Transcript-Valley Forge National Historic Park Electronic Field Trip

What follows is the transcript from a live Internet chat that occurred on Weds., Oct. 18, 2000 with historians and archeologists from Valley Forge National Historical Park.

  • Dr. Douglas V. Campana, Senior Archeologist, Valley Forge Center for Cultural Resources
  • Julia L. Steele, Senior Archeologist, Valley Forge Center for Cultural Resources
  • Dona M. McDermott, Chief of Interpretative & Cultural Resource Management
  • Paulette Mark, Supervisory Park Ranger - Interpretation
  • George Matlack - Park Ranger - Interpretation

Schools from across the country logged on and asked questions about General George Washington and the winter of 1777-78 when he and his Continental Army troops were encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, during the Revolutionary War.

<Moderator> Okay, let's begin our chat. Franklin School, please ask your first question.

<Franklin> What year was Valley Forge developed?

<Valley Forge>The soldiers came to Valley Forge on Dec. 19, 1777 and began to set up camp.

<Franklin School> Do people still live in Valley Forge?

<Valley Forge> Yes, people still live in Valley Forge. Just outside the park there are many residential neighborhoods. And some employees reside within the park.

<Franklin School #1> What artifacts have you recently found and what have they told you about Valley Forge?

<Valley Forge> We have found military things like gunflints and musket balls, and some personal things like buttons dropped by the soldiers.

<Franklin School 4> What is Valley Forge?

<Valley Forge> Valley Forge was the third winter encampment for George Washington's soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Today, to remember their struggles, it is a National Historical Park.

<Franklin School 4> What type of jobs are there at Valley Forge?

<Valley Forge> Currently, the jobs are park rangers, archeologists, maintenance workers, administrators, librarians, historians, plumbers, HVAC staff etc. Anything to operate a park.

<Franklin School> I know there are log cabins in Valley Forge, how many are there?

<Valley Forge> Soldiers built 2,000. The only things left of them are their archeological remains. Today there are 60 reconstructed huts.

<Russell Middle School> Where exactly is Valley Forge located?

<Valley Forge> In southeast Pennsylvania, 18 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

<Coxsackie-Athens MS> Were any of the cabins ever destroyed by enemies? Was there evidence that the cabins had been fired upon?

<Valley Forge> No, none of the cabins were ever destroyed by the British. There was never a battle at Valley Forge, although of course the Americans were prepared for one.

<TROPICAL ELEMENTARY> How did they survive?

<Valley Forge> It was a struggle. They needed more of everything when they first arrived and worked through the winter to get enough cover. They built their own huts. They made the camp safe and sent out many foraging parties to look for supplies. Cattle were driven to camp from as far away as Connecticut and Maryland.

<Tropical Elementary> How long did Washington have smallpox?

<Valley Forge> Washington caught smallpox when he took his brother Lawrence to the West Indies to help cure his tuberculosis. He only had a light case which made him immune for life and left him with a few scars.

<Tropical Elementary> How old is the oldest cabin?

<Valley Forge> The cabins that stand at Valley Forge today are all re-creations. The oldest ones are about 100 years old. The remains of the cabins from the Revolution are now part of a vast, buried archeological site and are all below ground.

<TROPICAL ELEMENTARY> When was Valley Forge built?

<Valley Forge> The village of Valley Forge dates from 1742 with the building of the forge. The soldiers built the encampment in 1777.

<TROPICAL ELEMENTARY> What food did Washington and his men eat in the cabins?

<Valley Forge> The troops ate beef and pork,when they could get it. We found some of these food bones in the dig. They also got flour so they could have bread..

<Harsh High> What did you find in the dig?

<Valley Forge> We found the remains left in the ground from some of the soldiers' huts. There were no original huts left, only the depressions left in the ground, with artifacts in them.

<Tropical Elementary> How old was George Washington when he died?

<Valley Forge> He died at 67 years of age.

<Colonial Hills> What is the most interesting thing found in the dig?

<Valley Forge> The most interesting thing we found so far are several British uniform buttons from different British regiments. Since Valley Forge was an American camp, this seemed a bit odd. We found out that British uniforms had been captured and reused by the Americans who were short of clothing.

<khs> What was the weather like at Valley Forge while the soldiers were there?

<Valley Forge> It was not as cool and snowy as generally thought. There was rain and lots of mud.

<TROPICAL ELEMENTARY> How many log cabins were at Valley Forge?

<Valley Forge> The soldiers built about 2,000 huts while they were in the encampment.

<Rinenhimer school> How long has the excavation been going on at Valley Forge?

<Valley Forge> We just started the excavation at Valley Forge this June and we have been working through the summer. We will be starting in again next summer.

<TROPICAL ELEMENTARY> How did he die?

<Valley Forge> George Washington went outside and got caught in a sleet storm. He caught a cold which became worse. It turned into a disease they called quinsy, which made his throat swell shut. So he really died because he could not breathe. He died on December 14, 1799.

<khs> Where did the soldiers go when they left Valley Forge?

<Valley Forge> They marched to Monmouth, NJ following the British. A battle took place and the Americans proved that they could stand their ground with the British who were considered the greatest army in the world.

<TROPICAL ELEMENTARY> How many kids did George have?

<Valley Forge> George Washington had no children of his own. His wife had two children from her first marriage that Washington helped to raise. They were Patsy (or Martha - named for her mother) who died of epilepsy when she was 17, and John Park Custis (Jackie) who lived into his 20's, married and gave Martha four grandchildren - 3 girls and a boy. Jackie died in 1781 because he caught camp fever while volunteering with the army with his stepfather, the General.

<Tropical Elementary> Did George and his soldiers get wet in their cabins in Valley Forge?

<Valley Forge> George Washington didn't actually live in a cabin. His troops might have been damp, but they kept their fires going, and tried to keep their roofs in good condition.

<Charmaine Taylor> Where did George Washington live after the revolution?

<Valley Forge> He returned to Mt. Vernon, but was selected as President of the US and lived for a while in New York City then Philadelphia. And when he retired he again returned to Mt. Vernon in Virginia.

<Russell Middle School> Did any Patriot soldiers desert Valley Forge to return to their families?

<Valley Forge> Some soldiers did desert but George Washington did not approve. He believed in keeping the discipline of the camp. The punishment for desertion was to be hanged and several men are on record for being hanged for desertion at Valley Forge. Because the other men were paraded by the hanging, they learned not to desert so they would not be punished that way.

<Harsh High> Were there any woman at Valley Forge?

<Valley Forge> Women were with the army pretty much all the time. At the beginning of Valley Forge there were 300 to 400 women who came to camp with the soldiers. When the weather got better whole families visited their soldiers. Mrs. Washington came to camp in Feb. and helped to run the headquarters. Other officers' wives came, too. Catharine Greene, Rebecca Biddle, Lucy Knox and others visited the camp. Over 750 officers' wives were present for the May 6 French alliance celebration.

<Russell Middle School> Is the winter of Valley Forge a bit overrated, or was it really a huge part of the development of America?

<Valley Forge> Valley Forge is very important for reasons other than the weather. When the army marched in it was in a disorganized state. The army needed to be reorganized, the soldiers needed to be trained, the supply system need to be reorganized. With hard work over the winter of 1777-78, the soldiers become a fighting force that could go on to win the American Revolution.

<Dallas Environmental> Thank you for your time.

<Moderator> That's great information! Thank you all for participating. If you have additional questions, please e-mail them to lyoung@lsy.com

<Russell Middle School> This has been very interesting and informative! Thank you for putting this together for us!