Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

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place his army in a state of siege. The British army took



the road to New York, and Washington upon hearing of
the movement broke camp at Valley Forge and followed
the British commander with his whole available force, de-
termined, if a favorable opportunity presented, to give him

Steuben, who was on a visit to Congress at York, Pa.,
immediately set out and joined the army in New Jersey.
Washington sent him in advance to watch the movements
of the enemy, and when the battle of Monmouth was
brought on, June 28, ho was on Washington's staff
without any command in the field. Upon the retreat of
General Lee, Washington assigned Steuben and Wayne to
the difiicult duty of checking the retreat and re-forming
Lee's corps under the enemy's fire, a most hazardous and
difficult operation with the best disciplined troops. Wayne
was assigned to the right and Steuben to the left wing, and
the simple fact that both commanders accomplished their
object, and checked the British advance, shows how thorough
had been Steuben's instructions in the camp at Valley
Forge. Colonel Hamilton, who witnessed Steuben's opera-
tion on that field, was struck with admiration at the cool-
ness and precision with which the troops manceuvered
under a heavy fire of infantry and artillery, and said that
" he had never known or conceived the value of military
discipline until that day."

While reconnoitering on the 27th, the baron narrowly
escaped being made a prisoner. He and his two aids were
alone, and, while looking for the enemy,

" Steuben heard a rustling near, and looking towards it he saw two
of the enemy's light horse emerging. He had just time to discharge
his pistols before he turned his horse and leaped a fence, his hat falling
off as he rode. The horsemen did not firo at him, but hallooed to him
to stop. He supposed his two aids were captured, but while making
his report at headquarters he was surprised at the entrance of Walker
and his companion, and exclaimed, ' How is this ! I thought you were
taken prisoners !' ' Oh, no,' said Walker, ' they wore intent on the high
prize and overlooked us.' ' Have you brought my hat V ' Oh, no, baron,
we had not time.' After the battle some prisoners were brought to head-
quarters, and one of them, after being examined, addressing Steuben,
said, ' I believe, general, I had the honor of seeing you yesterd.ay, and
thought to get a more splendid prize than your hat.' ' Why did you
not fire?* 'You were recognized by General Kniphausen, and our
orders were rather to take you if we could do it without harming
you.' "■*

The baron constituted one of the court-martial which
tried General Lee, and his statements called out a personal
allusion from Lse, which led to a challenge from Steuben ;
but Lee's explanation settled the matter without bloodshed.
The baron's command was only temporary, and upon the
arrival of the army at White I'lains he assumed his old
position of inspector-general.

In March, 1779, Steuben's system of regulations and
tactics for the American army was adopted by Congress,
and ordered printed and distributed. It was the first work
of the kind compiled and published in America, and became
standard authority in the United States army for many years,
probably until superseded by General Scott's tactics subse-
quent to the war with Great Britain, 1812-15. During a
portion of the winter of 1778-79 the baron was busily en-
gaged at Philadelphia upon his work, but he rejoined the

^ Verbal communication by John AV. Mulligan, in Sta.pp'3 " Life" of
the baron.

army again, in New Jersey, on the 26th of March. Here
he put his new system in practice, and worked assiduously
and most successfully in improving and disciplining the
army until the enemy opened the campaign of 1779. One
of his famous reviews is thus described by Dr. Thatcher :

" On the 28th of May Baron Steuben reviewed and inspected our
brigade. The troops were paraded in a single line with shouldered
arms, every oERcer in his particular station. The baron first reviewed
the line in this position, passing in front with a scrutinizing eye ; after
which he took into his hands the musket and accoutrements of every
soldier, examining them with particular accuracy and precision, ap-
plauding or condemning according to the condition in which he found
them. He required that the muskets and bayonets should exhibit the
brightest polish;' not a spot of rust, or defect in any part, could elude
his vigilance. He inquired, also, into the conduct of the officers to-
wards the men, censuring every fault and applauding every meritorious
action. Next he required of me, as surgeon, a list of the sick, with a
particular statement of their accommodations and mode of treatment,
and even visited some of the sick in their cabins. The baron is held
in universal respect, and considered as a valuable acquisition to our
country. He is distinguished for his profound knowledge of tactics,
his ability to reform and discipline an army, for his affcclionnte attach-
ment to a good and fnithful soldier, and his utter aversion to every
appearance of insubordination and neglect of duty. The Continental
army has improved with great rapidity under his inspiration and

When the French minister, Chevalier M. de la Luzerne,
was to be received in camp, no one but the baron was
familiar with the etiquette necessary on the occasion, and
he was made master of ceremoities. He experienced, in
common with all the army officers, an immense amount of
trouble in obtaining money for his expenses, and it took
Congress a long time to remedy the evils of tlie pay de-
partment. So desperate did the situation finally become
that Steuben thought seriously of resigning his commis.sions
and returning to Europe; but better counsels prevailed,
Congress succeeded in relieving his immediate wants, and
his services were saved to the country. Steuben served
with distinction in the Jerseys, and on the Hudson, at West
Point, during the year 1780, perfecting and introducing
his new system of organization into the American army,
and with such success as to win the admiration and cause
the astonishment of the veteran officers of the French
army. He was one of the board of fourteen general officers
who examined and reported upon the case of Major John
Andre, the British spy, and confrlre of the traitor Arnold.
His feelings and sympathies concerning that most remark-
able episode of the war are best illustrated by an anecdote
related by Jonathan Steuben, and published in Jones'
"Annals of Oneida County" :

" On one occasion, after the treason, the baron was on p.arade at
roll-eall, when the detested name, Arnold, was heard in one of the
infantry companies of the Connecticut line. The baron immediately
called the unfortunate possessor to the front of the company. He was
a perfect model for his ])rofessiou, — clothes, arms, and equipments in the
most perfect order. The practiced eye of the baron soon scanned the
soldier, and * Call at my miirquee after you are dismissed, brother
soldier,' was his only remark. After Arnold was dismissed from
parade, he called at the barou's quarters as directed. The baron
said to him, * You are too fine n soldier to bear the name of .a traitor j
change it at once, change it at once,' * But what name shall I take ?'
replied Arnold. 'Any that you please, any that you glease; take
mine, if you cannot suit yourself better ; mine is at your service,'

" Arnold at once agreed to the proposition, and immediately re-
paired to his orderly; and Jonathan Steuben forthwith graced the
company-roll in lieu of the disgraced name of him who had plotted



William De Steuben an annuity of $2500 during life, to commence on
the first of January last, to be paid in quarterly payments at the
treasury of the United States; which said annuity shall be considered
in full discharge of all claims and demands whatever of the said
Frederick William De Steuben against the United States,
"Feedeeick Atigdsttjs Mchlenberq,

" Speaker of the tfuuHe of Repreaentativea.
"John Adaus,
" Vice-Preaident of the United Statea and Preaident of ike Senate.
"Approved June 4, 1790.

" George Washington,

" Preaident of the United Statea.*'

The " Order of the Cincinnati" Was established by the
officers in the spring of 1783, before the disbandment of
the army. At the preliminary meeting, held on the 10th
of May, Steuben presided. Washington was the first
president. Steuben was vice-president of the New York
State Society of the Cincinnati from 1785 to 1786, and
president from 1786 until 1790.

Though Congress failed to make any donation of lands
to the baron, several of the States remembered him in the
most generous and handsome manner. The State of Penn-
sylvania made him a citizen of the commonwealth, and
presented him with a tract of 2000 acres of land in West-
moreland County. Virginia presented him with 15,000
acres in Ohio, then a part of her territory, and New Jersey
gave him a life-lease of a forfeited estate belonging to John
Zabriskie, in Bergen township. This, however, Steuben
refused to accept when he found that Zabriskie, in conse-
quence of the confiscation, was left without means. He
also interposed in behalf of Zabriskie.

The cities of Albany and New York honored him with
their freedom, and on the 5th of May, 1786, the Legisla-
ture of New York granted him one-quarter of a township
of land, equivalent to 16,000 acres, in the territory pur-
chased of the Oneiila Indians. This territory was situated
north of the city of Utica, and mostly within the present
township of Steuben.

After the close of the war, " the baron,'' as he was fa-
miliarly known, lived for some years in the city of New
York, where he was a great favorite with all classes, and
especially among the ladies.

A characteristic anecdote is related of him on the occa-
sion of the " doctor's mob," about 1787, when by the care-
less exposure of a subject in the dissecting-room a certain
doctor called down the vengeance of the rabble upon his
head. The militia had been called out, and Governor
Clinton was on the ground, together with many prominent
officials and citizens ; among the rest Steuben, who in the
moment of greatest excitement was remonstrating with the
Governor against firing on the crowd. While earnestly en-
gaged, a stone struck him on the head, and for a moment
stunned him ; as his friends were carrying him away he
revived, and waving his hand cried out, " Fire, Governor,
fire !"

In April, 1787, Steuben was appointed by the Legisla-
ture one of the regents of the State University. The body
numbered twenty-two, and its duties were to visit and in-
spect all the colleges and academies in the State, and make
an annual report to the Legislature.

Previous to 1790 the baron bad visited his lands onee

or twice. In June of that year he made another visit, and
remained several months.

Among the highest points in the county of Oneida are
Steuben and Starr hills, which are on this tract ; from the
top of which, it is stated in Mr. Jones' " Annals," seven dif-
ferent counties can be seen.

On the 4th of July, 1790, the baron gave a dinner to
all the men on his land and the settlers in the neighbor-
hood. Whenever he found a worthy Revolutionary soldier
he made him a present of a lot of from 40 to 100 acres in

He spent the summers on his land, but returned regu-
larly to New York in the autumn, and remained through
the winter.

In 1793, when there was prospect of trouble with Great
Britain, Steuben made an examination of the harbor of
New York, and drew up a plan for its defense. In March,
1794, a commission consisting of Steuben, Peter Ganse-
voort, Jr., William North, Stephen Van Rensselaer, John
Taylor, John Verner, and Daniel Hale, was appointed by
the Legislature to superintend the erection of the necessary
fortifications, etc., for the protection of the western and
northern frontiers of the State. Of this commission
Steuben was chosen president, and in company with Col.
North and Stephen Van Rensselaer visited the region
about Oneida and Onondaga Lakes. They met a large
assemblage of Indians, some hostile and others friendly to
the United States, at Salt Point, on the last named lake.
The hostility of some of the savages was so manifest
against Steuben that he was obliged to return by land to
Fort Stanwix to avoid capture.

His lands were mostly leased at the rate of from ten to
twenty dollars for every hundred acres, and at the time of
his death some twenty families were living on his tract.
He enjoyed himself greatly upon his estate, and intended
erecting a splendid mansion and making great improve-
ments, but had not accomplished much more than the
erection of a log house at the date of his death.

Many of his old military friends visited him, and always
enjoyed the most unbounded hospitality. He delighted to
discuss the political situation and the wars in Europe, but
never could comprehend why the Prussian eagles should
retreat before the French.

" Ah," said an old man who had been a captain, and
afterwards kept a public-house near Utica, " how glad I am
to see you, baron, in my house ! but I used to be dreadfully
afraid of you."

" How so, captain ?"

" You hallooed and swore and looked so dreadfully at me
once, baron, that I shall never forget it. When I saw you
so strict to the officers on my right, I felt very queer ; and
when you came up to me, baron, I hardly knew what to
do, and I quaked in my shoes."

" Oh, fi done, captain I"

" It was bad, to be sure," said he ; " but you did halloo
most tremendously."

In conversation with his friends about military matters,
he once criticised the genius of the people of the different
States for warfare, saying, " Of all the Americans the
Yankees are, in my opinion, the best soldiers j they are thq



most iDtelligent, and in some respects the best troops in the
world. But they always want to know the reason for the
orders given them by their superiors, and are too fond of
improving upon the plans of the latter."

He was sharp at repartee, as the following anecdote from
" Jones' Annals" illustrates : '* An old seaman by the name
of Simeon Woodruff, who had circumnavigated the world
with Captain Cook, had bought a piece of land from Steu-
ben. On a certain occasion, while on one of his annual
winter visits to the city of New York, some of his friends
rather jeered him for attempting to settle the mountains up
at the head of the Mohawk. Steuben was a little nettled,
and at once retorted ' that it was the best land in the world,
and he could prove it.'

" The proof was challenged, and it was at once given, as
follows : * Why, there is Captain Simeon Woodruff, who
has sailed around the globe with Captain Cook, and he has
bought a farm on my patent and settled on it ; and sure if
in all his voyages a better location had been found, he would
not have done so.' '*

A rich anecdote is told at the baron's espense, which
illustrates his irritability under difficulties, which was, no
doubt, a prominent characteristic. It would appear that he
was drilling a body of raw troops, who, between his imper-
fect English and their own ignorance, made very indifferent
progress :

*' After having exhausted his rich store of German and French
oaths, he is said to have called Walker (his aid) to his asaistancej
vociferating, ' VienSf WalJser mon ami J viens, 7non ion ami ! Sacri —
God damn de gaucheriea of deae badauts ie ne puis plits, I can curse
dem no more !' "

A couple of incidents at the close of the war show the
baron's character in another light :

" Steuben was rather haughty in his bearing, which did not in the
least diminish his frankness and cordiality in social intercourse, and
he was of easy access, benevolent, and full of a high sense of justice.
At a review near Morristown, a Lieutenant Gibbons, a brave and good
officer, was arrested on the spot, and sent to the rear, for a fault which
it afterwards appeared another had committed. At a proper moment
the commander of the regiment came forward and informed the baron
of Mr. Gibbons' innocence, of his worth, and of his acute feelings
under the unmerited disgrace. 'Desire Lieutenant Gibbons to come
to the front, colonel. Sir,' said the baron, addressing the young gentle-
man, ' the fault which was committed, by throwing the line into con-
fusion, might, in the presence of an enemy, have been fatal. I ar-
rested you as its supposed author, but I have reason to believe that I
was mistaken, and that, in this instance, you were blameless. I ask
your pardon J return to your command. I would not deal unjustly
towards any one, much less towards one whose character as an offi-
cer is so respectable.' All this passed with the baron's hat off, the
rain pouring on his venerable head. Do you think there was an
officer or soldier who saw it unmoved by affection and respect? Not

At the disbandment of the Kevolutionary army, when
inmates of the same tent or hut for seven long years were

" I saw," says North, "the baron's strong endeavors to throw some
ray of sunshine on the gloom, to mix some drops of cordial with the
painful draughts. To go they knew not whither: all recollection of
the art of thriving by civil occupations was lost, or to the youthful
never known. To go in silence and alone, and poor and helpless, it
was too hard. To a stern old officer, a Lieutenant- Colon el Cochrane,
from the Green Mountains, who had met danger and difficulty at

* Life of Ashbel Greene, by Joseph H. Jones, New York. From
Kapp's Life of Steuben.

almost every step from his youth, and upon whose furrowed visage a
tear till that moment had never fallen, the good baron said what
could be said to lessen deep distress. ' For myself, * said Cochrane, ' I
care not; I can stand itj but my wife and daughters are in the gar-
ret of that wretched tavern. I know not where to remove, nor have
I the means of their removal.' 'Come, my friend,' said the baron,
Met us go; I will pay my respects to Mrs. Cochrane and daughters,
if you please.' I followed to the left, the lower rooms being all filled
with soldiers, with drunkenness, despair, and blasphemy. And when
the baron left the poor, unhappy castaways^ he left hope with them
and all he had to g!ve."f

"A black man, with wounds unhealed, wept on the wharf, for it
was at Newberg where this tx*agedy was acting. There was a Vessel
in the stream, bound to the place where he once had friends. He had
not a dollar to pay his passage, and he could not walk. Unused to
tears, 1 saw them trickle down the good man's cheeks as he put into
the hands of the black man the last dollar he possessed. The negro
hailed the sloop, and cried, ' God Almighty bless you. Master Baron !' "f

" Steuben was never married. It seems, however, that he met with
a disappointment in early life. While preparing to remove to his
farm, the accidental fall of a portrait of a most beautiful young
woman from his cabinet, which was picked up by his companion and
shown to him, with the request to be told from whom it was taken,
produced a most obvious emotion of strong tenderness, and the pa-
thetic exclamation, ' Oh, she was a matchless woman !' He never
afterwards alluded to the subject."^

The baron died from an attack of paralysis, on the 28th
of November, 1794, and his body was wrapped in his mili-
tary cloak and buried by his servants and friends, in the
midst of a dense grove of timber, on his land.

'' No useless coffin enclosed his breast,

Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him ;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest.
With his martial cloak around him."

A road, which was subsequently laid out, passed over
the grave, and necessitated the removal of the remains
to another locality, about a quarter of a mile north of
his house. His old friend, Walker, performed this duty,
and afterwards placed an iron railing around his grave.
A stone, with the simple inscription, *' Major-General
Frederick William Augustus, Baron de Steuben,"
marks his resting-place.]! His friend. Colonel North, sub-
sequently placed a tablet to his memory in the Lutheran
Church, Nassau Street, New York, where he attended
when in the city, and caused the following inscription to be
placed upon it :

"Sacred to the Memory of


A German; Knight op the Order of Fidelity j

Aid-de-Camp to Frederick the Great, King of Prussia;

Major-General and Inspector-General

In the Revolutionary War.

Esteemed, respected, and supported hy Washington,

He gare military skill and discipline

To the citizen soldiers, who,

Fulfilling the Decrees of Heaven,

Achieved the independence of the United States.

The highly-polished manners of the Baron were graced

By the most noble feelings of the heart.

His hand, open as the day to melting charity,

Closed only in the grasp of death.

This memorial is inscribed by an American, who had the honor to be

his aid-de-camp, the happiness to be his friend.

Obiit, 1795."

t Kapp's Life of Steuben.
J Thatcher ; from Kapp.
§ Garden's Anecdotes ; from Kapp.

II The accompanying sketch shows the new monument, erected in
1870-72. It b^ars the simple inscription— STEUBEN.





Steuben's monument.

Baron Steuben had given directions previous to his death
that his remains sh.ouId be interred under the wild forest-
trees, in some secret spot, where they might forever remain
hidden from human ken. But this request could not be
fulfilled, though the few mourning friends who laid him in
his last resting-place complied as far as possible with his
desire. His grave was dug, amid the early snows of Novem-
ber, in a quiet and secluded locality, under the great trees
of what was then a wide-spreading forest. Many years
later a road was opened, which made it necessary to remove
the remains. His aid-de-camp and adopted son. Colonel
Walker, re-interred them where they now repose, and deeded
fifty acres of land to the First Baptist Society of Steuben,
on condition that five acres, including the baron's grave,
should be set apart, fenced, and kept in a state of nature. The
society was faithful to the trust reposed in them, and relig-
iously preserved the ground.

In 1824 a plain, simple monument was erected over the
remains, which remained until replaced by the present more
costly and substantial one, built in 1870-72. Some years
before the war of the Rebellion, the State Legislature ap-
pointed a sum of public money for the purpose of erecting
a monument, and this was subsequently turned over to an
association of the friends and admirers of the veteran, who
have at length completed the work. [See accompanying
view.] A large measure of credit is due to Governor Sey-
mour for the success of this undertaking.

On the 1st of June, 1870, the corner-stone of this monu-
ment was laid in the presence of a great concourse of people,
largely composed of the citizens of Steuben and other por-
tions of Oneida County. The excursion train from Utica
took up about a thousand persons, among whom were ex-
Governor Horatio Seymour, General Franz Sigel, Mr. S.
Carl Kapff, the New York Liederkranz, the Utica Citi-
zens' Corps, accompanied by the Utica City Band and many
distinguished citizens. The concourse upon the grounds,
which are situated about four miles west of Remsen Station,
was estimated at from 3000 to 6000, and was the largest
ever seen among the hills of Steuben.

At the suggestion of Hon. William Lewis, Governor Sey-
mour was unanimously chosen chairman. After music by
the band, and prayer in the Welsh language, by Rev. Robert
Everett, Governor Seymour introduced Mr. Kapff to the
assembly, who spoke in behalf of the Steuben Sckeutzen
society, of New York, giving a brief history of the origin
and progress of the movement having for its object the erec-
tion of this monument.

Following Mr. Kapff, Deacon D. M. Crowell made an ad-
dress of welcome, in behalf of the citizens of Steuben and
Remsen, to the distinguished guests and admirers of Steuben,
who had come from near and far to do honor to the "hero's
memory. At the conclusion of Deacon Crowell's remarks
the Liederkranz society, of whom thirty-five members were
present, sang the ode, Der Tag des Rerren^ which was most
excellently rendered.

Following this piece of music. Governor Seymour made

Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 179 of 192)