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Winter in Valley Forge - History

Winter in Valley Forge - History

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Winter at Valley Forge 1777-8

With the British Army secure in Philadelphia, the American army settled into winter quarters at Valley Forge. It was a winter of hardship and suffering for the troops. It was also a winter of training, in which the American troops were taught how to be professional soldiers.


Although seen as a low point in the American Revolution, the winter spent at Valley Forge did help the army. The crossing of the Delaware raised the moral of the army, inspiring many to continue their service. The same battle proved to the world that the American colonists could, in fact, defeat the British.

Valley Forge is the location of the 1777-1778 winter encampment of the Continental Army under General George Washington. Here the Continental Army, a collection of disparate colonial militias, emerged under Washington’s leadership as a cohesive and disciplined fighting force.

A Difficult Autumn

In the fall of 1777, Washington's army moved south from New Jersey to defend the capital of Philadelphia from the advancing forces of General William Howe. Clashing at Brandywine on September 11, Washington was decisively defeated, leading the Continental Congress to flee the city. Fifteen days later, after outmaneuvering Washington, Howe entered Philadelphia unopposed. Seeking to regain the initiative, Washington struck at Germantown on October 4. In a hard-fought battle, the Americans came close to victory but again suffered defeat.

Valley Forge Dbq Analysis

Valley Forge: Would You Quit? Fights turn into battles, and battles turn into wars. This is exactly why I am here at Valley Forge during the American Revolution of 1777 and 1778 (Roden 141). My enlistment is almost up and I need to make a decision to a question that might determine whether I live or die: should I stay at Valley Forge, or leave. Everyone is trying to tell me to leave before I die, but I have already made up my mind.I have decided to stay and fight for my soon-to-be country because&hellip

American Revolution: The Winter at Valley Forge

The American Revolution was not won through the winning of battles. General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, won only three battles during the war: at Trenton, Princeton and finally at Yorktown with the surrender of General Cornwallis. The American Revolution was won through sheer tenacity and the continuing survival of the Continental Army.

No better examples exist of the sheer struggle to survive for George Washington’s army than the winter of 1777-78, spent in Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. After suffering two major defeats at Brandywine and Germantown, the Continental army moved to Valley Forge to spend the winter, arriving on December 19 th , just in time for Christmas. Little fighting was ever done in the winter in the 18 th century, as weather conditions often just did not permit it.

The Continental Army at Valley Forge

Winter at Valley Forge was a harsh one. Exceedingly cold, the ragtag army had little food and supplies. Christmas dinner of 1777 for the soldiers was composed of fire cakes and cold water. Reading the diaries of soldiers who spent the winter there we learn of stories of bloody footprints in the snow left by those who did not even have boots to wear on their feet, not eating for days on end, freezing cold temperatures.

Quarters were built for the wintering soldiers. Every 12 men had a 16 x 14 foot long hut in which they were to sleep in incredibly cramped conditions. They were built two feet into the ground in an attempt to conserve some warmth, but mostly had only dirt floors. Doors were generally composed of a simple cloth blanket draped over the entrance to the huts.

Supplies were hard to find in Valley Forge. While the supplies were available, those in charge of delivering supplies to the camp were apathetic and incompetent, and the soldiers of Valley Forge spent the first half of the winter in fighting for their lives from day to day.

With temperatures averaging in the 20’s and 30’s, rain and snow commonplace, little to no food, inadequate clothing and completely unsanitary conditions disease was rampant. It is estimated that as many as 3,000 men died during the winter due to disease.

Turnaround at Valley Forge

Things began to change as 1777 turned into 1778. In February Prussian military tactician and strategist Baron von Steuben arrived in Valley Forge. Volunteering his services to General Washington, it was his job to turn the ragtag bunch of soldiers who had survived into a well trained fighting machine.

The experiment began with 100 soldiers whom von Steuben himself would personally train. These 100 men would then go to other regiments and train others, who would go on to train others and so on. Von Steuben was angered and surprised to learn that men were put into units before being properly trained, and put into place a system of progressive training, where soldiers would be trained as the progressed from unit to unit.

Von Steuben was a harsh teacher. He spent his days marching up and down the line during drills, yelling and cursing at his students in German and French. Unfortunately for the soldiers, the vast majority of them spoke neither German nor French. Von Steuben then enlisted the aide of Captain Benjamin Walker to translate for him.

Things began to greatly improve for the Continental Army in March of 1778 when Nathanael Greene was appointed quartermaster general. Unlike his predecessor Thomas Mifflin, Greene worked hard to make sure that the troops were well supplied, and things at the camp generally began to grow better. The arrival of a 70 man baking company from Philadelphia also greatly helped matters. These bakers ensured that every soldier at Valley Forge received fresh bread daily.

Between the increase in supplies and the training of soldiers, the Continental Army by the end of June 1778 was a stronger, better prepared and better fed force than they had been the December before. Although there were still three long hard years fighting left ahead of them, they had passed through the hardest months of the war. They had survived, and so had the American spirit for independence. Before this spirit the British would lose the day, unable to continue on.


Bodle, Wayne K. The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

Carp, E. Wayne. To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administration and American Political Culture, 1775–1783. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Greene, Nathanael. The Papers of Nathanael Greene. Edited by Richard K. Showman. 12 vols. to date. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976–.

Morristown: A History and Guide, Morristown National Historical Park, New Jersey. Washington, D.C.: Division of Publications, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1983.

Washington, George. The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series. Edited by Philander D. Chase. 14 vols. to date. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1985–.


It is convenient to imagine the Continental Army in terms of the conventional notion that it 'spent' the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, but the reality of its deployment was much more complex. Valley Forge was most importantly the site of 'Head Quarters.' It housed by far the largest single contingent of troops and officers, it was the heart of the logistical system, and it was the place from which orders came and to which most intelligence was sent. Before the systematic training of the regiments began in late March, however, and to a lesser extent thereafter, many important elements of the army's winter mission were conducted along the far-flung perimeter of the British garrison at Philadelphia. The army perched in a broad, crescent shaped configuration along that perimeter. The crescent was thickest at its center, at Valley Forge, and tapered in either direction toward anchoring points on the Delaware River below Philadelphia at Wilmington, and, more tenuously, above the city at Trenton.

The post at Wilmington was hobbled by a supply situation nearly as bad as the one at Valley Forge, by an acute shortage of horses for scouting and security details, and by the poor turnout of area militia. Smallwood's troops staged the army's biggest coup of the early winter by looting the stranded British brig Symmetry on January 1, but the outpost's chief military value was defensive. Indeed, Washington seized the town largely to prevent the British from doing so. The presence of armed Americans in Wilmington forced the enemy to move warily past it on the Delaware River, constrained their mobility southwest of Philadelphia, and provided much intelligence about enemy movements. The post protected the supply and reinforcement lines to the army from the southern states via the Chesapeake Bay, and it theoretically afforded protection to Whigs and discouragement to Tories in Delaware's three counties and in Salem County, New Jersey, across the river. After the excitement of the brig's capture passed, the garrison settled into a period of relative quiescence. Both the problems and the pleasures of life there reflected those at Valley Forge. Smallwood observed that his troops, like Washington's, were 'pennyless, and are dissatisfied and clamorous.' Between alarms provoked by the movement of enemy ships on the Delaware, they passed the time as well as they could. Whenever they saw the opportunity, many of them deserted and went home.

In Pennsylvania, the detachments were small, mobile, scattered, and frequently mounted, and their responsibilities were more varied than at Wilmington. They had more frequent contact with the enemy and almost constant interaction with civilians as a result of their efforts to enforce the embargo between the city and its hinterland. For administrative purposes, and by tacit agreement between the state and Washington, the area was divided by the Schuylkill River, with the respective spheres designated as 'west' and 'east' of the river. Responsibility for covering the west side was assumed by the Continental Army and was carried out by small rotating patrols from Valley Forge. These parries operated largely autonomously, but their overall supervision after Lord Stirling returned to camp in late December fell to Captain Henry Lee of Virginia, who commanded a company of dragoons. Lee took charge of John Clark's intelligence service in January and assumed responsibility for disrupting trade with Philadelphia west of the river and for the camp's security.

Like many officers whose duties involved regular close contact with civilians, Lee recognized the impossibility of completely segregating them from the enemy. He also developed a keen appreciation for the local inhabitants' point of view, for the unfairness with which the war imposed upon them, and for the need to find flexible solutions to these problems. He drafted a plan for consulting with the farmers in his area to mutually determine the amounts of food and forage they could realistically spare for the maintenance of his patrols. Individuals who agreed to deliver their surplus goods to his quarters would be paid for them and given a 'protection' for the rest of their crops. This would relieve the Continental wagon service, Lee reasoned, and farmers would be 'eased from the dread of the forage masters, whose general injudicious conduct afford[s] just cause for murmers [sic] and complaint.'

It is doubtful whether Lee's project was ever implemented, but it would have been greatly appreciated by local inhabitants. Continental authorities later acknowledged that 'plunder' and 'abuses' were endemic within a radius of 'three miles in every direction' from the camp between December 26 and January 6, after which the regular supply system stabilized. This was a conservative estimate of the spatial and temporal boundaries of the looting that accompanied the move to Valley Forge and the collapse of the Commissary Department. John Lesher, a forgemaster at Oley, twenty-five miles northwest of Valley Forge, complained to state authorities that he considered himself 'no more master of any individual thing I possess,' due to his frequent losses to American soldiers and foraging teams from the Continental wagon service. Lesher endorsed the idea of making requisitions proportional to the needs and resources of civilians, as an alternative to the actual behavior of American troops, who 'under the shadows of the Bayonet and the appellation [of] Tory act as they please.' Farmers in his neighborhood were so discouraged, he wrote, that they were threatening not to plant their fields for the coming season. From Trappe, six miles north of the American camp, Henry Muhlenberg could not find transportation because most wagons and horses had been pressed into service for the army. By late January, Muhlenberg observed, there was a shortage of animal fodder 'over almost the whole [of Providence] Township' because of continuous Continental requisitioning in the area.

Considerable evidence suggests that the decision to concentrate Continental resources west of the Schuylkill was initially effective in suppressing rural trade with the city there. Howe's army, like Washington's, became relatively quiescent during the early weeks of 1778. Having retired to winter quarters at the beginning of the year, well stocked with supplies seized on their late-December forays, the British were generally content to let the area's inhabitants assume the risks of the road with whatever supplementary foodstuffs they were willing to sell. Johann Ewald, a Hessian captain attached to a jaeger corps assigned to patrol the inner periphery of the city, observed that by the middle of January 'Washington began to make the highways around Philadelphia so unsafe with [detached> parties . that the country people no longer dared to bring provisions to market.' The result, Ewald reported, was a precipitous rise in the 'already too high' prices of beef, poultry, milk, and sugar.

By the end of January, Ewald revealed, British commanders found it necessary to resume 'partisan warfare activities . to protect the country people going to market.' Such activities included a more aggressive policy of British patrolling on both sides of the Schuylkill. These patrols generally found themselves 'surrounded by spies,' however, who helped the Continentals frustrate British tactics. Somewhat more effective were the counterrevolutionary measures organized with the help of-and often on the initiative of-local inhabitants whose political sympathies lay with the Crown. Many of the area's Loyalist inhabitants fled to the protection of the British army in the city. A few organized auxiliary militia units to work in cooperation with regular British army patrols to terrorize their Whig neighbors. Jacob James, from Goshen Township in Chester County, joined the British side a few days before the battle of Brandywine. He served as a guide for the Redcoats and worked as a freelance intelligence officer during the autumn. On December 1, 1777, he received a warrant from General Howe to raise an 'independent troop of light dragoons' among his neighbors. By early January, James unleashed his guerrilla squadron on his enemies. Within six weeks this group had become a scourge to the friends of the revolutionary government in Chester County and a source of protection to Loyalists and opportunistic neutrals, and it had come to the alarmed attention of Continental authorities.

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Valley Forge

"An army of skeletons appeared before our eyes naked, starved, sick and discouraged," wrote New York's Gouverneur Morris of the Continental Congress.

The Marquis de Lafayette wrote: "The unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything they had neither coats nor hats, nor shirts, nor shoes. Their feet and their legs froze until they were black, and it was often necessary to amputate them."

A bitter George Washington &mdash whose first concern was always his soldiers &mdash would accuse the Congress of "little feeling for the naked and distressed soldiers. I feel superabundantly for them, and from my soul pity those miseries, which it is neither in my power to relieve or prevent."

The suffering and sacrifices of the American soldiers at Valley Forge are familiar, iconic images, but there is another side of the picture. Valley Forge was where a new, confident, professional American army was born.

Three months of shortage and hardship were followed by three months of relative abundance that led to wonderful changes in the morale and fighting capabilities of the Continental Army.

France would enter the war on the side of the new nation. Valuable foreign volunteers and fresh replacements would trickle into camp.

Most important, it was at Valley Forge that a vigorous, systematic training regime transformed ragged amateur troops into a confident 18th century military organization capable of beating the Red Coats in the open field of battle.

Everything You Need To Know About Valley Forge

Valley Forge had been the Continental Army Encampment during 1777 until 1778. Situated between Mount Joy and Mount Misery on the west bank of the Philadelphia River, it was the perfect, defensible camp and most viable option for shelter and survival against the coming winter. For more fast facts, here’s everything you need to know about Valley Forge:

Fact 1: Although several locations were suggested, General George Washington had chosen Valley Forge as the spot to set up camp. With winter quickly approaching, Valley Forge was the most secure and viable option. It is located 30 kilometers away from Philadelphia.

Fact 2: Valley Forge was named for resembling an iron forge on Valley Creek. The territory was just the right enough distance between the Americans and the Britons, close enough for Washington and his men to keep the British raiding and foraging factions out of Pennsylvania, yet far enough to put a stop to the threats of British surprise attacks.

Fact 3: George Washington and his men had finally made it to Valley Forge on the morning of December 19 th , 1777. Washington and his weary, starving, and ill-equipped men braced themselves for the fury of winter. The winds were merciless, blowing hard against the 12,000 continentals.

Fact 4: In an army of 12,000, only one in every three of them had shoes on. Majority of the men if not perishing from extreme fatigue, cold, and hunger, died from frost bite, lack of proper medication, battle wounds, and exposure. The snow that stretched from the soldier’s long march was covered with bloodied foot prints. It is believed that Martha Washington stayed in camp to bring food and socks around to the soldiers that needed them the most.

Fact 5: With the thickly forested plateau of Mount Joy and the adjoining 3 kilometer long plateau of Mount Misery and the addition of the Schuylkill River up north, Valley Forge was easily defensible. The forests and their abundant timber allowed the men to build shelter. The wood would later be used to build thousands of log huts.

Fact 6: 78 log huts were build in the military camp, all by just one axe! The men would soon be housed in these huts, but sadly, this wasn’t enough to keep the cold and hunger out. 2,500 men died even after the housing was built.

Fact 7: In 1893, the military camp site had become the new Pennsylvania State Park. Shortly after, a Valley Forge National Historical Park had come into full swing and was officiated on the 4 th of July, 1976. There is even a chapel that was built in 1903 to commemorate the war and to serve as a memorial for George Washington. The adjoining carillon of 58 bells represents the all of the United State’s territories.

Fact 8: George Washington’s army had been the most racially integrated army in history up until the start of the Vietnam War. A great number of the general’s men were made up of Native Americans who hailed from the Oneida Indian Nation.

Fact 9: If it wasn’t for men like General Christopher Ludwig, Friedrich Von Steuben, or Henry Knox, the men would have most likely abandoned the cause or disbanded and fled. These men, together with a host of camp followers that were made up of the families of the soldiers, the men’s morale shot up and everyone pulled through.

Fact 10: Roughly 5000 of the soldiers that took part in the war were of African descent. The African Americans were the most active members on the battlefield, a force composed of both free and enslaved men. When the war had ended, a resolution was passed by Congress in 1779 that decreed enslaved man that served the Continental Army, upon release from their service, would become a freed man. Only half were freed.

Valley Forge

Valley Forge was an important place during the course of the American Revolution. It was where the Continental Army set up camp during the harsh winter of 1777–78. Valley Forge is an area in Pennsylvania, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia.

George Washington chose to encamp the army at Valley Forge because it was located between Philadelphia, which the British had occupied, and York, where the Continental Congress was temporarily based. The winter was very harsh. Many of the 11,000 troops lacked shoes and suitable clothes. They suffered from poor nutrition, and many died of exposure. More than 2,000 soldiers deserted the army. However, the strong leadership of Washington held the army together. The soldiers maintained their courage and morale throughout the difficult winter.

One of the most significant events at Valley Forge was the arrival of Frederick William Steuben. Steuben traveled to America from Europe to help train the army to fight. He helped the soldiers become organized and disciplined. When the Continental Army broke camp in June 1778, it was a well-disciplined and efficient fighting force.

Major portions of the original camp are now part of the Valley Forge National Historical Park. It includes Washington’s headquarters, re-creations of log huts, various monuments, and Washington’s Memorial Chapel.

Watch the video: Valley Forge, 1777 The American Revolution cartoon (May 2022).