison], and inspire them
the more to do battle. Bellowed the officer, "The king of England orders
his rebellious subjects to lay down their arms; and they are warned, that if they
stand battle, no quarters whatever will be given." Colonel Greene accepted
the challenge for himself and his men. "We ask no quarters, no will we give
any," was flung back to the advance guard.
attack began at once, at four o'clock in the afternoon, just as soon as drummer
and officer had returned to the lines. Within the Fort all were eager and busy.
The out-works were still unfinished, and Greene, with his men, relied mainly upon
the strength of the inner redoubt. The Americans withdrew from the out-works,
leaving them abandoned.
"The Hessians made a very
brisk fire from a battery of cannon." (B & Hill). They had connonaded
the place to make a breach in the walls. At the end of three-quarters of an hour,
the cannonading ceased. A battalion of the tall-helmeted Hessian swept to the
attack of the entrenchments, they had imagined that the Americans had been driven
therefrom. They swept to the attack, both north and south of the Fort. Suddenly
"they were overwhelmed with a shower of musket shot, which took them in the
front and in flank...officers were seen rallying their men, marching back to the
abattis, and falling amidst the branches they were endeavoring to cut." (B&H
When the storming and attacking party reached the
face of the bank, to clamber over the rampart, there came from the ambrassures
in front, there from the half-masked battery in the flank, an awful storm of musket
balls and crape shot. Greene's forces had held their fire until their musket charges
were driven into the faces and breasts of the Hessians. These it seems were swept
and blown back to the out-works like chaff in the wind.
length they relinquished the attack, and regained the wood in disorder."
(B & H. F.). These retreating Hessians left their dead and bleeding practically
in heaps. "M. de Mauduit. . . sallied out with a detatchment, and it was
then he beheld the deplorable spectacle of the dead and dying, heaped one upon
another." (B. & H. ib). Count von Donop fared no better. He, with his
men, pressed the abattis and faced the fire on the south side. He was at first
taken into the Fort and then to the Whittal House. Three days later, he passed
to his fathers; his wounds had been in the hip.
other wounded were taken "into the house of James Whitall below and adjoining
the Fort, The wounded were taken there to have their wounds dressed by the Surgeon,
The premises were covered with the poor fellows. The desperately wounded were
arranged in rows in the lower rooms; those for whom hope was entertained, were
removed to the upper rooms for treatment. (Const. $ II 1846; Vol 12 #31. wh. 601;
p1 col1 Fifth Coll). Ann Cooper Whitall was
there on hand with bandages to aid the injured as they were brought in and the
house was soon filled to the attic. Those that complained were admonished by her,
that they ought "not complain who had brought it upon themselves."
dead at the Fort were buried in trenches, being laid alongsided [sic] one another.
Their "long queus [sic queues] and odd dress gave them a strange appearance,
as they settled away in their last home... within a few years by the wearing away
of the [river] bank, some of these depositaries of the dead have been exposed,
and the bones discovered." (ib 17 II 1846; vol 12 #30 wh 600p coll Fifth
Coll). The winters had been aided in the wearing away from the banks, so that
some of the bones fell upon the river shore. It was then that fun-loving rovers
would come at night "over from Babylon," as Ann was wont to call Philadelphia,
and arm themselves with these bones, muttering weird cries as they chased about
her home. This was to represent Hessian's madelictions [sic maledictions], and
if perchance a shutter was left open, they would wrap [sic rap] on the glasses
[windows] with these bones. Through these shinanigans [sic shenanigans] the place
acquired the reputation it was being haunted. Ant this was most demoralizing,
not only to farm help, but also to all other house help. Also, as Ann had ferretted
out the origin of these vexations, she persuaded her sons to collect and rebury
all visible bones left from the battle, and thus the "Haunt was laid,"
in short order.
Among these Hessians [reburied],
there were two whose heads had been blown off. When they were interred, the head
of the one was buried with body of the other, and the head of the other was buried
with the body of one. This caused considerable consternation. None of these poor
Hessians could sleep in their place of long rest.
caused the two to arise on moonlit night, and wander through the countryside about
the old Fort. It was reported, according to tradition, that they wandered as far
as Haddonfield, far from their place of accident. Each was trying to find the
other; each was attempting to locate his own head.
wandered all over the old battle field for years, without ever meeting one another.
They frightened old and young alike. Sometimes one of them appeared and a short
while thereafter a second apparition, with its long clothing swaying and swinging
in the moonlight, as the zephyrs gently swayed it to and fro. And after one had
gone on, the other would return and fade away amidst the trees on the banks of
the Delaware, then too after the disappearance of the first, the second would
appear and in its phantom-like movement, would disappear.
for years these two unfortunates wandered through meadow, woods, and floated over
streams, all over the old battle ground at Fort Mercer, with an occasional glance
through the windows of the Whitall Mansion and from there unto Woodbury Creek,
as far as the Lowe House, where their leader Count von Donop had passed away,
to be gathered until his fathers.
Years passed into decades
and these into centuries. Thus for years and decades these two moved and floated
over the countryside, until early of the twentieth century. One night, both met
at the old spot where had sood the Lowe House, on the other side of Crown Point
Road. They exchanged their heads and immediately fell into dust.