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Franklin, working with Deane, decided von Steuben’s “affections” were less important than what he, Washington and the colonies needed to win the war with England. Deane learned of von Steuben’s indiscretions — and that the French clergy was investigating — from a letter to the Prince of Hechingen, which read in part:
“It has come to me from different sources that M. de Steuben is accused of having taken familiarities with young boys, which the laws forbid and punish severely. I have even been informed that that is the reason why M. de Steuben was obliged to leave Hechingen and that the clergy of your country intend to prosecute him by law as soon as he may establish himself anywhere.”
The proof of Franklin and Deane’s knowledge lies in the letter to Washington recommending von Steuben and their quick action to secure the baron from France. So in September 1777, von Steuben boarded a 24-gun ship named Heureux — but, for this voyage, the ship’s name was changed to Le Flamand, and the baron’s name was entered onto the captain’s log as “Frank.” And he was on his way to the colonies.
Baron von Steuben Whips the Men Into Shape
Washington and Franklin’s trust in von Steuben was rewarded. He whipped the rag-tag army of the colonies into a professional fighting force, able to take on the most powerful superpower of the time, England. Some of his accomplishments include instituting a “model company” for training, establishing sanitary standards and organization for the camp and training soldiers in drills and tactics such as bayonet fighting and musket loading. According to the New York Public Library, (“The Papers of Von Steuben”) these were his achievements:
- February 1778: Arrives at Valley Forge to serve under Washington, having informed Congress of his desire for paid service after an initial volunteer trial period, with which request Washington concurs.
- March 1778: Begins tenure as inspector general, drilling troops according to established European military precepts.
- 1778-79: Writes “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States,” which becomes a fundamental guide for the Continental Army and remains in active use through the War of 1812, was published in over 70 editions.
- 1780-81: Senior military officer in charge of troop and supply mobilization in Virginia.
- 1781: Replaced by Marquis de Lafayette as commander in Virginia.
- 1781-83: Continues to serve as Washington’s inspector general, and is active in improving discipline and streamlining administration in the Army.
- Spring 1783: Assists in formulating plans for the post-war American military.
Washington rewarded von Steuben with a house at Valley Forge, which he shared with his aide-de-camps Capt. William North and Gen. Benjamin Walker. Walker lived with him through the remainder of his life, and von Steuben, who neither married nor denied any of the allegations of homosexuality, left his estate to North and Walker. There wasn’t much else to claim, as the baron was in debt at the time of his death, according to both Kapp and Lockhart. His last will and testament has been described as a love letter to Walker and has been purported to describe their “extraordinarily intense emotional relationship,” yet that line was not in the Kapp biography of 1859.
Both North and Walker are featured in the statue of von Steuben in Lafayette Park across from the White House.