Winter at Valley Forge
Between 1775 and 1783, the colonies of America fought for their independence from Great Britain during the American Revolution. The British colonists in America rebelled against the rule of the British and eventually the United States became an independent country during the war.
There were many battles that took place during the revolution, but perhaps one of the worst battles involved the American Continental Army versus the winter at Valley Forge in 1777 and 1778. It was here where many people believe became the birthplace of the American Army. Valley Forge is located about 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania.
General George Washington was the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and he chose several reasons for setting up winter camp at Valley Forge. It was close to Philadelphia, which ws where the British had been camping out for the winter. This allowed him to keep a watchful eye on their movements to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania. In addition, it was far enough away from the British, and they would have sufficient time and a warning if the British chose to attack.
The physical location of Valley Forge was also an advantage. There were high areas in Mount Joy and Mount Misery where the army could make fortifications, places for defending themselves from the enemy. Nearby was also the Schuylkill River, which was useful as a barrier to the North.
The army's stay at Valley Forge turned into a time of training. Besides Washington, whose leadership played a key role in the U.S. gaining its independence from Britain, two other leaders included General Friedrich von Steuben and General Marquis de Lafayette.
Steuben was Prussian born and arrived at Valley Forge with a recommendation letter from Benjamin Franklin. He trained the Continental Army using daily drills, even in the extreme cold weather. The troops learned the tactics and discipline of an effective fighting force. In fact, Steuben was responsible for writing the army's Revolutionary War Drill Manual, which was used by the forces until the War of 1812.
Lafayette was a French military leader, working for no pay, and asking for no special treatment, he later became an important commander during several key battles during the war.
Besides the frigid weather, the conditions at Valley Forge were horrible. It was consistently cold, wet, and snowy. In addition, food was scarce, there was very little warm clothing, shoes, or blankets. It was believed only about 1/3 of the soldiers who arrived at the camp had shoes to wear.
The log cabins they lived in were crowded, cold, damp and allowed disease and sickness to easily spread throughout the camp. Of the 10,000 men at Valley Forge, 2,500 died before the break of spring mostly from diseases such as small pox, typhoid fever, and pneumonia.
The only relief the soldiers received was from some of the families of the soldiers who had camped nearby and helped their loved ones survive the winter. George Washington's wife, Martha, also stayed at the camp as well. She helped the soldiers who needed it most, providing baskets of food and socks.
Following the Winter at Valley Forge, under Washington's leadership, a better-disciplined, trained, and stronger army, both physically and in spirit, left on June 19, 1778. Nine days later, their first victory against the British occurred at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey.
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