Origins of a Revolutionary Orator

Studley state historical marker
State of Virginia historical marker for Studley

Nestled in Hanover County, VA, near where modern residential communities meet farm fields that have been worked for centuries, is the site of a colonial-era plantation home called Studley.  It was here on this site that Patrick Henry, the “Voice of the Revolution”, was born.

A 600-acre tobacco plantation, Studley was built in the 1720’s for its original owner, Colonel John Syme and his bride, Sarah, the former Sarah Winston.  The surrounding community, as it does today, took its name from the site. (By the mid-19th century, the Studley area was called Haws Shop, after a nearby blacksmith shop.  In the latter part of May, 1864, Union and Confederate cavalry units fought a dismounted action here just prior to the battle of Cold Harbor.  Prominent among the Union commanders engaged was Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer.)

Sketch of Studley
Sketch of Studley

Continue reading “Origins of a Revolutionary Orator”

Inheriting the Preservation Efforts of the Past

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of accompanying our group of student interns from Richmond National Battlefield Park on a short field trip to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument (GWBNM), in Westmoreland County on Virginia’s famed Northern Neck.  First established near Pope’s Creek by John Washington, great-grandfather of our future first president, it was, as the name implies, the site of George Washington’s birth on February 22, 1732.  This much we know.

GW2
George Washington Birthplace National Monument

The grounds were designated a United States National Landmark in 1930 and deeded to the Federal government.  In honor of George Washington, the current Memorial House was constructed at the site in 1931.  Along with the house, visitors can find a colonial-style kitchen building and blacksmith’s shop.  Costumed interpreters also manage the Colonial Living Farm with barn, pastures and livestock.  The site depicts life on a middling-sized Virginia tobacco plantation during the mid-18th Century. Continue reading “Inheriting the Preservation Efforts of the Past”

Review: Unshackling America How the War of 1812 Truly Ended the American Revolution by Willard Sterne Randall

ERW Book Reviews (1)The post-colonial era conflict between the United States and Great Britain, known in America as the War of 1812, has often been described as America’s second war for independence.  In UNSHACKLING AMERICA: HOW THE WAR OF 1812 TRULY ENDED THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, published by St. Martin’s Press 2017, author Willard Sterne Randall promotes the idea that this war, largely unremembered today in Great Britain, was actually a continuation of the earlier American Revolution. Cover Unshackling America

The book begins by chronicling the relationship between America and Britain from the years of the French and Indian War or Seven Years War to the end of the American Revolution and beyond. While the Treaty of Paris in 1783 basically ended the overt military conflict between the former colonies and the mother country, Randall maintains that, in the years that followed, Britain continued to deny economic independence to the United States through regulations on trade, thereby denying full independence to the young nation. Continue reading “Review: Unshackling America How the War of 1812 Truly Ended the American Revolution by Willard Sterne Randall”

ERW Weekender: The American Revolutionary War Museum at Yorktown

museum
American Revolutionary War Museum at Yorktown

Over the years, it has been my pleasure to stop in at the old Yorktown Victory Center. The primary focus of the museum, as one might expect, was on the October 1781 siege, which not only brought about the surrender of British forces under General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, but also hastened the eventual end of hostilities between Britain and her former colonies. More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of working at the museum for special occasions as a volunteer for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation (JYF).

The Foundation has since expanded its view of Revolutionary America with a new museum, built upon the bones of the original, which looks beyond the confines of the Yorktown siege and takes a broader view of the conflict as a whole. In the fall of 2016, JYF opened its new American Revolutionary War Museum at Yorktown.siege1

The building itself is large and impressive, with over 22,000 square feet (I’m told) of exhibition space. There is a natural flow between the various galleries, which chronicle our nation’s journey from subjugated colonies to Republic. Visitors, especially those who are not well versed in the history of the Revolutionary War, can more easily follow “the road” that led to our independence.

I started my visit by viewing the new introductory film, “Victory Forever”. The story of the Revolution is told by a 19th century showman who has visited many of the sites associated with the war and the events preceding its outbreak.  As I began my own trip “down the road”, I was happy to see that the Foundation’s impressive collection of 18th century weapons and other artifacts are part of this new vision. There are new acquisitions on display as well, such as an original broadside of the Declaration of Independence which dates back to 1776.

There are new interactive films and exhibition galleries that tell the story first of the changing relationship between America and Britain after the end of the Seven Year’s War or, as it was known in America, the French and Indian War. This, of course, includes the rifts that arose beginning in the 1760’s over taxation.

war-in-southThe “Revolution” exhibition chronicles the weapons and tactics used in the conflict itself, from Lexington and Concord to Yorktown. And I was pleased to see an exhibition that focuses on the war in the south and the major players who led those events such as Daniel Morgan, the “Gamecock” Thomas Sumter, and the notorious Banastre Tarleton.

 

In prior years, the site also featured a Continental Army encampment and a 1780’s-era Virginia farmstead. The encampment has been expanded to include a small amphitheater for use in artillery and small arms demonstrations. batteryThis farm area is also undergoing considerable change as it will now represent a Virginia farmstead during the Revolutionary War era. Not yet completed, a conversation with friend and farm site manager Jay Templin gave me an idea as to some of the changes that are coming. “We’re now presenting life during the Revolution so we’ll need to scale back; there will be changes to what we’re growing.” Said Templin. “We’ll certainly still be growing some tobacco but not the large field as in years past.”

farm
Although the American Revolutionary War Museum at Yorktown opened to the public in October, it is generally considered a “soft opening” as the entire site is not yet in its completed state. I’m told by staff there that the grand opening is slated for March 2017. I have to say that I was pleased with the new facilities and the fact that the focus of the museum is now on the broader era of the war. I wholeheartedly recommend a visit. rotunda

The Romance of William Clark

In Fincastle, nestled in the mountains of Virginia’s Botetourt County and once considered the “jumping off” spot for people traveling to the frontier, they tell a story about William Clark. Prior to his journey west with Capt. Meriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery, William Clark was in the village of Fincastle one day when, it is said, he spied two young girls on horseback. They were both pretty young things, the story goes, but Clark’s fancy was captured by only one of them.

capt-william-clark
William Clark

Her name was Julia Hancock; Clark called her “Judith”. She was the teenage daughter of former United States Congressman George Hancock of Santillane; one of Botetourt County’s most distinguished families.

julia-hancock
Julia Hancock

The story goes that Clark, who was twice her age, pledged his heart to the lass; it was his intention to marry her. While on his journey to the “western ocean’, Clark named a river in Montana in her honor. It was dubbed the Judith.

judith-river
The Judith River

Upon his return to Fincastle, Clark was as good as his word and conducted the beautiful Miss Hancock to the alter.

Among the historical documents that can still be found in the Botetourt County Circuit Court is the marriage bond for the two, signed by William Clark. The couple married on January 5, 1808.

clark-sig
William Clark’s Signature
clark-bond2
Marriage Bond

Sadly, after 12 years of marriage and 5 children, Julia Hancock Clark died in 1820. Not long after however, in St. Louis, Clark happened to meet up with another Fincastle girl. She was a widow named Harriet Kennerly Radford. Needing a mother for his children, Clark would marry Harriet Radford on November 28, 1821. But still, there was a connection; Clark had known his new bride back in Virginia. Not only was Harriet Kennerly Radford a first cousin of Julia Hancock, she was also the other young girl Clark had first seen on horseback in Fincastle all those years before!! They tell the story in Fincastle.

harriet-kennerly-radford
Harriet Kennerly Radford

Jack Jouett: Midnight Rider of the South

  • By the spring of 1781, British military forces under the able command of General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, were moving north. It was clear that the southern campaign had not gone quite the way it was planned.  Though successful initially in South Carolina in 1780 with the capture of Charleston and the subsequent battles of Camden and Hobkirk’s Hill, the British had been handed some setbacks by the end of the year.  Twice had Lord Cornwallis lost his left wing through defeats at Kings Mountain in October and Cowpens in January 1781.  In March, a contentious battle at Guildford Courthouse in North Carolina left the British in control of the field but badly mauled by American forces under General Nathaniel Green.  By April, Cornwallis had devised a plan to move north, into Virginia, to conquer that province which he believed would be critical to achieving ultimate success and ending the war in favor of His Britannic Majesty.
Lord Charles Cornwallis
Lord Charles Cornwallis

By June 1781, Cornwallis was in Richmond.  Joined by forces under the American turncoat Benedict Arnold and General Alexander Leslie, Cornwallis commanded a fighting force of around 7,000.  To counter this threat were fewer than 1500 American soldiers under the young Marque de Lafayette.

While encamped near Hanover Courthouse, Cornwallis learned that Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson and the General Assembly had relocated to Charlottesville, around 50 miles west of Richmond.  He decided to send the brash Colonel Banastre Tarleton there with a small strike force to bag the whole lot.  On June 3, Tarleton’s force set out.

Today, as it was 235 years ago, June in Central Virginia is hot and almost unbearably humid.  To avoid the extreme heat of the day, Tarleton decided to rest his men and resume the march after dark.  His route would take him through Louisa County via modern Route 33.  Just before halting for the night, Tarelton passed by Cuckoo Tavern, a small and out-of-the-way place that got its name from the cuckoo clock that once ticked off the minutes inside the tavern.  Slumped against the picket fence in the tavern yard, trying to catch some sleep after a long day of work and a few drinks in the taproom, was a local lad by the name of Jack.  John “Jack” Jouett, Jr., known as Captain Jack due to the military coat he was fond of wearing, routinely freighted produce from his family’s farm in Louisa to the tavern his father kept in the town of Charlottesville.  The Swan Tavern was certainly a going concern and, at that moment, was playing host to several of the lawmakers of the Virginia General Assembly.

Captain Jack, 26 years old, had just returned to Louisa after a long round trip to the tavern.  Sitting out in the yard that night, he was aroused by the sound of marching feet. He stood and there saw Tarleton’s column moving along to Louisa Courthouse.  It wasn’t difficult for Jouett to figure the destination of these midnight marchers and he knew he couldn’t let them get to Charlottesville and capture the government.  So once the soldiers had marched past, he saddled up his horse “Sally” and lit out for town.

Banastre Tartleton
Banastre Tarleton

He rode all night, covering the 40 plus miles to Charlottesville ahead of the British.  He traveled by narrow, little-used roads under low-hanging tree branches; paths certainly unknown by most save a few locals.  By the time Jouett reached Charlottesville, his face and arms were scratched and bloody.  He rode first to Monticello and warned Thomas Jefferson, although Jefferson took such a long time getting himself together that he narrowly escaped capture by Colonel Tarleton’s forces who came trotting up onto the west lawn of Monticello only minutes after Jefferson had finally departed.  

Jouett went on to his father’s tavern where he warned several of the delegates staying there of Tarleton’s approach.  The British were only 3 hours behind Jouett by the time he splashed across the Rivanna River and into Charlottesville.  Even with this warning, several of the legislators were captured by Tarleton including a representative from Kentucky County by the name of Daniel Boone.

Monticello
Monticello

Only a year after his ride, Jack Jouett left Louisa County and moved west to the Kentucky territory where he later flourished as a horse breeder and influential member of society for the rest of his life.  Jouett died in Kentucky in 1821.

Today, Cuckoo is little more than a dot on a Virginia roadmap.  The tavern is long gone; only an empty field now.  Across the road stands Cuckoo, the brick, federal style home built by a family of physicians in 1819.  Hard to believe that such a quiet place could have once been the scene of such high drama.

Cuckoo, VA
Cuckoo, VA

Was it Murder in Virginia?

“You slander my family.  With God’s help I’ll dance in your blood you course, Presbyterian fellow!”  Shortly after these angry words were shouted, a man lay dead on the floor of an out-of-the-way tavern in what was then Cumberland County, Virginia.  Now a mere footnote in our local history, to be sure, but at the time this event and what would follow was one of the most talked-about sensations of the day.Sign

It was June 1766 and the dead man was a transplanted Scotsman; a merchant and landowner by the name of Robert Routledge.  He had lived in Virginia for only a short time.  It was rumored he’d ridden with Charles Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in Scotland in 1745.  By the 1760’s he seemed to be making his way in the world of Virginia but apparently to the chagrin of some of the more established men of the colony who saw him as nothing more than a common upstart.  One man in particular would play an important role in this tale.  His name was Colonel John Chiswell and it would be at the point of his own sword that Robert Routledge would meet his violent end.

Chiswell was born at Scotchtown in Hanover County.  A member of the Virginia elite from birth, by 1766 he was living in a beautiful home in the capital city of Williamsburg.  Due to a string of poor investments, though, Col. Chiswell found himself deeply in debt.  He did, however, own an interest in a lead mine venture in the New River Valley, in the western portion of the colony.  By all accounts, Chiswell was a rather arrogant man and accustomed to giving orders.  In June 1766, he and some companions were riding east from the mines, heading for Williamsburg and home.

Mosby Tavern Far
Mosby Tavern

While slowly meandering through Cumberland County along what was then called the Middle Road (now US Route 60) the party decided to stop for the night at a road-side establishment, Mosby Tavern.  Built by Benjamin Mosby in 1740, the tavern was well-known to westward bound travelers of the day.  In the 19th Century the place would also be familiar to Benjamin Mosby’s kinsman, the Confederate guerrilla chieftain John Singleton Mosby.  Privately owned, the old tavern still stands along Route 60 in what is now Powhatan County.

The story goes that Mr. Routledge and Col. Chiswell knew one another.  Not companions by any stretch but they certainly were acquainted.  Later that evening in Mosby’s taproom both men dined separately with friends and downed numerous tankards of Rum.  And, as is normally the case, the alcohol soon began to take effect as the evening wore on.  From the eyewitness accounts we know that Col. Chiswell, in his jubilance regarding the hoped-for success of his lead mine enterprise, became a little loud and boisterous.  He began to swear or to “utter certain oaths”, happy in the prospects of his impending wealth.

Apparently Robert Routledge took umbrage at the remarks and took the colonel to task for “swearing and talking as you do among such good company”.   To Col. Chiswell, Routledge was certainly not a member of the Virginia gentry.  He was a commoner, an upstart and certainly no one to correct his speech or instruct him on the proper discourse of a gentleman.  Tempers began to flare and soon the men were standing in the middle of the taproom, on legs made wobbly from the drink.  Routledge suddenly raised his tankard and threw liquor onto the face and clothes of Chiswell.  The Virginian exploded in a rage and called for his sword.  He ordered Routledge to depart from the room!  “You are not worthy to appear in such company.  If you do not get out immediately I’ll kill you!

What happened next is a bit murky and accounts from those present that evening tend to differ.  Some say that Routledge, in a spirit of friendship, attempted to assuage the anger of the man standing before him.  He moved forward, his arms raised in hopes of placating Chiswell.  In response, they say Col. Chiswell ran Routledge through with his sword, murdering the Scotsman in cold blood.Sword3

But John Chiswell would tell a different tale.  It was his claim that Routledge was drunk, which he most likely was, and in moving towards him apparently stumbled over his own feet.  Stumbling forward, according to Chiswell, Routledge accidently fell onto the colonel’s sword!  It was not murder, he claimed, but purely a tragic accident.

John Chiswell was arrested and later remanded to the General Court in Williamsburg for trial.  In cases of possible homicide, it was not the court’s custom to grant bond (bail).  However, three of the court’s justices took an interest in the question of bond.  After questioning Colonel Chiswell and the Cumberland bailiff who escorted him to Williamsburg, and discussing the matter with the eminent legal minds of the colony, including George Wythe, the justices determined that bond should be granted and Col. John Chiswell was allowed to await his day in court in the comfort of his own home.

This case promised to be the “Trial of the Century”.  It was known and discussed throughout the colony and especially so in Williamsburg.  Many residents there considered the episode to be scandalous.  They believed a wealthy man was getting away with murder.  It was so scandalous that for months local newspapers printed stories accusing the justices of showing partiality to an arrogant, wealthy man due only to his social status.  Chiswell was under de facto house arrest as crowds gathered daily in front of his home in protest.  The fact that the justices in this case, William Byrd, III, Presley Thornton, and John Blair, were all companions and even business associates of the accused, only made matters worse.

Chiswell House
Chiswell-Bucktrout House

Mysteriously in October 1766, before the case could come to trial, Col. John Chiswell was found dead in his home.  It was suspected that, not having the strength to endure the scandal and the scrutiny of his fellow citizens, Chiswell took his own life.  The coroner’s report, however, simply stated that John Chiswell died from “nervous fits, owing to a constant uneasiness of the mind.”  It should be noted that the Coroner was also a companion of Col. Chiswell.

With suicide suspected, the Chiswell family was not allowed to bury the deceased colonel in the graveyard at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg.  Instead, the body was taken by cart to the place of his birth, back to Scotchtown in Hanover County.  The colonel’s daughter was abiding there at the time.  But John Chiswell would not rest in peace even after arriving at the beautiful home he knew as a child, or not yet anyway.  Fearing that he had possibly posed his own death as a means of avoiding trial and the gallows, the family and friends of Robert Routledge gathered in the yard of Scotchtown and awaited the arrival of the body. They insisted the coffin be opened, much to the heart-felt agony of the widow, so that the body could be positively identified as that of Col. Chiswell.  It was so identified; as a matter of fact, one of the men there that day and who recognized the visage of Chiswell was the future owner of Scotchtown himself, Patrick Henry.  Mr. Henry noted afterwards that the skin on the face of Chiswell had turned black, a sure sign of arsenic.

Scotchtown
Scotchtown

It was a scandalous and sensational story and certainly the “OJ Simpson Case” of its day.  Most people of colonial Virginia knew of it and yet, today, the story is not very well known at all.  How many other stories like this one are out there, waiting to be discovered?

The Signal

“One if by land, two if by sea; and I on the opposite shore will be, ready to ride and spread the alarm through every Middlesex village and farm, for the country folk to be up and to alarm.”  When I was a boy, these words from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” truly stirred within me an excitement that I don’t think has ever really left me.  I hadn’t visited Boston mind you, but I could still envision the outline of that brave horseman as he paced along the shore of the Charles River, “booted and spurred” and wearing his cocked hat and long riding cloak.  He waited and he watched.  He was waiting for the signal in the belfry of the Old North Church that would tell him which direction the Lobsterbacks would be taking that night on their march to Concord.

Paul Revere
Paul Revere

Yes sir, Paul Revere was a hero of mine early on.  Right up there with Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.  It would be years, though, before I would learn the real story of what happened that night, April 18, 1775.  During my first visit to Boston a few years ago, I crossed the bridge that spans the Charles River, near where the USS Constitution is now moored.  Longfellow’s poem has fooled many since its publication in 1861.  It’s true, Paul Revere, Boston silversmith, member of the Sons of Liberty, and Messenger of the Revolution, crossed the river near that spot.  He met up with local militia leaders on the Charlestown side.  The steeple of Christ Church in Boston’s North End, the Old North Church it was also called, did indeed shine forth with the light of two lanterns, hung there by its young sexton Robert Newman.  It was a message alright but Longfellow got it backwards.  It wasn’t a message to Paul Revere but, rather, it was a message from Paul Revere!

One of the Lanterns
One of the Lanterns

The North End of Boston is still what we would today call a blue collar place.  Its streets are narrow and the buildings are close-packed.  The Paul Revere House, at 19 North Square, is surrounded by modern buildings and businesses.  Didn’t matter to me though as I strolled through the house on a self-guided tour.  I found myself struck as I exited from the back door and walked down the back steps; probably the same exit route taken by Revere himself that night as he left home and headed down to the water to retrieve the small boat he kept hidden there.  Like a lot of historic areas, you sometimes have to use your “mind’s eye” to envision what things were really like.  As I looked around North Square, I envisioned how Mr. Revere’s world would have looked.  At last, on that first trip to Boston, I was following in the footsteps of Paul Revere!

Paul Revere House
Paul Revere House

Over on Salem Street stands Christ Church; the Old North Church from history.  The sanctuary is still beautiful.  If it were allowed, I surely would’ve climbed to the top of the steeple as Robert Newman did on April 18th.  Revere and may other members of the Sons of Liberty had already learned, through mysterious sources, of the secret plans of British General Thomas Gage to march a hand-picked force of light infantry troops and a handful of Royal Marines to the village of Concord, some 20 miles west of Boston to seize the colony’s powder stores.   By all accounts, General Gage was a good and virtuous man; a veteran of the fight on Braddock’s Field in 1755.  He arranged his plans to secretly snatch up the colony’s stores of powder and shot in order to help stop any further bloodshed should tensions continue to boil over into violence.  But it was not to be.

Old North Church
Old North Church

Many of the troops who would be making the march later that evening were quartered in buildings near the Old North Church.  In fact, Mr. Newman’s signal lights were actually seen by the regulars.  As an officer banged hard on the wooden doors in the front of the church, wanting to know what was going on; Robert Newman stole silently through a rear window to make his escape.  As he was known to carry about his person a set of keys to the church he would later be arrested and detained.

Back Window of the Old North Church
Back Window of the
Old North Church

By the same token, Revere knew the risks he himself would be taking in having friends row him across the Charles River after the hour when no further civilian traffic was allowed.  They would pass under the guns of the HMS Somerset, the man-of-war that was posted in the river to block all nocturnal travel between Boston and Charlestown.  Hence, the signal.  In case Revere was stopped, he had arranged for Robert Newman to make the signal of two lanterns in the belfry, to communicate to the Patriots in Charlestown that the regulars would be crossing Boston’s Back Bay, near Cambridge, on their march.  “Two if by sea.”

The signal was sent and Revere made it to Charlestown.  He borrowed a horse, Brown Beauty, and galloped off but not to Concord; he was heading for Lexington.  Down to the south, along Boston Neck, passed another rider, by the name of William Dawes.  The mission for both men was the same: reach Lexington in time to warn patriots Sam Adams and John Hancock that the regulars were out!  Both men made it to Lexington, with Revere arriving first.  They delivered their message.

As for Concord, well…that’s another story.

Revere Statue
Revere Statue
Steeple of Christ Church
Steeple of Christ Church

Where An Army Was Born

When most Americans think of Valley Forge the image of a cold, harsh and bleak winter landscape tends to spring to mind.  They remember from their history books that this was the place where Gen. George Washington’s rag-tag Continental Army suffered greatly from the harsh elements.  While Pennsylvania winters are rarely mild, the winter of 1777-1778 was not as harsh as what the army would later endure at Morristown, NJ.  What truly plagued Washington’s army that winter at the Forge was a want of supplies:  food, medicine, blankets, shoes, clothing, etc…  If there was ever a time in the life of this army when the boys could have called it quits, when they could have disbanded and just gone home…..then Valley Forge would have been the place for it.

National Memorial Arch
National Memorial Arch

I took my family to visit Valley Forge National Historical Park near the Schuylkill River, west of Philadelphia not long ago.  Out of season, of course.  It was a warm day in July when the five of us meandered through the little visitor’s center and museum and then drove along the park roads trying to take in everything this immense site had to offer.  Entertaining three teenagers packed in a minivan isn’t always the easiest thing to do on a history tour but they seemed impressed with the National Memorial Arch, standing majestically alone on its green hilltop.

My attention, not surprisingly, was drawn to the restored cabins where the soldiers spent their winter days and nights and by the beautiful stone Potts House in which Washington lived and, along with his military “family”, used as headquarters.  But this trip would prove to be an eye-opener for me.

Restored Cabins
Restored Cabins

As we cruised along the park roads, through beautiful rolling hills, we came upon what is called The Grand Parade.  It’s a large, grassy, open field bordered by trees that stands nearly in the center of the park.  At first glance it appears no different than any other large, grassy, open field bordered by trees, but there is something extra special about this one.  For this was the scene where, some 238 years ago, Washington’s regiments and battalions marched and drilled during that long winter.

Baron Von Steuben
Baron Von Steuben

Standing on one side of the field is a statue; the man who’s responsibility it would become to train these men in the European military fashion.  Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben, known as Baron von Steuben, came to America on the recommendation of none other than Benjamin Franklin.  He was a veteran of the Prussian Army, he said; had attained the rank of Lieutenant General and served directly under the military genius Frederick the Great.  At Valley Forge that winter, he would serve as a volunteer and would be appointed temporary Inspector General.  As the historical record would later show, Steuben did serve as aide-de-camp to Frederick the Great but never attained a rank higher than that of captain.  While his claim to rank and privilege was questionable at best and downright false at worst, Baron van Steuben would nonetheless prove invaluable to the United States.  As an officer of the Prussian Army, he had the knowledge and skill necessary for training men in the art of war.  He was the right man, for the right job, at just the right time.

The Baron spoke not a word of English; his orders had to be translated, but the manual of training he would compose was such that it turned a hungry, tattered, exhausted mass of farm boys and mechanics into a well-disciplined fighting force.  He would mold them into an army.

Potts House
Potts House

Unlike his British counterparts, George Washington  was never to have a fully veteran army.   Indeed, there were some men who served for the duration of the war but, by and large, enlistments expired and men returned to their homes, farms and families.  But because of the training provided by this somewhat eccentric European who spoke and swore in German, the soldiers of the Army of the United States would go on to match the best in the world.  On the field at Monmouth Courthouse in 1780, these men would prove their mettle.  While the initial attack stalled, due mainly to poor leadership, the defensive position they would establish, under the watchful eye of their Commander-In-Chief, would prove the worth of their training.  These lads stood off the best army in the world.  And it all came together right here, on The Grand Parade at Valley Forge.

The Grand Parade
The Grand Parade

As I stood beside that statue on a warm day in July and gazed out on this wide open space, in my mind’s eye I could see those boys drilling; first by squad, then by company, then by regiment.  I could see it all unfolding before me on this unassuming field.  It looks like any other field you may pass on a drive in the country, but this field is where the war would change for the United States.  This field, by God, was the birthplace of the American Army.