This Week's Story

Help comes for the Valley Forge survivors: food, clothing, and a shocking drill instructor - Baron von Steuben!

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

The New Boot Camp, part two

“Why is Baron von Steuben coming to Valley Forge to train our troops? He is not an American and he doesn’t speak English. Does he understand our fight for freedom?”

“Alexander, Ben Franklin recommended him and General Washington agreed. The Baron can turn our men into professional soldiers. We have no one with his experience. He was a general staff officer in the Prussian army and on the staff of King Frederick the Great. This winter our soldiers have experienced starvation, nakedness, and disease. Many have died. Those who remain need better military skills to fight the British.”

As the two officers walked to the drill field, they heard the Baron’s voice shouting orders and curses in German. He looked dazzling in his dress uniform.

“Du bist soldat, nicht putzfrau.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dummkopf!”

“Yes, sir.”

Alexander asked the Baron’s aide, “What is he saying?”

“Sir, the Baron told Private Elliot that he was a soldier, not a cleaning lady. Private Elliot agreed, but because he did not follow the order ‘Ram down-Cartridge!’ with one motion, the Baron yelled, ‘Now, right now!!! Fast!’ Then he shouted, ‘Stupid!!’ at all the men.”

“Sir, the men don’t understand the Baron.”

Alexander turned to Nathanael. “This is ridiculous. We speak French and so does the Baron. Let’s meet with him.”

That evening Colonel Alexander Hamilton and General Nathanael Greene spoke with the Baron. “You can train our men in military drills, battle tactics, and discipline, but only if the men know what you are saying. Will you write out your orders in German? We will have an interpreter translate them into French. We’ll also have a soldier on the field with you. He’ll tell the men in English what your orders are. We can make this work.”

Daily the Baron was up at 3:00 A.M. By sunrise he was on the field drilling soldiers. He first taught a group of 100 men, who later taught other units of soldiers. Selected sergeants were drill instructors. The complicated rules of European warfare for firing guns were broken into simpler commands. The soldiers learned to load and fire automatically and rapidly. Firing was done with precision in eight counts and with fifteen motions. Soldiers learned to use bayonets, which proved enormously helpful in future battles. Previously many men handled them as tools or skewers for food. A simplified manual, The Revolutionary War Drill Manual, was written by the Baron. It was the ABC’s of all instruction.

Drilling was demanding, but never dull with the Baron. He continued to shout curses in German and French. Sometimes he would order his French-speaking aide, “Get out there and curse the men in English.” But his frustration with the soldiers, when they were slow to obey commands, was often followed by humor.

By spring the men were happier and prouder. Their skills were quickly improving. They could produce a gun volley every fifteen seconds. The horrendous tragedy of never having enough food, clothing, medical supplies, and munitions started changing. The previous quartermaster general resigned. General Nathanael Greene was convinced to replace him.

The Baron tackled the problem of camp contamination, which had caused hundreds of men to die. The Valley Forge camp went from a casual layout to a set order. Now all kitchens were on one side. Outhouses, also called privies, were on the opposite and downhill side. Housing was divided into sections for command, officers, and enlisted men.

By summer the men of Valley Forge were prepared to endure as one army.

This is Barbara Steiner. I admire General Washington’s use of the Baron’s skills. Please check out: thisweeksstory.com.

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