“Rev War Revelry” Nathanael Greene, Quartermaster

In March 1778, Major General Nathanael Greene finally consented to become the quartermaster for the Continental army then encamped at Valley Forge. He was loathe to give up his position as a line commander in charge of a division of infantry but with reassurances from General George Washington that he would retain his place and that his expertise was absolutely needed to revitalize the quartermaster department the Rhode Islander agreed.

His work over the next two plus years paid huge dividends. On Sunday, August 21, at 7p.m. EDT join Emerging Revolutionary War on our Facebook page for the next “Rev War Revelry.” Joining ERW will be the American Battlefield Trust’s Senior Education Manager, historian and author Dan Davis.

In reference to Greene’s role as quartermaster general at Valley Forge, Davis said, “Primarily remembered for his actions during the Southern Campaign, Nathanael Greene’s efforts at Valley Forge were critical in sustaining the Continental Army during a crucial period of its history.”

We look forward to a great discussion and hope you can join us for this historian happy hour!

One artist’s depiction of what the encampment at Valley Forge looked like

“If General Howe attempts…”

On December 19, 1777 a bedraggled, underfed, undersupplied, and hemorrhaging manpower, the Continental army trudged into their permanent winter encampment at Valley Forge. Located approximately 20 miles from Philadelphia, General George Washington’s army would recuperate, revitalize, re-train, and march out six months later a different military force.

Meanwhile, the British army, victors of Brandywine and survivors of Germantown ensconced themselves in the colonial capital of the rebellious colonies after its peaceful fall on September 26, 1777. Commanded by Sir General William Howe the British were better fed, better equipped, and in theory better suited to continue conducting military operations to quell the rebellion.

Which begs the question, why did Howe not attack Valley Forge?

Sir William Howe

Although historians have grappled with this, there are a number of reasons why Howe did not press the issue during the winter months, some range from personal to logistical to how warfare was conducted in the 18th century.

Was Howe frustrated at Washington for not taking the bait at White Marsh in early December 1777 to fight outside defensive works and envisioned the same reticence would be shown by the Virginian if the British attempted an offensive action toward Valley Forge?

Or was Howe simply a man of his time and war was not practiced in winter when there were so many variables one could not control, chiefly the unpredictability of Mother Nature?

Was Howe already worried about his reception and defense when he arrived back in England? Only willing to take a low risk-high reward gambit, which he attempted in May 1778 at Barren Hill?

One of his own soldiers, Captain Richard Fitzpatrick in a letter to Charles Fox penned the following;

               “If General Howe attempts anything but securing his army for the winter I shall
consider him, after what has happened in the north, a very rash man. But if he
lets himself be governed by General Grant I shall not be surprised if we get
into some cursed scrape.”[1]

Or does this one paragraph explain the main reason behind no winter campaigning, “what has happened in the north.” A clear implication to the disaster of the other field army operating in the northern American colonies, Burgoyne’s that capitulated at Saratoga in October 1777.

Although we will never know for certain, this is a question that has come up in conversations, at book talks, and around the national park at Valley Forge. This is a question Emerging Revolutionary War will grapple with on our second annual bus tour, which will include Valley Forge, this November. Check the link “Bus Tour 2022” on the black banner above to secure your ticket and partake in the ongoing debate on why Howe did not attack. Limited tickets remain.

[1] Urban, Mark. “Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution (Walker & Company: Manhattan, 2007).

Brief Book Review: Hero of Two Worlds, the Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution by Mike Duncan

Mike Duncan
Public Affairs Publishing
$30.00

I admit, I was skeptical when I saw the book on the bookshelf of my local bookstore and then again at the county library. Another biography on the Marquis de Lafayette? Was one truly needed? Four days later with the book finished and now laying beside me as I type this review I can emphatically say “yes” that this biography was needed about the most celebrated Frenchman in the history of the United States.

Having read previously a biography solely on Lafayette and another where a historian compared him as a revolutionary brother to Thomas Jefferson, I had a baseline knowledge of the marquis. Mike Duncan, popular history podcaster and New York Times-Bestselling Author provides a very readable, engaging biography that moves gracefully through Lafayette’s life, more graceful than supposedly the young Frenchman’s first dance at Versailles in front of Marie Antoinette.

After a brief but concise overview of the young Lafayettes’s formative years, Duncan dedicates the majority of the narrative of how the Frenchman became the “hero of two worlds.” From how he navigated his escape to America in 1777 to the ideals he brought back to France and his hopefulness for creating a better homeland. One of the values of Duncan’s work is his ability to find the inner workings of Lafayette’s demeanor and mindset. This is done by looking at his peers and their criticalness of how the Frenchman navigated the shifting sands of the turbulent French political scene from 1789 through the Napoleon era.

I greatly enjoyed the writing style and the blend of popular and academic historical scholarship that Duncan effortlessly moved between throughout the narrative. This work is definitely a must read for anyone looking for that introductory book about the Marquis de Lafayette. For those who have a little more foundational knowledge there may be limited new material but the primary sources from contemporaries adds a much-needed element of constructing the two worlds that Lafayette moved between.

To walk the footsteps of Lafayette at Valley Forge, join Emerging Revolutionary War in November for our Second Annual Emerging Revolutionary War Bus Tour. Click the “2022 Bus Tour” link on the black bar above to secure your ticket.

‘Timely and Handsome’: Transformation of the Continental Army at Valley Forge (Virtual Event)

April 19th in American Revolutionary War history is usually remembered as the day the “shot heard around the world” happened in the towns of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. For the 2022 edition of that day, Emerging Revolutionary War invites you to turn your attention to Valley Forge and a virtual event hosted by the Valley Forge Park Alliance.

Starting at 7 p.m. EDT, Emerging Revolutionary War historian, Phillip S. Greenwalt will present a virtual talk entitled, ‘Timely and Handsome’: Transformation of the Continental Army at Valley Forge. A synopsis of the talk is below.

“As spring began to blossom over Valley Forge, Baron von Steuben’s drilling of the Continental army was in full effect. Although the men and officers of Washington’s army had become proficient on the drill field, there was still the simple question of how would they fare against the British in the upcoming campaign season? A month prior to the end of the winter encampment on June 19, 1778, a small-scale action, at Barren Hill, by a detachment of the Continental army would prove a snapshot into possible future battlefield behavior. The signs were promising. This talk will focus on the training of von Steuben, the composition of the Marquis de Lafayette’s force that marched out of the encampment in middle of May, the action at Barren’s Hill, and the insight this small scale action showed about the transformation of the army during the winter at Valley Forge.”

To register for the event, click here. The link will take you to the Valley Forge Park Alliance website. To learn more about this important aspect of the Valley Forge encampment, Emerging Revolutionary War invites you to click the link on the title bar at the top of this blog labeled “2022 Bus Tour” and secure one of 14 remaining tickets to attend the November 11-13, 2022 tour that will cover Valley Forge and Monmouth.

Reenactors portraying Continental soldiers being trained at Valley Forge
(courtesy of Valley Forge Park Alliance)

von Steuben arrives…

After a circuitous journey, from Paris, France across the Atlantic Ocean and then into Pennsylvania, an eager participant trekked to join the American effort. After an introduction to the Continental Congress this European officer headed toward the Continental army encampment. Baron Frederich William Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben, 47-years old, rode into camp drawn by horses and relaxing, as much as one can on the roads of Pennsylvania during 1770s, in a sleigh, with a Russian wolfhound dog strolling beside the wooden vehicle. On this date, 244 years ago, General George Washington, his staff, and any inquiring eyes around camp saw von Steuben for the first time.

Baron von Steuben Statue, Valley Forge NHP

Although Christmas was almost two months in the past, von Steuben became a late blessing for Washington and his Continental army. Through an adaptation of a military training regimen from continental Europe which became a manual known as the “Blue Book” (this guide was used to train United States Army recruits for decades into the future as well), von Steuben began to morph the rank-and-file and junior officer corps of the Continental army into an actual army that knew how to follow commands and change formations. This training aided the Continentals in the battles of 1778, from a small engagement in May at Barren Hill to the last major fighting in the northern theater at Monmouth in June and into other theaters of the conflict.

Today, the field in which he trained the first model company is preserved by the National Park Service within the boundary of Valley Forge National Historical Park.

This November, during the second annual Emerging Revolutionary War bus tour, attendees will see the field and stand at the foot of the statue to von Steuben, looking over the same ground he first saw on this date, February 23, 1778. To secure your tickets, click the link on the header bar above titled “2022 Bus Tour.”

See you in November!

“It it with great reluctance, I trouble you on a subject.”

In the throes of the winter of 1778, spent at Valley Forge, General George Washington and his staff formulated a mountain of paperwork to multiple recipients of the American cause. On February 16, 1778, Alexander Hamilton composed a letter for the commander-in-chief of the Continental army to a gentleman who had moved from the military to the political ranks; George Clinton of New York.

George Clinton

He had seen service in the Hudson Highlands and had been commissioned a brigadier general in the Continental army on March 25, 1777. Later that same year both governor and lieutenant governor of New York, formally resigning the latter and accepting the former on July 30, 1777. In that capacity, he received the letter, excerpts below, from Valley Forge.

“It is with great reluctance, I trouble you on a subject, which does not properly fall within your province; but it is a subject that occasions me more distress, than I have felt, since the commencement of the war; and which loudly demands the most zealous exertions of every person of weight and authority, who is interested in the success of our affairs.” I mean the present dreadful situation of the army for want of provisions and the miserable prospects before us, with respect to futurity. It is more alarming, than you will probably conceive, for to form a just idea, it were necessary to be on the spot.2 For some days past, there has been little less, than a famine in camp. A part of the army has been a week, without any kind of flesh & the rest three or four days.3 Naked and starving as they are, we cannot eno⟨ugh⟩ admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery, that they have not been, ere this, excited by their sufferings, to a general mutiny and dispersion. Strong symptoms however of discontent have appeared in particular instances; and nothing but the most active effort⟨s⟩ every where, can long avert so shocking a catastrophe.

Washington then asks for any help or supplies that Clinton can send his way, even though the army is outside the state lines of New York. Washington’s mindset is that the cause of the army in Pennsylvania is the cause of American independence and that Clinton, who had served would recognize that and do his utmost to provide what he can.

“I am calling upon all those, whose stations and influence enable them to contribute their aid upon so important an occasion, and from your well known zeal, I expect every thing within the compass of your power, and that the abilities and resources of the state over which you preside, will admit. I am sensible of the disadvantages it labours under, from having been so long the scene of war, and that it must be exceedingly drained by the great demands to which it has been subject, But though you may not be able to contribute materially to our relief, you can perhaps do something towards it; and any assistance, however trifling in itself, will be of great moment, at so critical a juncture, and will conduce to keeping the army together, ’till the Commissary’s department can be put upon a better footing, and effectual measures concerted to secure a permanent and competent supply. What methods you can take, you will be the best judge of; but if you can devise any means to procure a quantity of cattle or other kind of flesh, for the use of this army, to be at camp in the course of a month, you will render a most essential service to the common cause.

Not only did Clinton receive this missive from Washington, dated February 16, but the following day Gouverneur Morris from a camp committee established by the Continental Congress also sent the New York governor a letter asking for any assistance he could provide for the army at Valley Forge.

These letters underscore the seriousness of the plight of the army encamped at Valley Forge as the winter slowly turned to spring. The action at Washington’s headquarters and from the camp committee helped create a path forward through that pivotal winter. To learn more about what transpired during those six months from December 1777 to June 1778, follow the link above to the “2022 Bus Tour” and join Emerging Revolutionary War on our second annual bus tour November 11-13, 2022.

The entire letter from Washington (Hamilton) to George Clinton can be found here.

Valley Forge Documentary

244 years ago this week is when the Continental army, under the command of George Washington, marched into what would become their winter encampment as the year turned from 1777-1778. Recently, Phillip S. Greenwalt, one of the Emerging Revolutionary War historians was a “talking head” on a documentary about the Valley Forge encampment and what the soldiers and civilians faced during the ensuing six-month cantonment.

The documentary which features historians and park rangers is airing on Fox News Nation, the streaming service that is part of the Fox News network. Below is a screen shot of Phillip, who is also the author of Winter that Won the War, the Winter Encampment at Valley Forge, 1777-1778, which is part of the Emerging Revolutionary War Series published by Savas Beatie LLC.

So, if you need a break from the holiday specials that are airing, tune in for your history fix and learn more about the history at Valley Forge. If you want to dive even deeper into this period of the American Revolution, check out the link above labeled “2022 Bus Tour” and secure your tickets to join ERW at our second annual bus tour next November, which will include Valley Forge.

Washington’s First Valley Forge Abode Location

As the Continental Army marched into Valley Forge on December 19, 1777, staff officers under the commanding general had scoured the local area for a residence suitable for George Washington that winter. While discussions and negotiations were taking place, since the Continental Congress had decreed that the army had to ask and could not just commandeer private residences which was a chief complaint of the British policy prior to the war, Washington spent five nights in his marquee.

Afterwards Washington and his military family, later joined by Martha Washington, the general’s wife, moved into the Isaac Potts House for the remainder of the winter encampment.

This tent, called a marquee and served as headquarters, sleeping quarters, and dining area, was pitched in a field in the valley. The site is now marked by a stone monument and within the boundaries of Valley Forge National Historical Park.

On the second annual Emerging Revolutionary War Bus Tour, “The Rise of the American Army: Valley Forge and the Battle of Monmouth” from November 11 -13, 2022, this site, where Washington’s marquee tent was hoisted, will be one of the sites shown to tour participants.

To secure your spot, click here or the link on the banner at the top of this page.

The March from White Marsh

From November 2, 1777 until early-December, General George Washington and the Continental Army occupied a defensive position at White Marsh, approximately 13 miles northwest of Philadelphia. In early December, a series of small skirmishes erupted along the American lines in the last actions of the campaigning season of 1777. Frustrated by Washington’s refusal to emerge from his entrenchments, Sir William Howe led his British columns back to their winter abode in Philadelphia.

Washington moved the army shortly thereafter toward Valley Forge and their winter cantonment, arriving in that vicinity on December 19. As Washington prepared for the winter of 1777-1778 you can also start the preparations to follow this route with Emerging Revolutionary War on the weekend of November 11 – 13, 2022 on the Rise of the American Army: Valley Forge and the Battle of Monmouth Bus Tour. To secure your spot and further information, click here (or the link on the banner at the top of this page).

“Rev War Revelry” The Winter that Won the War, Valley Forge

In June 1778, the Continental army marched out of their winter encampment in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and headed toward New Jersey in pursuit of the retreating British army. The past six months, from December 1777 to June 1778, ushered in a period of suffering, renewal, and change.

Valley Forge is imprinted into the psyche of Americans as the the toughest winter of the entire American Revolution. In fairness, it was one of many tough winters that the Continental army survived. However, the reasons why this winter stands out will be part of the discussion of this Sunday evening’s “Rev War Revelry” which can be found on Emerging Revolutionary War’s Facebook page at 7 pm. EDT.

This week’s historian happy hour includes a discussion with Philip S. Greenwalt author of the recently released Emerging Revolutionary War Series title, The Winter that Won the War. This is the fourth volume in the series, with previous ones covering Lexington and Concord, Trenton and Princeton, and Monmouth.

Greenwalt will discuss how the Valley Forge winter was the intersection of various issues and how the decisions made and the determination of survival by the army made this the winter that won the war.

Tune in as well to hear how you can purchase a copy of this book to take with you as you plan that summer trip to Valley Forge and the Philadelphia area!