Steuben Monument, Lafayette Square




About Baron Steuben

Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben was born September 17, 1730 in Magdeburg (Prussia), located west of Berlin and now the capital of the Land of Saxony-Anhalt. Steuben's father was an engineer and officer in the service of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I; the son's military career was thus a normal and predictable choice. He served in the armies of Frederick II (The Great) of Prussia in the Seven Year's War (1756-1763) and earned a captain's rank, but his military rank and the noble "von" in his name (apparently the invention of his grandfather) were not sufficient to land him a career officer's standing once the war was over.

Steuben looked for a steady military position in the southern German courts, was granted the title of Baron and honored as a member of the "Hausorden der Treue." Still without a permanent position, the former captain visited Paris where his friends presented him to Benjamin Franklin, the American representative in the French capital, as a general in the famous armies of Frederick the Great. Franklin recruited Steuben to come to the aid of the rebel army and the capable young officer left for America, where he arrived on December 1, 1777 with letters of recommendation to George Washington. He was accepted as a volunteer in Washington's army and accorded the rank of major general.

In a speech at the Steuben statue's dedication in 1910, Rep. Richard Bartholdt (1855-1932), a Missourian, born in the small Thuringian town of Schleiz and former editor of the St. Louis Tribune, noted that Steuben's position in the Prussian armies had allowed him "the occasion to thoroughly familiarize himself with the important task of providing for and equipping the troops, of securing and caring for arms and ammunition, of their inspection and control, and of the drilling and training of soldiers--the very essentials which later made his services so invaluable in the Revolutionary War." He notes further that on Steuben's arrival in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Washington's winter quarters "presented a most sorrowful appearance. The troops were in want of practically everything--clothing, provisions, arms, and ammunition, and discipline and mlitary order seemed unknown. When the enlistment of a soldier had expired he took musket and uniform home with him; if fatigued, he threw away whatever was burdensome to him. There were 5,000 muskets more on paper than were required, yet many soldiers were without them."

Problems of military discipline were just as severe, but Steuben, as Inspector General, was able to establish and enforce principles that have served the US military ever since. His "Regulations for the Army," written during the Revolution itself, became the country's military textbook under the title "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States."

After the war, Steuben was accorded much honor, but little money by the impoverished post-revolutionary American Congress. In June 1790, President George Washington signed the first private pension act passed by the US Congress, granting Baron Steuben a life annuity of $2,500 as payment for his volunteer services during the revolution. He had also been granted land in the woods of upstate New York, where he built a log cabin and spent the rest of his life, dying there November 28, 1794. He is buried near Utica, New York, in Steuben township, Oneida County, where his grave is marked by a monument that was placed there in 1870.

Steuben's connections to Magdeburg led to the city's placing a copy of the statue on the Harnackstrasse in 1996. Magdeburg also has a "Steuben-Allee" in memory of one of its most famous citizens. In 1999, many descendents of the Steuben family got together for a first family reunion in Magdeburg, where one of them still lives.



Schleiz, Thuringia: the birthplace of Rep. Richard Bartholdt.