Johann de Kalb came to America with the Marquis de Lafayette in 1777 to help the colonies fight against the British during the American Revolution. He was a veteran of the French and Indian War and had spent time in the colonies, gathering intelligence for the French Foreign Ministry. He was commissioned as a Major General in the Continental Army. He died in 1780 from wounds he suffered at the Battle of Camden.
Facts About His Early Life, Education, and Family
- Born on June 29, 1721, in Huttendorf, Germany.
- His father was Johann Leonhard Kalb.
- His mother was Margarethe Seitz.
- Attended school at Kriegenbroon.
- Left home in 1737 at the age of 16.
- Married Anne Elizabeth Emilie van Robais.
- They settled at Courbevoie, near Versailles.
Facts About His Early Military Career
- Joined the Loewendal German regiment in the French army in 1737.
- Fought in the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and was a Captain by the end of the war.
- Became a Knight of the Royal Military Order of Merit in 1763 and was made a Baron.
- Retired from the military in 1764.
Facts About His Role in the French and Indian War
- He was sent by Duke de Choiseul, head of the French Foreign Ministry, to the colonies to gather information about the attitude of colonists about the British.
- He was eventually arrested on suspicion of spying, but released due to lack of evidence.
- After spending four months in the colonies, he returned to France, where he reported the colonies were not happy with British rule.
Facts About His Role in the American Revolution
- After the American Revolution started, he approached Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin in Paris about serving in the Continental Army. Deane promised him, and many others, a commission as a Major General.
- On April 20, 1777, he sailed to America with the Marquis de Lafayette and Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier on Lafayette’s ship, Victorie.
- They arrived at Charleston, South Carolina on June 13, 1777, then went to Philadelphia to meet with the Continental Congress. They arrived in Philadelphia on July 27.
- Congress initially refused to honor the commission that Deane had promised de Kalb.
- De Kalb was furious and demanded Congress either honor the commission or pay for his expenses for the trip from France and his return voyage.
- Congress agreed to honor the commission, and de Kalb was made a Major General on September 15, 1777, and then joined Washington and his staff at Valley Forge.
- He was given command of a division of troops from Massachusetts in November 1777.
- In February 1778, Congress planned an attack against Canada, and Lafayette was chosen to lead the expedition. Lafayette requested de Kalb as his second-in-command.
- Lafayette and de Kalb went to Albany and assessed the condition of the troops. They determined they were not organized enough to carry through with the attack and it was called off. Lafayette and de Kalb went back to Valley Forge.
- De Kalb helped Baron von Steuben train the Continental Army at Valley Forge.
- De Kalb was with Washington during the Monmouth Campaign in New Jersey and operations around New York. His division participated in the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778.
Facts About His Role in the Battle of Camden (1780)
- De Kalb marched his 1,400 troops toward Camden, South Carolina. They left Morristown, New Jersey on April 16, 1780.
- Met up with forces under the command of Horatio Gates on July 25 near Greensborough, and were then reinforced by troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Porterfield, General Richard Cresswell, and General Edward Stevens.
- The American force marched to Camden on the evening of August 15 and met British forces under the command of General Charles Cornwallis on August 16.
- The militia from Virginia and North Carolina broke ranks and fled when the British made a bayonet charge, creating panic among the American forces.
- Cornwallis moved a cavalry unit to the rear of the American position. De Kalb refused to retreat and tried to rally his troops, but fell from his horse. He was wounded 11 times, mostly by bayonet, and taken prisoner.
- He died from his wounds on August 19, 1780.
- He was buried in a cemetery near the battlefield, and his remains were reinterred at the Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Camden, South Carolina in March 1825.
Painting depicting the death of Johann de Kalb at the Battle of Camden.
Facts About His Legacy
- A monument sits at his gravesite at Bethesda Presbyterian Church. The monument was designed by Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument. Lafayette laid the cornerstone for the monument.
- Dekalb, Illinois is named in his memory.