by Mark Segal
When President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he might have felt the ghosts of Founding Fathers George Washington and Benjamin Franklin smiling over his shoulder. They might have even whispered in his ear, “It’s about time.”
History clearly recalls that the Revolutionary Army was a rag-tag band of men with little to no military training. We fumbled through the beginning of the war of independence with lack of training, conduct and organization. Washington knew that, without help, the Colonies would lose. Since Washington himself was the best this nation had, he looked to Europe for someone who could bring order to the troops. To that end, Washington wrote the Colonies’ representative in Paris at the time, Franklin, to see what he could find.
Franklin learned of a Prussian military genius, Lt. Gen. Friederich von Steuben, who’d had a string of successes with numerous armies across Europe. There was one problem: Various kingdoms of Europe had asked von Steuben to depart because of his “affections for members of his own sex.” And while Franklin was interviewing him, the situation became somewhat hectic as members of the French clergy decided to make a crusade and drum him out of France.
Franklin had a choice here, and he decided von Steuben’s expertise was more important than his sexual orientation. He and another colony representative, Silas Deane, acted quickly before the clergy could deport von Stuben and sent him to the Colonies to serve with Washington.
Once the lieutenant was here, Washington was concerned about von Steuben’s lack of English, so he appointed two of his officers who spoke French to work as translators. One of those officers was Alexander Hamilton and the other was his close friend Henry Laurens. Some historians claim the two were lovers — but that’s another column.
Washington and Franklin’s trust in von Steuben was realized as he taught the troops the essentials of military drills, tactics and disciplines, including how to effectively use a bayonet and organizing a military camp. He authored the “Revolutionary War Drill Manual,” which became the standard drill manual until the War of 1812, and served as Washington’s chief of staff in the final years of the Revolutionary War. He was part of Washington’s inner circle, and a major factor in the victory of the Colonies. (Read an extensive article about von Steuben here, including a very touching letter from George Washington, the last letter that Washington wrote as President of the United States.)
And that, my friends, is why gay history is important. And a fun read.
Article courtesy of Outword magazine.