Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Baron von Steuben's French chef at Valley Forge

Cooking beef on a string.  Steuben's "cook of celebrity" couldn't prepare their ration of beef and bread without utensils. He asked their 'wagoner" how to cook the meat and was told "by hanging it up by a string, and turning it before a good fire..."
The following story may be apocryphal, according to a biography of Steuben:

"When I was about to quit Paris to embark for the United States, the better to insure comfort, when in camp, I judged it of importance to engage in my service a cook of celebrity. The American army was posted at Valley Forge, when I joined it. Arrived at my quarters, a wagoner presented himself, saying that he was directed to attach himself to my train, and obey my orders. 

Commissaries arriving, furnished a supply of beef and bread, and retired. My cook looked around him for utensils, indispensable, in his opinion, for preparing a meal, and finding none, in an agony of despair, applied to the wagoner for advice. ‘We cook our meat,’ replied he, ‘by hanging it up by a string, and turning it before a good fire till sufficiently roasted.’ The next day—and still another passed, without material change. The Commissary made his deposit. My cook showed the strongest indications of uneasiness by shrugs and heavy sighing; but, with the exception of a few oaths, spoke not a word of complaint. 

His patience, however, was completely exhausted; he requested an audience, and demanded his dismission. ‘Under happier circumstances, mon General,’ said he, ‘ it would be my ambition to serve you, but here I have no chance of showing my talents, and I think myself obliged, in honour, to save you expense, since your wagoner is just as able to turn the string as I am.’ 

‘Believe me, gentlemen,’ continued the Baron, ‘the Treasury of America is, at present, just as empty as my kitchen was at Valley Forge; and Mr. Morris wisely retires, thinking it of very little consequence who turns the string.  [Hazard, 1828]

At the commencement of our contest with Great Britain he was a Lieutenant General in the circle of the German Empire, called Swabia, and commanded in chief the forces of the Prince of Beven. He was also a Canon of the Church, and Aid-de-Camp to the King of Prussia, with a revenue from these officers amounting to nearly six hundred pounds sterling per annum. By entering into the service of the United States his rank as a soldier was diminished, and expectation of bettering his fortunes for ever destroyed.  ... [Garden]

3. Washington and his men passed the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, twenty miles from Philadelphia, on the river Schuylkill (skool'-kill). It was a season of want and the most severe suffering. Four thousand men were unable to leave their huts for want of proper clothing, and few had blankets even at night.
4. The British army, who were but twenty miles off, paid for their provisions in gold and silver, while Washington had nothing but the paper money of Congress, which was now of little value. So the farmers preferred selling to foreign soldiers to supplying their own countrymen. Congress therefore authorized Washington to seize upon what he wanted, within seventy miles of the camp.
5. This wretched state of things at Valley Forge caused some members of Congress to think that Washington was incompetent, and several even advised his removal. But the country met the proposal with indignation, and Congress finally saw that they were themselves to blame for the sufferings of the army in winter quarters.
6. They therefore appointed Baron Steuben, who had served under Frederick the Great of Prussia, and had lately arrived in the country, inspector-general of the American army. The good results of his efforts were speedily visible.  [Goodrich]

Garden, Alexander.  Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War in America.  Charleston: 1822
Goodrich, Samuel Griswold.  The American child's pictorial history of the United States, illustrated by sixty engravings.  Phila: 1868
Hazard's Register of Pennsylvania, ed by Samuel Hazard.  Phila: Nov. 1828
Kapp, Friedrich.  The Life of Frederick William Von Steuben.  1859

©2017 Patricia Bixler Reber
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