Saturday, May 10, 2014

Baron Von Steuben At Valley Forge

A savior came to the army at Valley Forge in the form of a stubby, foul mouthed, Prussian 
drill master, Baron Friedrich Von Steuben.

The man chosen to whip America’s troops into shape didn’t speak a word of English, only German, and a smattering of French. Yet in less than six months he transformed Washington’s army into a well-disciplined fighting force.

A crazier sight was never seen.

Steuben trained the men in groups. He started with 100 men. When they were trained, he had them help train the other brigades. When things didn’t work out the way he wanted, which was often, he blasted the men with a string of curses in German and French. When he realized no one understood him, he got his aide Captain Benjamin Walker to curse them in English.

The local farmers were no help, either. Many of them held back cattle desperately needed by Washington’s troops hoping to make more money selling them in the spring. Others crossed the lines sneaking beef to the British in Philadelphia for a larger profit.

Of the 12,000 soldiers who went into winter quarters with Washington nearly a quarter died from disease, malnutrition, and the weather. A thousand more chose not to reenlist and returned home.

The only good news for Washington was the men who left Valley Forge with him were a better trained and more disciplined fighting force than any he’d had up until that point.

(excerpt from my book - Bad Ass Presidents)