Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1730. He served with distinction in the army of Frederick the Great of Prussia, becoming expert in drilling and training of troops. Because of this exceptional ability, and influenced by Benjamin Franklin and Count St. German, French Minister of War, Von Steuben sailed for America to aid the young nation in its fight for independence. He offered his services to General Washington without rank or pay, arriving at Valley Forge in the late winter of 1777-78. He found the soldiers in a deplorable condition, without uniforms or weapons. Appointed by Congress to be Inspector General of the Army, Von Steuben set about training the unorganized band of ragged soldiers. He infused in them a sense of discipline and converted them into an excellent fighting force. He gave confidence to the officers and men, enabling them to continue on to victory at Yorktown.
As "Drill Instructor" of the Continental Army, Von Steuben wrote "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States". Although this Manual has been modified - it still remains the basic guide for the discipline and drill of the Army.
Steuben was remarkable for the generosity and fineness of his nature, spending his entire income beyond what was essential to his own simple needs in purchasing clothing and rations for his men. In recognition of his services, the Congress granted him an annuity and New York State presented him with a large tract of land. He became an American citizen and lived in New York until his death in 1794. He was laid to rest in a hero's grave on his estate in Steuben County, where the inscription on a bronze plaque sums up the contribution that he made to the new nation:
"Indispensable to the Achievement of American Independence"
Steuben's military services in America are likewise very adequately indicated in General John McCauley Palmer's biography on Steuben by his most praiseworthy statement:
"...In the course of my researches, I was soon convinced that the military services of two men, and two men only, can be regarded as indispensable to the achievement of American independence. These two men were Washington and Steuben. When I say that their military services were indispensable, I mean that each of them contributed something essential to final victory, that could not have been contributed by any other man in the American Army..."