Historical Context  

Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin Steuben of Prussia, otherwise known as Baron von Steuben, was an aide to Frederick the Great. During the American Revolution, he offered his services to the American cause and was appointed inspector general of the Continental Army. George Washington asked Steuben to create a manual of drill instruction for the Continental Army, and in 1779, Congress adopted the Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States. Largely printed on blue paper-covered boards, Regulations became informally known as the Blue Book. This lesson examines von Steuben’s role in the development of the Continental Army.

Suggested Grade Level

High School

Recommended Time

Two or three fifty-minute class sessions

Objectives and Essential Questions

Students will:

  • Analyze primary sources that explore the evolution of the Continental Army from a poorly disciplined group of regiments gathered from across the states to an efficient fighting force that effectively challenged the British Army on the battlefield.
  • Use primary sources to understand how Continental Army camps encouraged the health of their soldiers, realizing that good health would lead to a well-functioning army.
  • Appreciate how Continental Army regiments worked together as a team to achieve independence.


Materials and Resources

  1. George Washington to Major General Steuben, February 26, 1779
  2. George Washington, General Orders, May 4, 1779
  3. Baron von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States


Background Knowledge

Students should have a basic understanding of the struggles of the Continental Army including problems with recruitment, discipline and the supply of arms and equipment. Students should also be aquatinted Baron von Steuben’s role in increasing the efficiency and discipline of the Continental Army.

Sequence and Procedure

Soon after he took command of the American forces in 1775, General George Washington recognized the need for a standardized drill manual that would bring unity and consistency to the training of the Continental troops. The answer to Washington’s problem was the arrival of Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin Steuben of Prussia, a former aide to Frederick the Great, who came to America in late 1777 to volunteer his services to the cause for independence. He joined General Washington at Valley Forge in February 1778 and quickly made himself indispensable in bringing new order and discipline to the troops suffering under the wretched winter conditions. Recognizing his genius as a military instructor, Washington petitioned Congress to commission Steuben to the post of inspector-general with the rank of major general.

In 1778, Washington assigned Steuben and his staff to Philadelphia to begin work on his long-desired manual of regulations for the army. Steuben, who spoke little English, wrote each passage in practical, simplified French; his staff edited it into literary French and then translated it into English. On February 26, 1779, Washington wrote to Steuben with his thoughts on the progress of the new manual.

1. Have students read Washington’s letter to Steuben and record their answers to the following questions.

  1. Why, when creating a manual meant to be read by officers without a vast military background, do you think Washington wants Steuben to be concise in some aspects, but more detailed in others?
  2. Steuben’s manual was written in French then translated into English. What challenges do you imagine this created in the manual’s creation?
  3. Washington mentions the manual must be approved by Congress before distribution. What does this suggest about the management of the war and the roles of General Washington and the Continental Congress?


The final draft of the Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops in the United States was examined and approved by the Board of War and forwarded on to Congress, with a recommendation for official adoption. On March 29, 1779, Congress passed a resolution ordering that the Regulations “be observed by all the troops of the United States, and that all general and other officers cause the same to be executed with all possible exactness.” Facing paper shortages, the majority of the first printed copies were half-bound in blue paper-covered boards, hence the Blue Book nickname.

Steuben’s manual set a standardized drill for the infantry, laid out command by command. The book also included official regulations for military conduct, from administration and courts-martial to sanitation and hygiene, and a guide to the duties and responsibilities of each rank in the army. It remained in use from 1779 to the beginning of the War of 1812. From the time it appeared in print, General Washington emphasized the use of the Regulations in his general orders and in letters to his officers.

2. Have student’s read Washington’s May 4, 1779 General Orders and answer the following questions.

  1. How does Washington want officers of the Continental Army to make themselves familiar with the contents of the manual?
  2. How does Washington plan on making sure regimental officers are reading and drilling their regiments according to the manual?


3. Instruct students to open the digital copy of Steuben’s Regulations and go to Chapter Five, Of the Instructions of Recruits (pages 5-17, pages 7-21 of the PDF copy). This chapter provides detailed instructions on proper marching and the loading and firing of muskets. Have students read this chapter and take notes on the type of maneuvers and actions the soldiers were expected to learn. After students have made their observations, gather the class and have them share their responses. Have them think about this chapter’s drill and instructions as one would practicing any particular skill such as a sport or a musical instrument. The goal of these highly detailed instructions was to ensure that soldiers could execute these fundamentals automatically on the battlefield, allowing the regiment to fight efficiently as part of a larger group of other Continental Army regiments.

Chapter Eighteen, Necessary Regulations for Preserving Order and Cleanliness in Camp (pages 44-47 pages 60-63 of the PDF copy), explains how to keep camp and soldiers clean and healthy. Have students read this chapter and take notes about the specific methods for maintaining health. After students have completed this task, discuss similarities and differences between what the manual recommends and how we keep ourselves healthy and safe from germs and disease today.

Assessment and Demonstration of Student Learning

The segment titled Instructions (pages 67-80, pages 83-96 of the PDF copy) of Steuben’s manual lists the responsibilities and duties of each rank in a regiment, from its commander to its private soldiers. Encourage students to think of the regiment as a team and that team members each have roles that help the team achieve victory.

Have students select or randomly assign them a rank in the Continental Army (listed below) and have them read their respective section of the instructions. Assign students the task of writing a letter home in the voice of a Continental Army soldier, describing their rank’s responsibilities as well as how they assist in the functioning of the regiment. Have students share their letters with the class.

Commandant of a Regiment







Sergeant Major

Quarter Master Sergeant

First Sergeant of a Company

Sergeants and Corporals

Private Soldier

Revolutionary Achievements Category


Exploring the Revolution Category

The Revolutionary War