His military career in Europe culminated in 1776, when he was commissioned a brigadier general in the French army. De Kalb subsequently decided to seek his military fortune in America, where he was contracted as a major general in the Continental army.
Soldier. The man who was to be known in America as “Baron de Kalb” was born Johann Kalb to peasant parents in the Bavarian hamlet of H├╝ttendorf, Germany, on June 19, 1721. He began his military service in 1743 as a lieutenant in a French army regiment under the name of Jean de Kalb. His military career in Europe culminated in 1776, when he was commissioned a brigadier general in the French army. De Kalb subsequently decided to seek his military fortune in America, where he was contracted as a major general in the Continental army. Along with the young Marquis de Lafayette, de Kalb sailed for the colonies in April 1777 and arrived off the coast of Georgetown, South Carolina, in June.
After three years of service with the Continental army, de Kalb received an assignment equivalent with his rank. On April 3, 1780, he was ordered to the relief of Charleston, South Carolina, at the head of the Maryland and Delaware Continental regiments. On July 25, 1780, de Kalb surrendered command to Major General Horatio Gates at Deep River, North Carolina, but remained with the army at the head of his division. Gates chose to directly attack the British garrison at Camden. Three weeks later, on August 16, Gates met Lord Cornwallis six miles north of Camden near Saunder’s Creek. Shortly after the action began, the American militia broke and fled in disorder. The Continentals under de Kalb stood firm and were almost annihilated. De Kalb fell with several wounds and died three days later, on August 19, 1780, a prisoner of war. He was buried by his captors with military honors. In 1825 Lafayette, his comrade in arms, laid the cornerstone of a monument to de Kalb in Camden.
Kapp, Friedrich. Life of John Kalb. New York: Holt, 1884. Sifton, Paul G., ed. “La Caroline Méridionale: Some French Sources of South Carolina Revolutionary History, with Two Unpublished Letters of Baron de Kalb.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 66 (April 1965): 102–8. Zucker, A. E. General de Kalb, Lafayette’s Mentor. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.