1976 Washington Review Army Valley Forge
US #1689 pictures The March to Valley Forge by William Trego.

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 cabin.

1928 2¢ Valley Forge Issue: Washington at Prayer
US #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.

1977 13¢ Traditional Christmas: Washington at Valley Forge
US #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.

1930 2¢ General von Steuben
US #689 – Von Steuben’s military tactics remained in use by American troops until the War of 1812.

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.

US #1716 – Lafayette supported Washington in the face of the Conway Cabal, an unrealized plot to remove Washington from leadership.

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.

1928 2¢ Valley Forge Issue: Washington at Prayer Classic First Day Cover
US #645 – Classic First Day Cover

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.

1987 Washington Revisits Valley Forge
Item #97422 – Commemorative Cover honoring Washington’s return to Valley Forge in July 1787
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One Comment

  1. A little known fact was that Washington visited Barbados when he was only nineteen (accompanying his stepbrother Lawrence who was fighting to cure a lung problem). George contracted small pox there, but recovered (the pox left small pockmarks on his face). He had immunity to the pox by the time he wintered with his troops at Valley Forge. This act of God preserved him and he was able to lead America to victory.
    I lived quite close to Washington house where George stayed when he was in Barbados.

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