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ARP172 Winter at Valley Forge
"Hello. Thank you for joining the American. Revolution. Today episode one seventy two winter at valley forge. The Continental Army and militia entered valley forge on December nineteen, seventeen, seventy seven. Contrary. To Popular Myth, the winter at valley forge was not a particularly harsh one even in a mild winter though having to spend day and night outdoors without shoes or a coat was a pretty miserable existence. Many soldiers at. Little or no food during the march to valley forge as well. General Washington reported hearing chance from the soldiers in camp of no meat no coat no bread. No soldier. Shortly after entering valley forge roughly one quarter of the army three thousand out of around twelve thousand men were unfit for duty simply due to the lack of adequate clothing for them to go outside. This made the necessity of building cabins for the soldiers all the more critical. The army said about cutting and hauling wood and erecting crude structures as quickly as possible. Even so it took several weeks while the men remained outside in the elements before they could build the necessary housing. As the army had moved into valley forge the Pennsylvania legislature issued a remonstrance critical of the continental army for even going into winter quarters instead, they called for a winter campaign to retake the area. Before Washington could even think about more engagements with the enemy, he needed to get his army, the necessary food and clothing to continue. He repeatedly wrote to Congress that the army was in danger of dissolving if food and clothing was not forthcoming quickly. Congress of course, had no money to buy food. The continual printing of paper continental dollars had made them increasingly worthless farmers did not want to give away their food in exchange for worthless paper. Instead they would take the risk of carrying their goods to Philadelphia where the British army would pay with gold and silver. Desertions grew along with the desperation of the soldiers. Washington gave orders for officers to take role call several times each day so that deserters could be discovered before they got too far away. On Christmas. Washington, pardoned two soldiers sentenced to hang for desertions. Well such pardons were fairly common they were not guaranteed. About a third of all continental soldiers who were convicted of desertion hanged. This did not discourage everyone from the practice that there are stories of some soldiers deserting to Philadelphia where they would become prisoners of war. One British officer reported that an average of six soldiers walked into the British lions at Philadelphia every single day during the month of February. Some thought the treatment as British prisoners would be better than as American soldiers such was the level of starvation and desperation at valley forge. All of this was happening while Congress was engaged in all the events of the Conway Ca Ball that I talked about last week. So Washington had to convey to Congress that the army was on the verge of collapse while at the same time trying to discourage delegates from replacing him as head of the army. Despite the delicacy of his own position as commander Washington did not mince words when he wrote to Henry Lawrence, the president of Congress in a letter that begins as follows quote. I am now convinced beyond a doubt that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place. This army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things starve, dissolve or disperse in order to obtain subsistence in the manner they can. Rest assured sir. This is not an exaggerated picture and that I have abundant reason to support what I say. The former continental quartermaster General Mifflin resigned in September. He had been responsible for obtaining food for the continental army. But Congress then appointed him to the board of war along with General Gates as I discussed last week. For several months the army had no quartermaster. No one wanted this thankless job. Over the winter the board of war under Horatio Gates and former quartermaster Mifflin convince Congress to put the responsibility under the board's control and take it away from the military. This was part of the larger effort to grant the board all Strategic Authority, and to let Gates Order Washington around. Rather than develop his own strategy Washington would simply implement gates. In the face of this threat Washington, Forrest General Nathaniel Greene to take the job as quartermaster general. Over Greenspan really strong objections. Quartermaster. Was A thankless job. There was never enough food nor money to buy food. Even if the quartermaster somehow did get the food, it was not going to result in praise or promotion the way winning a battle would but green had a good reputation in Congress. And his appointment helped Washington to defeat Gates's plan to take more control of the army. Washington also ordered that Pickett's guard the roads into Philadelphia. Any civilians trying to take food to sell to the British would have it confiscated and seized by the army. Lawrence suggested to Washington that he go beyond that and begin commandeering food from local farmers forcing them to take the worthless paper continental dollars in exchange Washington largely resisted this idea knowing that it would just turn the locals against the army. Of course, the continental army was not the only army looking for. Parisian's to get them through the winter. The same week that the continentals marched into valley forge general how deployed eight, thousand British and Hessian soldiers across a pontoon bridge erected across the Schuylkill River. The regulars formed a defensive perimeter while the other soldiers cut down wheatfields and herded cattle back toward Philadelphia. In response Washington ordered his brigade leaders to select groups of fifty men who were sufficiently clothed and provisions to March out and harass the British foraging parties. Washington gave overall command of the mission to General Lord Sterling who had managed the forage wars in New Jersey a year earlier. Unlike in the New Jersey, forage wars the British learned not to send out smaller foraging parties who could be ambushed. The British moved in force so that the smaller raiding parties could only take swipes at their pickets. On the other hand since the British could not send out smaller foraging parties and had to remain inside their perimeter now at Darby Pennsylvania. That left much of the countryside to the. North Open. Rather. Than attacked. British sterling set out his own foraging parties which captured cattle, sheep blankets, and other supplies to ship back to valley forge. Thus denying them to the British and making them available to Washington starving soldiers, how then deployed regiment on a night march toward radnor. was where sterling had made his headquarters, the movement set off a panic among local farmers who feared both armies might descend on them and take all their food. A great many of their wagons and attempted to get to Philadelphia. That way they could sell their food for money rather than having it taken. A great many made it into the city but others have their wagons seized and confiscated by continental patrols. Oh this was happening in December in the days leading up to Christmas seventeen seventy seven. It was not lost on anyone that Washington's best claim to fame in the war so far was his Christmas time raid on Trenton a year earlier. Washington seriously considered a second Christmas raid this year on Philadelphia. With more than half the British Army Darby, the defenses in Philadelphia were stretched thin. Washington devised a plan to have general sterling's army attacked the British at Darby in force as a faint. Washington believed that this would cause the bulk of the army that was still defending Philadelphia to march toward Darby to support the British regulars. With the defenses in the city weakened even more. Four. Thousand continentals would storm the defences north of Philadelphia and pushed the defenders back across the Schuylkill River. Although this was Washington's idea he did not want it to present it to his officers he feared that doing so would get them all to go along rather than give their candidate opinions. So instead, he had general Sullivan discussed the idea with other top officers return with their opinions. The feedback he got was not good. The army simply did not have the supplies to begin a new offensive. And even if they did, this was a complicated plan with lots of moving parts. which is the same thing that many blame for the recent loss at Germantown. I like at Trenton, the Americans would not be attacking a small isolated outpost. They would be taking on the entire British army even if it was divided by maybe five or six miles. The success of the plan would require perfect timing and also require that the enemy behave exactly as they expected. The odds that seemed to high and in the end Washington called off any plans for Christmas. Radon Philadelphia. Instead of the attack soldiers, Valley forge received an unexpected dinner of mutton courtesy of the sheep that Sterling's rating parties had sent to them even so it was too late for at least one soldier who was found dead in his cabin on Christmas day reportedly from malnutrition and exposure. He was one of thousands who had died that winter in valley forge simply due to the north of food clothing and shelter. A few days after Christmas, the British foraging party returned to Philadelphia, and once again secured its defenses against any possible attack. With. The British back in Philadelphia the continentals needed to remain active in the area between Philadelphia and Valley Forge. They needed to prevent farmers from trading with the enemy. And ensure that no new British offensives went undetected. Among those responsible for this territory was Virginia captain named Henry. Lee. He was known as Harry and would later get the nickname of Light Horse Harry for his actions during the war. Captain Lee was from the prominent leaf family of Virginia is father was the cousin of Richard Henry Lee a delegate to the continental Congress Captain Lee led a cavalry patrol in the area between the two armies. Over several weeks established an understanding with the local farmers who gave his men food and shelter in exchange for their protection. Lease Company became effective in blocking farmers from trading with the enemy, as well as capturing hundred and twenty four enemy soldiers over the next several weeks in December January. Lee's cavalry became such a nuisance that General House sent out a regiment of British dragoons and Queens loyal Rangers to capture the Americans in late January among those sent was major for Tarleton the officer who had captured General Charles Lee a year earlier. In a dawn raid one, hundred, fifty British horsemen descended on a house where Lee and nine of his men were sleeping. One. Of Lee's men fled in panic leaving Lee with eight men to face the enemy. The men in the stonehouse put up a stalwart defense fending off several attacks on the house eventually, the British. Attackers decided that the house was too difficult to storm and contented themselves with capturing the horses in the barn. Lee however was not going to allow that either and staged unexpected charge at the barn to chase off the startled British. During one charge on the House Tarleton reached the window and one of the defenders pulled out a pistol and fired point blank at Charleston's head. The. Gun misfired. Tarleton. shouted. Yet missed it my lad for this time. And he retreated away with only minor injuries, the British suffered two, dead and four wounded in the read overall. Only, one defender suffered a minor hand injury. Although four pickets outside the house, as well as the men who fled the house were missing and presumed captured. This skirmish was of little importance strategically, but it did great things for Captain Lee's reputation. As, it turned out the real enemy that winter would not be soldiers. It would be the battle for survival against starvation and exposure. As. Such much of the army's work was to capture supplies for themselves as well as deny them to the enemy. A few days before the New Year General Small Woods, Maryland militia managed to capture a British sloop called the symmetry. The ship had run aground a few days earlier near Wilmington Delaware. After the militia fired a few shots, the crew struck their colors and surrendered. The ship contained nearly nine thousand muskets, six cannons, some food, wine, and rum. As, well, as enough, uniforms to outfit for regiments, Washington congratulated. Smallwood, and requested the supplies be shipped to valley forge as quickly as possible. In response. Smallwood objected. Claiming that as a seized ship is militia were entitled to claim its contents as a prize to keep it for themselves. Washington seem rather taken aback by this position Yes privateers and even navy ships could submit prize claims for captured vessels but this was not a thing that soldiers in the army did. Instead. He though he submitted the matter to Congress to let them resolve the problem. In the end Congress ordered not only that smallwood ship the bulk of the supplies to valley forge. But that small would also be responsible for the care and feeding of several dozen British soldiers, sailors, as well as the wives of forty officers who were captured aboard ship. The dispute over the symmetry created a rift between Washington and smallwood that would last for years. Over the course of the winter, the lack of food and clothing remained among the army's greatest challenge. But added to that was disease contagious diseases like smallpox and typhus also ravaged the army. Officers set up hospitals in the few available buildings in the area, but these were horribly overcrowded. Caregivers mixed contagious patients with those suffering from other ailments leading to greater spread of disease. There were not nearly enough doctors and even if there were, they did not really know how to treat most of these diseases effective most of the sick received care from female camp followers who the army paid two dollars a month for their services, poor care, inadequate food, and mixing of sick patients together made the hospitals a death trap for many. Some. Soldiers who did survive return to duty wearing only a blanket because someone had stolen their clothes while they were sick in bed. A great many soldiers simply refuse to report being sick thinking it would be better to try to get through their illness in their cabins. A great many soldiers died without ever seeking any medical care. To combat some of these problems, Washington began a secret policy of smallpox inoculation. As I've discussed in previous episodes prior to the development of a safe vaccination, many years after the war ended. Inoculation at this time, often left the patient's sick for several weeks or months with a weak version of smallpox. Inoculated patients were also contagious for several weeks and had to be isolated from other soldiers. And small percentage the might even die from the inoculation. The. Continental Army inoculated over four thousand soldiers in valley forge over the winter. Meeting most of these soldiers would not be in fighting condition simply because of the inoculation. That was one reason Washington wanted to keep the program secret. He did not want the British to realize that nearly half of his army was unable to fight. The army also made new efforts to institute rules for sanitary condition. These were rather rudimentary rules like you know you really dig ditches for the men to relieve themselves and keep them as illegal distance from the cabins. Also require soldiers to use those trenches rather than simply gover they wanted. It late, January the Continental Congress sent a delegation to valley forge with an uncertain mission. Some thought it was just a fact finding mission. But others including the head of the Commission Francis Dana of Massachusetts said, it was quote to wrap a Demi God over the knuckles. In other words he wanted to push back against Washington and his overbearing demands to Congress. Originally. The committee was to have included generals, Gates and Mifflin from the board of war. Both. Men however declined to join the delegates giving the whole blow up over the Conway Cabal. So in addition to Dana Four, other delegates joined the commission Gouverneur Morris of new. York. Joseph read of Pennsylvania. Nathaniel folsom of New Hampshire and John Harvey of Virginia. Recall. Joseph freed was Washington's one time aide. The two men had a falling out after Washington read correspondence between read and General Charles Lee more than a year earlier. In which read had disparaged Washington as a leader in favor of general Lee. Since then read had left his position in the army to become a Pennsylvania delegate to the continental, Congress. The commission arrived in. Valley forge after the army had been there for over a month. That had only given the soldiers time to become angrier at their situation. They felt as if their home states and the army had ordered them to fight, but then refused to provide them with the food clothing and other necessities to survive while in the field. They had become naked starving wretches and don't seem to care. A mob of hungry soldiers killed a commissary officer. The army's paymaster refused to set foot in camp until he was given some money to pay the men which did not come. Similarly the clothier General's department moved its winter quarters several miles away from the main camp fearing the wrath of soldiers. Washington met with the Congressional Committee with a thirteen thousand word report entitled a representation to the Committee of Congress. In which Hamilton newly returned from his recovery from. peekskill. Summarize thousands of pages of reports and rebutted the attacks made against Washington by the delegates and others outside the army. An attack, the incompetence of the commissary and quartermaster departments. It further proposed a guarantee of half pay for life to encourage officers to remain with the continental army. Many officers were just as fed up with their men and were seriously considering just resigning and going home. The report also proposed a military draft to require state militia to serve one year stints in the continental army. With a twenty, five dollar reenlistment bonuses to be paid for a second year it also suggested the use of more free blacks in the army as well as greater use of allied native Americans. In summary, it laid out the desperate plate of the army and suggested the solutions necessary to build a more professional and functioning. Washington's presentation to the committee. All this impress the delegates who were struck by the plight of the army's lack of resources and by Washington's continued willingness to submit to civilian authority. Even when these civilians were not providing his men with the necessities of life. Washington's calls for a more professional army when against the revolutionary notions that a standing army was always a mark of tyranny and that militia should always be sufficient. Washington however made clear that such an army was a necessity. And that unlike other standing armies in history, his army would always remain subject to the civilian leaders in Congress. The committee spent several weeks at Valley forge meeting with Washington, and inspecting the army. When they returned to York in February they recommended passage of most of Washington's suggestions. Meanwhile, Washington struggle to keep his army alive would only continue. Next week, we're going to head over to France to discuss the first treaties recognizing the US as an independent nation. Hey thanks for joining the American Revolution podcast after show. Thanks to train aunts George Davis for their continued support at the Zander Hamilton glove level on Patriot on. I can't say enough about how much they're continued. Generosity has been a help to the show. Thanks also to Ryan Fuller and Robert Katrina who's who recently joined patriotic at the standard bearer level and George Hunter, who recently. From man to standard-bearer. You will all be receiving your first flag magnet next month. Also thanks to Noah Simmons and Christopher may who made one time donations via paypal? No is also a privy council support on Patriot so I appreciate the double support. Everyone who has pitched in either through a one time donation on pay pal or supporting this podcast on patriotic for as little as two dollars. A month really helps to keep this podcast free for everyone else. I recently had to make some new equipment purchases and also found my book costs going up with my libraries being closed for several months. On like a bunch of other shows. I've put none of my episodes behind a paywall, not even the special episodes. I. Also make all my transcripts freely available on my blog. I want as many people as possible to learn about the American revolution whether they can afford it or not. So my special thanks to all of you who can help me out financially that really helps in keeping the podcasts available to as many people as possible. This week I covered some of the issues that came up during the winter at Valley Forge. I covered a number of things that happened over the course of the winter. But over the next few episodes, I will be covering some other things that happened during that same time period. For example, I plan to devote a future episode just to discuss General Von Story Bins Training, which also took place during the winter at Valley. Forge. So. Don't think today was all. We're going to hear about valley forge. There's plenty more to come. What I really wanted to cover today that was the suffering I wanted to stress how the soldiers really suffered that winter from lack of food clothing and shelter. As I said many died other deserted but most held on through what had to be a pretty miserable experience and I really hope that came through in today's episode it's hard to just describe how miserable the day-to-day existence was for these guys. I. Have to imagine that what was most difficult was the fact that the states were actually doing pretty well at this time. There was sufficient supplies in North America so that the population was not suffering in the same way that the army was officials simply did not have the political will to tax people sufficiently to supply the army with its basic needs. That really had to be a blow to morale. And as we will see, the continental army goes shift where many middle class workers leave the ranks to be replaced by soldiers from a lower strata of society with fewer options. The winter at valley forge is a transition to a more professional army and away from the citizen Army that people envisioned as an ideal in the early years of the war. There are a number of good books about valley forge including one written a couple years ago now by BOB drewery and Tom Glavin simply called valley forge. I actually recommended that book as a recommendation the week when it was first released and I still think it's worth reading if you WANNA learn more about this topic. But since I've already recommended that one, I want to recommend a book this week my recommendation the week. This week is Washington's secret war the hidden history of valley forge by Thomas Fleming. It covers the valley forge winter fairly well, it's about three hundred and fifty pages, not counting notes and index and I came out in two thousand four. I hope you already know who the author is Thomas. Fleming is an award winning author of dozens of history books including several former recommendations on this podcast. If, you've not read some of his other books you really should. He's a great writer and the American Revolution was a common topic in many of his books. Unfortunately. He passed away in twenty seventeen at the age of ninety. If you WANNA, read more about valley forge though Fleming's was the secret war. The hidden of Valley forge is a great read. My online recommendation is another e book from Archive Dot Org. This one is called the history of valley forge by Henry. Woodman? The copy of the book I found is from Nineteen, twenty two, however woodmen the work originally around eighteen fifty and was long dead by the time of this publication. Woodman was born not long after the revolution ended. He was a quaker preacher who grew up around Valley forge is book focuses not only on the winter that the continental army accorded there although that is a sizeable section of the book. Rather, his book covers more of a local history of the area including long discussions before and after the encampment I found it to be an interesting take on how the area was forever scarred or impacted by the events of Seventeen, seventy, seven, seventy, eight. If you WANNA. Read it. You can search for it on Archive Dot Org. Again, it's called the history of valley forge. Or. There's a direct link to it on my website and blog the website of course is www Amr podcasts dot com. The blog is plug DOT AMERI PODCAST DOT COM. Well that's offer this week I. Hope You will join me again next week for another. American. Revolution podcast.