Valley Forge


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George Washington at Valley Forge

George Washington at Valley Forge

Valley Forge. Washington's army encamped at Whitemarsh, in a beautiful valley about 14 miles from Philadelphia, where he remained until December 11, 1777, and proceeded with his half-clad, half-barefooted soldiers to Valley Forge, about 20 miles northward from Philadelphia. These numbered about 11,000 men, of whom not more than 7,000 were fit for field duty. The place was chosen because it was farther from the danger of sudden attacks from the foe, and where he might more easily afford protection for the Congress sitting at York. Bloodstains, made by the lacerated feet of his barefooted soldiers, marked the line of their march to Valley Forge. There, upon the slopes of a narrow valley on the borders of the winding Schuylkill, they were encamped, with no shelter but rude log huts which they built themselves. The winter that ensued was severe. The soldiers shivered with cold and starved with hunger, and there their genuine patriotism was fully tested. The British under Howe had full possession of Philadelphia and of the Delaware below, and Pennsylvania was divided among its people and in its legislature by political factions. General uneasiness prevailed; and when Washington sought refuge at Valley Forge, the Pennsylvania legislature adopted a remonstrance against that measure. To this cruel missive Washington replied, after censuring the quartermaster-general (Mifflin), a Pennsylvanian, for neglect of duty: "For the want of a two-days supply of provisions, an opportunity scarcely ever offered of taking an advantage of the enemy that has not been either totally obstructed or greatly impeded. Men are confined in hospitals or in farmers' houses for want of shoes. We have this day [December 23] no less than 2,873 men in camp unfit for duty because they are barefooted and otherwise naked. Our whole strength in Continental troops amounts to no more than 8,200 in camp fit for duty. Since the 4th inst., our numbers fit for duty, from hardships and exposures, have decreased nearly 2,000 men. Numbers are still obliged to sit all night by fires. Gentlemen reprobate going into winter-quarters as much as if they thought the soldiers were made of sticks or stones. I can assure those gentlemen that it is a much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable room by a good fireside than to occupy a cold, bleak hill, and sleep under frost and snow without clothes or blankets. However, although they seem to have little feeling for the naked and distressed soldiers, I feel superabundantly for them; and from my soul I pity those miseries which it is neither in my power to relieve nor prevent."

At the same time the British army was made as weak by indulgence in the city as were the American soldiers by physical privations, and Franklin was justified in saying, " Howe did not take Philadelphia; Philadelphia took Howe." At Valley Forge Baron Steuben entered upon his duties as inspector-general of the Continental army. There the joyful news reached the American army of a treaty of alliance with France. It was promulgated by Washington in general orders on May 6, 1778. He set apart the next day as one of rejoicing and grateful acknowledgment of the divine goodness in raising up a powerful friend "in one of the princes of the earth." It was celebrated with tokens of delight. The several brigades were drawn up to hear discourses by their respective chaplains. The men were placed in specified positions to fire a feu de joie with muskets and cannon—three times three discharges of thirteen cannon. At the first the army huzzaed, "Long live the King of France"; at the second, "Long live the friendly European powers"; and at the third there was a shout, "The American States." Washington and his wife, and other officers and their wives, attended the religious services of the New Jersey brigade. Then the commander-in-chief dined in public with all the officers. Patriotic toasts were given, and loud huzzas greeted Washington when he left the table. As the season advanced comforts abounded at Valley Forge, the army increased, and on June 18 the encampment broke up and the army began a chase of the British across New Jersey when the latter had evacuated Philadelphia.

A patriotic movement has been started to have the site of the Valley Forge encampment preserved as a public reservation, and on October 19, 1901, the Daughters of the Revolution dedicated there a monument to the memory of the revolutionary soldiers who died during the encampment. The monument is a handsome obelisk of granite, 50 feet high, and at its base appear two bronze panels, one containing the seal of the society and the other representing a scene of camp-life at Valley Forge. Above these the original colonial flag with thirteen stars has been carved in the shaft. The inscription reads: "To the Soldiers of Washington's Army who Sleep in Valley Forge, 1777-78."

Valley Forge Map

Original 1777 Map of Valley Forge and Surrounding Vicinity



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