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One of the most important (yet, strangely, least known) men of the Revolutionary War was General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Von Steuben was born in Magdeburg, Germany on September 17, 1730, and he started his distiguished military career at an early age, when he entered the Prussian army and served with distinction in the Seven Years War. He later became the aide of Frederick the Great of Prussia, who was recognized as the military genius of his time. During his time with the Prussian Army, Von Steuben became an expert in the drilling and training of troops.

He'd met Benjamin Franklin in Europe, who, along with Count St. Germain (French Minister of War), convinced him to come to the US and teach the Patriot army how to fight. Von Steuben sailed for America and arrived at Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1778, to aid the young nation in its fight for indpendence. He offered his services to General Washington without rank or pay, arriving at Valley Forge in the late winter of 1777-78.

Over the course of the next few months, he trained the unorganized band of Americans to bear arms, march, form columns and to execute maneuvers with precision. For some reason, "shooting from behind trees" is a popular image of how the war was fought; it seems to suggest that stuffy British using old fashioned tactics were being shown a new way of war by the inexperienced but innovative Americans. Sadly, this just isn't true. While early battles of the Revolutionary War were fought this way, von Steuben essentially taught the Americans to fight European style, and only after this did the Patriots begin to succeed.

As "Drill Instructor" of the Continental Army, von Steuben wrote "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States". Although this manual has been modified, it still remains in the basic guide for the discipline and drill of the Army.

Von Steuben was also known for his generosity, sometimes spending his entire income to purchase clothing and rations for his men. After his discharge from the army on March 24, 1784, he became an American citizen and was granted 16,000 acres of land in the Mohawk country by the state of New York, plus a pension of $2,500 a year by Congress.  Upon his death on November 28, 1794, his lands were left to William North and Benjamin Walker, his former aides.
Sources:
http://denbeste.nu/entries/00001468.shtml
http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/steuben.html
http://www.cyberessays.com/History/150.htm
http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Bunker/7475/drillmanual.htm

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