NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. During the winter of 1779 to 1780, the small village of Morristown, New Jersey was transformed into the headquarters and base of operations for George Washington's Continental Army. Situated in a secure location west of the rugged Watchung Mountains, Morristown was the ideal position for the Americans' winter quarters. Nearby lumber and water resources were essential to supporting the men as were the Patriot sympathies of the local population. Most importantly, by encamping 30 miles away from the British base on Manhattan, the Continentals were both safe from surprise attack and yet close enough to monitor enemy activities. Life was harsh for the men that winter. Food was scarce throughout the country, and the bankrupt government had little money to pay the soldiers or to buy supplies with. The weather was terrible, with snow already on the ground as the men reached Jockey Hollow in early December. Overall, there were over 2 dozen snowstorms that winter and with frigid temperatures even the Hudson River froze solid. Washington's twelve thousand men endured the snow, cold and lack of food for months. Despite these hardships however, the army survived. The service and sacrifice of the men at Morristown thus played an important role in America's victorious fight for independence. Today Morristown National Historical Park works to preserve, exhibit, and interpret the winter encampment of 1779 to 1780. Patrons can see what life was like for the common solider by visiting the park Soldier Hut exhibit and learn about the HQ Washington made by touring the Ford Mansion. Additionally, the park uses the writings of historical figures to record past experiences and bring them to life. Join us for this series of audio podcasts as we trace the Continental Army's experience at Morristown.
Washington's Army Arrives
Washington’s Army arrives at Morristown first week of December 1779. Hear what they encountered in their own words.
[fife playing and men talking indistinctly in background] NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. [background noise fades] Washington and the Continental Army arrived at Morristown the first week of December 1779, and here is what they encountered in their own words. December 1st, 1779. His Excellency arrived at Morristown today. Very severe storm of hail and snow all day. Lt. Robert Parker, 2nd Continental Artillery Regiment. December 5, 1779. Marched about 8 o clock and encamped on the ground of our winter quarters, 3 miles west of Morristown. Began to snow about 9 o'clock and the wind rising gradually until it blew up a violent storm. The snow fell about six inches deep. Ensign John Barr, 4th New York Regiment. December 6, 1779. Brigade orders: as the covering the brigade with huts with all possible expedition will tend much to the convenience of the men, the commanding officer directs that as a stimulus to their industry in performing this necessary business, the mess whose hut shall be first finished shall receive two gallons of whiskey, and that the mess whose hut shall be the best made, provided it not be the last finished, shall receive four gallons. Orderly Book of 2nd New York Regiment, New York Brigade.
Constructing a Log Hut City
During the month of December, the Army sets out constructing a log hut city. Snow was already on the ground as the first trees were felled at Jockey Hollow.
[fife playing and men talking indistinctly in background] NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. [background noise fades] NARRATOR: During the month of December, the army set out constructing a "log hut city." Snow was already on the ground as the first trees were felled at Jockey Hollow. December 1779. We are here going into winter quarters in the woods as usual. Since the beginning of this month, we have been busy putting up our shanties, but the severe frost greatly retards our work, and does not even permit us to complete our chimneys. General John Kalb, commanding officer, Maryland Line. December 1779. Having removed the snow, we wrapped ourselves in greatcoats, spread our blankets on the ground and laid down by the side of each other, five or six together, with large fires at our feet. Doctor James Thatcher, Jackson's Regiment, Stark's Brigade. December 8th, 1779. The "doctrine of huttification" is carried into practice on the hills in Morristown with amazing zeal and dispatch. If Congress can contrive a method to appreciate the currency as fast as we can build huts, our affairs would soon assume a promising aspect. Alexander Scammell (???) Late December 1779. We had to level the ground to set our huts apart. The soil was a light loam. In digging just below the frost, which was not deep, the snow having fallen early in the season, we dug out a number of toads that would hop off when brought to the light of day as lively as in summertime. Joseph Plumb Martin, Connecticut Brigade.
Three Day Blizzard
In early 1780 the Amy encounters a blizzard to remember.
[fife playing and men talking indistinctly in background] NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. [background noise fades] In early 1780, the army encountered a blizzard to remember. The Continental Army in its own words: January 3rd, 1780. The weather for several days has been remarkably cold and stormy. On the third instant, we experienced one of the most tremendous snowstorms ever remembered. No man could endure its violence many minutes without danger of his life. Several marquees were torn asunder and blown down over officers' heads in the night, and some of the soldiers were actually covered while in their tents and buried like sheep under snow. Doctor James Thatcher, Stark's Brigade, Morristown. January 2nd, 1780. Very cold and about noon it began to snow and continued without intermission through the day and night. The wind high and variable, but chiefly from the north and northwest. George Washington. January 3rd, 1780. The storm continues and the wind is scarcely ever known to be higher. The roads are rendered entirely impassable by the drifting of the snow. Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar, Pennsylvania Division. Jan 6, 1780. Snowing and sunshine alternately. Cold with the wind and north and northwest increasing. Night very stormy. The snow which in general is 18 inches deep is much drifted. Roads almost impassable. George Washington.
Life in the Continental Army was more than just marching from place to place. The soldiers and officers alike faced many hardships and adventures.
[fife playing and men talking indistinctly in background] NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. [background noise fades] Life in the Continental Army was more than just marching from place to place. The soldiers and officers alike faced many hardships and adventures. As the winter progressed, the army settled down into a daily routine. They were constantly busy: building huts, mending uniforms, and maintaining camp hygiene. Harsh discipline was enforced, despite the terrible weather. March 5, 1780. The troops busily employed in cutting away the stumps. The camp begins to cut a beautiful appearance. Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar, Inspector, Pennsylvania Line. March 13, 1780. If you was just now to step into my hut, which is only a very small room, if it ever got finished, I will tell you just how you would find me, for to give you a small scrap of my trouble. You'll find me sitting on a chest, in the center of six or eight tailors, with my book, pen, and ink on one side, and the buttons and thread on the other. The tailors you'll find some a-cutting out, others sewing. Outside of the tailors you will see maybe a half dozen men, naked as Lazarus, begging for clothing. All about the room you'll see nothing but cloth and clothing. On the floor you'll find it about knee deep with snips of cloth and dirt. If you stay any time you'll hear every minute knock knock at the door, I calling "walk in" and others walking out, which makes a continual bustle. Presently I begin to swear. Sometimes I have to jump up blundering over two or three tailors to whip somebody out of the house. Other times, Tudor and my mess mates, they begin to swear, and with our swearing and the tailors singing as you know they must, and the men a-grumbling, makes pretty music for your ear. And that's the way from morning till night, from week's end to week's end. As you come down your nearest way will be by camp. You'll find my hut on the right in General Hand's brigade. You will know by the soldiers running in and out. Erkuries Beatty, Hand's Brigade, to Redding Beatty. April 12, 1780. The men warned for duty are to be closely shaved, previous to their coming on the brigade parade, with hands, face and clothing neat and clean. Their arms to be in such order as to bear the most strictest inspection. Those who appear in contrary order will not only merit but actually receive immediate punishment. Brigade Orders, New York Brigade, 4th New York Regiment.
Friendship and Romance
The idle winter months gave the soldiers opportunity to fraternize with local civilians. Friendships and romance bloomed even in the depth of winter during a war.
[fife playing and men talking indistinctly in background] NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. [background noise fades] The idle winter months gave the soldiers opportunities to fraternize with local civilians. From Washington's staff in Morristown to the men in Jockey Hollow, the Continental Army and the population interacted as the months passed, bringing people of diverse regional and social backgrounds into contact. Friendships and romances flourished, as you will hear in the following accounts. January 8th, 1780. Money is good for nothing. I could never have believed that the money would have been so low and past as a currency. Only my washing bill is beyond the limits of my wages. I am now endeavoring to hire some woman to live in camp to do the washing for myself and some of the officers. Though I am aware that many persons will tell the story to my disadvantage, but be that as it may, I am determined on it. Lieutenant Colonel Ebeneezer Huntington, Webb's Regiment, Stark's Brigade. January 10th, 1780. We have, or will have, noble sleighing. The other day, I mean night, we tumbled over two sleigh load of ladies, helter skelter, head over heels, into the snow. As we are not far distant now, and the going excellent, you can easily with a party of your own choosing come to see us. We could entertain you with a drink of grog if no more. We are now settled at Morristown very cleverly, where I will expect we shall continue during the winter and pass the time as agreeably as we can. You know Mister Tim Ford, he and I have got accidentally acquainted with each other, and amuse ourselves by speaking, composing, playing on the flute, smoking together, walking, et cetera et cetera et cetera. Simeon DeWitt, assistant mapmaker, Morristown, to John Bogart, North Branch of the Raritan. I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler. She is a good hearted girl who I am sure will never play the termagant. Though not a genius she has good sense enough to be agreeable. And though not a beauty, she has fine black eyes, is rather handsome, and has every other requisite of the exterior to make a lover happy. And believe me, I am lover in earnest, though I do not speak of the perfections of my mistress in the enthusiasm of chivalry. Alexander Hamilton to Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens
Passing the Time
Officers and men found various ways to occupy their time and find small comforts when not on duty.
[fife playing and men talking indistinctly in background] NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. [background noise fades] Despite their busy daily routine, soldiers were still left with many idle hours during the encampment. Officers and men found various ways to occupy their time when not performing military duties. Some turned to social gatherings over food or music, others to more private diversions. As these eyewitness accounts show, the men of the Continental Army managed to carve out a small bit of comfort and humanity in spite of the hard conditions. Feb 16, 1780 My hut, ah my hut. It is building, and will be till nearly the first of next month. Then, sir, I expect to open the doors and welcome every guest that comes with stores, doubly to pay what he eats and drinks while with me. I expect to have about a dozen fine girls to drink tea with me the first afternoon. Lieutenant Colonel Ebeneezer Huntington, Temporary Commander of Stark's Brigade, to Colonel Webb. April 6, 1780 Spring-like weather. This day sowed lettuce in my camp garden. Lieutenant Josiah Harmar, Inspector, Pennsylvania Line. Spring, 1780 At a dinner given by Colonel Webb, who had just rejoined the regiment, to General Washington's staff I was called into the room. Colonel Webb gave me a small silver cup of wine and directed me to sing a certain song. I replied that the wine caused a strangling that prevented my singing the song. He told me to walk the room, and when I was ready, sing. I paraded up and down by the company two or three turns, when I sung "God Save America". Colonel Webb then directed me to go to Colonel Jackson's hut, where Mrs. Washington and some ladies were, and tell Mrs. Washington that he had sent me to sing her a song. I did so sing the song when she presented me with a bill of three dollars Continental currency. The bill has been kept, folded as she gave it to me. The ladies and gentlemen afterwards joined company and descended down a long hill. About halfway down they seated themselves on some fallen trees where I sung 'em one more song. As they moved off an officer with a lady on his arm beckoned to me, put his arm behind him from which I took three English shillings. The officer was General Lafayette. Richard Lord Jones, fifer, age 12, Webb's Regiment.
The following accounts give some sense of the diverse activities taking place on a daily basis at Washington’s Headquarters in the Ford Mansion.
[fife playing and men talking indistinctly in background] NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. [background noise fades] During the winter months, General Washington took up residency at the Ford Mansion, the home of the wealthy widow Theodosia Ford. Soldiers at the mansion were occupied with guard duty and inspections while the General attended to private meetings. Martha Washington also spent five months at the house. The following accounts give some sense of the diverse activities taking place at a daily basis at Washington's Headquarters. February 3rd, 1780. I dined with His Excellency. Colonel Israel Angell, Second Rhode Island Regiment, Morristown. February 20, 1780. This day went on His Excellency's picket guard, where continued till the 22nd. Here we posted at night a small guards in the rooms, and a sergeant and six men at the head of his stairs. Ensign Jeremiah Greenman, Angell's Regiment, Stark's Brigade. March 13, 1780. His Excellency General Washington this morning assembled at headquarters the brigadiers and officers commanding brigades, acquainting them with several points in which their brigades were defective, particularly in the officers not being armed with spontoons agreeable to the general order, and their men not being provided with bayonets. Fortunately, the Pennsylvanians escaped censure on this occasion, the officers being all furnished with spontoons, and we may without vanity assert that our troops are better armed and equipped than any in the army. Colonel Josiah Harmar, Inspector, Second Pennsylvania Brigade. April 4, 1780 I am much obliged to you for the present you have sent us and cannot but express my sense of your polite letter of the fifteenth of last month. Mrs. Washington begs you would receive her thanks on the same occasion, and desires me to offer you her best compliments. Washington to Juan De Miralles.
Feeding The Army
Supply trains had to transport food over many miles of snow-covered roads to reach Morristown. Listen to their complaints about hunger.
[fife playing and men talking indistinctly in background] NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. [background noise fades] Feeding the army was a constant problem during the winter encampment. Many farmers were unwilling to sell their crops in exchange for worthless Continental money. British foraging expeditions from New York terrorized local farms, further aggravating the supply situation in New Jersey. To make matters worse, the summer of 1779 had been particularly dry, and this, followed by the terrible cold and snow of the winter, meant that harvests had been poor throughout the colonies. Supply trains had to transport food over many miles of snow-covered roads to reach Morristown. At Jockey Hollow, soldiers and officers alike suffered through the lack of provisions. Accounts from that winter are replete with complaints about hunger. December 7, 1779. I visited my friend Dr. Findley of General Glover's brigade, and being invited to breakfast, the only food he could furnish was coffee without milk or sugar, and meager beefsteaks without bread or even salt. Such has been for some time the unaccountable scarcity of provisions in the main army. Doctor Thatcher, Jackson's Regiment. December 10, 1779. I confess I am greatly alarmed at the prospect of our supplies of provision, which so much depend on those of forage. We are now at short allowance of flour and have been so for a month. Washington to President of Congress. December 18. Very cold and almost starved for want of provision. Ensign Jeremiah Greenman, Angell's Rhode Island Regiment. January 4, 1780. Our army is without meat or bread and have been for two or three days past. Poor fellows! They exhibit a picture truly distressing, more than half naked and above two thirds starved. General Greene to Moore Furman. January 6, 1780. The army at this place has been miserably in want of provisions. Five days without beef and as many at another time without flour. General Henry Knox to Colonel John Lamb. January 12, 1780. Oh, my dear Charles! We have been almost starved. We had not a mouthful of meat but two pound and a half from the first to the eighth instant. But thank God we have now plenty and a prospect of a continuance of it. During our hungry time I eat several meals of dog and it relished very well. Major James Farely to Colonel Van Cortlandt
A Global Conflict
From his headquarters at Morristown, Washington became increasingly involved with the expanding global aspects of the war.
[fife playing and men talking indistinctly in background] NARRATOR: Welcome to the Morristown National Historical Park Winter Encampment Podcast Series. [background noise fades] It is often forgotten that America's fight for independence was part of an international conflict waged on several continents. From his headquarters at Morristown, Washington became increasingly involved with the expanding global aspects of the war. From celebrating Irish rebels to conferring with French and Spanish dignitaries, Washington spent much of his time at Morristown securing foreign support for the American cause. March 16, 1780. General Orders: The General congratulates the army on the very interesting proceedings on the parliament of Ireland and of the inhabitants of that country, which have been lately communicated not only as they appear calculated to remove those heavy and tyrannical oppressions on their trade but to restore to a brave and generous people their ancient rights and freedoms, and by their operation, to promote the cause of America. Desirous of impressing on the minds of the army transactions so important in their nature, the General directs that all fatigue and working parties cease for tomorrow the seventeenth, a day held in particular regard by the people of that nation. At the same time that he orders this, he persuades himself that the celebration of the day will not be attended with the least rioting or disorder, the officers to be at their quarters in camp and the troops of each state line are to keep within their own encampment. George Washington. April 19, 1780. The Chevalier de la Luzerne, minister of France, with another French gentleman and Don Juan de Miralles, a gentleman of distinction from Spain, arrived at headquarters from Philadelphia in company with His Excellency General Washington. Major Trescott was ordered out with two hundred men to meet and escort them to headquarters, where two battalions were paraded to receive them with the usual military honors. Several of our general officers rode about five miles to meet the gentlemen, and their arrival was announced by the discharge of thirteen cannon. The foreign gentlemen and their suites, having left their carriages, were mounted on elegant horses, which, with General Washington, the general officers of our army, with their aides and servants, formed a most splendid cavalcade, which attracted the attention of a vast concourse of spectators. General Washington accompanied his illustrious visitors to take a distant view of the enemy's position and works on York and Staten Island and of the different posts of our army, while preparations were making for a grand field review of our troops. James Thatcher, military journal.