Johann Gottlieb Rall, colonel in the service of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Cassel, was a soldier’s child; the service papers name the regiment of major-general A.M. v. Donop as his "home". Presumably, a captain Joachim Rall of Stralsund, who had joined the regiment on 1 May 1717, was his father. The son Rall, whose year of birth is not given, became cadet on 1 March 1740, Fähnrich (ensign) on 25 July 1741, Lieutenant on 28 August 1745 and Capitän of the same regiment on 10 May 1753, which was then named after its new colonel Prinz Casimir von Isenburg-Birstein. Rall was promoted to major on 7 May 1760 in the same regiment then known by the name of its new Inhaber, major-general J.A. v. Bischhausen. From Mai 1762, Major Rall served as commanding officer of the Hesse-Cassel Chasseur von der Armee, until he was transferred to the Garrison Regiment of major-general J.L.F. v. Stein in January 1763, where he advanced to lieutenant-colonel. On 22 April 1771, as a supernumerary colonel, he was transferred from this regiment, now commanded by colonel H.H. Heldring, to the grenadier regiment of colonel W. v. Mansbach, being appointed the commanding officer of the regiment in January 1772.
During this time he had participated in campaigns of the War of Austrian Succession in Bavaria, along the Rhine, in the Netherlands, as well as in Scotland during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Rall had taken part in the deployment of Hessian troops to England in 1756, and the entire Seven Years’ War thereafter. Based on his muster roll he had fought at Weissenburg (Wissembourg) in 1744, Rocourt in 1746, Laffeld in 1747, Hastenbeck in 1757, Sandershausen and Lutterberg in 1758, Bergen, Minden and Fulda in 1759, Zierenberg in 1760, Kassel and Vellinghausen in 1761, Grebenstein, Wilhelmsthal and Speele in 1762. From September 1771 to August 1772 he was on leave to Russia, to participate in the Russo-Turkish War, where he served in the fleet under Orlow.
In 1776, the Grenadierregiment Rall was part of the Hessian contingent of 12,500 men which was sent to North America in British pay, under a treaty singed 15 January between the Landgrave Friedrich II and Great Britain. The regiment, like the other Hessen units, had a low strength of only 500 men, which is why it is often referred to as a battalion; it belonged to the 1st Division commanded by General v. Heister. Having marched off on 6 March, the regiment only arrived at the port of Sandy-Hook on the North American coast on 17 August. Bloody business was immediately at hand; the British commander-in-chief, Lord William Howe, had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the German brothers in arms, who would enable him to take the offensive.
On 26 August already, Rall participated in the victorious engagement at Flatbush, in the course of which his regiment captured a flag; this easy victory laid the foundation of his contempt of the enemy, which would prove catastrophic. The next opportunity for distinction presented itself on 28 Oktober, when Howe attacked Washington at White Plains. Rall, commanding the Mirbach Brigade and acting on his own initiative early in the battle, occupied an important height left undefended by the Americans, held it against enemy attempts to occupy it, and later launched an impetuous attack against the enemy’s right flank which helped decide the day; the British General Lord Cornwallis testified that Rall’s behavior had found the admiration of the entire army. In the capture of Fort Washington, subsequently called Fort Knyphausen, on 16 November, Rall led one of the two assault columns. Howe’s order of the day, which commends the troops for their service, also mentions Rall.
In the course of the following weeks, the Americans withdrew behind the Delaware, whereupon the armies went into winter quarters. Rall and his brigade consisting of the regiments Rall, Knyphausen and Loßberg, which was joined by 50 Hessian Jägers and 20 British light dragoons, were quartered at the town of Trenton on the river’s bank. He had personally requested this exposed position, and Lord Howe, who much appreciated and praised Rall for his proven courage, had consented. The precautions he took in this very vulnerable position, were quite inadequate. For his own person he proved most careless, and the laxness he displayed in security and reconnaissance duties soon spread to his troops as well. Neither the information which he obtained from circulating rumors regarding an intended attack by the Americans, nor the petitions of his officers enduced him to take the neccessary countermeasures.
Even the threat to his lines of communication with neighbouring friendly forces by the enemy, and repeated enemy raids across the Delaware did not shake his belief that the Americans would not dare attack. Nevertheless, the attack came on the morning of December 26. Washington himself joined the fight with 2400 men and 18 guns, which he had brought across the Delaware in rain and snow, on the bitterly cold night of December 25–26. The attack was a complete success. The Hessians consolidated and offered stiff resistance, of course, but Rall’s orders were not very practical; he was mortally wounded early in the engagement, and the whole fight ended within two hours. The Hessians had lost 933 men dead, wounded or taken prisoner; 398 men, as well as the Jägers and dragoons got away; the six regimental artillery pieces fell into enemy hands. Rall died of his wounds that very evening. "He died gladly", says the diary of a fellow soldier, "so elated, that he was not compelled to survive his honor." A subsequent inquiry into the affair made Rall’s failing appear even greater than the foregoing indicates, by stating that on the night before he had liberally enjoyed the bottle, his love of which was second only to that of music, and that on the morning of the battle, when his adjutant was barely able to rouse him, he was still under the influence of the drink he had overindulged in. Given all his courage, he lacked any presence of mind and strength of resolve.
In an article published in the November/December 2007 Edition of The Liberty Tree Newsletter, Donald N. Moran argues that the supposed drunkenness of the Hessian troops at Trenton is an often repeated myth based on faulty information gleaned from a forged diary. Moran explains that Rall’s outposts were under constant attack by American raiders and artillery firing across the Delaware, that the Hessian troops were overextended, too exhausted to fortify their positions properly, and that the British chain of command held the Americans in enough contempt to refuse Rall the much needed reinforcements.
The 40 mm Prince August miniature of Major Rall, pictured above, has been undercoated chocolate brown and painted with artist acrylics. The miniature then received a protective varnish of «Lascaux Transparent Varnish 3 semi gloss». Major Rall and his blue roan horse are mounted on a 23 × 51 mm magnetic sheet iron wargame base compatible with Charge! wargame rules. The major wears the uniform of the Hesse-Cassel Infanterie-Regiment von Bischhausen of the Seven Years’ War.
- Eelking, Max von: Die deutschen Hülfstruppen im nordamerikanischen Befreiungskriege, 1776 bis 1783 (Hann. 1863)
- Lowell, Edward J.: The Hessians and the other German auxiliaries of Great Britain in the revolutionary war (New York 1884)
- Moran, Donald N.: Johann Gottlieb Rall: Guilty of Tactical Negligence or Guiltless Circumstances?
- Paretti, Sandra: Der Winter, der ein Sommer war (Zürich 1972)
- Poten, Bernhard von: Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, Bd. 27 (Leipzig 1888)
Source: Bernhard von Poten