History From America's Most Famous Valleys
A MILITARY JOURNAL
During the American Revolutionary War,
From 1775 to 1783.
Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of this period;
with numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes
From the Original Manuscript
By James Thacher, M. D.
Second Edition, Revised and Corrected.
Boston, Published by Cottons & Barnard, 1827.
FREDERICK WILLIAM AUGUSTUS BARON DE STEUBEN.
Knight of The Order of Fidelity in Germany, and Major General in The Army of The United States.
This highly distinguished personage was a Prussian officer, aid de camp to the great Frederick, and held the rank of lieutenant general in the army of that consummate commander. He arrived in America December, 1777, and presented himself with his credentials to Congress, proffering his services in our army without any claim to rank, and requested permission only to render such assistance as might be in his power, in the character of a volunteer. In thus devoting himself to our cause he made an immense sacrifice, by relinquishing his honorable station and emoluments in Europe. Congress voted him their thanks for his zeal, and the disinterested tender of his services, and he joined the main army, under General Washington, at Valley Forge. His qualifications for a teacher of the system of military tactics were soon manifested : having for many years practised on the system which the king of Prussia had introduced into his own army. In May, 1778, by the strong recommendation of the Commander in Chief, Congress appointed him inspector general with the rank of major general. He commenced his duties as inspector, beginning with the officers, who were formed into separate bodies, frequently exercised and instructed in the various movements and evolutions, when manoeuvring battalions, brigades, or divisions of the army. He exerted all his powers for the establishment of a regular system of discipline, economy and uniformity among our heterogeneous bodies of soldiers. In the discharge of this duty, and to effect his favorite object, he encountered obstacles to which a less zealous spirit would have yielded as insurmountable. By his superior talents, indefatigable industry and perseverance, he rendered a service to our army, without which it could not have attained to a condition capable of achieving honor and glory in the face of European veteran troops. Charmed with the neat and soldierly appearance of those who had profited by his instructions, and duly improved in the art of discipline, and equally detesting the soldier whose awkward and unmilitary conduct betrayed his negligence, there never was a review but the Baron rewarded the one with more than praise, and censured the other, whether officer or soldier, with a severity equal to his deserts. While reviewing our regiment, he noticed in the ranks a very spruce young lad handsomely formed standing erect with the air of a genteel soldier, his gun and equipments in perfect order. The Baron, struck with his military appearance, patted him under his chin to elevate his head still more erect, viewed him with a smile, and said, " how long have you been a soldier ? you are one pretty soldier in miniature, how old are you ?" Seventeen, Sir. " Have you got a wife ?" then calling to the colonel, said, " Colonel Jackson, this is one fine soldier in miniature."
The Baron composed a complete system of exercise and discipline, which was approved by the Commander in Chief, and ordered by Congress to be published and adopted in our army. Colonel William North, and Colonel Walker, were aids de camp, and members of his family, between whom there existed a mutual attachment and affection, pure as parent and sons.* The Baron was distinguished for his adherence to the principles of political integrity and moral virtue. His heart was replete with generous sentiments and the purest benevolence.
After General Arnold treacherously deserted his post at West Point, the Baron never failed to manifest his indignation and abhorrence of his name and character, and while inspecting
* Colonel North at an early age volunteered his services in the bold and perilous enterprize undertaken by General Arnold, in the autumn of 1775, to penetrate to Canada through the unexplored wilderness from Kennebec, and was among the miserable sufferers who apprehended the horrors of death in the wilderness. When Colonel Henry Jackson raised his regiment in the state of Massachusetts, this gentleman was commissioned as commander of a company in this regiment, in which he served with honour till he was appointed aid dc camp to Baron Steuben. By the amiable qualities of his heart, his ingratiating and gentlemanly manners, he won the affection of the Baron, by whom he was treated with the favor of an adopted son. He was appointed Adjutant General to the army commanded by General Washington in the year 1798, when a war with France was expected, and he has recently transferred his residence to New London, in Connecticut. It is chiefly by the aid of his pen that I am enabled to furnish this tribute to the memory of his justly celebrated patron.
Colonel Sheldon's regiment of light horse, the name of Arnold struck his ear. The soldier was ordered to the front, he was a fine looking fellow, his horse and equipments in excellent order. " Change your name, brother soldier, you are too respectable to bear the name of a traitor." " What name shall I take, general ?" " Take any other name, mine is at your service." Most cheerfully was the offer accepted, and his name was entered on the roll as Steuben. He or his children now enjoy land given to him in the town of Steuben by the Baron. This brave soldier met him after the war. " I am well settled, general," said he, " and have a wife and son, I have called my son after you, Sir." "I thank you, my friend, what name have you given the boy?" "I called him Baron, what else could I call him ?"
The Baron's office as inspector did not preclude him the privilege of command in the line according to his rank, and at one period he was commander of a separate detachment in Virginia, to oppose the ravages of the enemy in that quarter. It was with great difficulty that men could be procured for the service, every man was considered as an acquisition, The Baron was too honest to suffer an imposition to be practised on the public. A regiment had been collected, and was paraded on the point of marching, when a well looking man on horseback, and as it appeared his servant on another, rode up and informed the Baron that he had brought him a recruit. "I thank you, Sir," said the Baron, "with all my heart, you have arrived in a happy moment, where is your man, Colonel ?" for he was Colonel in the militia. Here, Sir, ordering his boy to dismount. The Baron's countenance changed, his aids saw and feared the approaching storm. A sergeant was ordered to measure the lad, whose shoes when off discovered something by which his stature had been increased. The Baron patting the child's head with his hand trembling with rage, asked him how old he was ? He was very young, quite a child. " Sir," said he to the militia colonel, " you must have supposed me to be a rascal." Oh! no, Baron, I did not. "Then, Sir, I suppose you to be a rascal, an infamous rascal, thus to attempt to cheat your country. Sergeant, take off this fellow's spurs, and place him in the ranks, that we may have a man able to serve instead of an infant whom he would basely have made his substitute! Go, my boy, take the colonel's spurs and horse to his wife; make my compliments, and say her husband has gone to fight for the freedom of his country, as an honest man should do," and instantly ordered-" platoons ! to the right, wheel! forward march !" Colonel Gaskins, who commanded the regiment, fearing the consequences, after marching some distance, allowed the man to escape, who immediately made application to the civil authority for redress; but Governor Jefferson, Mr. Madison and others, not doubting the purity of the Baron's motive, and fully appreciating his honest zeal, prevented any disagreeable results attending this high handed exertion of military power. At the siege of Yorktown, the Baron was in the trenches at the head of his division, and received the first overture of Lord Cornwallis to capitulate. At the relieving hour next morning, the Marquis de la Fayette approached at the head of his division, to relieve him. The Baron refused to quit the trenches, assigning as a reason the etiquette in Europe, that the offer to capitulate had been made during his tour of duty, and that it was a point of honor of which he would not deprive his troops, to remain in the trenches till the capitulation was signed or hostilities recommenced. The dispute was referred to the Commander in Chief, and the Baron was permitted to remain till the British flag was struck. While on this duty, the Baron perceiving himself in danger from a shell thrown from the enemy, threw himself suddenly into the trench ; General Wayne in the jeopardy and hurry of the moment fell on him ; the Baron turning his eyes, saw it was his brigadier, " I always knew you were brave, general," said he, " But I did not know you were so perfect in every point of duty, you cover your general's retreat in the best manner possible."
" I have great delight," says Major Garden, "in relating an anecdote which I received from General Walter Stewart; the truth of which may be relied on." After the capture of Yorktown, the superior officers, of the allied army, vied with each other in acts of civility and attention to the captive Britons. Lord Cornwallis and his family were particularly distinguished. Entertainments were given in succession by all the major generals, with the exception of Baron Steuben. He alone withheld an invitation, not from a wish to be particular, nor that his heart was closed to the attentions due to misfortune. His soul was superior to prejudice ; and, as a soldier, he tenderly sympathized in their fate, while poverty denied the means of displaying that liberality towards them, which had been shown by others. Such was his situation, when calling on Colonel Stewart, and informing him of his intention to entertain the British commander in chief, he requested that he would advance him a sum of money as the price of his favorite charger. " 'Tis a good beast," said the Baron " and has proved a faithful servant through all the dangers of the war ; but, though painful to my heart, we must part." Colonel Stewart to prevent a step that he knew must be attended with great loss, and still greater inconvenience, immediately tendered his purse, recommending, should the sum it contained proved insufficient, the sale or pledge of his watch. " My dear friend," said the Baron, " 'tis already sold. Poor North was sick and wanted necessaries. He is a brave fellow, and possesses the best of hearts. The trifle it brought is set apart for his use. My horse, must go, so no more, I beseech you, to turn me from my purpose. I am a major general in the service of the United States, and my private convenience must not be put in the scale with the duty which my rank calls on me imperiously to perform." A very friendly intercourse subsisted between the officers of the French army and those of our own, and dining invitations could not always be reciprocated on our part for want of the means. "I can stand it no longer," said the Baron, "we are continually dining with these gentleman and such is our penury that, except at head quarters, they receive no invitations in return-take," said he to one of his people, " take the silver spoons and forks, and sell them, it is not republican to eat with silver forks, and it is the part of a gentleman to pay his debts. They shall have one good dinner, if I eat my soup with a wooden spoon forever after."
The Baron returned to the northward, and remained with the army continually employed, till the peace, in perfecting its discipline. The adroitness, and above all, the silence with which his manoeuvres were performed, was remarked with astonishment by the officers of the French army. The Marquis de la Val de Montmorency, a brigadier general, said to the Baron, " I admire the celerity and exactitude with which your met perform, but what I cannot conceive is the profound silence with which they manoeuvre." "I don't know, Monsieur le Marquis, whence noise should proceed, when even my brigadiers dare not open their mouths but to repeat the orders."
The French troops were exceedingly loud in their evolutions and marches, and Mons. la Val at all times louder than the rest. On a subsequent occasion, designed to show the high degree of expertness at which our officers and soldiers had arrived, the Baron was asked by one of the French generals, what manoeuvres he intended to perform. On being informed, "Yes," replied the French chief, " I have seen particularly the last you mention performed by the Prussians in Silesia, but with a very complex addition," which he explained. " But you will recollect, general, that we are not quite Prussians." After his guests had retired, the Baron said, " I will let these Frenchmen know that we can do what the Prussians can, and what their army cannot do ; I will save those gentlemen who have not been in Silesia the trouble of going there, they may come to Verplanck's Point next week for instruction." They came, chiefs and subalterns, and every thing was done in the finest style to their real or pretended admiration. Here General North indulges his honorable feelings in the following apostrophe. "Alas ! when I think of time past, of that day, and look to that eminence on which General Washington's marquee was pitched, in front of which stood that great man firm in the consciousness of virtue, surrounded by French nobles and the chiefs of his own army ; when I cast my eyes, then lighted up with soldierly ambition, hope and joy, along that lengthened line, my brothers all ! endeared by ties made strong by full communion in many a miserable, many a joyous hour, my heart sinks at the view ! Who, how few of all that brilliant host, is left! these few are tottering on the confines of the grave !" The Baron's tent that day was filled, and more than filled with Frenchmen. " I am glad," said he, " to pay some part of the dinner debt we owe our allies." "o On the eve of returning to the northward from Virginia," continues General North, " I was sick and unable to accompany the Baron ; he divided his purse with me, the whole contents of which were two half Joes ; his watch and silver spoons and forks, brought from Germany, were already disposed of. ' I must go,' said the Baron, ' I must leave you, my son, but I leave you among a people, where we have found the door of every house wide open ; where the heart of every female is full of tenderness and virtue. Quit this deleterious spot, the instant you are able ; there is my sulkey, and here is half of what I have, God bless you, I can no more.' Nor could he-the feelings of friends in such a moment, and under such circumstances, may possibly be conceived, but not expressed. A journey of three hundred miles was before him, a single piece of gold in his purse. Are other instances necessary to unfold the texture of his heart ? how many have I written on my own ! There is, I trust, a book, in which they, every one of them, are entered, to the credit of his account with heaven."
General Washington had a high esteem for the Baron, and was fully sensible of his worth and merits. On all proper occasions Congress were urged in his behalf, and from time to time he received of money, good and bad, sums which some narrow minded men thought much too large, though he proved satisfactorily that he had given up a salary of five hundred and eighty guineas a year in Europe. But what sums, how much could have been enough for one who searched around for worthy objects, whose wants might be relieved." " Never did a review or an inspection pass without rewards in money, to soldiers whose arms were in the highest order. Never was his table unfilled with guests, if furnished with provisions. Officers of rank, men most prominent for knowledge and attention to their duty, were marked for invitation ; but the gentlemen of his family were desired to complete the list with others of inferior grade ;-poor fellows, said he, they have field officers' stomachs, without their rations."
The Baron was rough as the ocean in a storm, when great faults were committed ; but if, in a sudden gust of passion, he had injured, the redress was ample. I recollect, that at a review near Morristown, a Lieutenant Gibbons, a brave and good; officer, was arrested on the spot, and ordered into the rear, for a fault, which it afterwards appeared another had committed. At a proper moment, the commander of the regiment came forward and informed the Baron of Mr. Gibbons' innocence, of his worth, and of his acute feelings under this unmerited disgrace. " Desire Lieutenant Gibbons to come to the front, colonel." " Sir," said the Baron to the young gentleman, " the fault which was made, by throwing the line into confusion, might, in the presence of an enemy, have been fatal. I arrested you as its supposed author, but I have reason to believe that I was mistaken, and that in this instance you were blameless ; I ask your pardon ; return to your command-I would not deal unjustly by any, much less by one whose character as an officer is so respectable." All this passed with the Baron's hat off, the rain pouring on his venerable head !-Do you think there was an officer, a soldier who saw it, unmoved by affection and respect ? Not one.
In the company of ladies, the Baron always appeared to peculiar advantage. At the house of the respectable Mrs. Livingston, mother of the late Chancellor, where virtue, talent and modest worth of every kind met a welcome reception, the Baron was introduced to a Miss Sheaf, an amiable and interesting young lady. " I am very happy," said he, " in the honor of being presented to you, Mademoiselle, though I see it is at an infinite risk ; I have from my youth been cautioned to guard myself against mischief, but I had no idea that her attractions were so powerful."
Dining at head quarters with Robert Morris, Esq. and other gentlemen, Mr. Morris complained bitterly of the miserable state of the treasury. " Why," said the Baron, " are you not financier, why do you not continue to create funds ?" " 1 have done all I can, it is not possible for me to do more." " But you remain financier though without finances ?" " Yes." "Well, then, I do not think you are so honest a man as my cook. He came to me one day at Valley Forge, and said, " Baron, I am your cook, and you have nothing to cook but a piece of lean beef, which is hung up by a string before the fire. Your negro wagoner can turn the string, and do as well as I can ; you have promised me ten dollars a month, but as you have nothing to cook, I wish to be discharged, and not longer be chargeable to you. That is an honest fellow, Morris."
Though never perfectly master of our language, the Baron understood and spoke it with sufficient correctness.-He would sometimes on purpose miscall names, and blend or adopt words similar in sound, dissimilar in meaning. Dining at head quarters, which he did frequently, Mrs. Washington asked what amusement he had recourse to now that the certainty of peace had relaxed his labors. ' I read, my lady, and write, and play chess, and yesterday, for the first time, I went a fishing. My gentleman told me it was a very fine business to catch fish, and I did not know but that this new trade might, by and by, be useful to me-but I fear I never can succeed-I sat in the boat three hours, it was exceedingly warm, and I caught only two fish ; they told me it was fine sport.' ' What kind of fish did you take, Baron ?' ' I am not sure, my lady, but I believe one of them was a whale.' ' A whale, Baron, in the North River ?' ' Yes, I assure you, a very fine whale, my lady ;-it was a whale, was it not ?' appealing to one of his aids. ' An eel, Baron.' ' I beg your pardon, my lady, but that gentleman certainly told me it was a whale.' "General Washington, now that his mind was comparatively at ease, enjoyed a pleasantry of this kind highly."
For the proper understanding of the following bon mot of General Washington, it must be mentioned that at Tatawa falls there was a miserable deformed object, who had lain in his cradle for twenty-seven years. His head was eighteen inches in length, and the rest of his body twenty-seven inches. He received numerous visitors, among whom was his Excellency, who asked him whether he was a whig or a tory? He answered as he had been taught, that he had never taken an active part on either side. " A worthy gentleman and lady came out of New York after the preliminaries of peace were signed, to visit their friends, and resided in the neighborhood of Baron Steuben, by whom the whole party, together with his Excellency and lady, were invited to dine. It is proper, said the Baron, that your Excellency should be apprized that Mr. -- and his lady from New York are to dine with me, and perhaps, Sir, you may not choose to meet Mr. --. Oh, Baron, said the General, laughing, there is no difficulty on that point. Mr. -- is very like the big-headed boy at Tatawa, he never has taken an active part. This was allowed to be a most adroit coup de sabre by those who knew the gentleman, though it is doubted whether if he had heard it he would have felt the stroke.
At the disbandment of the revolutionary army, when inmates of the same tent, or hut, for seven long years, were separating, and probably forever ; grasping each other's hand, in silent agony, I saw the Baron's strong endeavors to throw some ray of sunshine on the gloom, to mix some drop of cordial with the painful draught. To go they knew not whither; all recollection of the art to thrive by civil occupations lost, or to the youthful never known. Their hard earned military knowledge worse than useless, and with their badge of brotherhood, a mark at which to point the finger of suspicion-ignoble, vile suspicion ! to be cast out on a world, long since by them forgotten.-Severed from friends, and all the joys and griefs which soldiers feel! Griefs, while hope remained -when shared by numbers, almost joys ! To go in silence and alone, and poor and hopeless ; it was too hard ! On that sad day how many hearts were wrung ! I saw it all, nor wilt the scene be ever blurred or blotted from my view. To a stern old officer, a Lieutenant Colonel Cochran, from the Green Mountains, who had met danger and difficulty almost in every step, from his youth, and from whose furrowed visage a tear till that moment had never fallen; the good Baron said-what could be said, to lessen deep distress? "For myself," said Cochran, "I care not, I can stand it; but my wife and daughters are in the garret of that wretched tavern. I know not where to remove, nor have I means for their removal!" ' Come, my friend,' said the Baron, 'let us go-I will pay my respects to Mrs. Cochran and your daughters, if you please.' "I followed to the loft, the lower rooms being all filled with soldiers, with drunkenness, despair and blasphemy. And when the Baron left the poor unhappy cast-aways, he left hope with them, and all he had to give." " A black man, with wounds unhealed, wept on the wharf- (for it was at Newburgh where this tragedy was acting)- there was a vessel in the stream, bound to the place where he once had friends. He had not a dollar to pay his passage, and he could not walk. Unused to tears, I saw them trickle down this good man's cheeks as he put into the hands of the black man the last dollar he possessed. The Negro hailed the sloop, and cried, ' God Almighty bless you, master Baron!'"
What good and honorable man, civil or military, before the accursed party-spirit murdered friendships, did not respect and love the Baron ? Who most ? Those who knew him best. After the peace the Baron retired to a farm in the vicinity of New York, where, with forming a system for the organization and discipline of the militia, books, chess and the frequent visits of his numerous friends, he passed his time as agreeably as a frequent want of funds would permit. The state of New Jersey had given him a small improved farm, and the state of New York gave him a tract of sixteen thousand acres of land in the county of Oneida. After the general government was in full operation, by the exertions of Colonel Hamilton, patronized and enforced by President Washington, a grant of two thousand five hundred dollars per annum, was made to him for life. The summers were now chiefly spent on his land, and his winters in the city. His sixteen thousand acres of land were in the uncultivated wilderness; he built a convenient log house, cleared sixty acres, parceled out his land on easy terms to twenty or thirty tenants, distributed nearly a tenth of the tract in gifts to his aids de camp and servants, and sat himself down to a certain degree contented without society, except that of a young gentleman who read to and with him. He ate only at dinner, but he ate with strong appetite. In drinking he was always temperate, indeed he was free from every vicious habit. His powers of mind and body were strong, and he received to a certain extent a liberal education. His days were undoubtedly shortened by his sedentary mode of life. He was seized with an apoplexy which in a few hours was fatal. Agreeably to his desire often expressed, he was wrapped in his cloak, placed in a plain coffin and hid in the earth, without a stone to tell where he lies. A few neighbors, his servants, the young gentleman his late companion, and one on whom for fifteen years his countenance never ceased to beam with kindness, followed to the grave. It was in a thick, a lonely wood, but in a few years after a public highway was opened near or over the hallowed sod ! Colonel Walker snatched the poor remains of his dear friend from sacrilegious violation, and gave a bounty to protect the grave in which he laid them from rude and impious intrusion. He died in 1795, in the 65th year of his age.
" Some few years previous to the Baron's death, a pious gentleman of the city of New York, who had a great affection for him, told me, with strong marks of joy, that they had passed the evening, and a part of the last night together-that the Baron confessed his full belief in Jesus Christ, with sure and certain hope, through him, of a blessed immortality. ' From the life our dear friend has led, in camps and in the gay world,' said the good man, ' I feared ; and you do not know what joy I feel, in the belief that he will be well to all eternity !' The Baron was a member of the Reformed German Church, in New York."
General North, from the impulse of his own affectionate and grateful feelings, erected a handsome monument, with an appropriate inscription, in the Reformed German Church in New York, to the memory of his illustrious patron and friend, and these pages accord with the views of that memorial in transmitting to posterity a renowned hero, whose name and invaluable labors should never be forgotten.
What remained of the Baron's estate, excepting one thousand dollars and his library, which he willed to a youth whose father had rendered essential service in the war, and whose education he generously charged himself with, was bequeathed to his two affectionate aids de camp.
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