Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Principles Fought for in the American Revolution

The Principles Fought for in the American Revolution

by J. Calvin Coolidge, Amherst College, December 1894


When history looks beyond the immediate cause of the American Revolution for the justifying principles, it is very soon brought back to the spirit of English liberty. It is the same genius for freedom that has led the race from the primeval forests of Germany to the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution.


Such an honorable antiquity of political ideas has made the race very conservative of self-government. The idea is prehistoric. It is the descendants of those very freemen described by Tacitus, who not only dictated the policy of Edward the Confessor but extorted the great charter of human rights from King John in the thirteenth century.


And during the next four hundred years, too, this spirit was not dormant, but came to the surface on three great occasions:


The confirmation of the Magna Carta by Edward I

The Petition of Right to Charles I, and

The Revolution that drove James II from his throne.


Although it is characteristic of Englishmen to have great love for a king so long as he respects the liberties of the people, yet the fact that they drove out one king, rebelled against two and executed three, shows clearly enough that there was always a strong idea of the divine right of the people as well as of kings.


Precedents, then, are by no means wanting among Englishmen for the successful resistance of arbitrary despotism whenever it encroached upon their liberties.


Another fact that must be noted is the character of the colonists, and especially those of Massachusetts. These were the Puritans, who had fought the wars of liberty in England. Then, because they were not satisfied with church ordinances, they were driven by Archbishop Laud to seek religious freedom across the sea.


Of all the race they were the most tenacious of their rights and the most jealous of their liberties. The American Revolution was not, then, any struggle for emancipation from slavery; and the colonists were free men. Nor was it at first so much for gaining new liberties as for preserving the old.


Nor can it, as is often thought, be called a war between different nations. Both sides were Englishmen who gloried in the name of England. William and Mary had, moreover, given the colonists a full share of the rights of British subjects. Another fact showing the same thing is that almost the ablest advocates of the colonial cause were members of the British House of Parliament, while the most ardent adherents of the King were colonists.


The real object of resistance was to gain security from Parliamentary encroachments. This was the chief cause for which the Revolutionists contended, but by no means all they obtained. The war was finally fought out on principles as far-reaching as the history of nations. It was a struggle for the retention of those great institutions that check oppression and violence.


The colonists were contending for the principle of a representative government of chartered rights and constitutional liberties. They were defending themselves against the military despotism of George III and struggling to change the foundation of government from force to equality.


The defense of the principles set forth above involves scarcely anything more than a narration of the leading events that culminated in the Declaration of Independence. It has been said that the separation of America from the mother country was the logical outcome of the French and Indian War. However this may be, it is quite certain that the condition of England at the close of this war forced a new colonial policy that would not have been thought of before 1763, and could not be executed until after that date.


For, instead of wanting new taxes and new restrictions upon their commerce, the colonists were already breaking away from the old restrictions by their systematic evasions of the navigation acts. These laws of trade were merely commercial regulations and not at all for revenue. But because the colonists were no longer trading-stations in their relations to the central government, they resisted even these restrictions.


Instead, however, of noting these tendencies, Grenville made a leading part of his scheme of government the passage of laws for raising revenue in America. He proposed to enforce the trade laws, which meant that the interests of a few merchants in England were to be considered before the welfare of the King’s subjects in America; he proposed to quarter soldiers here, nominally for the purpose of defending the colonies, which meant force and a military despotism; he proposed to raise a tax on the authority of the English Parliament, which meant the disfranchisement of three million British subjects, and the surrender of all those rights laid down in the Magna Charta.


The means Grenville adopted for the raising of this tax was the notorious Stamp Act. This, however, met with so much disapproval that it was soon repealed, but at the same time Parliament passed the Dependency Act, which declared that the repeal did not include the principle involved. This was followed by Townsend’s Revenue Act, laying duties on imports. Again the colonies protested and the ministry attempted coercion.


This measure was too expensive, so once more all revenue taxes were repealed, except the one on tea, which was left to maintain the principle. During an interval of some four years that followed, from 1770 to 1774, there were several acts of violence on the part of the colonies in their resistance to these imports, including the Boston Massacre, the burning of the Gaspee, and the Boston Tea Party.


Again Great Britain had recourse to acts of coercion. First, it closed the port of Boston, thus destroying the property of thousands.


Second, it declared void certain parts of the charter of Massachusetts, following a policy begun in New York in 1767, and so it virtually attempted to annihilate the protection of chartered rights and chartered liberties that has always been so dear to Englishmen. Free government was destroyed, too, in another way.


Judges, courts, sheriffs were made almost the puppets of the King. They were placed in his direct pay and made subject to his pleasure. Town meetings were for bidden, and thus the old familiar forms of self-government were entirely swept away. The governor was made as absolute as a despot, and the form of government that was thus thrust upon Massachusetts was despotism such as Englishmen would not have endured even in the days of Henry VIII.


Third, the British Government sent nearly all criminals to England for trial. Fourth, soldiers were quartered upon the inhabitants, so that a military government was set up in the colonies. Fifth, Parliament passed the so-called Quebec Act, to separate the French from any bond of sympathy with the colonies.


The governor stood over them like a viceroy. In his command was the army. If a soldier should murder a citizen, he was sent to England for trial. If a citizen should become a criminal, he, too, might be sent across the sea, in order that in both cases the government might have the advantage. It was a military despotism. There were no popular meetings, no criminal courts, no habeas corpus, no freedom of the press. The question was no longer one of taxes; that was a mere figment now.


Though the injustice of taxation without representation made a good war-cry, it is, in the last analysis, a dangerous principle. But it is easy to grasp, and the common people no doubt fought the war largely on that issue. The fact is, it is a duty to the state to pay taxes, and it is equally a duty to vote. It does not follow that because the state requires one duty it shall require the second.


But there is another side where the requirement of the state runs over into tyranny. Only on this ground can resistance to taxation be justified. So long as the colonies were a part of the state of Great Britain, and they were so by their charters and by the action of William and Mary, that state had the right to demand not only their property, but their service in the army, and, in the last extremity, their lives. It cannot be, then, that the American Revolution was fought that colonists might escape paying taxes. The great struggle that they passed through must make such a duty seem insignificant. The real principle was not one of the right of the state or the duty of citizens; it was a question of government, a question of form and method.


It is this that is meant above, in the statement that the struggle was not between nations, or for new principles. It was not so much a revolution, a propagation of new ideas, as the maintenance of the old forms of representative government, of chartered rights and constitutional liberty. England had fought for this in 1688 and imagined it was secured. But it was so only in name.


George III was by nature a despot; at heart he was another Stuart. He had the Parliament almost completely under his control in its legislation upon English questions, but in regard to the King’s colonies his will was supreme.


He forced a policy of government upon America that he could not, and dared not, force upon England, though his disposition was strong enough. Were the descendants of Cromwell’s Puritans going back to submit to a Stuart regime?


That is what is meant when we hear that America fought at once the battle of freedom in the colonies and in England. That is what England’s great statesman meant when he declared on the floor of Parliament that he rejoiced in the resistance of the colonists. The Earl of Chatham knew that the government of George III, in whose ears was ringing the admonition of his mother “to be King,” was undermining the constitution of Great Britain and bringing the state back to the form of monarchy that had existed in the time of the Stuarts and the Tudors.


But if the leading principle was the preservation of the English constitutional government from the encroachments of King and Parliament, there is another principle, as far-reaching as the development of the state in government. Sovereignty is always finally vested in the people.


It may need a theocracy to lead a people out of barbarism; this may develop into a despotism with the power divided between kings and bishops; but a struggle is sure to come, and the people will gather about the King to make him a monarch, like Louis XIV, who really was an objective realization of the state. This, too, will be but temporary; the people will realize more and more that the sovereignty is with them and will finally assert it.


England had asserted it against the Stuarts, but George the Third forgot it, and it took the loss of the colonies by the American Revolution to remind him of it.


If the King could have accommodated himself to the existing state of affairs for America as he managed to do for England, there would have been the limited constitutional monarchy that Great Britain finally reached in 1832. But this was impossible, and so the colonies were driven to assert by war what the Commons of England partly gained by legislation sixty years later.


There was further gained in the United States a recognition that quality, not quantity, is the basis of the peer age of man, and accordingly all men were declared free and equal.


Still, there is another factor that must have eventually led to separation. The great land of America had a part to play in the history of the world that could best be performed by making it an independent nation.


England’s great work was to plant colonies; America could not aid in that work. It was her place to found a great nation on this side of the Atlantic and bring out the conception of free government.


And when this was done, then America stretched out her hand over the sea to aid the oppressed of Europe, to furnish them a place of refuge, and, as soon as they could assume the duties, make them citizens not alone of our United States but of the world.


The winning SAR Essay in 1894


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution



Colonel William Washington is born

Colonel William Washington is born


On this day in history, February 28, 1752, Colonel William Washington is born. He was a second cousin of George Washington who trained to be a minister as a young man. When the Revolution broke out, he joined the local minutemen and became a Captain in the Continental Army.


Washington saw extensive combat during the war. He fought together with his lieutenant, future President James Monroe, at the Battles of Harlem Heights and Trenton, where they were both injured. He fought at Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. Due to his superb horsemanship, he became a major in the Light Dragoons (soldiers on horseback) and after an attack at Old Tappan, New Jersey, in which he was severely injured, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and made the head of the 3rd Light Dragoons.


In 1779, Washington went to join the Continental Army in the south, where he met his nemesis, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton on the battlefield many times. In 1780 and 1781, he was in continuous battle. He fought with Tarleton at Rantowle’s Bridge, South Carolina on March 26, 1780 and again at the Rutledge Plantation on the 26th. On April 14, Tarleton won the Battle of Monck’s Corner, but Washington escaped. His dragoons were defeated by Tarleton again at Lenud’s Ferry on May 5. Washington escaped again, but the dragoons were so decimated they had to withdraw to regroup.


In August, Washington joined General Daniel Morgan in the interior of South Carolina and defeated Loyalists at Rugeley’s Mill, where he tricked them into surrendering by using a fake cannon made of a log. Then he won another battle with Loyalists at Hammond’s Old Store, which led General Cornwallis to instruct Tarleton to find Morgan and his cavalry at any cost.


In January, 1781, Morgan trapped Tarleton and his dragoons at the Battle of Cowpens. Washington was instrumental in the battle and personally chased Tarleton as he tried to escape. During the escape, Washington became surrounded by several of Tarleton’s men. He was nearly killed by a sabre blow, but a black servant shot the sword-handler. Tarleton finally shot Washington’s horse from under him and got away.


On September 8, 1781, at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, after being instructed to attack the British in a dense thicket, Washington ordered a retreat when he realized the thicket was too dense for his cavalry. The cavalry was decimated by British fire and Washington’s horse was shot from underneath him. He was bayoneted, captured and taken prisoner to Charleston, where he remained until the end of the war.


Back in Charleston, Washington married wealthy heiress Jane Elliott. When the war came to an end, they stayed in Charleston and managed Jane’s extensive plantations. Washington served in the South Carolina legislature from 1787 to 1804 and turned down the governorship several times.


Washington became a Brigadier General of the South Carolina militia in 1794 and in 1798, President John Adams appointed him a Brigadier General in the US Army during the Quasi-War with France. He passed away in 1810. Washington’s contribution to the American Revolution can be summed up by a comment allegedly made by Lord Cornwallis after surrendering at Yorktown – "There could be no more formidable antagonist in a charge, at the head of his cavalry, than Colonel William Washington."


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"There is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away. There is a time to fight, and that time has now come." —Peter Muhlenberg, 1776

The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge

The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge


On this day in history, February 27, 1776, the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge ends British rule in North Carolina. Governor Josiah Martin had been living in exile aboard a ship off the coast since July of 1775 after a popular uprising. In response to his lobbying, Scottish soldiers Brigadier General Donald McDonald and Lieutenant Colonel Donald MacLeod were sent to raise loyalist troops in the interior, many of whom were of Scottish decent, to help take back the colony.


In early 1776, Governor Martin learned that a fleet would arrive in mid-February and he hoped to have the Loyalists join them. McDonald and MacLeod met with Tory leaders at Cross Creek (present day Fayetteville) on February 5. They quickly raised 3,500 men, but they quickly dwindled when they learned there were no British soldiers to escort them to the coast through patriot friendly territory. By the time the force began its march, only 1,400 remained.


When the Provincial Congress learned of the meeting at Cross Creek, they sent Colonel James Moore to prevent them from reaching the coast. On February 20, McDonald began his march to the coast, intending to cross the Black River at Corbett’s Ferry. Colonel Moore anticipated this and sent Richard Caswell (the future first governor of North Carolina) to block the ferry. Alexander Lillington was sent to block the crossing at Moore’s Creek Bridge, a few miles to the north.


McDonald arrived at Corbett’s Ferry only to find it blocked. He raced north to try to cross at Moore’s Creek Bridge, but Caswell beat him, joining Lillie on the 26th. Lillie had already taken position on the east side of the creek, so Caswell went to the west side. During the night, however, he realized his position was weak, so he moved across the creek to join Lillie and built a semi-circular earthwork around the east side of the bridge during the night.


In the morning, the elderly McDonald was ill and gave command to Lt. Col. MacLeod. MacLeod saw the patriots on the opposite side of the creek, but severely underestimated their numbers. MacLeod ordered 80 swordsmen to charge across the bridge, which had been de-planked and greased by Caswell. The patriots, hiding behind their earthworks on the east side of the bridge, waited until the swordsmen were within only a few feet of them before firing. The swordsmen were wiped out almost immediately, including Lt. Col. MacLeod, who was shot nearly 20 times. The battle lasted only 3 minutes. 50 to 70 Loyalists were killed or injured. The remaining Loyalist forces quickly dissolved and fled.


Caswell re-planked the bridge and began pursuit. Over the next few days, nearly 850 Loyalists and loads of supplies were captured, including 1,500 muskets, 300 rifles and £15,000 in silver coins, all valued at nearly $1,000,000 in today’s money.


The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge effectively ended any hope of re-establishing British rule in North Carolina. The victory rallied southern patriots to join the militia and the Continental Army in mass. Loyalists became afraid of voicing their opinions. It has been called "The Lexington and Concord of the South." The British would not attempt to take North Carolina again until the southern campaign of 1780 and even then, the lingering memory of the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge would discourage Loyalists from joining General Charles Cornwallis as he attempted to take back the south.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"[I]t is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own." —Benjamin Franklin, 1777

Sybil Ludington, the female Paul Revere, dies

Sybil Ludington, the female Paul Revere, dies


On this day in history, February 26, 1839, Sybil Ludington, the female Paul Revere, dies. Sybil Ludington is famed for a midnight ride just like Revere’s when she was only 16 to raise the New York militia when the British raided Danbury, Connecticut.


Sybil was the eldest daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington, a New York militia leader, member of the Committee of Safety and organizer of a local spy ring, whose home was near present day Paterson, New York. On April 25, 1777, British General and Governor of New York William Tryon landed a raiding expedition on the shores of Fairfield, Connecticut and marched to Danbury the following day. Danbury was a major supply center of the Hudson River Valley based Continental Army, with thousands of barrels of pork, flour, molasses, rice and rum, and other important supplies such as cots, tents and shoes.


When the soldiers arrived in Danbury, they drove off the small militia force guarding the supplies and began to destroy the storehouses and supplies. Soon, the soldiers found the rum and, instead of destroying it, consumed it and promptly lost all control. They went on a rampage through the town, burning homes and businesses. There was nothing the commanding officers could do to stop them.


Around 4pm, messengers were sent in several directions to rouse the local militia to come to Danbury’s aide. One messenger reached Colonel Ludington’s home around 9 in the evening. Ludington was the commander of 400 New York militia, but they were scattered around the area and it was late. The messenger and his horse were exhausted and Ludington himself had only just arrived home from a long stint with the army on the Hudson River.


Sixteen year old Sybil either volunteered or was asked by her father to round up the local troops. Sybil got on her own horse which she had recently broken and traveled more than 40 miles round trip, through the towns of Carmel, Mahopac, Kent Cliffs, Stormville and Pecksville. The journey was especially dangerous because the area was filled with soldiers, Loyalists, "Skinners" (outlaws) and runaway troops. At every farmhouse along the way, Sybil told the Minutemen that Danbury was under siege and that the militia was gathering at Ludington’s. She drove her horse on with a stick, while the orange glow from the burning Danbury, which was 25 miles away, could be seen in the distance.


By the time Sybil reached home early in the morning of the 27th, most of the militia had gathered there. They were too late to help Danbury, but they aided Generals David Wooster and Benedict Arnold in chasing the British back to the coast, fighting in the Battle of Ridgefield, and along the roads in engagements very similar to the Minutemen chasing the British back to Boston after Lexington and Concord.


In 1784, Sybil would marry a Revolutionary War soldier named Edmund Ogden who had served with Captain John Paul Jones on the Bonhomme Richard. Edmund was a farmer and innkeeper in Catskill, New York. Sybil ran the inn herself after Edmund’s death in 1799. In 1811, she moved to Unadilla, New York, to live with her only son, Henry, who was a lawyer. She passed away there on February 26, 1839. Ironically, Sybil’s story was little known until it was published by her great-nephew, Louis S. Patrick, in 1907.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." —Alexander Hamilton, 1775

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney is born

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney is born


On this day in history, February 25, 1746, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney is born. Pinckney was born to a wealthy South Carolina family and was educated in London. He earned a law degree and returned to South Carolina where he began a law practice in Charleston. He married Sarah Middleton, whose father Henry Middleton would become a president of the Continental Congress and whose brother Arthur Middleton would sign the Declaration of Independence.


When the American Revolution broke out, Pinckney served in South Carolina’s new congress and became a member of its Committee of Safety which governed the state when Congress was not in session. Pinckney was not satisfied, however, with political service. He joined the 1st South Carolina Regiment and participated in the Battle of Sullivan’s Island which prevented the British from occupying Charleston in 1776.


Pinckney went north and became an aide to George Washington. He participated in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown before returning to the South in 1778. He was placed over an entire brigade and participated in the failed Siege of Savannah. He was captured at Charleston when American General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered his entire army to the British. Pinckney spent the next two years in a prison camp, but was released in 1782.


After the war, Pinckney resumed his business and served several more years in the legislature. He advocated for a stronger national government and was sent to the Constitutional Convention where signed the US Constitution and he played an important role in negotiating the agreement that would end slavery within several years’ time. He then helped get South Carolina to ratify the US Constitution and served at the convention that wrote South Carolina’s own constitution.


During Washington’s presidency, Pinckney turned down offers to become Secretary of War, Secretary of State and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. In 1796, he finally accepted Washington’s request to serve as Ambassador to France during the increasing tensions that led to the Quasi-War. He was rejected by France at first for America’s dealings with Great Britain, with which France was at war. Later France tried to bribe him and others in an incident known as the XYZ Affair. Pinckney refused any such bribes and returned to America where he was made a Major-General of the Continental Army in anticipation of war with France.


War was finally averted by President John Adams and Pinckney was chosen to run as vice-president for Adams’ second term, but they were defeated by Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Pinckney was so popular with Federalists that he was chosen to run for president in both 1804 and 1808, but they lost to the Democrat-Republicans both times. In his later years, Pinckney helped found the University of South Carolina, served as a president of the Society of the Cincinnati and as president of the Charleston Bible Society. He died in Charleston in 1825.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"We should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections." —John Adams, 1797


Pyle’s Massacre takes place in North Carolina

Pyle’s Massacre takes place in North Carolina


On this day in history, February 24, 1781, Pyle’s Massacre takes place in North Carolina. The Patriot army had retreated into Virginia after the Battle of Cowpens in January. British General Lord Charles Cornwallis was camped at Hillsboro, North Carolina, recruiting local Loyalists to join his army. By mid-February, Colonel Henry "Light-horse Harry" Lee and Colonel Andrew Pickens were sent back into North Carolina to scout out British movements.


Colonel and Dr. John Pyle of Chatham County raised 400 Loyalists to join Cornwallis. Pyle requested a military escort for his men and Cornwallis agreed to this, dispatching Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his dragoons (soldiers on horseback) to bring Pyle to Hillsboro. Against orders, Pyle’s men took the time to visit with friends and family while they waited for Tarleton’s arrival.


Meanwhile, Colonels Lee and Pickens heard of Tarleton’s movements and set off to find him. A planned attack was suddenly called off when Tarleton’s camp moved again. Tarleton had arrived at the designated place to meet Pyle’s men, but since they had taken so long, they didn’t arrive on time and Tarleton was trying to find them.


On the morning of the 24th, the Americans captured two British soldiers and learned that Tarleton was only a few miles away at the O’Neal Plantation. As the Patriots marched down the road, they met two farmers who had been sent ahead of Pyle’s 400 men, who were now on their way to meet Tarleton. In a stroke of luck, the farmers mistook the Americans for Tarleton and his soldiers because both groups wore similar green jackets and plumes. Lee took advantage of the mistake and sent the farmers back to Pyle with orders to wait by the side of the road to allow Tarleton’s cavalry to pass.


As soon as the farmers left, Lee split up the men into several groups to surround the Loyalists. His own group kept straight on the road and found the Loyalists standing in formation on the side of the road just as they had been told. The other Patriots snuck through the woods and surrounded them on all sides.


Colonel Lee approached Colonel Pyle and said some pleasantries, but when they reached out their hands to greet one another, a few Loyalists noticed the Patriots sneaking up in the woods and began firing on them. The Patriots began firing in unison on the Loyalists. The Loyalists, however, for the most part, were still confused and didn’t realize they were rebels. Pyle, still thinking Lee was Tarleton, yelled out, "Stop! You’re firing on your own men!" Others pleaded with the rebels, "Stop! We’re loyal to the King!"


93 of the Loyalists were killed and dozens wounded in just ten minutes, but not a single patriot, hence the name Pyle’s Massacre. Pyle himself was severely wounded and hid in a pond until he could get away. (Later on he would switch sides and bring valuable intelligence to George Washington that helped defeat Cornwallis at Yorktown.) Pyle’s Massacre served to dampen British efforts to recruit Loyalists and only a few weeks later, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse would severely cripple Cornwallis’ army, leading to his surrender at Yorktown in October.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms and false reasoning’s is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges." —Alexander Hamilton, 1775

Baron von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge

Baron von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge


On this day in history, February 23, 1778, Baron von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge. Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was born in Prussia. He joined the army at 17 and saw extensive service during the Seven Years War in battles with Russia and Austria, during which he rose to captain and was made a personal aide to Frederick the Great.


When this war ended, the military was downsized and Von Steuben was let go. He took a job overseeing the household of the Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen, but continued to look for employment with foreign armies. He eventually became acquainted with the French Minister of War, who, in the 1770s was involved with France’s secret funding of the American Revolution.


The minister realized Von Steuben’s extensive knowledge of Prussian military techniques could be of great help to the Americans, so he recommended him to Ben Franklin and Silas Deane, the American ambassadors in Paris, who then recommended him to George Washington.


Baron von Steuben arrived in America in late 1777 and offered to serve in the army free of pay. By February, 1778, Congress sent word that he should join Washington at Valley Forge and he arrived there on the 23rd. George Washington was impressed with Von Steuben’s experience and knowledge and made him acting inspector-general. Von Steuben was horrified at the unsanitary conditions of the camp and immediately re-organized it with kitchens and latrines far from each other and with latrines on downhill slopes. He also introduced a thorough inventory system that reduced waste and fraud.


His most important contribution though, was in training the soldiers in proper battle techniques. He started with a group of 100 men and trained them efficiently how to march in tandem, fire effectively, reload their weapons more quickly and use the bayonet efficiently, training them over and over in military drills that started early in the morning. After the first 100 men were trained, they trained others who then trained others. Within weeks, the Continental Army was transformed from a group of farmers with varying levels of skills and training, into a formidable fighting force.


Washington was so impressed with the change in the troops that he made Von Steuben the permanent Inspector-General with a rank of Major-General. During the Battle of Monmouth, which was the first major battle after the winter at Valley Forge, Von Steuben’s techniques were proved when the army successfully fought the British toe to toe.


Von Steuben then prepared Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, a training and organizational guide which was used by the US army until the War of 1812. Von Steuben became one of Washington’s top aides and was finally given his own troops to command. He was sent to the southern theatre to assist General Nathanael Greene and was present at the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown. For his contributions, Baron von Steuben was considered a military hero and was awarded with some large tracts of land and homes in several states. He died at his home in upstate New York in 1794.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people." —Thomas Jefferson, 1801