Germans in the American War of Independence

January 24, 2021 by Bonn Brandt

At the time of the American War of Independence - an estimated 225,000 to 250,000 Germans lived in the colonies. German soldiers were involved on both sides. The majority of them fought alongside the British. The British had recruited these regiments from various German principalities.

Hesse-Kassel sent more than 12,000 troops. In total, the German principalities provided almost 30,000 soldiers to the British crown.

Washington Crossing the Delaware
Washington Crossing the Delaware

A small number of German professional soldiers, including the Prussian Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, traveled to the battlefield to support George Washington's army against the British. Since 1777, Christoph Ludwig, a baker born in Giessen, had been the army of independence's master of provisions.

A year later, former Prussian Major Bartholomew von Heer took over George Washington's independent mounted force and private guard.

Steuben built and rebuilt the army tactically and operationally at the Valley Forge camp beginning in 1778 as major general and inspector general (Rules for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, 1779).

He provided discipline, organization, and drill for the troops and was George Washington's chief of staff for a time.

Friedrich von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge

Prussian-born General Friedrich Wilhelm Steuben's rulebook, "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States", was a decisive milestone in building the fighting force that would win the American independence.

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben is considered the architect of American independence on the military level, as he succeeded in transforming groups of freedmen who were at odds with each other and militarily inexperienced into a powerful army.

Moreover, in the individual battles, the units he commanded contributed significantly to victory. His tactical instructions formed the basis for the American victory at the Battle of Monmouth, the turning point of the war, on June 28, 1778.

Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States

For the Continental Army, no book was more formative than the Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States by Prussian-born General Friedrich Wilhelm Steuben.

Portrait of General Steuben
Portrait of General Steuben

Published in the midst of the war by an act of Congress in 1779, it regulated for the first time the conduct of the army, from basic drill to the specific duties of each rank of officer.

Page from General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben's Book

The regulations were distributed to the troops, who called it the "Blue Book" after its blue paper cover, a crucial step in building the fighting force that would win American independence.

In the early years of the war, Washington promoted the use of various publications, but it was not until 1779, after the arrival of Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin Steuben, that the first official manual of the Continental Army was produced.

Steuben a former aide to Frederick the Great, had come to America in late 1777 to offer his services to the cause of independence.

He joined General Washington at Valley Forge in February 1778 and quickly made himself irreplaceable by imparting new order and discipline to troops suffering under harsh winter conditions. Washington recognized his genius as a military instructor and petitioned Congress to promote Steuben to inspector general with the rank of major general.

Steuben's 164-page regulations present a standardised drill for the infantry, designed to be command by command.

In the book, Steuben also outlines the official regulations for military conduct, from administration and courts-martial to hygiene and sanitation, and a guide to the duties and responsibilities of each rank of officer in the army.

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