Biography of Revolutionary War Leader Baron Von Steuben Part 3

About the Revolutionary War leader Baron Von Steuben, his place in American history as he trained and drilled the soldiers.

BARON VON STEUBEN (U.S., Revolutionary War)

On June 28, 1778, Steuben's training was put to a severe test at the Battle of Monmouth. Gen. Charles Lee had called a retreat, and Washington, flushed with anger, sent Lee to the rear for such an unwarranted breach of conduct. Gen. "Mad Anthony" Wayne leaped into the fray, urging his men to fight, to aim at the King's birds--the British officers. While Wayne was definitely the hero of Monmouth, Steuben was a hero, too. In the confusion, when one regiment faltered and started to fall back, Steuben's military discipline was put into action. Shouting hoarsely in his incomprehensible German, yet understood by his gestures, Steuben wheeled the men around with such case and speed that they might have been practicing on the drill field. Clearly the men were now fighting veterans, moving in coordination, firing on command, using their bayonets with deadly skill. It was the 1st time that Washington emerged victorious in a major engagement.

Again Steuben was elated when on July 16, 1779, the Light Infantry, under Gen. Anthony Wayne's command, captured from the British without need of muskets the fort at Stony Point on the Hudson River. Steuben's bayonet trained Continentals had been taught well.

In 1781 Steuben accompanied Gen. Nathanael Greene south to Virginia to train Greene's southern army--almost to a man raw, inept recruits--and to become commander of all the Virginia troops. In time he also became President Washington's most trusted military adviser.

After the war in 1786, New York granted him 16,000 acres of land in the Mohawk Valley near Utica. But Steuben bought a country house in Manhattan on what is now East 55th Street where he opened his doors to friends and freeloaders. The kindhearted Steuben almost went bankrupt in 1790 after his so-called guests had drunk his liquor, eaten his food, and borrowed his money. Had his friends Alexander Hamilton and George Washington not come to his rescue, he might have languished penniless and forgotten. Finally, after much prodding by Washington, Congress granted him $2,500 a year for life.

Steuben never married, but adopted one of his former aides, William North. Benjamin Walker, also a former aide, was like a son to him. Both North and Walker were heirs and executors of Steuben's will when he died in November, 1794, at age 64.

A bronze statue of Steuben was erected at Lafayette Park in Washington, and another, in 1914, at Utica. Many towns have been named after him in New York, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, and there are Steubenvilles in both Ohio and Kentucky. On a boulder near his grave in Steuben Memorial Park, Oneida County, N.Y., is an inscription that reads, "His Services Were Indispensable to the Achievement of American Independence."

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