We have this day no less than 2,873 men in camp unfit for duty because they are barefooted and otherwise naked." - George Washington, December 23, 1777.
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.
- Then and Now
- Things You Should Not Miss
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.
The Battle Campaign Timeline
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
Battle of Fort Mifflin - 11/10-11/15/1777
Valley Forge Encampment Begins - 12/19/1777
Valley Forge Encampment Ends - 6/19/1778
Valley Forge Then
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 (top center), 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 (below 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
The Grand Parade Ground - In the open fields of Valley Forge (below left), 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 - The log huts of the Muhlenberg brigade (photo left margin and above) 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 (below right) serves as the largest and most visible reminder to the many prayers for sustenance and independence that raged throughout the Revolutionary War.
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.
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.
4. Take advantage of the special walks and talks, such as the Soldiers Walk Into Camp program in winter, around the December 19 date of the actual time Washington got to Valley Forge, or the Soldiers Walk Out, around the June 19 of the time Washington left Valley Forge, prompted by the British evacuating Philadelphia. Yes, they were there six months, all the time while the British dined in Philly. And why did the British finally leave Philadelphia. Well, they were afraid, after the USA alliance with France that France would blockade the Delaware Bay and not allow them to leave. Thanks, France.
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