Contributions to the War for Independence


General Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben

von Steuben
Courtesy Robert L. Stocks

Statues at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Valley Forge National Park

“On December 19, 1777, when Washington’s army struggled into camp at Valley Forge, tired, cold and ill-equipped, it was lacking in much of the training essential for consistent success on the battlefield. On June 19, 1778, after a 6-month encampment, this same army emerged to pursue and successfully engage the British army at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. The ordered ranks, martial appearance, revived spirit, and fighting skill of the American soldiers spoke of the a great transformation having occurred amid the cold, sickness, and hardship that was Valley Forge.
The man most responsible for this transformation was Friedrich von Steuben, onetime member of the elite General Staff of Frederick the Great of Prussia. No longer in the Prussian Army, indeed without employment of any kind, von Steuben came to America seeking to offer his military skills to the patriot cause. When he arrived at Valley Forge from France on February 23, 1778, he was armed with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. Washington saw great promise in the Prussian and almost immediately assigned him the duties of Acting Inspector General with the task of developing and carrying out an effective training program.

Numerous obstacles threatened success. No standard American training manuals existed, troop morale was low, and von Steuben himself spoke little English. Undaunted, he drafted his own manual in French. His aides, often working late into the night, then translated his work into English. The translations were in turn copied and passed to the individual regiments and companies, which carried out the prescribed drill the following day. (This training manual is, in parts, still in use today.)

Von Steuben shocked many American officers by breaking tradition to work directly with the men. One officer wrote of von Steuben’s ‘peculiar grace’ as he took ‘under his direction a squad of men in the capacity of drill sergeant.’ From dawn to dusk his familiar voice was heard in camp above the sounds of marching men and shouted commands. Soon companies, regiments, then brigades moved smartly from line to column, column to line; loaded muskets with precision; and drove imaginary redcoats from the field by skillful charges with the bayonet.

When the Grand Army paraded on May 6, 1778, to celebrate the French alliance with America, von Steuben received the honor of organizing the day’s activities. On that day the Grand Parade became a showplace for the united American army. Cannons boomed in salute. Thousands of muskets fired the ceremonial ‘feu de joie’, a running fire that passed up and down the double ranks of infantrymen. Cheers echoed across the fields. The good drilling order and imposing appearance which the troops presented during the Alliance Day ceremonies demonstrated their remarkable progress in developing as a fighting force in the short time since von Steuben’s arrival. Washington, his Continentals, and their French allies could now proceed with the war. Independence seemed assured.” (The National Historical Park Pennsylvania and National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior’s brochure entitled Valley Forge, 1983.)

The statue at Valley Forge National Park was created by Zurich-born J. Otto Schweizer.

Major General Peter Muhlenberg

Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, commissioned by the German Society of Pennsylvania and created by Zurich-born sculptor J. Otto Schweizer, and Muhlenberg Brigade Monument at Valley Forge National Park

Peter Muhlenberg, the oldest son of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, served as pastor to a Woodstock, Virginia congregation. “He was active in state affairs of the day, being a member of the House of Burgesses, and a Colonel in the Colonial Guards. He wore his Colonel’s uniform when he preached his farewell sermon. Concluding with the memorable declaration ‘There is a time to preach and a time to pray; there is also a time to fight, and that time has come now.’ He threw off his clerical robe and dressed in warrior’s garb led this men to the field of battle. He was Washington’s intimate friends, and an able soldier

Photo courtesy Marlene H.K. Stocks
Photo courtesy Marlene H.K. Stocks

who rose by merit to the rank of Major General. He became Vice President of Pennsylvania in 1785 and was re-elected; served in the first and third Congress. He was a member of the United States Senate 1801 until President Jefferson appointed him Supervisor of Internal Revenue of Pennsylvania. His statue adorns the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington as the most distinguished soldier of Pennsylvania. (William O. Fegely, D.D. and revised by Herbert H. Michel, M.Div., Augustus Lutheran Church – The Shrine of Lutheranism, 1987, 29-30). He was also a member of the Board of Dirctors of the German Society of Pennsylvania.

Johann de Kalb

de Kalb Division Monument at Valley Forge National Park

“Counties of several states are named for the Bavarian Johann de Kalb, another general who gave his life for the cause of the Revolution in the lost battle of Camden in South Carolina. The Marquis de Lafayette, whose services for the War of Independence de Kalb had secured, laid the cornerstone for the monument in Camden that was dedicated to de Kalb, ‘German by birth, cosmopolitan by principle’. He served ‘the fight for independence out of his love for freedom.’ ” (Christine M. Totten, Roots in the Rhineland: America’s German Heritage in Three Hundred Years of Immigration 1683 – 1983, New York, German Information Center, 1983: 53)

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