Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben was born on Sept. 17, 1730, in Magdeburg, Germany. Son of a military father, Friedrich joined the Prussian army considered the most advanced professional army in Europe at the timewhen he was 16 or 17. Von Steuben actively participated in the Seven Years' War as a second lieutenanthis distinguished service earned him the rank of captain. In 1762, he became an aide-de-camp to Frederick the Great, the king of Prussia and a formidable military strategistand at whose tomb, it is said, Napoleon remarked after conquering Prussia: "Gentlemen, if this man was alive, I would not be here." Von Steuben was one of 13 officers chosen to be instructed by the king himself in the science/art of war.
Never one to hide his sexual orientation, Friedrich Wilhelm resigned from the Prussian army in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years' War because of an indiscretion he himself termed "inconsiderate" and the denunciation of "an implacable enemy." Aside: It is interesting to note that Frederick the Great also preferred men sexually.
In 1764, Von Steuben assumed the office of Hofmarschall (the administrative official in charge of a German court) to the Hohenzollern prince of the principality of Hechingen. In 1769, he was awarded the Order of Fidelity that conferred on him the honorific title of baron. He proudly wore the overlarge badge of this Order on his dress jacket.
In 1775, with Europe at peace and the Prussian clergy determined to have him dismissed for his same-sex leanings, von Steuben found himself looking for a job; he wanted a position that would pay him more money and permit him to exercise his military talents.
Enter Ben Franklin.
Franklin was in Paris busy securing more French support for the U.S. war against the British when he found out, through his French military friends, about Von Steuben's availability. Franklin interviewed the baronand he often conducted these Paris interviews while bathing naked in a tuband was impressed. Von Steuben wanted the rank of general, a high salary, a staff and travel expenses to America. Franklin apprised Von Steuben of the realities of the U.S. purse. The baron traveled to America at his own expense accompanied by his personal attendants, an extraordinary volume of luggage and a letter of recommendation from Franklin to Washington.
Impressed by Von Steuben's person, experience and military knowledge, and fully apprised of Von Steuben's sexual orientation, Washington appointed Von Steuben inspector general of the Continental Army. This important position came with no salary, although it did come with a staff. Initially, Washington appointed two English-speaking French army colonels to work with the baron, as Von Steuben spoke fluent French and no English. At a later date, Washington added two Americans, Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens, who were French speakersand lovers. Obviously, Washington judged men by their character and talents and not by their orientation. He needed to in order to win a war.
Undaunted by the chaos he encountered at Valley Forge, Von Steuben, fastidiously attired in well-tailored outfits, tackled every type of problem ranging from hygiene through ordnance and logistics to drill and musketry. He quickly won the respect of the ordinary soldiers as well as of the officers because of his manifest commitment to the welfare of each soldier and because of his practice of joining the men in the training exercises; instructing them personally on how to hold, fire and reload a musket; and how to support a line of fire in an actual engagement.
"In Europe, you say to your soldier, 'Do this' and he does it. But I am obliged to say to the American, 'This is why you ought to do this,' and only then does he do it," the baron wrote in a training manual to explain things to the U.S. soldier. He also learned to cuss in English, frequently shouting "goddamn" after he ran out of German and French imprecations.
Washington selected 100 of his best officers to be trained by Von Steuben in a model company. These officers became the drill masters and training instructors for the entire Continental Army. This training has been repeatedly acknowledged to have been essential to the victory of the American war against the British. One example: Prior to Von Steuben training American soldiers in the proper use of the bayonet, the troops used bayonets mostly as utensils for cutting and cooking."
In May 1778, the Continental Congress officially confirmed the baron as inspector general with the rank of major generalwith a generous salaryfor his professional reorganizing of the Continental Army and for his dogged rooting out of corruption in the supply lines.
You can read the entire manual "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States" online at archive.org and many other sites. You can also view enactments of the manual on YouTube. Parts of Von Steuben's original manual are still in use in U.S. Army training instructions.
During his entire service to the Continental Army and then the nascent U.S. Republic, Von Steuben never hid his feelings for menalmost to a fault. He had intimate relationships with several of his aides-de-camp, and was notorious for holding wild parties where he encouraged the young officers to forgo wearing their breeches and wear torn attire.
The Baron formed a committed lasting relationship with Walker, whom he adopted along with North as his legal sons and heirs.
The Friedrich Von Steuben High School and Science Center in Chicago is named after the baron; many towns, cities, counties and other public places also share the name.
Perhaps one day, these places which honor his name and work will acknowledge his love for men.
2022 © nicholas.patricca.gmail.com Windy City Times June Pride 2022
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