Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben

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Baron von Steuben, the drillmaster for the Continental Army in the American War of Independence who did not speak English, was among one of history’s quirks of circumstance. Thanks to a falsified lineage he had been able to enjoy the patronage of one of Prussia’s poorer princes before being driven out due to rumors of his homosexuality. He bounced around France until Benjamin Franklin finally hired him on as a volunteer without pay.

Von Steuben’s tactics, which he required translators to convey to the troops until he got around to writing down and distributing the army’s first training manual, were brutal and advanced – and included hygiene provisions -, which turned the soldiers into a respectable fighting force and von Steuben into a Major General.

The United States German-American community now celebrates Von Steuben Day (which appears in the comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) in September. Although von Steuben’s homosexuality was never conclusively proven, he is included here due to the threat of discharge and to the two attractive young men who accompanied him throughout his campaign.

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