General Friedrich Wilhelm Von Steuben

1730 - 1794

General Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin Von Steuben was born in Magdeburg, Germany on September 17, 1730. Von Steuben's military career began at an early age, when he entered the Prussian army and served with distinction in the Seven Year's War. He later became the aid of Frederick the Great of Prussia, who was recognized as the military genius of his time. Von Steuben became expert in the drilling and training of troops. Because of this exceptional ability, Bengamin Franklin and Count St. Germain, French Minister of War persuaded Von Steuben to volunteer his military expertise to the American Revolutionists.

Von Steuben sailed for America and arrived at Portsmouth, N.H. in 1778, to aid the young nation in its fight for independence. He offered his services to General Washington without rank or pay, arriving at Valley Forge in the late winter of 1777-78. He found the soldiers in deplorable condition, without uniforms, weapons or food. Appointed by Congress to be inspector General of the Army, von Steuben set about training the unorganized band of ragged soldiers. He infused in them a sense of discipline and converted them into an excellent fighting force, training them to bear arms, march, form columns and to execute maneuvers with precision. He gave confidence to the officers and men, enabling them to continue on to victory at Yorktown.

As "Drill Instructor" of the Continental Army, von Steuben wrote "Regulations of for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States". Although this Manual has been modified, it still remains in the basic guide for the discipline and drill of the Army.

On June 28, 1778, Von Steuben's training was put to test when the American troops encountered the British Army near Monmouth Courthouse in the town of Freehold, Monmouth County, New Jersey. What early threatened to become a disastrous defeat for the Colonial forces was turned into a glorious victory by General Von Steuben. The retreating troups of General Lee were brought to a halt by Von Steuben and reformed under heavy fire. The retreating men knew how to conduct themselves and wheeled into line with the precision of veterans. What seemed to be a certain defeat truned into a patriot victory and a turning point in the war. This battle was followed by victories in Stony Point, Yorktown and other places.

Steuben was remarkable for the generosity and fineness of his nature, spending his entire income, beyond what was essential to his own simple needs, in purchasing clothing and rations for his men. In recognition of his services Congress granted him an annuity and New York State presented him with a large tract of land. He became an American citizen, and lived in New York until his death in 1794. He was laid to rest in a hero's grave on his estate in Steuben County, where the inscription on a bronze plaque sums up the contribution that he had made to the new nation "Indispensable to the Achievement of American Independence."

Steuben's military services in America are likewise very adequately indicated in General John McCauley Palmer's biography on Steuben by his most praiseworthy statement:

"...In the course of my researches I was soon convinced that the military services of two men, and two men only, can be regarded as indespensable to the achievement of American independance. These tow men were Washington and Steuben. When I say that their military services were indispensable, I mean that each of them contributed something essential to final victory, that could not have been contributed by any other man in the American Army..."

  • Compton's Reference Collection, Compton's NewMedia, 1992.
  • The Story of Our American People Volume 1; Charles F. Horne; The United States Flag Association, Washtington, D.C.
  • George Washington's War, The Saga of the American Revolution; Robert Leckie; HarperCollins Publishers, 1992