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Valley Forge, 18 miles northwest of Philadelphia, is among the best-known places associated with the Revolutionary War. The village received its name from the iron forge built along Valley Creek in the 1740s. By the time of the Revolution, a sawmill and gristmill had been built in the area, making the place an important supply base for the Americans. 

But before the American Army encamped here, the British army encamped here first. They not only destroyed the forge and mills, but more importantly, they forced Washington to either defend his supply depot in Reading to the west or the city of Philadelphia to the east. With the British army in between, he could not defend both. To make the decision more difficult, not defending Philadelphia would have political consequences. 

Making a military decision, Washington chose Reading, giving the British a clear path to Philadelphia. On September 26th, British forces marched into the city and took possession of it. 

With Valley Forge now free, Washington was able choose it for his winter encampment. The area was close enough to the British forces in Philadelphia to keep their raiding and foraging parties out of the interior of Pennsylvania, yet far enough away to halt the threat of British surprise attacks. The high ground of Mount Joy and Mount Misery, combined with the Schuylkill River to the north, made the area naturally defensible. 

Although no military engagements were fought here and no bayonet charges or artillery bombardments took place, during the winter of 1777-78 approximately 2,000 soldiers died here in a battle to survive hunger, disease, and the unrelenting forces of nature. Of all the places associated with the Revolutionary War, none conveys more the suffering, sacrifice, and ultimate triumph of American forces than Valley Forge. 

The American Soldier at Valley Forge 
December 19, 1777 - June 19, 1778

Of the 11,000 citizen soldiers in camp, perhaps 3,000 died; there were 268 court martials; and a British report of 1,134 desertions. Spring and improved conditions brought about a change in attitudes which are reflected in the following:

I lay here two nights and one day and had not a morsel of anything to eat all the time, save half of a small pumpkin cooked by...making a fire on it -- Pvt. Joseph Martin

No meat! No meat! What is your supper, lads? Firecake and water, Sir -- Cry of the Soldiers

The situation at the camp is such that in all human possibility the army must soon dissolve -- General James Varnum

The whole army is sick and crawling with vermin -- General Anthony Wayne

We could all be considered...Congress, Army (and the General Public) as one people, embarked in one cause...acting on the same principle and to one end -- General George Washington

(The troops) never looked so well, nor in such good order since the beginning of the war -- Pennsylvania Packet Reporter

(I am for taking) the first favorable opportunity to make a vigorous and serious attack upon the enemy…-- General Anthony Wayne

(Visitor Center Exhibit)

1. Visitor Center -- Take the self-guided tour route provided by the National Park Service. The route includes ten numbered stops and takes you past extensive remains, replicated huts, lines of earthworks, an artillery park, Washington's Headquarters, and the Grand Parade grounds. These, plus memorials, monuments and markers, help to tell the story of the soldiers who, at Valley Forge, helped to write an imperishable chapter in the history of America's struggle for independence. 

The first numbered stop is the Visitor Center. The center has an audio-visual program and exhibits that introduces you to the story of the 1777-78 encampment. There is an 18-minute film, shown every 30 minutes, that provides an introduction to life during the encampment. Historical artifacts help establish relationships between past and present. 

The center contains a variety of objects designed to show what life was like in the 1777-78 encampment, including the George C. Neumann Collection of firearms, swords, and accessories. One of the key artifacts on display is the sleeping marquee used by George Washington during the Revolution. 

Washington’s Sleeping Marquee 

While on campaign, Washington directed the operation of the Continental Army from three field tents or marquees. These were used for sleeping, dining and baggage storage. Since the tents accompanied the General throughout his campaigns, they were usually in need of repair by the end of each year. 

The Continental Army established its winter camp at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777. Five days later Washington moved his Headquarters to the Isaac Potts House. At that time, the marquees were repaired as necessary and stored for the winter.

 (Visitor Center Exhibit)

Among the exhibits is a touch-screen, computer system that contains a database consisting of the Valley Forge muster roll. The system allows visitors to search for their ancestors who wintered here at Valley Forge. 

The center also contains a bookstore with a wide range of publications and theme-related items. It is recommended that you purchase or rent the audio-cassette tour of the park.

 The Visitor Center is open year-round and there’s no better time of the year than winter to visit Valley Forge. And hopefully, there is six inches of snow on the ground. 

2. Muhlenberg Brigade -- Replicated huts mark the second site where Gen. Peter Muhlenberg's Brigade anchored the outer line of defense. 

On December 19, 1777, when Washington's poorly fed, ill-equipped army, weary from long marches, struggled into Valley Forge, winds blew as the 12,000 Continentals prepared for winter's fury. Areas such as this one were selected for brigade encampments and defense lines were planned and begun. Within days of the army's arrival, the nearby Schuylkill River was covered with ice and snow six inches deep. Though construction of more than 1,000 huts such as these provided shelter, it did little to offset the critical shortages that continually plagued the army.

Log City 

Following their arrival December 18, 1777, the men immediately set to work building huts for shelter. General orders the preceding day specified the size and design of the huts at 14x16 feet each, 6 and 1/2 feet high, a door next to the street and a fireplace in the rear. 

Despite the orders, hut size, location, and material varied - as these reconstructions demonstrate. Men from different regions were familiar with different building techniques, and few were skilled craftsmen. A surgeon’s mate wrote home, “have one dull ax to build a Logg Huft, when it will be done knows not.” 

“And as an encouragement to industry and art, the General promises to reward the party in each regiment, which finishes their hut in the quickest, and most workmanlike manner, with twelve dollars.” -- General Orders, December 18, 1777 

By mid-January most soldiers were housed, twelve to a hut. 

(Valley Forge Marker)

 Soldiers received irregular supplies of meat and bread, some getting their only nourishment from "firecake," a tasteless mixture of flour and water. So severe were conditions at times that Washington despaired "that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place ... this Army must inevitably ... Starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can." Animals fared no better. Gen. Henry Knox, Washington's Chief of Artillery, wrote that hundreds of horses either starved to death or died of exhaustion. 

Clothing, too, was wholly inadequate. Long marches had destroyed shoes. Blankets were scarce. Tattered garments were seldom replaced. At one point these shortages caused nearly 4,000 men to be listed as unfit for duty. 

Undernourished and poorly clothed, living in crowded, damp quarters, the army was ravaged by sickness and disease. Typhus, typhoid, dysentery, and pneumonia were among the killers that felled as many as 2,000 soldiers that winter. Although Washington repeatedly petitioned for relief, Congress was unable to provide it and the soldiers continued to suffer. Women, relatives of enlisted men, alleviated some of the suffering by providing valuable services such as laundry and nursing that the army desperately needed. 

3. National Memorial Arch -- A grand monument is the third site. It was dedicated in 1917 and commemorates the “patience and fidelity" of the soldiers who wintered at Valley Forge. 

4. Gen. Anthony Wayne Statue -- This bronze equestrian statue marks the fourth site. It stands in an area where Pennsylvania troops commanded by Wayne made their encampment. The statue faces toward the general's home in nearby Chester County. 

Anthony Wayne 

Colonel, Chester County Battalion of Minute Men, 
July 21, 1775. 
Colonel, 4th Pennsylvania Infantry Battalion, 
January 3, 1776. 
Brigadier General, Continental Army, 
February 21, 1777 to November 3, 1783. 
Brevetted Major General, 
September 30, 1783. 

“Resolved unanimously, that the thanks of congress be presented to Brigadier General Wayne for his brave, prudent and soldierly conduct in the spirited and well conducted attack on Stony Point that a gold medal emblematical of this action be struck and presented to Brigadier General Wayne.” 

Major General and Commander in Chief, United States Army, March 5, 1792 to December 16, 1796. 

(Valley Forge Marker)

After Brandywine, while the American Army was undergoing resupply at Reading Furnace, Wayne was given the responsibility of harassing the British advance to Philadelphia. Unfortunately for Wayne, the British were well aware of his position near his home in Chester County and surprised Wayne on a night raid on September 21st. The British, led by Lord Grey, ordered his men to remove the flints from their rifles and forced them to attack with bayonets only. The engagement, which became known as the Paoli Massacre, caught the Americans asleep and totally unprepared. In the raid, the British were unmerciful, taking few prisoners even when they tried to surrender. Wayne’s knowledge of the area, allowed him to form his light infantry and escape, but 53 Americans were killed, 100 were wounded and 71 captured. 

Wayne would get his revenge in July of 1779, when he led a bayonet-only, night raid on the British at Stony Point, NY. He took the British by complete surprise taking 500 prisoners. 

5. Washington’s Headquarters -- The focal point of camp activity marks the fifth site. It is the home of Isaac Potts, which was Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge. Nearby are the Dewees House and more replica huts that housed Washington's Guards. 

Washington’s Headquarters 

For six months this quiet path was a congested thoroughfare. Express riders from Congress, civilians requesting passes, guards posted around the house, couriers rushing out with new orders, foreign officers seeking employment, continually jammed this road during the encampment. 

At the center of the tumult was the Commander-in- Chief. From Headquarters, George Washington issued General Orders to the brigade, dictated eloquent warnings to Congress, and directed military operations form Georgia to Maine. 

(Valley Forge Marker)

While stationed at the home, Washington reflected on the state of the soldiers in his army: “To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie upon, without shoes ... without a house or hut to cover them until those could be built, and submitting without a murmur, is a proof of patience and obedience which, in my opinion, can scarcely be paralleled.” 

In back of Washington’s Headquarters are huts where the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard stayed. The huts have been replicated. 

Also, near the huts is the Valley Forge Railroad Station. The station was completed in 1913 and was the Visitor Center for travelers who came by rail. 

6. Redoubt 4 -- The sixth site is a redoubt that anchored one end of the inner defense line. This line was a secondary line of defense. The area around the redoubt was occupied by troops commanded by Brigadier General Jedediah Huntington. 

To Build a Redoubt 

The earthworks today appear to be giant molehills. But it took complex engineering to construct them. 

A deep ditch was excavated in front, to slow an attacking enemy. The dirt was heaped into gabions — baskets of interwoven branches. Bundles of branches called fascines were piled outside and inside the wall to protect the defenders, then the entire work was usually covered with sod to absorb cannon fire. 

Here at Redoubt 3, the inside walls were faced with stakes. Sod was scarce in the mud-churned encampment. Though partially reconstructed, Redoubt 3 is built on remnants of the original site. Please do not climb on the earthworks. 

(Valley Forge Marker)

7. Redoubt 3 -- The seventh site is a redoubt that anchored the other end of the inner defense line. This redoubt overlooked one of the encampment roads and defended the southern approaches to Valley Forge. 

8. Artillery Park -- The eighth site is a field used by the artillery units of the Continental Army. Most of the cannon brought to Valley Forge were massed in this area called the Artillery Park. Here, under the command of Brigadier General Henry Knox, artillery was stored and repaired and gun crews were trained and drilled. In the event of an attack, the cannon could be dispatched from this central location to wherever they were needed. 

Artillery Park 

Some redoubts and earthworks went unarmed. Most cannons at Valley Forge were kept in the Artillery Park near the center of the encampment. From here guns could be rushed to the point of attack. 

The Artillery Park gave the Americans a flexible defense. But camp roads were deep in mud; horses were starving. It may be fortunate that an attack never came. 

General Knox commanded and trained the Continental Artillery. With a gun crew of 14 to 15 men for each field 6-pounder, precise teamwork was essential. (In actual combat the Continentals often made do with smaller crews.) 

Brigades handled a variety of cannons. Though some were cast in America, many guns were acquired from the French or captured from the British. 

(Valley Forge Marker)

9. General James Varnum’s Quarters and Statue of General von Steuben -- The ninth site is an early 18th-century farmhouse overlooking the Grand Parade and once occupied by General James Varnum. 

Varnum’s Quarters 

When he moved in, General James Varnum used one room as both living quarters and brigade headquarters, and even held general courts martial. The owners, David and Elizabeth Stephens and their family, were allowed to remain in the rest of the house. A large portion of their farmland was used for the Grand Parade. When Varnum’s hut was completed, he joined his Rhode Island and Connecticut brigades hutted on both sides of the road near Stephen’s home. 

(Valley Forge Marker)

Also at the ninth site is the statue of General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Steuben was the person most responsible for the transformation of the Continental Army at Valley Forge. He was at onetime, a member of the elite General Staff of Frederick the Great, king of Prussia. No longer in the Prussian army and without employment of any kind, von Steuben offered his military skills to the patriot cause. When he arrived at Valley Forge from France on February 23, 1778, he was armed with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. Washington saw great promise in the Prussian and almost immediately assigned him the duties of Acting Inspector General with the task of developing and carrying out an effective training program. 

Upgrading military efficiency, morale, and discipline were as vital to the army's well-being as was its source of supply. The army had been handicapped in battle because unit training was administered from a variety of field manuals, making coordinated battle movements awkward and difficult. The soldiers were trained, but not uniformly. The task of developing and carrying out an effective training program fell to Baron Friedrich von Steuben. 

Numerous obstacles threatened success. No standard American training manuals existed, and von Steuben himself spoke little English. Undaunted, he drafted his own manual in French. His aides often worked late into the night, translating his work into English. The translations were in turn copied and passed to the individual regiments and companies that carried out the prescribed drill the following day. 

General von Steuben supervised the training and drilled the Continental Army. A large part of his training was achieved by his reliance on the power of example. Von Steuben shocked many American officers by breaking tradition to work directly with the soldiers. One officer wrote of von Steuben's "peculiar grace" as he took "under his direction a squad of men in the capacity of drill sergeant." From dawn to dusk his familiar voice was heard in camp above the sounds of marching men and shouted commands. Soon companies, regiments, then brigades moved smartly from line to column, column to line; loaded muskets with precision; and drove imaginary redcoats from the field by skillful charges with the bayonet. 

Training for Victory 

Like a drill sergeant, Inspector General Friedrich von Steuben trains eyeball to eyeball with a company of Continentals. This model company must serve as an example to the rest of Washington’s Army. The Grande Parade, here at the center of the encampment, is the only terrain expansive enough for drilling massed brigades. In simulated battle, Steuben sends troops back and forth across rough ground, preparing for the impending campaign against the British. 

(Valley Forge Marker)

He formed a model company of 100 selected men and undertook its drill in person. The rapid progress of this company under von Steuben's skilled instruction set an example for the whole army. After training, the members of the company were distributed amongst the rest of the army to spread the training. This skilled Prussian drillmaster tirelessly drilled and scolded the regiments into an effective fighting force. 

Intensive daily training, coupled with von Steuben's forceful manner, instilled in the men renewed confidence in themselves and their ability to succeed. 

The passing weeks of winter saw the army, under von Steuben’s training and Washington's inspirational leadership, undergo a dramatic transformation. Slowly but steadily the endurance, bravery, and sacrifice of the soldiers began to tell. Increasing amounts of supplies and equipment came into camp. New troops arrived. Spring brought word of the French alliance with its guarantees of military support. Now a strong, dependable force, well-trained and hopeful of success, drilled on the Grand Parade. 

On May 6, 1778, the Continental Army paraded to celebrate the French alliance with America. Von Steuben had the honor of organizing the day's activities and he made the Grand Parade a showplace for the American army. Thousands of muskets fired up and down the double ranks in the ceremonial "feu de joie”. Cannons boomed and cheers echoed across the fields. The drilling order and imposing appearance demonstrated their remarkable progress in improving their abilities as a unified, fighting force.

The Grand Parade 

Cannon smoke clouds the field below. A roar of muskets crisscrosses the Grand Parade as thousands of double-ranked troops perform a feu de joie (“fire of joy.”) To celebrate the signing of the French Treaty of Alliance, General Washington reviews the troops of the entire encampment May 6, 1778. The Grand Parade becomes a showplace for the newly trained disciplined Continental Army - a tribute to Baron von Steuben’s intensive-drilling.

 (Valley Forge Marker)

Soon word of the British departure from Philadelphia brought frenzied activity to the ranks of the Continental Army. On June 19, 1778, six months after their arrival, the army marched away from Valley Forge in pursuit of the British who were moving back to New York. They successfully engaged the British army at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. The ordered ranks, martial appearance, revived spirit, and fighting skill of the American soldiers spoke of a great transformation having occurred amidst the cold, sickness, and hardship that was Valley Forge. 

The war would last for another five years, but for Washington, his men, and the nation to which they sought to give birth, a decisive victory had been won at Valley Forge, not a victory of weapons but of will. The spirit of Valley Forge was now a part of a seasoned army and the prospects for a final victory were considerably greater.

10. The Washington Memorial Chapel and Waterman's Monument -- The chapel was visited earlier on the way to the Visitors Center. Also at site 10 is the Waterman's Monument. 

Waterman’s Monument 

This 50 foot granite obelisk was erected in 1901 by the Daughters of the Revolution. It marks the site of the only identified grave at Valley Forge, that of Lieutenant John Waterman of Rhode Island, who died on April 23, 1778. 

(Valley Forge Marker)


King of Prussia Mall -- One of the largest malls in the world. Although one would think that the historical significance of the area would be its main attraction, but often times the local hotels and B&B’s are filled with shoppers who come from all over the world to shop at this mall. 

Schuylkill River -- In the early morning hours of September 23rd, under the cover of darkness, Howe moved his army across the Schuylkill River, not far from this location. At the time that they crossed, the river was barely a foot deep. 

Norristown -- After crossing the Schuylkill, Howe encamped and rested his army here in Norristown. On September 25th, they moved out to Philadelphia. 

White Marsh Township -- Before moving to Valley Forge, Washington’s army encamped at White Marsh for six weeks. General Howe had not completely settled into Philadelphia for the winter and White Marsh was a good blocking position to protect the supply depot at Reading. From White Marsh, he was also able to quickly send patrols out to harass the British defenses outside of Philadelphia. 

On December 5th, Howe attempted a surprise attack on Washington’s position here, but the Americans were ready. After three days of indecisive skirmishes, Howe returned back to Philadelphia. 

Germantown Pike -- A parade of historic, 18th century homes. They are beautiful and they are everywhere. When the British marched down Germantown Pike, a young 12-year-old resident made the following observation: 

Like a vast machine in perfect order, the army moved in silence, there was no display of colors, not a sound of music. There was no violence and no offense. Men occasionally dropped out of line, and asked for milk or cider. 

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Joseph Galloway and other resident Tories, prepared the city for a grand welcoming for the British conquerors. However, Alexander Hamilton and a band of Americans were doing their last-minute, best to prevent it. They gathered cattle, horses, blankets, shoes, food stores and any other item that would of use to the British. They also cleared the harbor of boats. 

Onto Germantown

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