Baron Von Steuben Term Paper

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Baron Von Steuben was known as Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben in America, and as Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand, which was the name, he called himself in later years. He was born in Magdeburg fortress in 1730. At the age of ten, he returned to Germany and at the age of 17 he had joined the Infantry unit of the Prussian Army. Baron von Steuben, was new to the Revolutionary cause in America, and as a result was able to witness several shortcomings of discipline in the military and identify the causes for it.1 His progress was steady and he served as an officer in the Seven Years War and was later promoted to the General Staff that would be posted to Russia often. Fredrick the Great was impressed with the young Baron von Steuben and assigned him to his own headquarters. The experiences the young officer gained with such exposure, especially as General Staff member in the Prussian Army, would stand him in good stead in later years when he would be called upon to share his knowledge with American soldiers for the process of setting up an 'army'. 2

1. Baron Von-Steuben - Revolutionary War General [Online] Available at Accessed 23 March 2004

2. Who Served Here? Baron Von Steuben. [Online] Available at Accessed 23 March 2004

By the year 1775, his luck changed for the worse and Baron von Steuben fell heavily in debt and also out of work, having been dismissed by his army for reasons unknown. In 1777, however, the French Minister of war, Count de St. Germain, having realized the value of a person such as Baron von Steuben, offered him immediate employment. Benjamin Franklin, meanwhile, had come to know about Baron von Steuben and, in a written missive to General George Washington, described the 48-year-old officer as a Lieutenant General in the King of Prussia's Service, which, even though it was something of an exaggeration, was not entirely untrue. He was invited over, and, upon accepting this offer, traveled to New Hampshire, which he reached in September 1777. 3

In February 1778, Baron von Steuben had reached York, Pennsylvania, where he volunteered his services free, to the Americans. Soon, he had assumed duty, and started reporting directly to George Washington at Valley Forge and in the month of March, had made a rough draft of a training program for the soldiers. Both Alexander Hamilton and Nathaniel Greene formed a part of this team, since both could communicate with Baron von Steuben in French, a language in common for all concerned, since Baron von Steuben did not speak English. This plan for the training program would prove to be the basis for many similar training programs for soldiers of the army in the years to come. 4

3. Who Served Here? Baron Von Steuben. [Online] Available at Accessed 23 March 2004

4. Who Served Here? Baron Von Steuben. [Online] Available at Accessed 23 March 2004

The Continental Army was commanded by George Washington, a 43-year-old officer from Virginia. In a comparison with the advantages that the British had in the case of a war, America had none. America did not have an organized army or even a naval force. It had no monetary resources that the army could use for its development and promotion. There was not even a separation of the various generally known departments of government such as the treasury, or the foreign affairs ministry, and so on. Britain, on the other hand, had not only a powerful army, but a navy as well. Her government was of a good caliber, consisting of quite a few Loyalist members who had pledged their complete allegiance to the Queen of Britain. However, America was not completely at a disadvantage. She had, for the most part, more men than she needed at any particular time. 5

The soldiers who enlisted would not stay for long, some would only stay for a few weeks at a time, but they were always available to fight, in large numbers, whenever George Washington called upon them, though he sometimes had to call upon criminals from jails and upon British deserters when he found himself short of manpower. Americans, however, had guns, and also had the know-how on how they were to be used. The Continental army fought quite a few battles and did win quite a few, commanded as it was by officers of the caliber of Major General Nathaniel Greene and Baron Von Steuben. It was when Baron Von Steuben was invited to inculcate discipline in the American soldiers and get them organized into some sort of workable groups that the 'army' as such was factually formed, and from thereon, the success went to the organized and disciplined forces of the American Army. 6

5. The Continental Army [Online] Available at Accessed 23 March 2004

6. The Continental Army [Online] Available at Accessed 23 March 2004

In order to understand the extent of the achievement of Baron von Steuben, the condition and the working of the soldiers during a war or battle in the eighteenth century must be understood. Warfare in those days was a general free-for-all wherein the emphasis was on firing as quickly as possible, and at the closest ranges possible. It was, in fact, a mass fire combat, where the soldier on one side would find it of utmost importance to fire before the soldier on the opposite side could; he would always try to get the first shot across, before the other could. The rules and regulations for the soldiers were dealt primarily with drill, and firing arms. The sole emphasis was on the conduction of drills for the soldiers whereby they would become more and more proficient at handling the arms, and it would finally become nothing that would take up any sort of effort of concentration; the process of loading and firing a firearm would become totally automatic. 7

There was another matter too that needed change, and most urgently. This was the fact that the camps of the soldiers were in a despicable condition and there were no sanitation arrangements. The soldiers would relieve themselves wherever they pleased. When the soldiers needed meat, or when an animal happened to die close to the campsite, the animal would be stripped of its flesh and left in the same place to rot away. This was a primary cause for a lot of concern about the spread of diseases among the soldiers, for whom there seemed to be no awareness of sanitation and the maintenance of good health. These then were the major issues that Baron von Steuben found in need of immediate attention and change. He developed a set of firing regulations for the soldiers whereby, after training; they would be able to fire at a more rapid pace than before. 8

7. Who Served Here? Baron Von Steuben. [Online] Available at Accessed 23 March 2004

8. Who Served Here? Baron Von Steuben. [Online] Available at Accessed 23 March 2004

Now firing could actually be done in a matter of eight counts whereas the process from the start of the fire: 'fire' to the end of the fire: 'return' would involve only eight processes. The movements or motions involved in the firing of a firearm would be reduced to a series of fifteen well-calculated moves that would waste no motion and be of immense benefit to the soldier of that time who had to either fire before the opposite soldier can, or end up dead. The new regulations brought in by Baron von Steuben made firing much simpler and quicker than it was before. Certain alignments necessary for the grouping of the soldiers in order to fight better were also inculcated into the new training methods and the soldiers had to be organized into small groups of three, and later, in groups of twelve and they were taught to wheel, and to turn to the left, or to the right, as one, as the occasion deserved. 9

This sort of perfect alignment of the troops facilitated in smooth firing and the fighters improved considerably their fighting and firing methods. In the area of sanitation, Baron von Steuben who was appalled by the general lack of awareness enforced new regulations whereby the health of the commanders and the soldiers and the enlisted men would not all be put into jeopardy. He therefore made up a plan for the campsite whereby the entire camp would be laid out in rows, one each for the command, the soldiers, and the enlisted respectively. The kitchens and the latrines would be set as far away from the campsite as possible, and the latrines would preferable be set on downhill slopes. This took the main causes of diseases away from the main site and the persons in the camp benefited immensely; in fact, army camps followed this sort of arrangement over the next few centuries with full faith in its…

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