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It was common practice in the eighteenth century for armies to suspend hostilities during the winter months. In the winter of 1777, Washington chose a site at Valley Forge because it would be easily defended from surprise attack. He also trusted that provisions for the soldiers would be readily available from local farmers.
From the beginning, however, lack of food and clothing were serious problems for the 12,000 encamped men. They had little to eat other than fried dough, referred to as "fire cakes." The soldiers were in tatters. Accommodations were hastily constructed: bunkhouses with canvas walls, dirt floors and fireplaces. This housing was smoky and cold—an ideal place for the spread of infectious disease. The soldiers were subject to bouts of cold that thawed into mud, then refroze. Local farmers were reluctant to exchange food for the nearly worthless Continental scrip and some preferred to deal in hard money with the British 25 miles away in Philadelphia. During the course of the winter, the American force dwindled to about one-half its initial size, due primarily to desertion. One of the few bright spots at Valley Forge was the presence of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Prussian general who had met Benjamin Franklin in France and received from him a letter of introduction to Washington. Von Steuben assumed the task of training the Continental forces and managed to instill a sense of discipline and positive morale. Von Steuben later served at Yorktown, and after the war he was awarded a pension by Congress.
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Valley Forge by Stacey A. Swigart.
Valley Forge is a name that resonates in the minds of many Americans. As the site of the 1777-1778 encampment of the Continental Army during the Revol...
The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger.
In this lively and compelling biography Harlow Giles Unger reveals the dominant political figure of a generation. A fierce fighter in four critical Re...
Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 by Elizabeth A. Fenn.
A horrifying epidemic of smallpox was sweeping across North America when the War of Independence began, and until now we have known almost nothing abo...
Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge by Thomas James Fleming.
The defining moments of the Revolutionary War did not occur on the battlefield or diplomatic table, claims Fleming, but at Valley Forge where the Cont...
The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army by Paul Lockhart.
The image of the Baron de Steuben training Washington's ragged, demoralized troops in the snow at Valley Forge is part of the iconography of our Revol...
The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777 by Kristiana Gregory.
Eleven-year-old Abigail Jane Stewart records the despair and hope of the difficult winter between 1777-1778--when she witnessed George Washington read...
Lafayette by Harlow Giles Unger.
In this biography, acclaimed author Harlow Giles Unger paints an intimate and detailed portrait of the heroic young French soldier who, at nineteen, r...