To learn more about Valley Forge and Washington's encampment, or to plan a visit to the Valley Forge National Historical Park, visit the park's Web site located at: www.nps.gov/vafo

For more information on the life and Presidency of George Washington and his contributions to our nation, click here to go to the "Historical Information Page on George Washington."


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 21, 1778

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 they passed.

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 Soldiers
Marching Out of Valley Forge
Visiting Valley Forge National Historical Park

Sources Used