Bartholomew von Heer and the Marechaussee Corps


October 1, 2014
by Bob Ruppert Also by this Author


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Washington and the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, twenty-five miles northwest of Philadelphia. On November 27, the Continental Congress decided to restructure the Board of War. Up to this point the Board was made up of delegates from the Continental Congress. With only seven members who elected Washington still sitting in Congress and many of the others inexperienced and uninformed as to the operation of an army, it was decided that the Board should be made up entirely of military men. Concerned with the state of the army following a year of defeat after defeat, on January 10 Congress “resolved, that three members of Congress, together with three members of the [new] Board of War, be appointed a committee to repair to General Washington’s headquarters.”[1] They were to investigate the issues surrounding the amount, quality, and timeliness of supply deliveries, the overall structure of the army, and the morale of the army. On January 24, the committee arrived at Valley Forge; five days later, Washington presented them with a 38-page document outlining the numerous defects in the army as well as recommendations for remedying them.[2] In early February before the committee was scheduled to depart for Philadelphia a snowstorm struck. Forced to remain in camp until the beginning of March, they experienced, firsthand, the hardships that Washington’s men endured on a daily basis. When they returned to Philadelphia they were ardent supporters of Washington’s recommendations. The first issue, supply logistics, was remedied by replacing the incompetent Gen. Thomas Mifflin with Gen. Nathanael Greene as Quarter Master General. The second and third problems, overall organization and the morale of the army, were remedied by creating a process for bestowing ranks, a process for filling state quotas, a pension equaling half of a soldier’s pay, and the granting of commissions to two Prussian officers. The first was Baron von Steuben; he was to teach the American soldiers close-order drill, military readiness and use of the bayonet. The second was Captain Bartholomew von Heer; he was to command a Provost Troop of Light Dragoons or mounted military police.

Washington’s foreign officers including von Steuben and the Marquis de Lafayette had recommended the creation of the force as early as November 1777. Bartholomew von Heer, who had served in such a unit in Europe, and Col. Henry Lutterhol drafted an outline of its composition and duties.[3] The troop, based upon the “Privots de Marecheaux,” first created by King Francis I of France[4], would be known as the Marechaussee Corps. It would be made up of 1 captain, 4 lieutenants, 1 clerk, 1 Quarter Master, 2 Trumpeters, 2 Sergeants, 5 Corporals, 43 Provosts, and 4 Executioners.[5] On May 27, 1778, the Continental Congress authorized the Corps and defined its role: ”Their business was to watch over the Regularity and good Order of the Army in Camp, Quarters, or on the March, quell Riots, prevent marauding, straggling and Desertions, detect Spies, regulate sutlers and the like.”[6]

On June 6, Washington informed Gen. Greene of the Corps and asked that the “Corps … be armed and accoutred in the manner of Light Dragoons” and “with all possible expedition sixty three Horses, with proper Saddles and bridles.”[7] Their arms were to be “one Carbine two Pistolls one broad sword.” On July 27, von Heer, who was in Philadelphia, was requested to report for duty.[8] When the troops of a state entered Continental service, they were paid a bounty; when a recruit entered the Continental Army directly, he was likewise paid a bounty, but it was smaller than a state’s bounty. When von Heer received his orders to report for duty he had been petitioning the Board of War for his men to receive the higher state bounty since that is where they enlisted and lived. Two days later, Congress agreed to his petition and made the Marechaussee Corps part of the Pennsylvania quota and entitled to shirts, stockings and other clothing items allowed to that state’s line troops. On September 24, von Heer informed Washington that he had selected his four officers, Bagge Christian Mancke, Johann Heinrich Wolfen, Jacob Meitinger and Mathias Schneider, and requested their commissions.[9]

In the general orders of October 11, Washington announced “the duties of the Marechausie Corps.” He hoped “that the Institution, by putting men on their Guard operate more in preventing than punishing Crimes … The officers of the Corps are to patrol the Camp and it’s neighborhood for the purpose of apprehending Deserters, Marauders, Drunkards, and Rioters … and all soldiers who are found beyond the nearest Picquets [or] beyond the distance of one mile estimated from the Center of the Encampment … and all Countrymen and Strangers whose Appearance or Manners excite Suspicion of their being Spies … On the day of march the Corps is to remain on the old ground till the Columns and Baggage have moved off, in order to secure all such soldiers as have loitered in Camp … likewise they will secure all stragglers on the march … and on the day of battle will be posted in the Rear of the Second Line or Reserve in order to secure Fugitives. Anyone who was detained, whatever the reason, was “not to be ill treated by words or actions – unless they attempt to escape, or make resistance.”[10] Washington hoped that von Heer, when forming the corps, would take “out of each Brigade Four Men” who were native-born, similar to how Caleb Gibbs formed his Life Guards[11], but this did not occur. Von Heer recruited most of the Corps from the German communities in the Berks and Lancaster Counties of Pennsylvania.[12] 42 of the Corps’ 63 men were native-born Germans and two were Swiss.

Beginning in 1779, the Marechaussee began to be used in ways other than their prescribed duties. Washington asked them to conduct reconnaissance missions, serve as dispatch couriers, and in an emergency, serve as a cavalry for the main army. At one time or another they were assigned to Gen. William Maxwell, Gen. Anthony Wayne, Col. Stephen Moylan, and the Marquis de Lafayette.[13] On May 7, von Heer informed Washington that three of his officers were granted commissions, but Lt. Johann Heinrich Wolfen was not. He was not granted a commission because “his behaviour and Caracter are not sufficient (and because a Court Martial found him) highly blamable … (when he struck) Serjeant Muller and then confin[ed] him without any apparent Provocation … his conduct thro’out the affair was unbecoming the Character of an Officer and a Gentleman and so sentenced him to be reprimanded in General Orders … The General approves the sentence—Lieutt. Wolfen’s conduct was highly indiscreet & improper.”[14] In the same dispatch, he brought to Washington’s attention that his men were not allowed to draw any of the clothing items allowed to the other Pennsylvania soldiers even though Congress had promised that they could six months earlier. He went on to say that he petitioned the Supreme Executive Council of the state only to learn of their decision through the minutes of their April 24 meeting, “The Petition of Captain Van Heer praying, That his Troop of Horse may be allowed to draw enumerated Articles – was read & rejected.”[15] He hoped that Washington could arrange for his men to be entered into the state rolls.[16] In response Washington wrote, “I am vested with no authority whatsoever, by which it is in my power to attach your corps to any particular State. An adoption of this kind can only be made thro’ a recommendation of Congress, or by a voluntary act of the State itself.”[17] For the next two years von Heer would continue to petition the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council for equal benefits for his corps and would continue to be put off by the Council. It would not be until 1781 that the corps would appear on the Pennsylvania quota.

For the winter of 1779 and 1780, von Heer and the Corps were ordered to Reading, Pennsylvania. Not only was this near many of their homes, but the town had a munitions depot, a prisoner of war camp and an army hospital that needed guarding.

In the spring of 1779, Washington, “upon receiving information that the enemy [was] preparing to send reinforcements … southward … determined to detach Major Lee’s Corps, both Horse and Foot to that Quarter.” On March 30, 1780, he ordered von Heer and the Marechaussee Corps “to repair to and take up Major Lee’s quarters at Burlington.”[18] Two weeks later, von Heer petitioned Washington to write to the Governor of Pennsylvania and ask that his Corps be entered on his state rolls so that they could “receive the benefit of cloaths as well as … stores to support ourselves.”[19] On May 22, von Heer informed Washington that he had “made Application to the Board of War & Congress for Cloaks for the Men; and Cloathing for myself and the Officers … but nothing has followed … to this day, & the Men are in great want of the Cloaks as they have no Blankets … Likewise I have flattered the Men so much as possible to take patience, as they have not received payment from the first of December till to this Day; But I expect having a complete Confidence of all my Men, That they will behave & do their Duty to all.”[20] The next month, in a letter to Gen. Robert Howe at West Point, Washington lamented “the scarcity of Cavalry has obliged me to divert the Marechaussee Corps of horse from their proper occupation and put them on ordinary field duty.”[21]

On June 1, 1781, Washington wrote a ‘letter of understanding’ to von Heer: “It gives me great pleasure … that no part of the embarrassment and distresses of your Troop is owing to want of attention or care in you – but on the contrary that you have made use of every proper application & exertion to put your Corps, on a respectable footing for taking the field with reputation to themselves, and a prospect of advantage to the Public … I must confess, I can see no reason why the men of your Troop, if they are considered and credited as part of the Quota of Pennsylvania, should not be entitled to the same pay, depreciation of pay, and all other emoluments, which have been granted to the other Troops raised in the State … With respect to remounting your dismounted Dragoons, with tolerably good Horses, I fear there will be almost insuperable obstacles in the way. It is true the Quarter-Master General has been ordered long since to purchase Horses to mount the several Corps of Cavalry, but the misfortune is, money has been and still is wanting. All that can be done at present is to direct him to supply the best Horses in his possession, for this service, until better can be obtained for you, which I sincerely wish may be soon effected, as I consider your troop of essential utility to the Army.”[22]

Because of lack of pay and insufficient resources, von Heer found it difficult to recruit new men as well as convince his veterans to re-enlist. At no time during 1781 was von Heer’s Corps at full force. By July the Corps had very few horses to carry out their duties; von Heer reported “twelve of which are with me, and from the smallness of the number are continually on duty, carrying orders to one part and another of the Camp.”[23] On September 16, the rolls listed 53 members including those unfit for duty and those on “detached assignments.”[24] Washington feared that the Corps might be forced to disband. It was only through his plea that Congress released some of the Corps’ back pay.[25] In 1782, Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance, “owing to the Circumstances of Personal acquaintances” released some additional money to cover “the heavy Expence of Cloathing, Horses, Accoutrements, etc…” and gave each provost $12 per man as their bounty because Pennsylvania still refused to pay it.[26] This allowed the Corps to enlist enough men to come to full force; unfortunately with negotiations for a peace treaty underway in France, the Continental Congress began to consider furloughing parts of the army. During 1782 and 1783 the Corps was also given another duty: they were at times to serve with Washington’s Life Guard.

On May 26, 1783 Congress ordered the furloughing process to begin. On June 13 all of the Marechaussee except von Heer, 1 sergeant, 1 corporal and 8 provosts who would serve as dispatch riders, orderlies and guards were furloughed.[27] They were told that they would not be officially discharged until the signing of the peace treaty. The remaining 10 members of the Corps and Captain von Heer were furloughed on November 4 at Rocky Hill, New Jersey. [28] This brought an end to the Provost Corps.

It is important to note that von Heer and his Corps were faced with obstacles during the war that few other corps or forces in the Continental Army had to face. First, not all of the orovosts spoke English and those that did at times were difficult to understand; second, their nationality did not endear them to many Americans; especially since six of them were former Hessian prisoners of war[29]; third, they were frequently at odds in camp with Washington’s highly esteemed Life Guards; fourth, they were assigned too many duties and seldom were allowed to perform the duty that they were created for; and fifth, their home state denied them their benefits that every other soldier from the state was granted. In spite of this, their loyalty to Washington, their country, and the freedom it promised never wavered!

After the war, von Heer and his officers received compensation for their services in the form of Loan Office Certificates for back pay, 5 years of pay in lieu of a pension and five hundred dollars.[30]

Postscript:     “Today, the Order of the Marechaussee is one of the most prestigious honors bestowed upon members of the Military Police Corps Regiment. Unlike the more common “end of tour” awards and awards that are presented as a result of specific actions, the Order of the Marechaussee is granted only to those military police who uphold the highest service traditions, as measured through longevity, continued and dedicated service, and merit. Less than 10 percent of the members of the Military Police Corps Regiment are nominated for the Order of the Marechaussee; even fewer are selected and invested into it.”[31]

[FEATURED IMAGE AT TOP: “Dawn of the Regiment” by Rick Reeves ( The painting depicts the Marachaussee in the Battle of Springfield.]


[1] Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 10, 40.

[2]”George Washington to a Continental Congress Camp Committee, 29 January 1778,” The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, Rotunda, 2008).

[3] “To George Washington from Captain Bartholomew von Heer, 17 November 1777,” in The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, ed. Frank E. Grizzard, Jr. and David R. Hoth (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002), 12:289-92.


[5] Journals of the Continental Congress, 11:541.

[6] Journals of the Continental Congress, 11:541.

[7] “To Major General Nathanael Greene, dated 6 June 1778,” in George Washington Papers, 1741-1799:Series 3b Varick Trancripts,ed., John C. Fitzpatrick, Library of Congress (Washington DC: GPO, 1915), 5:41.

[8] “To Captain Bartholomew from George Washington, 27 July 1778,”in The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 1 July – 14 September 1778, ed., David R. Hoth (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006), 185.

[9] “To George Washington from Captain Bartholomew von Heer, 24 September 1778,” The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, ed., Philander D. Chase(Charlottesville: University of Virginia press, 2008), 17:116-117.

[10] “General Order, 11 October 1778,” The Papers of George Washington, 17:335-37; 17:340-42.

[11] Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, 4:387-88.

[12] Timothy Pickering Papers in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Sixth Series (Boston: John Wilson and Son, 1896), 8:302.

[13] Von Heer to Nathanael Greene, 24 January 1779, and Greene to Thomas Durie, 25 August 1779, in The Papers of Nathanael Greene, 3:179, 4:338;Washington to William Maxwell, 1 April 1779, Washington to Arthur St. Clair, 2 June 1779, Washington to von Heer, 23 August 23 1779, and General Orders, 22 August 1780 in The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscripts, 1774-1799, 14:319, 15:213, 16:159, 19:420.

[14] “To George Washington from Captain Bartholomew von Heer, 7 May 1779,” in The Papers of George Washington, Edward G, Lengel, ed., War Series (Charlottesville, University of Virginia Press, 2110), 20:361-63; The Papers of George Washington, 18:91–93.

[15] Colonial Records of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, PA: 1840-53), 11:757.

[16] “To George Washington from Captain Bartholomew von Heer, 7 May 1779,” Colonial Records of Pennsylvania.

[17] “To George Washington from Captain Bartholomew von Heer, 7 May 1779,” in The Papers of George Washington, 20:527-28.

[18] “To Bartholomew von Heer from George Washington, 30 March 1780,” ed., Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, 18:79.

[19] “To George Washington from Bartholomew von Heer, 15 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives.

[20] “To George Washington from Bartholomew von Heer , 22 May 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives.

[21] “To George Washington to Maj. Gen. Robert Howe, 20 June 20 1780,” in Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, 19:41.

[22] “George Washington to Bartholomew von Heer, 1 June 1781,” in Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, 22:149-50.

[23] “George Washington to Bartholomew von Heer, 1 July 1781,” in Fitzpatrick The Writings of George Washington, 22:372.


[25] “Bartholomew Von Heer to the Board of War, 16 May 1781,” in The Papers of the Continental Congress, r160, I147, 5:343; “Washington to the Board of War, 28 June, 9 July 1781, in Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, 22:281, 343.

[26] “Expenditures of the Paymaster General, Jan. 1 – Mar. 31 and Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 1782, in The Papers of Robert Morris, James E. Ferguson, ed., 4:178-79, 179n, 234, 300, 315, 333, 348, 9:733, 788.

[27] Journals of the Continental Congress, 24:364, 25:703.

[28] “To Bartholomew von Heer from George Washington, Certificate of Discharge,

4 November 1783,”

[29] Note: The six men have after their name the word “Hessen.”

[30] “List of Loan Office Certificates … Officers and Soldiers of Capt. Bartholomew von Heer’s Troop of Light Horse,” Revolutionary War Records, Microfilm 246, Roll 116, Folder 1.

[31]Kathy West, Historian Assistant, U.S. Army Military Police Corps Bulletin, 11 August 2010.


  • Regarding the Congressional Committee’s inability to leave Valley Forge due to a snowstorm, shouldn’t their destination have been York, not Philadelphia, which was occupied by the British in February 1778? Just a minor point in an otherwise excellent article.

  • Very interesting stuff. Was there ever a particular reason as to why Pennsylvania reneged on the promise to clothes the men as other PA troops? As i recall Wayne spent alot of time badgering Congress, especially in the winter, when his men didnt have thier promised clothing either, around roughly the middle to late war as well.

  • Thanks Bob. Well done. I’ve been researching this unit for the past few years. My fifth great-grandfather, Ludwig “Lewis” Boyer (Berks Co. native), was one of the few von Heer dragoons that escorted Washington back to Mt. Vernon where he was then discharged and presented with his horse, arms and accouterments in his possession as a gratuity. His discharge letter was dated Dec 10, 1783 in Philadelphia and was signed by Washington. It further stated that he consented to continue in service until Dec 31, 1783.

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