Coming soon... learn about the excavation of the cabin sites at Valley Forge in "Restoration & Dig Activities."

Setting Up Camp

General Washington's poorly fed, ill-equipped army, weary from long marches, struggled into Valley Forge and prepared for winter's fury. First orders were to select grounds for brigade encampments. Within days of the army's arrival, the snow was six inches deep. General Washington directed his men to build a log encampment to protect them from the winter weather. By January, the men began working on the fortifications needed should they have to defend the camp.

General Orders

Head Quarters, at the Gulph, December 18, 1777

šThe Colonels, or commanding officers of regiments, with their Captains, are immediately to cause their men to be divided into squads of twelve, and see that each squad have their proportion of tools, and set about a hut for themselves: 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. And as there is reason to believe that boards, for covering, may be found scarce and difficult to be got; He offers One hundred dollars to any officer or soldier, who in the opinion of three Gentlemen, he shall appoint as judges, shall substitute some other covering, that may be cheaper and quicker made, and will in every respect answer the ends.

The Soldier's huts are to be of the following dimensions: fourteen by sixteen each, sides, ends and roofs made with logs, and the roof made tight with split slabs, or in some other way; the sides made tight with clay, fire-place made of wood and secured with clay on the inside eighteen inches thick, this fire-place to be in the rear of the hut; the door to be in the end next to the street; the doors to be made of split oak-slabs, unless boards can be procured. Side-walls to be six and a half-feet high. The officers huts to form a line in the rear of the troops, one hut to be allowed to each General Officer, one to the Staff of each brigade, one to the field officers of each regiment, one to the Staff of each regiment, one to the commissioned officers of two companies, and one to every twelve non-commissioned officers and soldiers.

G. Washington
(The Writings of George Washington: From the original Sources 1745-1799. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934.)

Within days of their arrival at Valley Forge, Continental Army soldiers began building their huts as directed by General Washington. Between December 21 and January 20, hut construction was a top priority. Approximately 2,000 huts were built based on Washington's own specific plan for their construction. However, many men used their own initiative to construct the log huts.

Building your own log house sounds like great fun until you consider that most soldiers had never built a log house before. The lack of food and proper clothing made it difficult for the men to work outside and to carefully follow orders for hut construction. There were very few tools or animals around to help haul logs. To add to the problems, building materials such as logs were scarce. As a result, there was a wide variety in the size, shape, and look of the huts. There is evidence that some huts were dug into the earth with their floors several feet below ground level. Others were built with fireplaces in the corner. There may have been regional variations in building techniques. Soldiers from North Carolina, for example, may have built their huts differently than those built by soldiers from another part of the country. By the beginning of February, General Washington reported that most men were living in huts.

Imagine sharing a space slightly larger than your bedroom with 11 other people — adults! On average each hut housed 12 men. There was a row of bunk beds along two walls of the huts. This is where the men slept and kept their clothes and personal items.

Many were astonished at General Washington's orders to build the hut city. General Huntington was not alone in his thoughts:

"I wish I could tell you I was coming to see you, instead I am going to build me a House in the Woods, what do you think if the Armys making two thousand log Houses in all the Regularity of an encampment." (Jedediah Huntington to Andrew Huntington, December 23, 1777. Jedediah Huntington Papers. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society.)

On January 3, 1778, General Nathanael Greene wrote to his brother, Jacob, and said

"we are all going into log huts — a sweet life after a most fatiguing campaign." (Valley Forge Historical Park documents.)

Though the huts provided shelter, they did little to offset the critical shortages that continually plagued the army.

Learn more about Valley Forge:

Why Valley Forge?
Setting Up Camp
Training a Fighting Force
Diversity of the Revolutionary Soldiers
Marching Out of Valley Forge
Visiting Valley Forge National Historical Park