Part One, of a series on the importance of Valley Forge in the American Revolution
On December 19, 1777, the Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, marched into Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Located approximately 20 miles from Philadelphia, which had fallen to the British that autumn, Washington’s army would spend the next five-plus months in this soon-to-be iconic place in the quest for American independence.
Yet, the accounts of how desperate the condition of the American forces were emanates throughout the centuries and strikes awe and amazement at the level of perseverance that the soldiers committed to. The winter of Valley Forge was just one of many cold, bleak, and destitute winters that the Continental Army faced during the seven-year conflict.
However, that does not take away from the conditions of that winter. Especially when written from the ink and quill or pencil of the common soldier. Especially with what that winter cantonment did in the transformation of that Continental Army.
One of the best remembrances of that cold winter comes from Joseph Plumb Martin, whose Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier, is still in print today.
Upon arrival at Valley Forge, Martin would write:
“We were now in a truly forlorn condition,–no clothing, no provisions, and as disheartened as need be. We arrived, however, at our destination a few days before christmas. Our prospect was indeed dreary.”
Just a short time after his arrival, Martin continued the plight of himself (and most likely many a soldier in that encampment) when he wrote;
“I lay here two nights and one day, and had not a morsel of any thing to eat all the time, save half a pumpkin, which I cooked by placing it upon a rock, the skin side uppermost, and making a fire upon it; by the time it was heat through I devoured it with as keen an appetite as I should a pie made of it at some other time.”
Martin’s account is supported by General James Varnum, who reported on December 20, 1777, “that his division had eaten no meat during 48 hours and had been three days without bread.”
Yet, during that winter, the experience of Valley Forge, according to another veteran of that harsh winter, “added iron to their souls.”
More than “iron souls” would be needed to defeat the British in the American Revolution. Winter, 1777, would see to that as well.