Baron von Steuben was born in Magdesburg in the German Kingdom of Prussia. His father was a Captain in the Royal Prussian Corps of Engineers. He was raised (initially) in Russia, where his father was stationed. At 16, von Steuben joined the Regiment von Lestwitz and in 10 years, he was a second lieutenant in the Frei-Bataillion Mayr.
The Free Battalion was comprised of irregulars from captured deserters and prisoners, so he gained experienced leading undisciplined troops. This experience was invaluable when he came to America to help in the Revolutionary War. Baron von Steuben resigned his commission in the Prussian army but he was bored as a civilian and went to France, looking for a position in the French army. It was there that he met Benjamin Franklin, and he soon became enthralled with the American Revolution and departed for America.
He joined the American army at the Winter Quarters in Valley Forge. An unknown commodity, that did not speak English, the troops were wary and the officers resented him. He learned commands in English by rote, and created an amusing collection of profanities that were a combination of German and English. He created a crack company of soldiers that were so good at drilling that they became drill instructors for the rest of the army.
The discipline that he instilled turned a rag-tag collection of irregulars into a sophisticated army that was capable of going head to head with the British Army. General von Steuben's Blue Book became the army's handbook until the War of 1812.
Milwaukee's German community was as proud of von Steuben as the Polish community was of Kosciuszko, who had a monument built in Kosciuszko Park on the south side. The Steuben Society contracted with J. Otto Schweizer to sculpt a monument of von Steuben in his Revolutionary War uniform. (There is a link to that monument below.)
-Added by J.R. Manning, May 24, 2018