Typically, the histories of Europe are what I tend to post to Thorns of Time, but the truth is, my fascination with history began with the American Revolution, so today I revisit that love with a small “article” on the winter encampment of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I plan to go deeper in depth in the near future, but for today, here is a taste of what will soon become a much larger piece.
The American War for Independence is something every child born into the United States knows a little bit about: the colonials fought against the King of England for their freedom to become a nation of their own. I find the stories of the Revolution to be incredible and inspiring, which led to the two hour road trip I took today to visit the Continental Army’s winter encampment from 1777 to 1778 – the infamous Valley Forge.
When British forces captured the city of Philadelphia, American Commander-in-Chief General George Washington selected this area to settle his troops for the harsh winter. Just eighteen miles from the city, here he could keep an eye on the British and take cover from surprise attacks, but his forces were in terribly poor condition. Tired, cold, sick and starving, the men of the Continental Army were weary and losing the war. Winter was on its way when they settled in Valley Forge in December of 1777 until the end of 1778’s frigid February. Today, the area is registered as a historical park open to bus tours.
I had the pleasure of visiting Valley Forge this spring and was amazed. To know of the hardships the Continental soldiers faced is one thing, but to see firsthand their living conditions really takes your breath away, and I gained a new respect for soldiers in general (my grandfather was in the Marines, so that is saying something, too!).
Food and supplies were severely limited. Congress had not paid its troops, who were promised new clothes and boots but never received them. Housing consisted of tents until cabins could be built – such as the one pictured below – and up to twelve men shared a hut at a time in some cases.
The horrible truth of the soldier’s conditions was that only one third of the men had shoes despite the frigid cold, and one could often see bloody footprints on the snow. Those who did not have durable footwear wrapped their feet in cloth and with the thin wool of their uniform jackets sometimes being the only shelter they had against the harsh conditions, a man was lucky to get through the winter alive. Disease ran rampant, including hypothermia, smallpox, pneumonia, dysentery, and typhoid fever among others. By the spring of 1778, 2500 men and 700 horses lay dead.
However, what keeps Valley Forge from going down in history as a great horror was the fact that here, the men became soldiers. They learned to fight against the most powerful army in the world and became a powerful force to be reckoned with. They trained every day, changing from simple peasants and farmers to a true army fighting for a country that they themselves would bring to life.