Kalb was born in Hüttendorf, a village of 600 people near Erlangen, Bavaria, the son of Johann Leonhard Kalb and Margarethe Seitz. He learned French, English, and the social skills to earn a substantial military commission in the Loewendal German Regiment of the French Army. He served with distinguished honor in the War of Austrian Succession in Flanders. During the Seven Years’ War, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and made assistant quartermaster general in the Army of the Upper Rhine, a division created by the disbanding of the Loewendal Regiment. He won the Order of Military Merit in 1763, and was elevated to the nobility with the title of baron.
In 1764, he resigned from the army and married Anna Elizabeth Emilie van Robais, an heiress to a fortune from cloth manufacturing.
In 1768, he traveled to America on a covert mission to determine the level of discontent among colonists by de Choiseul, on behalf of France. During the trip, he gained a respect for the colonists and their “spirit of independence”.
==American Revolutionary War==
In 1777, he returned again with his protégé, the Marquis de Lafayette, and joined the Continental Army. He was disappointed and angry to learn that he would not be made a major general, but with Lafayette’s influence he was appointed to the rank on September 5, 1777, which he learned of as he was already on the road to return to France.
He was at Valley Forge for most of the 1777–78 winter, and commanded a division of Patterson’s and Learned’s Brigades. He wrote letters of introduction for John Adams to the French court. De Kalb wrote: On the whole, I have annoyances to bear, of which you can hardly form a conception. One of them is the mutual jealousy of almost all the French officers, particularly against those of higher rank than the rest. These people think of nothing but their incessant intrigues and backbitings. They hate each other like the bitterest enemies, and endeavor to injure each other wherever an opportunity offers. I have given up their society, and very seldom see them. La Fayette is the sole exception; I always meet him with the same cordiality and the same pleasure. He is an excellent young man, and we are good friends… La Fayette is much liked, he is on the best of terms with Washington.
DeKalb was assigned to command a division of Maryland and Delaware troops, and he was ordered south as reinforcements. During the British southern campaign, he was disappointed to learn that Horatio Gates had been appointed to command instead of him. Gates led the army to a disastrous defeat at Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780. De Kalb’s horse was shot from under him, causing him to tumble to the ground. Before he could get up, he was shot three times and bayonetted repeatedly by British soldiers. His friend and aide, the Chevalier du Buysson, was seriously wounded blocking additional blows with his own body.
It is reported that Cornwallis supervised as De Kalb’s wounds were dressed by his own surgeons in Camden, South Carolina. De Kalb replied to a British officer, “I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.” He died three days later and was buried in Camden.
DeKalb was greatly revered by his contemporaries. Numerous towns and counties in the U.S.A. are named DeKalb after him, in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Tennessee and Texas. Streets include the DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn, New York City, Merrick, New York and others. His portrait was painted posthumously by Charles Willson Peale. In 1886, a monument to Baron de Kalb was erected on the grounds of the Maryland state house to honor his contributions to the American Revolution. An American elementary school run by the U.S. Department of Defense in Nuremberg, Germany was named for him; it closed in the 1990s.