Remembering A Christmas Past: Valley Forge
Remembering A Christmas Past: Valley Forge
It was six days before Christmas in 1777, when General George Washington camped with his troops at Valley Forge, approximately twenty miles, or one day’s march, north of Philadelphia. He went into the Christmas season with the hope that his officers and soldiers, with “one heart” and “one mind,” would overcome the very clear troubles that quickly lay ahead of them.
It seems General Washington chose Valley Forge as the winter encampment for his 11,000 men, along with approximately 500 women and children who accompanied them, for many reasons but here are three. First, the lay of the land made Valley Forge a natural fortress, so defensible. The army’s camp sat high on a plateau at the top of a series of hills that protected it. The soldiers lived in huts built on the plateau and continued training on the parade ground at its center. Secondly, after fleeing Philadelphia, Congress were at York PA, which was west of Valley Forge. Washington’s troops at Valley Forge between the British and York were a protection for Congress. Lastly, Valley Forge was close enough to the occupied capital of Philadelphia for the Continental Army to keep an eye on the British and prevent any surprise attacks on settlements in the countryside.
Severe winter weather of snow, ice, and bitter temperatures. Non-stop torrential rains. The increasing lack of proper clothing, food, and adequate shelter. ALL were significant problems. While Washington knew most of his men were fit for duty, at least a third of them had no shoes. NO SHOES. Many did not have a decent coat either to protect against that constant rain and below freezing temps that plagued them that winter. You’ll remember it was these same men the Christmas before who had risked everything for the dream of Independence from The Crown. Many could not swim, and yet climbed into rickety boats on the banks of the Delaware River in the dead of winter for a 9 hour crossing — well before ever firing a shot in Trenton. These were not weak men.
And of course we all have the Valley Forge images in our head. Images of bloody footprints in the snow. Poorly armed, sick and shivering soldiers dressed in rags, huddled around lonely campfires. George Washington on his knees praying that his army might survive the winter.
Requests of Congress for help from General Washington were largely unmet. (Hm. Sounds familiar, no?)
“Washington pleaded with the Continental Congress and state governors to obtain food and supplies for his suffering army, starvation, and such diseases as typhus and smallpox, and a lack of protection from the elements caused the death of more than 2,000 soldiers. Washington eventually resorted to sending men, led by Nathanael Greene, on foraging missions to procure what provisions could be found in the surrounding countryside. Beyond vying with Congress for the supplies his army desperately needed, Washington had also to contend with threats to his authority that came from ordeals like the Conway Cabal and rivalries between military leaders.”
So yes, there was suffering at Valley Forge during Christmas of 1777 with those subsequent winter months that followed exponentially worse. But history also shows General Washington, with the help of Baron Friedrich von Steuben – a Prussian military officer – provided critical training for the Continental Army during the winter encampment. Von Steuben was Washington’s drillmaster at Valley Forge, and taught the soldiers how to use a bayonet, how to re-form lines quickly in the midst of battle, and modern military strategy.
When Washington’s army marched out of Valley Forge on June 19, 1778 — a very clear crucible of the American Revolution — his army was better disciplined and stronger in spirit than when they had entered at Christmastime months earlier. Nine days later, they won a significant victory against the British at the Battle of Monmouth. Because America…. and an almighty God.
As a American history wonk, I am reminded of this quote by Civil War General John A. Logan:
“Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations, that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided Republic.”
To the valiant few who paid the price, we owe an incalculable debt. Merry Christmas.
Epilogue: We’re still in the fight. We continue to pray for our military serving across the globe and for the families across the country with an empty chair at their dinner table. And from all of us at Victory Girls Blog, we want you to know how much we’ve appreciated your tireless support, encouragement, and friendship. We’ve also enjoyed immensely the wit, the brilliant apologetics, the sharp elbows, and
heated arguments fun discussions we have when we disagree.
Thank you for being here, friends. You are our gift this Christmas.
Our Featured Photo is “The March to Valley Forge” by William Trego, 1883, and is Public Domain. Additional Photo used is “Washington at Prayer Valley Forge,” painted by Henry Brueckner, engraved by John C. McRae, 1889, also Public Domain.