Baron Johann DeKalb
Johann DeKalb was born to a wealthy family – their fortune was from the cloth manufacturing industry – in Bavaria. He used the influence inherent in his family’s money to obtain a commission in a Bavarian regiment serving in the French Army. His service during the War of the Austrian Succession, the portion of which fought in North America was known as King George’s War, won him acclaim and he was honored with the title of Baron.
In the late 1760s DeKalb traveled to the American colonies on a diplomatic mission for the French, tasked with determining the level of discontent between the British colonies and their King. DeKalb found the American determination to resist Parliament’s attempts at coercion to be deep set and reported to the French Court that war was likely.
When the war erupted he returned to the Americas, arriving in early 1777, and bringing with him a young French officer named Lafayette. At first Congress could find no employment for the experienced and talented general and he threatened to return to France before being made a major general and assigned to command troops from Maryland and Delaware – some of the finest in the American army – in the southern theater. When Horatio Gates (who claimed credit for the victory at Saratoga won for him by Benedict Arnold and John Stark) was assigned overall command of the southern theater DeKalb bristled, but remained at the head of his troops.
DeKalb was present at the Battle of Camden, when Gates led the southern army to a disastrous defeat before fleeing the battlefield on a horse noted for its endurance and speed. DeKalb remained on the field and was wounded repeatedly by British bayonets. Carried to a British field hospital he was attended to by British commander Cornwallis’s own surgeons, and was visited by Cornwallis as he lay dying of his wounds.
DeKalb was buried at Camden. The esteem in which DeKalb was held by his contemporaries is indicated by the sheer number of towns, counties, streets, schools, memorials and other places which bear his name.