Monday, July 04, 2011


Born 1730 in  Magdeburg, Germany, Friedrich Von Steuben eventually found himself serving General Washington during our Revolutionary beginnings. As a teenager, emigrating to Prussia, he served in Infantry then Captain at the pleasure of Friedrich the Great. He was one of the 13 members of the Elite Class of War, where after the Seven Years War, found himself unemployed. Perfect timing for a chance meeting with Benjamin Franklin in Paris. 

By 1777, with his embellished credentials in hand, he had been recruited to train our cadets at Valley Forge. Training in the art of combat that had not happened before. From what I gather, our military leaders were just sending volunteers to regiments with little fighting experience. Sources indicate, Steuben was instructed to train an elite force that would then train other brigades. 
He has also been given the title of encampment designer in that he was the first to separate quarters from kitchen and latrines. Before that, these guys were doing everything everywhere. Imagine that.
Steuben forced the advanced use of the bayonet during combat, which later proved a determining factor when ammunition was depleted. His troops still went on to win numerous battles as a result. None of these accomplishments went unnoticed. So when the season of Independence celebration comes around every year, people take note of Friedrich Von Steuben's influence in our early military history. The fact that he was gay altered nothing regarding his ability to serve as one of Washington's best Generals.
Of course there are countless examples in history of great military leaders who also happen to be gay.  Alexander springs immediately to mind. It's just that much more special during these evolved times in New York, that one of the most celebrated generals from the Revolutionary War, General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben also happened to be gay.  His service to America is celebrated in festivals and parades all across the country, most fervently by the German-American community. There have been Ships, Submarines, and towns named after him as well as buildings, statues, national monuments and even a US Stamp published in his honor.

Once retired, Steuben settled near Utica, NY and was appointed a Regent for what evolved into the State University of New York. He never married and had no children. He left his estate to two younger men who had served as his aides-de-camp during the war. He is buried at what is now the Steuben Memorial State Historic Site in Oneida County, NY.

With all that's changed in the minds of New Yorkers regarding equal rights and the eminent retirement of DADT, the celebration of such a prominent figure in early American military history should not be forgotten. Steuben's personal history shapes the historical context which only helps us as we we evolve today. 

Happy Independence Day everyone!


Anonymous said...

An unexpected inspiration for the Equality movement. You have managed to bring yesterday's historical significance to today's relevance. Some may disagree, but our history, in all of it's colorful and complex intimacies, is something to cherish.
Well done.

Anonymous said...

I chuckled when I got half way through this history lesson when you surprised us with his persuasion. Clever.
Honestly we are guilty of teaching history with a tendency to "clean it up" for school consumption. Trouble is Americans still hold that cartoon image of early colonial history as if it's absolute.
Our founders were humans. People with family issues, addictions and sex lives just like everyone today. We just paint a fictional image in our minds as we celebrate annual events like today.
Your little window into one of our formidable Generals pulls back just a peak into what makes them mortal.
Thank you.