- Valley Forge
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, was the site of the camp of the American
Continental Armyover the winter of 1777–1778 in the American Revolutionary War. This was a time of great suffering for George Washington's Army, but it was also a time of retraining and rejuvenation.
With the winter setting in and the prospects for campaigning being greatly diminished, General George Washington sought quarters for his men. Washington and his troops had just fought what was to be the last major engagement of 1777 at the
Battle of White Marsh(or Edge Hill). He devised to pull his troops from their present encampment in the White Marsh area (now Fort Washington State Park) and move to a more secure location for the coming winter. Though several locations were proposed, he selected Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 22 miles northwest of Philadelphia. It proved to be an excellent choice. Named for an iron forge on Valley Creek, the area was close enough to the British to keep their raiding and foraging parties out of the interior of Pennsylvania, yet far enough away to halt the threat of British surprise attacks. The high ground of Mount Joy and the adjoining elevated ground of Mount Misery combined with the Schuylkill Riverto the north, made the area easily defensible.
December 19, 1777, when Washington's poorly fed, ill-equipped army, weary from long marches, struggled into Valley Forge, winds blew as the 12,000 Continentals prepared for winter's fury. Grounds for brigadeencampments were selected, and defense lines were planned and begun. Though construction of more than a thousand huts provided shelter, it did little to offset the critical shortages that continually plagued the army.
The men were under cover within six weeks. The first properly constructed hut appeared in three days. One other hut, which required 80 logs, and whose timber had to be collected from miles away, went up in one week with the use of only one axe. The men described their lodgings as "cozy and comfortable quarters" and they were proud of the structures they had built. These huts provided sufficient protection from the moderately cold, but mainly wet and damp conditions of the mild, but typical Pennsylvania winter of 1777-78. Snow was limited, and small in amounts. Alternating freezing and melting of snow and ice made it impossible to keep dry and allowed for disease to fester.
Soldiers received irregular supplies of meat and bread, some getting their only nourishment from "firecake," a tasteless mixture of flour and water. However, due to the talents of Baker General Christopher Ludwig, the men at Valley Forge more often than not received fresh baked soft bread, about one pound daily. So severe were conditions at times that Washington despaired "that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place ... this Army must inevitably ... Starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can." Animals fared no better. General
Henry Knox, Washington's Chief of Artillery wrote that hundreds of horses either starved to death or died of exhaustion.
Clothing, too, was wholly inadequate. Long marches had destroyed shoes. Blankets were scarce. Tattered garments were seldom replaced. At one point these shortages caused nearly 4,000 men to be listed as unfit for duty.
Undernourished and poorly clothed, living in crowded, damp quarters, the army was ravaged by sickness and disease.
Typhus, typhoid, dysentery, and pneumoniawere among the killers that felled as many as 2,000 men that winter. Although Washington repeatedly petitioned for relief, the Congress was unable to provide it, and the soldiers continued to suffer. Women, relatives of enlistedmen, alleviated some of the suffering by providing valuable services such as laundry and nursing that the army desperately needed.
Upgrading military efficiency, morale, and discipline were as vital to the army's well-being as was its source of supply. The army had been handicapped in battle because unit training was administered from a variety of field manuals, making coordinated battle movements awkward and difficult. The soldiers were trained, but not uniformly. The task of developing and carrying out an effective training program fell to
Baron Friedrich von Steuben. This skilled Prussian drill master, recently arrived from Europe, tirelessly drilled and scolded the regiments into an effective fighting force. Intensive daily training, coupled with von Steuben's forceful manner, instilled in the men renewed confidence in themselves and their ability to succeed. [ [http://www.psupress.psu.edu/books/titles/0-271-02230-2.html Bodle, Wayne "The Valley Forge Winter", Penn State Press, 2002] ISBN 0-271-02526-3]
A group of people called regimental camp followers also help increase the morale of the soldiers and provided necessary support to the men. Camp Followers at Valley Forge consisted of the families, wives, children, mothers, and sisters of the soldiers. These camp followers often served as laundresses, cleaning and mending the uniforms of the soldiers. Washington understood a soldier would die quickly from disease if his uniform was dirty and threadbare. These women and children also provided the emotional support to a soldier, allowing them to remain at camp and continue on training and soldiering during the winter months. These women gained half the rations of soldiers, half the wages of a soldier as well as a half pension after the war -- if they had done enough work. Children would receive quarter rations if enough work was done. Women were relegated to the back of the column when marching and were forbidden to ride on wagons. Camp followers faced the issues of disease along with the soldiers. While excellent scavengers, some women lost their lives on the battlefield trying to obtain goods off of wounded or dead soldiers. At Valley Forge women averaged 1 to every 44 men, adding up to around 500 women.
Soon word of the British departure from
Philadelphiabrought a frenzied activity to the ranks of the Continental Army. On June 19, 1778, six months after its arrival, the army marched away from Valley Forge in pursuit of the British, who were moving toward New York. The ordeal had ended. The war would last for another five years, but for Washington, his men, and the nation to which they sought to give birth, a decisive victory had been won — a victory not of weapons but of will.text incorporated from [http://www.nps.gov/vafo www.nps.gov/vafo] which is in the public domain] No war took place here.
Freiherr) Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben
Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was a onetime member of the elite General Staff of
Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. No longer in the Prussian Army, indeed without employment of any kind, von Steuben offered his military skills to the patriot cause. When he arrived at Valley Forge from France on February 23, 1778, he was armed with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. General Washington saw great promise in the Prussian and almost immediately assigned him the duties of Acting Inspector General with the task of developing and carrying out an effective training program.
Numerous obstacles threatened success. No standard American training manuals existed, and von Steuben himself spoke little English. Undaunted, he drafted his own manual in French. His aides often worked late into the night, translating his work into English. The translations were in turn copied and passed to the individual regiments and companies that carried out the prescribed
drillthe following day.
Von Steuben shocked many American officers by breaking tradition to work directly with the men. One officer wrote of von Steuben's "peculiar grace" as he took "under his direction a squad of men in the capacity of drill sergeant." From dawn to dusk his familiar voice was heard in camp above the sounds of marching men and shouted commands. Soon companies, regiments, then brigades moved smartly from line to column, column to line; loaded muskets with precision; and drove imaginary redcoats from the field by skillful charges with the bayonet.When the
Continental Armyparaded on May 6, 1778, to celebrate the French alliance with America, von Steuben received the honor of organizing the day's activities. On that day the Grand Parade became a showplace for the united American army. Cannons boomed in salute. Thousands of muskets fired the ceremonial " feu de joie," a running fire that passed up and down the double ranks of infantrymen. Cheers echoed across the fields. The good drilling order and imposing appearance that the troops presented during the Alliance Day ceremonies demonstrated their remarkable progress in improving their abilities as a unified, fighting force capable of standing up to the British Army. Washington, with von Steuben's aid, had made an army of the Continental troops. With their French allies, the Americans could now proceed with the war.
Valley Forge Park
The site of the encampment became a
Pennsylvania State Parkin 1893 and, on the 4th of July, 1976, it became "Valley Forge National Historical Park". The modern park features historical and recreated buildings and structures; memorials; and a newly renovated visitor center, which shows a short film and has several exhibits. A chapel was built in 1903 as a memorial to George Washington. An adjoining carillon of 58 bells represents all U.S. states and territories. It resides in a tower built by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Other park amenities include walking and bicycle trails.
Valley Forge Pilgrimage
* [http://valleyforgemusterroll.org/overview.htm Valley Forge Muster Roll website]
* [http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/ US History page]
* [http://www.nps.gov/vafo/ Valley Forge National Historical Park official site]
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