Valley Forge and the American Revolution
It was not the intention of George Washington to encamp along the Sckuylkill River west of Philadelphia with the British Army in possession of the nation's capital, Philadelphia.  He had spent the better part of the fall of 1777 in losing battles with the British at Brandywine and Germantown, plus a good amount of feint and march, attempting to forestall their progress to occupy Philadelphia and Reading where a large amount of Federal supplies were stored.  Somehow as Washington bridged the gap between those locations, the road to Philadelphia became open, and now, he was forced to winter on the plains of Valley Forge, in 2,000 rough log huts that would test whether a man could withstand one of the coldest winters in memory and live to fight the next spring.  For many men in the 11,000 strong Continental Army at Valley Forge, this would be their last winter.  Valley Forge would see to that for nearly 2,000 soldiers, although the reason for their demise was mostly disease.

Different than most battlefield oriented parks, Valley Forge as much memorial as location to recall activity.  It was the location of a winter encampment where the men of the Continental Army trained under General Baron von Steuben and became an efficient fighting force, but for the most part, they suffered from smallpox and other maladies.  With spring, the troops of Washington that had endured the harsh conditions left Valley Forge an improved force, with a new alliance with France in force as of May 1778.  With the French recognition and their impending arrival, the British force evacuated Philadelphia in June 1778.

Undergoing a massive project to bring the Center of the Revolutionary War to the area, Valley Forge could take on a much increased significance once the expansion is completed several years from today.  At that time, not only will you be able to wander the fields of the encampment, and visit the visitor center and headquarters of Washington and his men, but you will also be able to view a comprehensive display on the entire Revolutionary War.

A visit to Valley Forge on your Philadelphia or Pennsylvania vacation is a must if you wish to understand sacrifice, ... sacrifice for an ideal that had yet been tried, but would eventually lead to the first democratic nation that would fulfill the destiny proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and later codified in the Constitution.

Valley Forge
The Battle Campaign Timeline 1877

British land at Head of Elk,
Chesapeake Bay - 8/25/1777

American Position, Newport,
Delaware - 8/25/1777

Battle of Brandywine - 9/11/1777

British occupation of Philadelphia - 9/26/1777

Battle of Germantown - 10/4/1777

Valley Forge Encampment Begins - 12/19/1777

George Washington, The Prayer at Valley Forge

Things You Should Not Miss

   1. Dip inside a log hut and close the door.  Now imagine yourself stuck inside the small, drafty hut with cold winds seeping through the cracks.  Do that for three or four months, then add in cold training to become a better fighting force, and you get the idea of what life was like here.

   2. Take the ranger guided walk around the restored Washington's headquarters area.  Although this was certainly not a Mount Vernon type structure, there was a grand difference between being a typical soldier stuck inside the log huts that dotted the entire landscape of the park at that time and being a general in the Continental Army.

Valley Forge

   3. Walk up to the Memorial Arch and take a look over the landscape.  What you'll see is almost a recreational atmosphere of children playing, kites flying, joggers jogging, and unfortunately, a skyline in the background for the King of Prussia condominiums.  Take a breath and realize that if it was not for Washington's men giving democracy and freedom a chance with their lives here at Valley Forge, none of that would have been possible.
Washington Memorial Arch at Valley Forge National Park

What is There Now

    * The Valley Forge National Historic Park Visitor Center, off Routes 422, 23, the Schuylkill Expressway & Pennsylvania Turnpike, contains exhibits and an 18 minute orientation film.

    * In the summer, you can drive a self-guided tour around the park or board one of the (fee charged) shuttle buses for a guided tour.  Starting in 2009, there is also a Free Transport Shuttle dubbed the Revolutionary Shuttle, that drives you around the park for Free, stopping you at the main spots, allowing you to visit, then board again to go to the next site.  No guides on these shuttles, but a good new way to get around the park.

Revolutionary Shuttle at Valley Forge

    * Although there are no longer the 2,000 huts that once dotted the landscape, you can visit the hundreds of examples of the soldier log cabins, as well as several of the stone homes of the officers on your tour around the grounds.

    * Camp activities are also demonstrated during summer months and also during special programs.

American Revolution Center

August 2009.  The American Revoloution Center has entered into a historic agreement with the National Park Service to exchange their land in Valley Forge National Park for a site within Indepedence National Historic Park in Philadelphia.  The private musuem will now be sited at 3rd and Chestnut Streets on the site of the former Independence Park Visitor Center.  It is still to be determined whether it will be in the old building or in a newly constructed building, but this location is well suited for both the Revolution Center's mission, while holding none of the controversy of the Valley Forge site.  It also will serve Independence National Park well, as the new visitor center site has pulled some of the traffic from the old center's location.  The American Revolution Center's position closer to City Tavern will assist in that as well. Congratulations to all involved from America's Best History on the new location.  The museum should be up and running within several years, although a target date has not yet been set.  For more info, go to the American Revolution Center website.


Valley Forge Links

Freedom's Foundation at Valley Forge
Independence Hall Association of Philadelphia
Presidential Log Cabins
Valley Forge National Historic Park
Valley Forge Convention & Visitors Bureau

Nearby Attractions

Fort Mifflin
National Constitution Center
Greater Philadelphia Tourism & Marketing Corp.
Experience Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Convention & Visitor's Bureau

Valley Forge Then and Now

Valley Forge

"We have thiis day no less than 2,873 men in camp unfit for duty because they are barefooted and otherwise naked."

- George Washington,  December 23, 1777.

Valley Forge Then

Von Steuben & Formation
Although most of the Valley Forge encampment was spent trying to outlast the winter and overcome disease, it was the system of field formations developed and perfected by the Prussian general which had the most lasting effect on the fledgling nation.  When the battles of 1778 would occur, mostly in New Jersey, the efficiency of the soldiers in battle had been greatly improved.  The above drawing by Augustus G. Heaton, shows the Baron as he readies the troops.

The Continental Soldier
Beginning in 1777, the majority of men in the Continental Army were three year recruits, or for the remainder of the war, if it lasted more than three years.   The above poster (left margin), from World War II, gives an indication of how the nation viewed the soldiers of 1777-8, ... resourceful and willing to sacrifice.

Washington's Prayer
This engraving (above right) by John C. McRae after Henry Brueckner shows the general in the woods of Valley Forge asking for guidance.  It was first published in 1866.

Valley Forge Now

Valley Forge Grand Parade

The Grand Parade Ground
In the open fields of Valley Forge (above), General Van Steuben created an effective fighting force among the men who lasted the winter camp.  Although less famous than the log huts that dot the site, it was perhaps in this field that the most lasting import of the Valley Forge history was made.  The training here gave Washington's men the chance to win the war.

Soldier's Quarters
These log huts of the Muhlenberg brigade (photo at top of page) are examples of the 2,000 cold structures that dotted the avenues of Valley Forge and were home to the 11,000 men encamped there.   Beyond these huts, which they constructed upon arrival, the men also dug redoubts and built a bridge across the Schuylkill River.

The Memorial Arch
Dedicated in 1917 to commemorate the value and sacrifice that the men of Washington exhibited during their stay at Valley Forge, the Memorial Arch (above right) serves as the largest and most visible reminder to the many prayers for sustenance and independence that raged throughout the Revolutionary War.

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Visitor Statistics

Valley Forge National Historic Park
#42 Most Visited Park Unit
1,962,889 Visitors

Park Size

Valley Forge
National Historic Park
3,067 Acres - Federal
3,466 Acres - Total Land

Park Fee

Source: NPS, 2013 Visitor Statistics; Visitor Rank among 369 units.

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