war, affords an amusing illustration of this amiable
One day, while at dinner at headquarters, the baron happened to express himself with much feeling and energy on some important subject. Gouverneur Morris, who sat at his right hand, was peculiarly struck with the remark, and, in his frank way, slapped Steuben somewhat roughly on the back, and cried out with an oath, "Well done, general, well done!" Much irritated at the insult, as he deemed it, the old baron abruptly quitted the table, and retired to his marquee, exclaiming, with great warmth, "Confound the fellow! with his old wooden leg he will govern the whole country!"
The circumstances which induced Baron Steuben to take an active part in the American struggle for independence are briefly as follows:
In April, 1777, he visited Paris, with the intention of repairing to London about the end of June, whither he had been invited by Lords Spencer and Warwick, whose acquaintance he had previously formed in Germany. As good fortune would have it, he was induced by Count de St. Germain, the French minister of war, to postpone his visit to England, and finally to abandon it; otherwise, he might never have joined the American army.
There was much interest at that time in France respecing the difficulties between England and the colonies, and the French ministers wished to aid the revolutionists as far as they could without openly compromising themselves with England.
On his arrival in Paris, Steuben sent a note to St. Germain, testifying a desire to visit him at Versailles. The same evening Col. Pagenstecher, a gentleman attached to the court, waited upon Steuben to inform him that St. Germain desired him not to come to Versailles, but to be at the arsenal in Paris in the course of a few days, where the count wished to converse with him on business of importance. As Steuben had no project to execute, nor any favor to ask of the count, there was a mystery in this proceeding which he could not fathom. At the interview, however, which soon occurred, all was explained.
St. Germain laid the American cause before the baron in as flattering colors as possible. The Spanish minister, Count d'Aranda, the Prince de Montbarrey, and, finally, Vergennes himself, added the wight of their authority to the proposal of St. Germain. As the French ministers had no authority to settle upon terms, they referred the matter to the American envoys then in Paris. At the house of M. de Beaumarchais, Steuben was introduced to Dr. Franklin and Silas Deane. At the same place he became acquainted with Peter S. du Ponceau, then a young man only seventeen years of age, whose services as an interpreter (for he spoke English fluently) were peculiarly valuable. The envoys showed a desire to enlist the baron in the American cause, but when the terms were mentioned a difficulty immediately arose. Mr. Deane was willing to enter into any proper engagement, but Dr. Franklin demurred, and urged that he had no authority from Congress to form any contract whatever with any foreign officer, still less to make the required advance of funds to defray the expenses of the voyage. On the contrary, Congress had already refused to ratify the conditions upon which he had engaged M. Ducoudray and the officers of his suite to embark for America.
To the baron this answer was decisive, and he soon after left Paris and returned to Germany. But St. Germain and others were unwilling to let the matter rest. They wrote to Steuben that a ship was all ready to sail for America, and induced him to return early in August, and embark without any stipulations from the American ministers, but with letters of introduction to Washington and the President of Congress. On the failure of any other chance, he was to rely on the French court for remuneration, and Beaumarchais advanced the money to defray immediate expenses.
The French ship, L'Heureux, of twenty-eight guns, commanded by Capt. Landais, who had served under Bougainville in his voyage round the world, was appointed for the expedition. Her name was changed to Le Flamand, and she was ostensibly freighted by private individuals for a voyage to Martinique. But her lading really consisted of arms and munitions of war for the American service, and the captain had secret orders to proceed to the United States.
Baron Steuben embarked at Marseilles, on the 26th of September, 1777, under the assumed name of Monsieur de Frank. His suite consisted of M. du Ponceau, who acted as private secretary, and three French officers, - Romanai, L'Enfant, and Ponthierre. After a rough voyage the ship arrived at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the 1st of December. On their first communication with the shore, they received the news of the capture of Burgoyne, an event of happy omen to Steuben, as it assured him that he had not embarked in a desperate cause.
He immediately wrote to Gen. Washington, inclosing Dr. Franklin's letter, and requesting permission to enter the American service, if no other arrangement could immediately be made, in the capacity of a volunteer. "I could say, moreover," he added, "were it not for the fear of offending your modesty, that your Excellency is the only person under whom, after having served under the King of Prussia, I could wish to pursue an art to which I have wholly given up myself. I intend to go to Boston in a few days, where I shall present my letters to Mr. Hancock, member of Congress, and there I shall take convenient measures."
Washington replied on the 9th of January, 1778, referring the baron to Congress, then in session at Yorktown, Pa. On the day after his arrival at that place, Congress appointed a committee of five members to confer with him. The famous Dr. Witherspoon was chairman, and the only one to whom Steuben could explain himself in French. Steuben said, in answer to the questions of the committee, that he had come to serve as a volunteer in the army, and in order to do this he had resigned offices in Europe which gave him an income of six hundred pounds sterling. If his services should not prove acceptable, or if the United States should fail in establishing their independence, he would hold them quit of any obligation to him, either for indemnity or reward. But if the value of his services
BARON STEUBEN IN THE AMERICAN ARMY.
*Thacher's Military Journal, second edition, p.
We mention these
particulars to show how limited were the resources of Steuben, either to comply
with the urgent calls of Greene for "more troops and supplies," or in the case
of an invasion by a naval expedition, to which their situation peculiarly
exposed them, to be in readiness promptly to defend the
While the draft was pending, such a naval expedition suddenly surprised the country. The traitor, Benedict Arnold, with a flotilla of twenty-seven sail and sixteen hundred effective men, entered the James River, and crowded rapidly up to the capital of the State. On the 4th they landed at Westover, twenty miles below Richmond, which now appeared to be the object of attack. No force had yet been collected. Seeing that Richmond waslikely to fall into the hands of the enemy, great exertions were made to remove the archives, arms, and military stores to the south side of the river, which object was in a great measure accomplished. Most of the stores were sent to Westham, seven miles from Richmond, where they were ferried across the river, and guarded by a small body of Continentals.
Arnold landed nine hundred of his men at Westover, and commenced his march on the afternoon of the 4th on Richmond, which place he reached at noon the next day. Baron Steuben dispatched one or two hundred militia, all that could be collected, to harass the British on the march, but the service was ill-performed, and they entered the capital without loss of a man. Arnold with five hundred men remaining in the town, Col. Simcoe with the remainder pushed forward to Westham, where he burned a valuable foundry, boring-mill, laboratory, and some smaller buildings.* Five brass four-pounders, which had been sunk in the river, were discovered, raised, and carried off, and six tons of powder were thrown into the water. But, as they had no means of crossing the river, the major part of the stores were out of their reach, and Simcoe returned immediately to Richmond. Arnold sent a flag to Steuben, offering not to burn the town if the ships should be allowed to pass up unmolested and carry off the tobacco which was there deposited. This proposition was rejected, and the enemy concluding to leave the tobacco, after burning the public buildings and plundering many private houses, commenced thier retreat to Westover, where they arrived on the 7th. In forty-eight hours they had passed thirty miles into the country, occupied the capital of the State, destroyed much public property, and returned to their shipping without the loss of a man.
Deeply sensible of the insult they had received, Steuben strained every nerve to collect troops and harass the British on their way down the river. Rightly judging that Arnold's force would land at Hood's, the baron ordered Col. Clarke to form an ambuscade, with two hundred militia, at a short distance from the landing-place. On the 10th the shipping anchored, as was expected, and a party of five hundred men drove in the American picket. When they came within forty paces, the militia poured in a general fire, which killed seven men and wounded twenty-three others. The British returned the fire without effect, then pushed forward with fixed bayonets, when the militia immediately fled. On the 20th the fleet reached Portsmouth, which Arnold proceeded to fortify, in order to establish it as a permanent post.
We need not follow the account further, the details of which are familiar to the readers of Revolutionary history. Gov. Jefferson wrote, on the 10th of January, to the President of Congress, -
"Baron Steuben has descended from the dignity of his proper command to direct our smallest movements. His vigilance has in a great measure supplied the want of force, in preventing the enemy from crossing the river, the consequence of which might have been very fatal. He has been assiduously employed in preparing equipments for the militia, as they assembled, pointing them to a proper object, and in other offices of a good commander."
The action of Steuben in the defense of Petersburg was gallant and courageous. This was on the 24th of April, 1780. Arnold, at Portsmouth, had baffled all attempts to dislodge or capture him on the part of a large force of infantry under Lafayette and a French fleet sent from Newport under command of Destouches, and had been reinforced by Gen. Phillips, with two thousand English troops. The combined forces, amounting to two thousand five hundred men, under the command of Gen. Phillips, sailed up the James River on the 18th, with the view of attacking Petersburg and Richmond. Simcoe, with a small party, entered Williamsburg, and destroyed some stores. The main body, on the 24th, landed at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers, and marched up the banks of the former towards Petersburg.
Baron Steuben was there with one thousand militia, to defend the city against two thousand three hundred regular troops; but his measures were so well taken that he was able to dispute the ground more than two hours, during which time the enemy gained but one mile. Their lines were twice broken before their superiority of numbers compelled the brave baron to retreat and assume a new position about twelve miles up the river. The loss was equal, amounting to sixty killed and wounded on each side.
Lafayette, by forced marches, had arrived at Richmond in time to prevent an attack on that city. The British burned the tobacco and warehouses in Petersburg and vicinity. By the 1st of May Lafayette and Steuben had collected such a considerable force that Phillips dared not cross to the north side of the river, and soon abandoned the campaign and returned again to Portsmouth.
When Cornwallis entered the State of Viginia Steuben had charge of the State arsenal at the Point of Fork, on the James River, above Richmond, and of the military stores which had been collected there. The post was guarded by Steuben with six hundred newly-levied troops. Cornwallis, learning his situation, detached Simcoe against him with five hundred regulars. Tarleton, with two hundred and fifty horse, was also ordered to proceed to Charlotteville, and thence to join Simcoe at the Point of Fork. This double movement rendered Steuben's situation very perilous. It was useless to attempt to defend the place against such odds, and even the utmost dispatch could hardly promise a successful retreat. Still the baron set to
*There was here an armory
during the Revolution.
work with his accustomed energy. He
transported the stores to the south side of the river with such celerity that
when Simcoe appeared on the 3d of June, only thirty of the rear-guard remained,
who were captured. The river was deep and unfordable, and as Steuben had taken
the precaution to secure all the boats, the main object of the British was
The autumn of this year was signalized by the march of the combined French and American armies to Virginia, and the measures which led to the capitulation of Cornwallis on the 18th of October. In the operations before Yorktown Baron Steuben had a full and honorable share. Washington respected his indefatigable exertions, and soothed him under the disappointments he had suffered by conferring upon him a command in the regular line. It was during the baron's tour of duty in the trenches that the negotiation for surrender commenced. At the relieving hour next morning, Lafayette approached with his division. The baron refused to be relieved, assigning as a reason the etiquette in Europe, where the officer who received the overtures remains on his post till the capitulation is signed or broken. The marquis applied to the commander-in-chief, but Steuben with his troops remained in the trenches till the British flag was struck. He returned with the main army to the North, and continued at headquarters till the close of the war, occupied in the discharge of his duties as inspector-general.
On the day that Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief, he wrote to Steuben the following letter:
ANNAPOLIS, 23d December,
"Although I have taken frequent opportunities, in public and in private, of acknowleding your great zeal, attention, and abilities in performing the duties of your office, yet I wish to make use of this last moment of my public life to signify, in the strongest terms, my entire approbation of your conduct, and to express my sense of the obligations the public is under to you for your faithful and meritorious services.
"I beg you will be convinced, my dear sir, that I should rejoice if it should ever be in my power to serve you more essentially than by expressions of regard and affection; but, in the mean time, I am persuaded you will not be displeased with this farewell token of my sincere friendship and esteem for you.
"This is the last letter I shall write while I continue in the service of my country. The hour of my resignation is fixed at twelve to-day, after which I shall become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, where I shall be glad to embrace you, and testify the esteem and consideration with which
"I am, my dear Baron, etc.,
PRIVATE LIFE AND LAST DAYS OF
Lincoln having resigned his place at the head of the war department, Baron
Steuben and Gen. Knox were the prominent candidates for the office of secretary
of war. The objection to the former, and it proved to be a decisive one, rested
on the fact that he was a foreigner. Of his qualifications for the office there
can be no reasonable doubt. In March, 1784, he submitted to Washington a plan
for establishing a Continental legion, and training the militia in time of
peace, which the latter returned with his entire
For seven years after the close of the war Baron Steuben was occupied in ineffectual attempts to obtain from Congress the promised recompense for his services. Congress never expressly denied the justice of his claim, but the poverty of the country at first induced delay, and in succeeding sessions the matter was crowded out by a multiplicity of other duties and responsibilities. He at last collected a number of papers and documents bearing upon his claim, and submitted his statements and accompanying proofss to Mr. Jay, Mr. Livingston, Col. Hamilton, and others, all of whom declared the evidence satisfactory and the demand just. It was not until after the settlement of the Federal Constitution that the urgent recommendation of the President and the exertions of Hamilton procured for him tardy and imperfect justice. On the 4th of June, 1790, Congress passed an act granting to the veteran a life-annuity of two thousand five hundred dollars. Individual States had already shown their sense of his ill-requited services by complimentary resolutions and gifts of land. Virginia and New Jersey had each given him a small tract, and the Assembly of New York, by a vote dated May 5, 1786, made over to him one-quarter of a township, equal to sixteen thousand acres, out of the territory recently purchased of the Oneida Indians. The site selected was in the immediate vicinity of Utica, where he caused a log house to be erected as the home of his declining years. This was his baronial estate and castle, in the midst of a wilderness stretching far away in unbroken solitude on every hand. He had no kindred in this country, and his family consisted only of dependents and friends, whom his various acts of kindness had caused to cling to him with all the affection of children for an aged parent. He distributed nearly a tenth part of the tract to his aides and servants, and the rest of the land was let on easy terms to twenty or thirty tenants. About sixty acres were cleared in front of the house, and afforded him wheat and nourishment for a small stock of cattle.
As the surrounding country was but thinly settled, the want of society led him to pass a portion of each winter in the city of New York. He was never perfectly a master of the English language, though he made few mistakes in speaking, except as a matter of jest. Once, when dining with the commander-in-chief, Mrs. Washington asked him what amusements he had now that the business of his office was less pressing. "I read and play chess, my lady," said the baron, "and yesterday I was invited to go a-fishing. It was understood to be a very fine amusement. I sat in the boat two hours, though it was very warm, and caught two fish."
"Of what kind, baron?" asked the lady.
"Indeed, I don not recollect perfectly, but one of them was a whale."
"A whale, baron, in the North River!"
"Yes, on my word, a very fine whale, as that gentleman informed me," said the baron, turning to the gentleman who had been his companion in fishing. "Did you not tell me it was a whale, major?"
"An eel, baron," replied the major, courteously.
"I beg your pardon, my lady," returned the baron; "but the gentleman certainly called it a whale. It is how-
ever, of little consequence. I shall
abandon the trade, notwithstanding the fine amusement it
At his house, near Utica, the baron had little society, except from the passing visit of a stranger or friend. A young man named Mulligan, whose literary powers and destitute situation, when a boy, had attracted his notice, resided with him, and read to him in his solitary hours. His favorite aides-de-camp, Walker and North, also spent much time at his house, and their affectionate attention continued to cheer him till the close of life. His farm and garden afforded him some pastime, but it was chiefly from a well-stored library that he derived relief from the weariness of a situation that harmonized ill with the active duties of his former life. The comforts of religion and the perusal of the Scriptures prepared him to meet his end with composure and humble trust.
Though the sedentary life he followed was unfavorable to his health, no failure of mind or body was apparent till November, 1794. On the 25th of that month, he returned in the evening to his chamber in his usual health, but was shortly after struck with paralysis, and partly deprived of speech. The nearest physician was called, though the case was immediately seen to be hopeless. He died on the 28th.
Agreeably to former directions, his body was wrapped in a military cloak, ornamented with the star he had always worn, and interred in the neighboring forest. A few neighbors, his servants, and the young man, his late companion, followed his remains to the grave. A public highway was laid out some years afterwards, which passed directly over the hallowed spot. Walker caused his body to be removed to a little distance, where a monument was erected, and inclosed with an iron paling. He also gave an adjoining lot as a site for a church, on condition that its members and their sucessors should preserve the remains from any further violation.
Col. North caused a tablet, with the following inscription, to be placed in the Lutheran church in Nassau Street, New York, where the baron used to worship when residing in that city:
Sacred to the Memory of
FREDERIC WILLIAM AUGUSTUS, BARON STEUBEN,
A German knight of the Order of Fidelity,
Aide-de-camp to Frederic the Great, King of Prussia,
Major-General and Inspector-General
In the Revolutionary War.
Esteemed, respected, and supported by Washington,
He gave Military Skill and Discipline
To the Citizen Soldiers, who
(Fulfilling the Decrees of Heaven)
Achieved the Independence of the United States.
The highly-polished Manners of the Baron were graced
By the most noble Feelings of the Heart:
His Hand, open as Day to melting Charity,
Closed only in the Grasp of Death.
This Memorial is inscribed by an American,
Who had Honor to be his Aide-de-Camp,
The Happiness to be his Friend.
Ob. 1795. *
*Jared Sparks, in his biography of Steuben, decides that this
date is an error, and gives, as we have given it elsewhere, Nov. 28,
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