Baron Von Steuben

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 and their
causes. The reasons for his unique insight may have been
due to the fact that he was distanced from the revolutionary
ideals in America, and as a result, was able to better 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 in a
group of citizens, and as a result did not respond well to the
traditional forms of discipline. The soldier knew it wasnÕt
necessary for him to serve, and he knew that he would not
be looked down upon for not serving or leaving the army by
his fellow revolutionaries. He had the freedom to chose 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 Òto make
themselves haughty objects of the soldiersÕ awe.Ó (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 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
ÒWhy?Ó 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 SteubenÕs
system was so successful in the Continental Army.
SteubenÕs method of discipline and training was so
successful for one main reason, it was 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 method created a professionalism in the Continental
Army which, along with the ideologies of the men, was
enough to keep the moral of the soldier high despite the
many hardships of winter camps like Valley Forge and
Morristown.

Category: History