Baron von Steuben – December 17, 1778

Experience the American dream with today’s Patriots of the Past interview. I’m your host, John Gillespie.

It’s December 17, 1778. I’m with General Baron von Steuben at the dock. He has just arrived from Germany.

JG: “General von Steuben, are your Christmas traditions in Germany anything like American Christmas traditions?”

BVS: “Ja, you have many German Americans who’ve brought our traditions over to America. We have the Christmas tree with lighted candles, sing ‘Silent Night,’ and, most of all, worship Christ on Christmas Day.”

General von Steuben not only celebrated Christmas in America in 1778, but also trained the Continental Army well enough to celebrate victory over the British.

In Manalapan Township, New Jersey, the General von Steuben historical marker reads, “Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Baron von Steuben was born September 17, 1730, in Magdeburg, Prussia (Germany) to a military family. Reared in the rigorous military school of Frederick the Great, von Steuben served with distinction in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) and as an Aide-de-Camp to the Prussian King.

“In the fledgling US, after the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress sought foreign assistance in the struggle against the British. In 1777, Benjamin Franklin met von Steuben, who then came to America that December, offering his service without rank or pay, to aid the Revolution. In January, 1778, the Continental Congress accepted von Steuben’s service as a volunteer in the Continental Army and ordered him to report to General Washington’s quarters at Valley Forge as soon as possible.

“Even in the face of desperate conditions, including frost, disease, inadequate shelter, and lack of supplies, von Steuben gave military training and discipline to the citizen soldiers fighting for American independence. In May, 1778, Congress approved General Washington’s recommendation to appoint von Steuben as Inspector General of the Continental Army.

“On June 28, 1778, at the Battle of Monmouth, the benefits of von Steuben’s training were evidenced by the American troops opposing the British Army. The heroic American performance, a turn in the tide of the war, is attributed in large part to the work of von Steuben. Colonel Alexander Hamilton, an eyewitness, declared that von Steuben’s system of drilling, reviews, and inspection imbued the officers and soldiers with the confidence that, from now on, they were on equal ground with the armies of the enemy.

“Von Steuben was instrumental in further American victories, including the defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1781, where the Baron received the overture of capitulation from the British General Cornwallis. During 1778-1779, von Steuben prepared a complete set of regulations for Continental troops, the Blue Book, which became the United States Army training manual. In 1783, von Steuben became an American citizen. In 1784, von Steuben was discharged from the military with honor and turned his energies to preparing for the defense of New York harbor and designing the plans for a military academy that were later realized at West Point. In 1786, the State of New York, wishing to express its gratitude for his service, granted him 16,000 acres north of the Mohawk River. Von Steuben died on November 28, 1794, and was laid to rest in a hero’s grave in Remsen, New York, where we read the following inscription:

“’Indispensable to the Achievement of American Independence’”

John and Jan Gillespie are the founders of the Rawhide Boys’ Ranch; they have fostered 351 teenagers and wrote the book Our 351 Sons; they have also assisted numerous churches in developing youth programs and expanding their total church ministries. After running for U.S. Senate, John founded 1776 American Dream, which exists to demonstrate the vision of our founding fathers and help our generation of youth passionately embrace those values.

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