On the way back to our RV Park from Philadelphia, the road took us past Valley Forge, so we stopped there. They have a visitor center, and then the Encampment Tour is a self-guided driving tour, much like the Auto Tour in Gettysburg.
We didn't have time for the Encampment Tour, but the visitor center had plenty to offer someone with little knowledge of the details of the Revolutionary War. Between the displays, the short movie, and the Storyteller outside the movie theater, I learned quite a bit.
Valley Forge was where Gen. George Washington quartered his troops over the winter of 1777 - 1787. The first two years of the War had gone well for the Americans, but then the British sent thousands of reinforcements, and the tide of the War shifted. The British took New York City and New Jersey. Then they took Philadelphia, home of the American Revolution and their seat of government. Washington's troops were demoralized, and many were in tatters. And they were outclassed militarily by the British
Valley Forge was 21 miles from Philadelphia--far enough away that they'd have warning if the British attacked, but close enough that they could send spies into Philadelphia to monitor the British. Washington began the winter by separating his men into 12-man squads and then offering $12 to the first squad in each unit to build a serviceable shelter. The men got busy, building huts out of rough-hewn wood with mud to seal the cracks. The first hut was finished in under three weeks.
When Baron von Steuben arrived in February, he set about training Washington's men in proper military activities.
Washington wanted to do more for the men than just restore morale. He wanted to inspire them to fight against the odds. For inspiration, he put on a play. It was about Cato (not to be confused with the guy with the Green Hornet or the Pink Panther or O.J. Simpson), the defender of the Roman Republic against Julius Caesar's Empire. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people vs. government of, by, and for one man--the emperor. As Caesar rose in power, Cato's army fought Caesar's for control of the Republic. Cato was outnumbered and defeated, and Caesar became Emporer of Rome. Rather than live under a dictatorship, Cato took his own life.
The message Washington gave his men was that, although Cato lost his battle, the Continental Army now had the chance to win Cato's fight for a Republic. No matter what the odds, liberty was and is worth fighting and dying for. His men were inspired.
And the British spies who saw the play were worried.
As spring turned to summer and Washington prepared his men to march on Philadelphia, the British withdrew from the city. Nine days later, Washington caught up with them, and this time the inspired, well-trained Continental Army defeated the British.
It was a tough winter, but not the coldest--that would be the following winter in Morristown, New Jersey. Disease was prevalent at Valley Forge, killing 2000 troops. Provisions were in short supply, so the soldiers had foraging duty to try to keep the army fed. That George Washington was able to overcome everything he faced with his army that winter and shape them into an effective fighting force says a lot for his leadership. I was impressed.
On a different note, here are a couple pictures of autumn around the visitor center. It hasn't finished there yet. Leaves on the trees...
And on the ground...