In His Excellency: George Washington, the library’s All Fairfax Reads selection, author Joseph J. Ellis describes Washington’s haunting memories of his army’s six-month encampment at Valley Forge.
“To see Men without Cloathes to cover their nakedness,
without Blankets to lay on, without Shoes, by which
their Marches might be traced by the Blood on their feet
is a mark of Patience and obedience which in my opinion
can scarce be parallel’d.”
No battle was ever fought at Valley Forge, yet it is considered a turning point in the War of American Independence — “a battle not of weapons, but of will.”
By the winter of 1777, initial support for the war had waned and the recruits at Valley Forge came from the lower middle classes, who had few options besides the military. When Washington’s military advisors convinced him that he could not launch another campaign against the better-equipped and more rested British army, he brought 12,000 troops to winter quarters 18 miles outside of Philadelphia. The soldiers built 1,000 huts to live in and received supplies erratically. Some only ate "firecake," an unappetizing meal of flour and water. Clothing was scarce and shoes had been destroyed through long marches. At one point 4,000 Continentals were declared unfit for duty.
But over the course of six months, as supplies began to improve and training become more consistent, the bravery, endurance and sacrifice of the troops imbued them with a new spirit. When they marched away from Valley Forge in June 1778, they were determined to win the war.
For more on that famous winter of 1777-1778, check out:
Valley Forge by David Garland. (fiction)
The Road to Valley Forge by John Buchanan.
Washington’s Secret War by Thomas Fleming.
The Valley Forge Winter by Wayne Bodie.
Washington’s Crossing by David Fischer.