Valley Forge

Between the British army's capture of Philadelphia in 1777 and their eventual evacuation of the colonial capitol the following year, Washington's army was forced to make their winter quarters at Valley Forge. Valley Forge was located about twenty miles north of Philadelphia. The ensuing winter of 1777-1778 was a tragic, dark time for the Continental Army, as they lost about 2,500 troops to the cold, disease, scant shelter and clothing, and starvation. There were twelve thousand colonial soldiers stationed at Valley Forge, but less than one-third of them had shoes. Also, many of the soldiers had tattered uniforms. Before the construction of log barracks, the ground troops had to sleep in makeshift shacks with beds of straw (the number of blankets for the army was very low). As far as rations went, Washington's army survived on small meals of meat and bread throughout the cold winter. Diseases of all sorts (typhoid, smallpox, pneumonia, dysentery, typhus, and typhoid) ravaged those who survived death by malnutrition and exposure. Despite repeatedly commenting on his desire to return to his home in Mount Vernon, General George Washington determined to remain with his men at Valley Forge in order to "share in the hardship." He stayed with his military aides in a small stone house near the military headquarters. Most of his time during the winter of 1777-1778 was spent writing letters to the Continental Congress, requesting assistance for his army in the form of supplies and rations. Additionally, Washington penned Congress in order to rebut the claims of the Conway Cabal, a group of colonial military and political leaders who had publicly spoken out against Washington's competence as a war general after his defeat at Philadelphia and who had supported the nomination of colonial General Horatio Gates to replace Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. Despite the criticism that Washington was receiving at this time, he did welcome support from one of his general, Henry Knox. Although Congress did little to assist the army after all of Washington's letters, they did visit the camp at Valley Forge. These visits helped to relieve fears of mutiny sparked by the Conway Cabal among some of the members of Congress. In addition to rebuilding the Congress's trust in him as a legitimate military leader, Washington also used the time during the winter encampment at Valley Forge to better train his army for the return of war in the spring. The Prussian officer Baron Friedrich von Steuben served as the colonial army's drill master at this time. He taught Washington's army how to use their bayonets in fighting and how to reform fighting lines in the heat of a battle. This training, along with the official alliance of the French army with the Continental Army, served to change the bitter mood at Valley Forge as the spring of 1778 arrived. On June 19, 1778, General Washington's army left their winter headquarters at Valley Forge to once again engage the British army in battle at the Battle of Monmouth.