[AMERICAN REVOLUTION]. STEUBEN, Wilhelm Augustus von (1730-1794), General, Continental Army. Autograph letter signed ("Steuben Major General") to George Glenworth (a physician), Philadelphia, 26 February 1780. 1 full page, folio, integral address leaf with wax seal, back neatly silked, matted with a portrait, glazed and in a fine giltwood frame. Unexamined out of frame.
A MISSION OF MERCY FOR A DESTITUTE FRENCH OFFICER. In his rather awkward english, Steuben attempts to aid an ailing comrade-in-arms: "There is a French officer...who has been sick in this Town for upwards of a month and has received from the Continent [the army] nothing but his Rations of Salt provisions. This gentlemen has been extremely sick...and should want at this time some Comforts as Wine, Sugar, Tea, Chocolate and good fresh Meat and bread, these things are granted to the Sick in all the Continental Hospital. I...interest myself very much in this officer...I hear you are now at the head of the Medical Department, if you will be so good as to let me know...where...to procure those Articles so necessary to him in his situation. The present dearness of things does not by any means permit him to purchase them with his own money..."
The soldier who styled himself the Baron Von Steuben joined the American army in February 1777 at Valley Forge, with letters of recommendation from Franklin and Silas Deane, who believed that he had served as aide-de-camp and quartermaster general to Frederick the Great. That he was a simple soldier of fortune who had held no rank higher than captain serves to render his crucial contributions to the American cause all the more remarkable. He was, as Christopher Ward writes, "one of God's best gifts to America in its struggle for liberty" (War of the Revolution, 2:551). Like Washington, von Steuben asked to serve as a volunteer, requesting only that necessary expenses be reimbursed. He was named Inspector General in charge of training the American army and produced a clear, practical manual of drill regulations (written in French, translated by John Laurens, polished by Alexander Hamilton, published 1776), instituted a general drill program and a rigorous training program for the tattered Continentals, instructing them in bayonet use, marching and maneuvers. That training had almost immediate results, displayed first at Monmouth, when the Continentals stood their ground in the face of repeated British bayonet charges. Steuben continued to render valuable services to Washington, and assisted with the siege operations at Yorktown, but by 1782, with the collapse of continental currency, his financial situation had become perilous, and he was forced to petition Congress for relief. After the war, Steuben was granted citizenship and a tract of land in upstate New York. His autograph letters are RARE.