When I was in my 8th grade United States history class, my teacher put on this animated movie about the American Revolution. One scene that always stood out to me was when General von Steuben was introduced to the Continental Army. Since then, when I read about other American Revolution commanders I find myself intrigued by his ability to train the troops. The Journal of the American Revolution has just published a piece of General von Steuben’s impact. I hope you enjoy this excerpt!
Dear Mr. History:
Does General von Steuben deserve the fantastic amount of fame he gets for training the Continental Army at Valley Forge? The Continentals had been fighting for over two years by the time he showed up, so why did they need training? What was Steuben’s true impact? Sincerely, Stumped About Steuben
Surely you jest, sir. Except for Washington, no one had more influence in the creation of a professional United States Army than Major General Friedrich von Steuben. Even his name was cool: Von Steuben. If he were around today he’d be a rock star.
But your question is a good one, because many histories would have you believe that the Continental Army was an inept, undrilled mob before Steuben’s arrival. But it was no mob that scored the American victories in open battle at Harlem Heights, Trenton, and Princeton. Was it an undrilled mob that fell back before the British attack on Long Island? Actually, it kind of was, and this indicates the problem Washington faced when his troops went into camp at Valley Forge in December 1777; for every instance where the Continentals maneuvered as well as their Redcoat and Hessian opponents, there was an equally embarrassing case where Continental formations became unglued; sometimes on the same battlefield. What was the problem?
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