Baron von Steuben


The Prussian Baron von Steuben, being a newcomer to the 
Revolutionary cause in America, was in a position to see many of
the deficiencies in military discipline and their causes. The reasons 
for his unique insight may have been due to the fact that he was 
distanced from the revolutionary ideals in America, and as a result, 
was able to better observe and understand them; and ultimately use 
them to shape his new and successful form of discipline in the 
Continental Army.

 Most of the commanders of the Continental Army, from the 
commander in chief to the lower officers had subscribed to the
traditional European method that relied on fear to achieve discipline. 
This method of fear was probably not essential, and had little if any 
effect in the early days of the war because the soldiers were mostly 
fighting for their own ideologies. To the soldiers, the commanders 
were of little importance. The soldiers were going to fight their own 
fight, and leave the battle when they felt it necessary. The soldier 
saw himself as a volunteer, a citizen fighting in a group of citizens, 
and as a result did not respond well to the traditional forms of 
discipline. The soldier knew it wasn't necessary for him to serve, and 
he knew that he would not be looked down upon for not serving or 
leaving the army by his fellow revolutionaries. He had the freedom to 
chose how he wished to serve the revolution, and military service was 
not an obligation.

 One aspect of the traditional European system that Baron von 
Steuben felt needed change was the relationship between the officers 
and the soldiers. Officers in the Continental Army felt it was 
necessary to distance themselves from the common soldiers, as an 
officer had an obligation as a gentleman as well. This division was 
along social lines, and by separation, the officers felt the common 
soldiers would show even greater respect. Royster describes this 
accurately by saying that the officers tried "to make themselves 
haughty objects of the soldiers' awe." (215)

 Steuben did several things to put the officers and the 
soldiers on common ground. First, sergeants were no longer to do the
training and drilling of soldiers. Officers were encouraged to train, 
drill, and march with their soldiers. They were also encouraged to eat 
with the common soldiers as well, whenever possible. The officers 
needed to show love of the soldiers to earn their respect, and in 
doing this the officers needed to set themselves as an example to the 
soldiers by overachieving, rather than distancing themselves and 
underachieving in the eyes of the soldier.

 Before Steuben arrived, the forms of drills, training, and 
discipline in the Continental Army were mainly achieved at the
discretion of each particular officer. There was no set standard for 
drills and training, and each battalion, company, and regiment had 
different methods. Baron von Steuben set a standard that became 
universal in the army and all soldiers and officers were to follow it. 
Through constant repetition of these rather simplified drills and 
training methods, coupled with the newly evident compassion and caring 
being shown by the officers, soldiers soon began to show a level of 
pride and professionalism in doing their duties in the Continental 

 Steuben catered to the needs and ideologies of the men in the 
Continental Army. He knew that soldiers who felt that military service 
was not a necessity, would often question authority. When given an 
order many soldiers would ask 'Why?' This was what Steuben realized 
and built his form of discipline around. If a soldier asked why, and 
there was a good reason for it, then the soldier would ultimately obey 
the order. This is why the uniformity and simplicity of SteubenÕs 
system was so successful in the Continental Army.

 Steuben's method of discipline and training was so successful 
for one main reason, it was catered to the soldier and not to the
officer. It had the ultimate result of making the soldier feel like a 
soldier and not like a volunteer. It established a sense of pride in 
the soldiers and in the job they did. By the later years of the war, 
native courage, virtue, and liberty were not enough to encourage 
soldiers. Steuben method created a professionalism in the Continental 
Army which, along with the ideologies of the men, was enough to keep 
the moral of the soldier high despite the many hardships of winter 
camps like Valley Forge and Morristown.


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