Baron von Steuben

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Revolutionary War

Baron von Steuben

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Baron Von Steuben
Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben
Major General
Revolutionary War
September 17, 1730 - November 28, 1794

Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben was born on September 17, 1730, in the fortress town of Magdeburg in Prussia. At 17, von Steuben enlisted in the Prussian army as a lance-corporal in 1747. Von Steuben was a second lieutenant in 1756 when The Seven Years War began and he served throughout the war with distinction. Von Steuben was discharged from the Prussian army on April 29, 1763, shortly after the Treaties of Paris and Hubertusburg ended the war.

In 1775, von Steuben began looking for a government appointment to support himself and pay off his many debts. He searched for positions in the British, French, and Austrian armies to no avail. In 1777, he traveled to France where he caught wind of the riches that could be earned in the American Revolution. Von Steuben had connections with the French Minister of War and through him, the Baron met the American ambassadors to France, Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, Deane and Franklin could not promise von Steuben rank or pay. He could only be a volunteer in the Continental Army, which made von Steuben furious enough to decline. Without any luck of finding another job, von Steuben decided to accept and set out to the British colonies.

Von Steuben met with Congress, which made an arrangement for von Steuben to be paid based upon the outcome of the war and his contributions. He reported to General George Washington in Valley Forge and arrived there in February, 1778. The Baron was appointed as the temporary Inspector General to observe the American soldiers, equipment, skills, and living conditions. Von Steuben was extremely discouraged by the state of the Continental Army.

Von Steuben’s first job was to create a standard method of drills for the entire army. He wrote the drills in French since he could not speak English and had his military secretary translate the drills into English. Copies of the drills were given to each company and officer. Von Steuben established a practice army to demonstrate new drills for the rest of the army. He worked with the troops directly and delivered the drills in a quick and simple manner. The American soldiers appreciated von Steuben’s willingness to personally work with them and his use of colorful words in several different languages.

In the winter of 1778-1779, the Baron wrote, “Regulation for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States”. This “Blue Book” of military regulations would be approved by Congress in March 1779 and used by the United States Army until 1814. In April 1779, von Steuben returned to the Continental Army and served throughout the remainder of the war as General Nathanael Greene’s instructor and supply officer. He was present in the final campaign at Yorktown resulted in the American victory of the American Revolution. He died in New York on November 28, 1794.