:Baron Von Steuben - Revolutionary War General


Baron Von-Steuben - Revolutionary War General
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. The
reasons for his unique insight may have been because he was
distanced from the revolutionary ideals in America, and
therefore was in a better position to 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 with a group of other citizens, and
therefore did not respond well to the traditional forms of
discipline. The Continental soldier knew that it wasn't a
requirement for him to serve, and that he would not be
disgraced for not serving or leaving the army. He had the
freedom to choose 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 expected 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 Army.
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
Steuben's system was so successful in the Continental Army.
Steuben's method of discipline and training was so
successful because it 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's method created a professionalism in the
Continental Army which, along with the ideologies of the
men, was enough to keep the morale of the soldier high
despite the many hardships of winter camps like Valley
Forge and Morristown.


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