The Papers of General Nathanael Greene


Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron von Steuben (1730-1794)
(portrait -- 114k)

Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron von Steuben, a trained Prussian staff officer who assumed the title of baron, arrived in America in December 1777 and joined Washington as a volunteer two months later at Valley Forge. There he began a rigorous program of drill that turned the untrained soldiers into a disciplined fighting force. In May 1778, on Washington's recommendation, he was commissioned major general and appointed inspector general of the Continental army. In 1780 he went south with NG to help reorganize the Southern Army and took part in military operations in Virginia.
Primarily because he and the Virginians were never comfortable with each other, Steuben was not successful as Continental commander there. By the time Lafayette arrived to take command in March 1781, relations between Steuben and the Virginia state government had deteriorated to mutual antipathy. Steuben reluctantly stayed in Virginia until the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in October 1781. He then returned north with Washington's army and resumed his duties as inspector general until the end of the war. He spent much of the immediate postwar period trying to convince Congress that he deserved a monetary reward for his services; Congress finally approved a payment to him in 1794, shortly before Steuben died. (The standard biography is John McAuley Palmer, General Von Steuben [1937, reprint, Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1966]; a more recent treatment is Chase, "Steuben.")
Excerpted from PGNG 5: 105n and 6: 426n.