Valley Forge Encampment
A Winter of Suffering
"To see the 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."
George Washington at Valley Forge, April
You know how it feels when your stomach rumbles? Well,
imagine that you are in the army and eating
"firecake" (a tasteless mixture of flour and
water) day after day. You have had very little
bread or meat to eat, your shoes are worn through,
your clothes were made for warmer weather or
well worn from many battles, and you have no
warm place to sleep. Would you complain? Sure!
However, according to General George Washington's
letter to Congress, the soldiers in his Continental
Army did not.
The Continental Army arrived at Valley Forge on December
19, 1777, after a tough campaign of battles
with the British. Since early fall, the General
had problems with getting supplies to his troops.
As winter approached, the problems became worse.
Soldiers received irregular supplies of meat
and bread. Shortages forced the men to forage
for food in the forests and farm fields that
Conditions were so severe at times that General Washington
wrote, "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." (Pollarine).
Feeding the 12,000+ men at the encampment was
only one of the problems facing the Commander-in-Chief.
General Washington also was having a tough time
getting support from Congress. There were threats
to his leadership. His officers were unhappy
and he needed to better prepare the troops to
meet the enemy in the coming campaign.
Clothing, too, was a problem. Long marches had destroyed
the men's 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, poorly clothed and living in crowded, damp
quarters, many soldiers became very sick. Typhus,
typhoid, dysentery, and pneumonia killed as
many as 2,000 men that had been sent from camp
to hospitals established in the surrounding
countryside during the winter of 1777-78. Although
Washington repeatedly asked the Congress for
help, it was not available and the soldiers
continued to suffer. Wives, sisters, and daughters
of the enlisted men tried to ease the suffering
by providing desperately needed services such
as laundry and possibly nursing care.
Why Is This Site Important?
The encampment of the Continental Army at Valley
Forge in the winter of 1777-78 is one of the
most renowned aspects of the American Revolution.
The hardships the ordinary soldier endured while
living in makeshift log huts has become legendary.
Learn more about Valley Forge:
Why Valley Forge?
Setting Up Camp
Training a Fighting Force
Diversity of the Revolutionary
Marching Out of Valley Forge
Visiting Valley Forge National