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Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment

View the park’s 18-minute orientation film, Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment, at the park when you visit or on our YouTube channel. This video describes the events leading up to, during, and after the 1777-1778 winter encampment that took place here at Valley Forge.

The following is text of the video:

For the Patriots British battling to break from the colonial domination of  British rule, the 1st 14 months of the War of Independence had gone well. 

After the outbreak of hostilities in April 1775 [Battle of Lexington and Concord], the Americans had taken advantage of a smaller British force that had captured Fort Ticonderoga, pressured them out of Boston, and had nearly conquered Canada.  

By mid 1776, though, the tide of war had shifted. The largerst Brtish expeditionary force ever assembled up to that time arrived in America. And George Washington’s Continental Army was pushed to the breaking point.  

New York City fell to the British, along with New Jersey by year’s end. However, Washington’s famous counterattacks at Trenton Christmas night, 1776, and at Princton January 3rd 1777 breathed new life into the cause of liberty. 

As the combatants prepared for the third year of war, Washington’s challenge would be to prevent further British advances.

Thus, the stage was set for the campaign in 1777. 

The British, from their base in Canada, launched and attack designed to isolate New England. While from New York City, another campaign targeted the Patriot capital, Philadelphia.  But the attempts to isolate New England failed, when in October, British General John Burgoyne was forced to surrender at Saratoga. (1:35)

Meanwhile, General Sir William Howe moved by sea Maryland and marched northward toward Philadelphia. 

Attempting to stop the British advanced, Washington was outmaneuvered and defeated at Brandywiine one September 11th. British forces entered Philadelphia in late September. 

Washington tried to regain control of the capital with an attack on Germantown on October 4th.

His troops, though courgeous, were thrown backby the disciplined, experienced British. 

Their army still intact and morale still-high, the Americans retreated to a temporary camp at Whitemarsh. 

In early December, with the British and firm control of Philadelphia, Washington sort of winter encampment site, which would allow him to watch the British, remain beyond reach of a surprise attack, and prevent the British occupation of Pennsylvania’s richest farming region. (2:34)

 Valley Forge was such a place. And on December 19, 1777, the army moved to winter quarters and began building their camp [Gulph Mills on map] 

Winter Encampment (2:50)

Made possible by a grant from 

The Pennslyvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution

For the men of the army, building the huts was a welcome relief from the waiting at Whitemarsh. It was something to do… a way to keep warm. The troops  formed into 12-man squad, each to build its own living quarters. [Human-Environment Interaction]

Tools were scarce, and timber had to be dragged to the hut sites. With one of every four men unfit for duty, construction proceeded slowly.

General Washington complaining about their shortages and their effects wrote:

“We have, by a field return this day, made no less than 2,898 men now in camp unfit for duty because they are barefoot or naked.” (4:00)

Naked meant the soldiers clothes were extremely ragged or that their uniforms were totally inadequate. 

in spite of the obstacles, the work proceeded. Competition was encouraged between the squad. The $12 reward General Washington had offered for the first properly constructed hut in each regiment and the desire to be under shelter drove the builders.(4:25)

NEED to edit more

One cabing completed by December 31st. And most men were under roof. within a month turn on Timothy Pickering writing to his wife on January 5th  a surgeon with the first Connecticut Regiment Road 

The huts are very warm andcomfortable and feel ourselves happy in them.

The quality of the Hudson And feel ourselves happy 

The 1st Connecdticut a Mount Joy Relatively well supplied with clothing by their home stick they were among the best equipped troops at Valley Forge.

Just a half mile west, the North Carolina troops were very poorly supplied ranked among the worst equipment.

Though the situations varied, the troops were generally ill-equipped to deal with the harsh winter before them. 

Leutentit Colonel Samuel Carlton of Massachusetts stated 

in the regiment that have and near as many with no stocking

And an unidentified Rhode Islander complained 

nakedness and misery, whilst those 

In spite of . Each day had its duties at the activities of Camp continue what year was generally moderate no frequent rains and occasional snow persisted throughout the encampment. 

The re=outine of winter grew tiresome for the cold hungry troops. 

There were fortifications to be built tools and the need to complete winter quarters load progress wood had to be cut anf fires contimually feed.

Pickets stood guard duty and efforts to drill the troops continued.

For some,  some foraging details could change the scenery and interrupt the monotony 

British movement’s most attachment leaving Valley Forge did so in order to gather supplies away from the immediate area of the encampment which was already hard to get by the demands of feeding and housing so many men.

Spurged by great need foraging Expeditions under General Anthony Wayne and general Nathanael Greene achieved some success in procuring supplies which included wheat, cattle, flour, and whiskey.  

Still efforts were hampered by problems the commissary at self continue

Farmers with goos to sell. the British hard currency to the nearly worthless new wagons or communication profiteering and a woefully inadequate Road system combined together fear but the flow of supplies to Valley Forge. 

And so the encampment existed on a subsistence level.  

In a letter to Washington General James of Rhode Island pointed out

Hunger will breat through a stone wall.  three days accessory we’ve been without bread two days we have been entirely without meat. The men must be supplied or they cannot be commanded

In the face of growing adversity, the men held on supplies fluctuated dramatically and agonizing aspect of any day became waiting for the creek of an arriving wagon train or the bellow of cattle of being driven into camp.

In his diary entry for January 7th Christopher Marshall recorded 

10 teams of oxen fit for slaughtering came into Camp driven by loyal Philadelphia women. 

A little more than a month later get a letter to his father John Laurens of South Carolina wrote

we have lately been in the most alarming situation I won’t have Provisions to feed us out of for want of knowledge for one of activity or both never furnace supplies adequate to our needs.

Most times from the middle of January the men could supplement their meager rations with purchases at one of the markets established in camp  there salt vinegar potatoes or those soldiers who had money 

these are the markets with limited though and often pay lagged. 

as Princess Dana & Observer noted in February

For flour they have not suffered. On average every Brigade has been 4 days we do not see from Wednesday surprise of me I can come bring on a mutiny in the army.

Firecake and affection for their commander and a healthy respect for the risks of desertion kept the Army together it is most difficult time.

February was probably the worst month of the encmapment. Plagued by disease, desertion and expiring in the Army shrank from 12000 to 6000. Conditions and shortages combined to strain the already weak force. 


Sickness heck this reached epidemic proportions fueled by poor Sanitation

 Serious ailments typhoid type has dysentery and pneumonia usually meant removal from camp;

the Army according to common practice established hospitals outside the camp. Some  charm is far away is Africa 30 miles distance. Bu many chose to suffer in silence rather than be transported to one of these separated from France get out of court 

Inadequate facilities some shortages of blankets and medicines hampered the efforts of dedicated doctors and surgeon local women and camp followers were recruited to help care for the sick in the hospital 

Washington concerned as always with the welfare of his soldiers wrote: whole throat 

I sincerely feel for the unhappy poor fellows in the hospital it is but too Melancholy of truth that I will Hospital stores are exceedingly scanty and deficient in every way 

Mortality rates were high at the General Hospital. Many of the 2,000 men who died that winter did so at hospitals far away from the encampment itself. Doctors and surgeons were also hampered by a lack of medical not aware unknown and contagious disease was not fully understood. 

For what every man killed in combat roughly text died of disease the few successes of the medical effort was the smallpox inoculation program that help that dreaded disease in check. 

The arrival of spring brought renewed hope to the camp. Morale among the troops Rose Nathanael Greene you leave for the quartermaster General in firm  control of the quartermaster department and with roads and rivers becoming more possible supplies flowed regularly.

Loading the wagons.

Increasing amounts of food clothing weapons and equipment arrived in camp. 

As the weather warmed, activity in the camp increased. Units that have withered elsewhere where recaled. And new recruits coming in raise the strength of the army to nearly 20,000.

In March, the retraining of the army began in Earnest under General Vine Street.

“Take Aim. Fire”

Upon his arrival in February Baron Friedrich Von Steuben of former Prussian officer had found an army without uniformed training and lacking adequaete discipline. 

Washington recognizing Stevens administrative talents, apppined him inspector-general with the task of retraining the Army under one system. 

“handle cartridge”

Develped that system.He wrote a simplifield American training manual concrete Brammer’s reshaping the Continental army. 

Training: Return rammers. 

Confidence and skill grew daily. News of the newly-signed alliance with France further buoyed the spirits of the troops, Exercise and fresh air were welcome changed. 

fortification. New weapons and equipment issued as Washington and his generals plan the Army’s next move 

That move came on June 19th 1778 when the Continental Army from Philadelphia marched out of Valley Forge. 9 Days later at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey, the British Metairie supplied continental army, larger, better trains and more unified than ever before. 

The Americans demonstrated the Lessons Learned at Valley Forge and in the end it was the British who were forced to withdraw. Bound by determination and training, a renewed continental army had taken the field with a spirit strengthened at Valley Forge. A Spirit that would caryy Washington’s to Victory at Yorktown in 1781 and Beyond