Washington’s Gay General: The Legends and Loves of Baron von Steuben

Do you have a favorite vacation memory? Mine is when my parents took us to Washington DC for the very first time. We spent a week visiting the museums and monuments to learn history and peak into the past. The monument I found most interesting was the one dedicated to Baron von Steuben. I had never heard of Baron von Steuben before, so I took a picture to research later. I discovered that he was one of the most important military leaders of the American Revolution, but is often forgotten. The fact that stuck out the most? von Steuben was openly gay. Flash forward. Imagine my surprise when I found Washington’s Gay General: The Legends and Loves of Baron von Steuben written by Josh Trujillo and illustrated by Levi Hastings on the new graphic novel shelves at work. I immediately checked it out to learn more!

Washington’s Gay General covers von Steuben’s young life in Prussia, his military history, to his death in upstate New York in 1794. Von Steuben served in the Prussian military for years before he was dismissed from the army due to rumors of homosexuality. After he was fired, he bounced from job to job, eventually accepting an offer from Benjamin Franklin to help the Continental army. His military qualifications led George Washington to accept him and to welcome his help. von Steuben drilled soldiers with the strict techniques he developed in Prussia, while also socializing with his troops. There are written records of sexually charged parties and intense relationships with other men. Those never affected his ability to lead the army. Having been made Inspector General, von Steuben taught more effective fighting techniques and worked hard to instill discipline. He also wrote a drill manual called the Blue Book that Army still uses parts of today.

von Steuben was instrumental in helping the Americans win the Revolutionary War. He became one of Washington’s most trusted advisors, serving eventually as his chief of staff. After the war ended however, Congress was hesitant to fulfill all the promises they made to von Steuben in the first place. It took years for them to pay him for his efforts, leading him to take out ever increasing loans to fund his lifestyle and that of his entourage of young men.

My description of this book and of von Steuben’s life is incredibly short for such a multi-faceted man. I encourage you to pick up Washington’s Gay General and to look up him up in other resources to learn more.

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