The Prussian Baron von Steuben, being a newcomer t


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 wasn't 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 "to make themselves
haughty objects of the soldiers' awe." (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


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 'Why?' 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.

Steuben's 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.

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