Frederic William Augustus Steuben
BARON VON FREDERIC WILLIAM AUGUSTUS STEUBEN; a distinguished Prussian officer, who attached himself to the American cause in the revolution of 1776. He had been aid-de-camp to Frederic the Great, and had attained the rank of lieutenant-general in his army. Sacrificing his honors and emoluments in Europe, Steuben came to America in 1777, and tendered his services to congress, as a volunteer in their army, without claiming any rank or compensation. He received the thanks of that body, and joined the main army under the commander-in-chief at Valley Forge. Baron Steuben soon rendered himself particularly useful to the Americans, by disciplining the forces. On the recommendation of general Washington, congress, in May 1778, appointed the baron inspector-general of the army, with the rank of major-general. His efforts in this capacity were continued with remarkable diligence, until he had placed the troops in a situation to withstand the enemy. In the estimates of the war office, 5000 extra muskets were generally allowed for the waste and destruction in the army; but such was the exact order under the superintendence of Steuben, that in his inspection return, but three muskets were deficient, and those accounted for. A complete scheme of exercise and discipline, which he composed, was adopted in the army by the direction of congress. He possessed the right of command in the line, and at one period was at the .head of a separate detachment in Virginia. At the battle of Monmouth he was engaged as a volunteer. When reviewing the troops, it was his constant custom to reward the disciplined soldier with praise, and to pass severe censure upon the negligent. Numerous anecdotes are related illustrative of the generosity, purity and kindness of his disposition. After the treacherous defection of Arnold, the baron held his name in the utmost abhorrence. One day, he was inspecting a regiment of light horse, when that name struck his ear. The man was ordered to the front, and presented an excellent appearance. Steuben told him that he was too respectable to bear the name of a traitor; and at his request the soldier adopted that of the baron, whose bounty he afterwards experienced, and brought up a son by the same name.
At the siege of Yorktown, baron Steuben was in the trenches at the head of a division, where he received the first offer of lord Cornwallis to capitulate. The marquis de Lafayette appeared to relieve him in the morning; but, adhering to the European etiquette, the baron would not quit his post until the surrender was completed or hostilities recommenced. The matter being referred to general Washington, the baron was suffered to remain in the trenches till the enemy's flag was struck. After the capture of Corn wallis, when the superior American officers were paying every attention to their captives, Steuben sold his favorite horse in order to raise money to give an entertainment to the British officers, as the other major-generals had previously done. His watch he had previously disposed of to relieve the wants of a sick friend. On another occasion, when he desired to reciprocate the invitations of the French officers, he ordered his people to sell his silver spoons and forks saying it was anti-republican to make use of such things, and adding, that the gentlemen should have one good dinner if he ate his meals with a wooden spoon for ever after. Steuben continued in the army till the close of the war, perfecting its discipline. The silence and dexterity of his movements surprised the French allies. He possessed the particular esteem of general Washington, who took every proper opportunity to recommend him to congress; from which body he received several sums of money, that were chiefly expended in acts of charity, or in rewarding the good conduct of the soldiers.
Upon the disbandment of the continental army at Newburgh, many affectionate bonds, formed amidst the danger and hardships of a long and arduous service, were to be broken asunder for ever. At this season of distress, the benevolent Steuben exerted himself to alleviate the forlorn condition of many. He gave his last dollar to a wounded black, to procure him a passage home. Peace being established, the baron retired to a farm in the vicinity of New York, where, in the society of his friends, and the amusements of books and chess, he passed his time as comfortably as his exhausted purse would allow. The state of New Jersey had given him a small farm, and that of New York 16,000 acres of land in the country of Oneida. The exertions of colonel Hamilton and general Washington subsequently procured him an annuity of $2500, from the general government. He built a log house, and cleared 60 acres of his tract of land, a portion of which he partitioned out, on easy terms, to twenty or thirty tenants, and distributed nearly a tenth among his aid-de-camps and servants. In this situation he lived contentedly, until the year 1795, when an apoplectic attack put an end to his life, in his sixty-fifth year. An abstract of his system of military manoeuvres was published in 1779. The year preceding his death, he published a letter on the established militia and. military arrangements.