U.S. #1689 pictures The March to Valley Forge by William Trego.

Washington Winters at Valley Forge

From December 19, 1777, to June 18, 1778, the Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, camped at Valley Forge.

Following the crushing defeats at Philadelphia and Germantown in late 1777, General George Washington led his men to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania on December 19.  In addition to the recent losses that had dampened the men’s spirits, there was little food and inadequate clothing for the harsh winter conditions ahead.  Crude huts were hastily constructed to provide some type of shelter.  It was only when the last of 10,000 men had moved into sturdier structures that Washington abandoned his own tent in favor of the relative comfort of a hut.

U.S. #645 was based on a painting by Henry Brueckner.

Valley Forge is located about 25 miles west of Philadelphia, along the Schuylkill River.  Washington chose to camp at Valley Forge due to its defendable location and proximity to farm supplies and trade routes.  But the winter was unusually harsh.  As the months dragged on, food became scarce and uniforms and boots became too tattered to patch. Some troops spent the winter in their huts, naked and starving.  Exposed feet left bloody footprints in the snow surrounding the encampment.

U.S. #1729 pictures The Prayer at Valley Forge by Arnold Friberg.

Nearly 3,000 soldiers died during the winter at Valley Forge, and the smallpox epidemic rendered many others too sick to fight.  Although Washington was severely criticized, he held his position throughout the winter and spring.  In spite of all the difficulties, he was able to improve the skill of his troops.

Item #81584 – Commemorative cover marking the start of Washington’s winter at Valley Forge.

Washington’s determined leadership, and that of the officers under his command such as the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron Frederick von Steuben, held the troops together.  In fact, when a small group of officers attempted to stir sentiment against Washington, Lafayette was one of the general’s staunchest supporters.

U.S. #689 – Von Steuben’s military tactics remained in use by American troops until the War of 1812.

Baron von Steuben was a Prussian officer who offered his services to Washington in early 1778.   At Valley Forge, von Steuben was put in charge of training soldiers.  He selected 120 men from different regiments to form an honor guard that would then train the other troops.  He spoke little English, so when he was frustrated he would call to his translator,  “Over here!  Swear at him for me!”  His ability to swear in multiple languages, and his willingness to work with the men, made him very popular.  Despite the colorful language, von Steuben’s system of training worked well.

Item #97422 – Cover honors Washington’s return to Valley Forge in July 1787.

By the spring of 1778, the patriots had become a disciplined and well-trained army.  The winter at Valley Forge tested the loyalty and strength of the American troops – only dedicated patriots stayed with the Continental Army.  The shared hardships toughened the American army and solidified its determination.  The recently defeated, undisciplined troops that entered Valley Forge in December emerged a highly skilled fighting force in June.

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  1. When life gets tough we should think about what those soldiers endured for freedom. I salute them now and always.

  2. Another great moment in the history of this great country and the people who helped make it so. Thanks Mystic.

  3. Is there a process you might provide whereby we could print the day’s article replete with the excellent graphics? YES! Marvelous, just marvelous well done presentations. Thank you ever so much :D)erry Christmas!

  4. A couple of errors. General Washington was Quartered in a completely furnished adobe house along with a comfortable bed, and heating system. His Virginia Troops were his personal guard and stayed in barracks that were completely above ground level and were weathered -proof.. It is reported that when US Army crossed the Delaware to Trenton One of his generals were worried that their powder would get wet, Washington then ton the officer “….then give them (British) the bannoent!

  5. The battles near Philadelphia (Brandywine Creek and Germantown) were not crushing defeats but were tactical defeats. The Continental Army withdrew in good order and marched to winter quarters at Valley Forge. First time visitors to Valley Forge are surprised to find that the soldiers’ huts were not actually in a valley, but are in the hills overlooking the valley of the Schuylkill River. Visiting in the pleasant summer as most tourists do, you can’t quite appreciate the privations the Continental soldiers went through.

  6. Survival of the fittest. “Over Here! Swear at Him For Me.” You can’t make this stuff. Very interesting….always something new to learn with your stories behind the stamps.

  7. Right to say that despite its hardships at Valley Forge, Washington’s army emerged from it as a more professional and effective force due to the work of Steuben. It proved itself capable of standing toe to toe with the British in the next major battle of the war, Monmouth Courthouse, in June of 1778.

  8. Reading this account of the American troops makes me proud to be an ‘

    Reading this story about the American troops makes me proud to be an American and amazed at the fact that the troops were able to defeat the British and gain Independence.

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