Thanksgiving with the Continental Army, 1777

Abraham Lincoln usually gets the credit for establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863.  He deserves much of it for making it an annual event.  But, Lincoln was harkening back to an earlier practice of giving thanks amidst the trials and tribulations of war, whether it was going well or not.  The tradition predated the Revolutionary War generation, but they were as apt to a hold national day of giving thanks as any of their predecessors or successors in American history.  Continue reading “Thanksgiving with the Continental Army, 1777”

Winter, 1777

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.

Artist depiction of the encampment at Valley Forge. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette are the two horsemen
Artist depiction of the encampment at Valley Forge. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette are the two horsemen depicted prominently

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.”

Suffering at Valley Forge
Suffering at Valley Forge

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.