Washington at Valley Forge

Valley Forge: Washington's army spent the summer of 1777 fighting a string of losing battles. In the fall, the Americans were unable to keep the British out of Philadelphia.

In December, Washington marched his tired, beaten, hungry and sick army to Valley Forge (20 miles northwest of British-occupied Philadelphia).

At Valley Forge, there were shortages of everything from food to clothing to medicine. Washington's men were sick from disease, hunger, and exposure. The Continental Army camped in log cabins and endured cold conditions while the British troops warmed themselves in colonial homes. The patriots went hungry while the British soldiers ate well.

Terms of enlistment were ending for many soldiers in Washington's army. The General wondered if he would even have an army left when the spring thaw finally arrived.

Washington under Siege: General Washington was upset that local farmers were hoarding much-needed food waiting to earn higher profits in the spring. Some farmers snuck grain into Philadelphia to feed the British army, who paid in gold or silver. Each night there were more desertions. Washington grew privately disgusted at the lack of commitment of his so-called patriot fighters.

Washington's leadership skills were openly questioned by some in Congress and his own officers. Help came in the form of a Prussian volunteer, Baron Von Steuben. The military leader was disgusted at the lack of American discipline. At Washington's urging he trained the Continental Army. The troops slowly became more professional. Confidence grew among the soldiers who remained.

Over the winter, the weather improved, and food trickled in from the surrounding countryside. Washington was able to contain those who questioned his leadership abilities. The Continental Army encamped at Valley Forge in the fall of 1777 with about 12,000 men. About a quarter of them died before spring. Another thousand didn't reenlist or deserted. The soldiers that remained were fewer, but stronger and more disciplined. They were weary, but firmly resolved.

The next year, 1778, brought greater fortune to the American cause. While Washington froze at Valley Forge, Benjamin Franklin was busy securing the French alliance. Now the war would be different indeed.

Source: Washington at Valley Forge
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