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Valley Forge National Historical Park


[Photo] Valley Forge National Historical Park
Photograph courtesy of the National Park Service

Valley Forge stands as an important place in American history, conveying the suffering, sacrifice and eventual triumph of the small American army under General George Washington in the bitter winter of 1777-1778. The winter began with American Revolutionary forces at their lowest ebb against the triumphant British Army led by King George III’s generals. Washington’s ragged, hungry troops, retreating from the captured American capital of Philadelphia, marched north of the city to endure winter conditions in a countryside barren of provisions. Washington chose the location of Valley Forge because the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, holding session in Lancaster, stated that the colony would withdraw its men, supplies and financial aid if the Continental Army did not remain encamped close to Philadelphia. Deterred by the threat of the dissolution of the colonial front, Washington and his officers decided upon Valley Forge, a small hamlet 25 miles west of Philadelphia that was both geographically defensible and close enough to Philadelphia so that Washington could keep the British under surveillance. Washington had the choice of attempting to recapture Philadelphia, but due to the weakened condition of his troops and the need for military training, opted to settle his forces in the countryside.

900 huts were laid out in strict military fashion, according to brigade, under Washington’s specifications. The encampment and fortifications were laid out by Brigadier General Louis L. Duportail, a 26-year-old Frenchman. Utilizing the natural defenses offered by the Schuylkill River to the north and Mount Joy to the west, Duportail supervised the construction of both an inner and outer line of defense. The Inner Line of earthworks formed a semicircle stretching from the northwest to the southwest following a ridgeline. The earthworks were supplemented from north to south by the Star Redoubt, Fort Huntingdon, and Fort Washington, each flanked by artillery redans (a French term denoting a V-shaped fortification pointing toward an expected attack).

[photo] Valley Forge National Historical Park
Photograph courtesy of the National Park Service

By Christmas Eve, the majority of the huts had been completed, and Washington moved from his marquee on the open plain into the small stone house on the bank of Valley Creek. His general officers took up residence with many of the local families in the surrounding countryside (records show that General Varnum, Inspector General von Steuben, Artillery Chief Knox, and General de Kalb spent part of the winter in a hut). The army, however, was beset with disease, and brigade hospitals had to be built. More than 2,500 men died during this time. Washington was forced to maintain strict discipline over his troops and the local farmers, who preferred payment for supplies in British gold to American paper currency. Surprisingly, morale remained high. In Washington’s words:

"Without arrogance or the smallest deviation from truth, it may be said that no history now extant can furnish an instance of an army’s suffering such uncommon hardships as ours have done, and bearing with them the same patience and fortitude. To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie on, without shoes, for want of which their marches might be traced by the blood from their feet, and almost as often without provisions as with them, marching through the frost and snow, and at Christmas taking up their winter quarters within a day’s march of the enemy, without a house or a hut to cover them till they could be built, is a proof of patience and obedience which in my opinion can scarce be paralleled. "


[Photo] Valley Forge National Historical Park
Photograph courtesy of the National Park Service

By late February, the tide of good fortune began to turn for the Continentals, with the arrival of Baron von Steuben. Von Steuben had been a professional soldier in the Prussian army of Frederick the Great and had been persuaded to join the American cause. With Washington’s backing, he was appointed Inspector General by the Continental Congress, and he began at once to drill the troops at Valley Forge, starting with Washington’s Life Guard and then proceeding, unit by unit. Under his instruction, and following his simplified manual, the ragged troops began to develop into the trained soldiers who would eventually become a formable, professional army, able to carry the war to the British.

On March 23 Washington appointed Nathaniel Greene as the new Quartermaster General. Greene proved able in scouring the countryside and maintaining a relatively steady stream of supplies into the camp. The announcement of the French alliance with the Americans on May 5 prompted a day of celebration on the Grand Parade. In Philadelphia, Sir Henry Clinton, Lord Howe’s replacement, decided to evacuate Philadelphia and return to New York, with the better part of the British army traveling on land. On June 18 Clinton set off along the Delaware River for New York. Washington dispatched some troops to reoccupy Philadelphia and the rest of the camp was mobilized and set off after the British the following day. One week later, on June 28, the armies met at Monmouth, New Jersey, and though the outcome was indecisive, the Continentals had held their ground in the longest sustained battle of the war. The trials at Valley Forge helped create the professional American Army which fought the remainder of the War of Independence until the final victory at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.

[photo] Valley Forge National Historical Park
Photograph courtesy of the National Park Service

Valley Forge State Park, embracing 2,300 acres on both sides of the Schuylkill River, includes extensive remains of major forts, miles of earthworks, the artillery park, Washington’s headquarters house (General Washington rented the Isaac Potts House to serve as military headquarters at Valley Forge), quarters of other top officers and the grand parade Ground where Von Steuben rebuilt the army and where news of the French alliance was announced. All of these features, as well as a1705 stone schoolhouse used as a hospital by the troops, remains of major forts, and miles of earthworks are contained in the Valley Forge National Historical park. Now a National Park, the Valley Forge encampment site is situated at Port Kennedy, in Montgomery and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania. The historic area consists of two parcels of land separated by the Schuylkill River. The southern parcel is bounded on the northwest, north, east, and southeast sides by the boundaries of Valley Forge National Historic Park. The second parcel of land, north of the river, is enclosed by the park boundaries.
Within the historic landmark, the Valley Forge National Historical Park encompasses approximately the entire historic encampment with the exception of the majority of the general officers’ quarters. On January 20, 1961 Valley Forge became a National Historic Landmark. The Valley Forge State Park (now renamed to as the Valley Forge National Historical Park) was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. Created a Pennsylvania State Park in 1893; it became Valley Forge National Historical Park on July 4, 1976, the day the United States of America was officially 200 years old as a nation.

Valley Forge National Historical Park website

National Historic Landmark file

 

 

 

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