Saturday, February 21, 2015

Germans Fight for American Freedom

The winter of 1777/1778 was decisive in the American Revolution. Washington’s army achieved a mental victory by surviving at Valley Forge, and a military success in its training under the Prussian officer von Steuben.

While much is made of the benefit which German discipline bestowed on Washington’s army through von Steuben - his training enabled the army’s effectiveness when the winter ended - other Germans were at Valley Forge, and made significant contributions.

Johann DeKalb earned the rank of major general from Washington, and was placed in command of an entire division in November 1777. After marching his troops southward in 1780 to help confront Cornwallis, he was wounded and died in the fighting there in August 1780.

Cornwallis would surrender a little more than a year later, ending the war. Historian Thomas Sowell writes:

There were about 300,000 Germans in the American colonies - about 10 percent of the total population. Shortly after the war began, a volunteer company of Germans formed in Charleston, South Carolina, and four companies of infantry formed from the Germans around Reading, Pennsylvania. A German regiment was raised in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Four battalions of Germans were recruited in the Mohawk Valley. Germans served not only in the ranks but also in the highest levels of the American army. Peter Muhlenberg, son of the founder of the American Lutheran church, rose to become a general in the American army. General von Steuben came from his native land for the express purpose of fighting in the Revolutionary War. He served with Washington at Valley Forge, and has been credited with introducing military discipline into the new American army. Turning undisciplined civilians into professional soldiers was a formidable task, and von Steuben was known to curse both in German and French - and to ask his aide to curse for him in English! Yet as drillmaster of the American army, he succeeded in creating an army capable of defeating professional British troops. General von Steuben also helped plan the successful siege of Yorktown.

In late 1775, George Washington had personally asked Peter Muhlenberg to command a regiment within the Continental Army. Like DeKalb and von Steuben, Muhlenberg wintered at Valley Forge.

Peter Muhlenberg commanded a brigade at Yorktown, the last significant battle in the war. After the war he was elected to the House of Representatives, and died in 1807.