General Von Steuben: The Man who Trained Washington’s Army

Today, September 17, is Baron Von Steuben’s birthday. Von Steuben played a key role in the American Revolution, and has been revered ever since for his contributions to our victory against the British. In honor of his service, I would like to write a brief summary of the life and accomplishments of this man who is the namesake of my training business.

Early Life and Military Career

Von Steuben was born in Prussia (modern day Germany) in 1730. He enlisted in the Prussian army when he was 16 and saw service during the Seven Years War fighting against the Russian and Austrian armies. During his 17 years of service he rose to the rank of Captain and served as aide-de-camp to Frederick the Great.

A quick side note here. Frederick the Great was the King of Prussia, and one of the most brilliant strategic and tactical minds of the century. Even Napoleon respected him, and had a miniature statuette of Frederick in his office. Bold, cunning, and able to pull off incredible victories even when outnumbered, Frederick demanded professionalism and aggression in his subordinates. I bring this up because Von Steuben was one of 13 hand-picked Prussian officers to attend a “Special Class for the Art of War” (Spezialklasse der Kriegskunst) taught by Frederick the Great in 1762. No wonder he was such an asset to the Americans.

After the Seven Years War ended, Von Steuben found himself looking for work. He was eventually introduced to Benjamin Franklin through his contacts in France. Franklin wrote a letter to congress recommending Von Steuben, and he traveled to Pennsylvania where Congress agreed to pay him after the war according to his contributions. He then reported to George Washington at Valley Forge in February 1778.

Training the Continental Army

While serving as Washington’s Inspector General, Von Steuben first set about fixing the administrative needs of the army. He ensured that strict bookkeeping was kept regarding supplies, weapons, and personnel. This put a stop to the war profiteering that had been rife in the Continental army, and his rigid inspections ensured that it stayed that way.

Next, Von Steuben set about training Washington’s army. He knew that he couldn’t personally train Washington’s entire army, so he used a train-the-trainer approach. He selected 100-120 men from various regiments and trained them as a model company. The drills performed by this model company were observed by unit commanders. The men were then sent to different regiments to train them. This is similar to what I do with the Team Leader Class, and is why a full third of that class is spent teaching you to run your own training events.

One of the most important skills he taught was the proper use of the bayonet as a weapon. While the American volunteers had a fair amount of experience using muskets in colonial life, the bayonet was a uniquely military item that most volunteers were not familiar with. As such, bayonets had been used as field tools more than as weapons until Von Steuben arrived and set them straight. Additionally, Von Steuben knew that nothing quite instills raw aggression in troops like bayonet training. Having trained under Frederick the Great personally, Von Steuben knew that aggressive troops were bold troops, and that bold troops win battles.

Results of the Training Program

The training program set forth by Von Steuben very soon saw results in battle. In May 1778, the Battle of Barren Hill saw the British encircle Lafayette’s American troops on three sides against a river. Due to their training, the American soldiers were able to execute a disciplined breakout with a very effective delaying action by a small number of skirmishers. Lafayette escaped the encirclement with only 3 casualties.

A month later at the Battle of Monmouth, George Washington went blow to blow with the British forces under General Clinton and actually held the battlefield for the first time in a while. It was a pyrrhic victory for the Americans, but their performance in the battle was a vast improvement compared to past engagements. The British certainly noted this, and Clinton’s secretary wrote that “the Rebels stood much better than ever they did”. This battle sent a strong message to the British; the Continentals now had a professional army.

A year later, Von Steuben’s bayonet training played a key role in the Battle of Stony Point. On July 16, 1779, Continental soldiers from the elite Corps of Light Infantry conducted a daring attack where they seized a British outpost. They attacked by stealthily approaching at night and overwhelming the surprised defenders with a swift and violent charge from close range. None of the Americans were permitted to load their muskets for the attack, for fear that a negligent discharge would spoil the element of surprise. This meant that the entire attack was conducted with bayonets. The result was a devastating defeat for the British and only light casualties for the Americans.

General Von Steuben personally participated in Washington’s Southern campaign, even commanding troops in a few battles. After the war, Von Steuben was discharged with honors, and became a US citizen. He lived in New York and New Jersey for the rest of his days, and became an member of the German Reformed Church where he eventually became an elder.

Preserving Von Steuben’s Legacy

There is one final thing I must address. There has been an attempt by the American Left to hijack Von Steuben’s legacy by claiming that he was openly gay, and an early champion of LGBTQ rights. This is absolutely false. First of all, nobody was “openly gay” in Europe or the Americas during this period. The culture was vastly different back then. Homosexuality was considered scandalous and shameful, and wasn’t something that one would flaunt like they do today.

Second, there is no proof that Von Steuben was gay at all. This claim stems from an anonymous letter that accused Von Steuben of exploiting young boys, which was unfounded but still hurt his chance at employment in any European military. Left-wing activists also claim that his fondness for his aides, rowdy parties, and the fact that he never married are proof that he was homosexual, but none of that is proof of anything. At worst, there is a remote chance that he may have been secretly gay, but no actual evidence or historical record supports it.

Third, the man lived his whole life as a Christian in protestant churches in Prussia and eventually became an elder at his church in America. The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin and back then Churches still taught the whole Bible. I’ll concede that it is possible that Von Steuben could have been secretly gay, but he COULD NOT have been openly gay and a member of a church in good standing, let alone become an elder. published a ridiculous article about Von Steuben titled “The Revolutionary War Hero Who Was Openly Gay”. It’s a shameful piece of conjecture masquerading as historical record. I meticulously looked at every source cited by this article, and not a single one actually stated that Von Steuben had homosexual relations with anyone. That didn’t stop this article from being parroted by every liberal news outlet in the country, however.

In closing, let’s remember this man for who he was and what he did to help secure our freedom during the American Revolution. The Left doesn’t want us to have heroes and will do everything they can to undermine, slander, or hijack them. Baron Von Steuben is no different, and I will not stand by and let this man’s achievements be overshadowed by lies about his personal life.

Happy birthday, General. I hope that I do your name honor by continuing to train American Patriots as you once did.

Published by vonsteubentraining

Mike is the owner and chief instructor of Von Steuben Training & Consulting (VSTAC). A self-described “Tactical Scholar,” he spent 6 years in the Marine Corps as a radio operator and small-unit tactics instructor. He has dedicated his life to honing the tactical prowess of himself and his fellow patriots, guided by the wisdom of his commanding officer, Jesus Christ. He can be contacted via email at

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