Historic Valley Forge

Considering the conditions at Valley Forge, how were the soldiers able to sustain their morale?

Q.Considering the conditions at Valley Forge, how were the soldiers able to sustain their morale?
Kim Maxwell, Pointe-Claire, Quebec, Canada

A.There is a misconception that Washington and his soldiers encamped at Valley Forge during the single worst winter of the American War for Independence, but there were actually two separate winters where the weather was much worse, but it was not a pleasant winter by any means, as testified by some men who were there:

"We had no tents, no axes to cut wood and make fires. It was a very bad snow storm when we stopped."

- Corporal Ebenezer Wild

"An Army of skeletons appeared before our eyes, naked, starved, sick, discouraged"

- Gouverneur Morris (on a commission to examine the camp for the Committee of Conference):

"The patient endurance of both soldiers and officers was a miracle which each moment served to renew."

- The Marquis de Lafayette

"With what cheerfulness he meets his foes and encounters every hardship — if barefoot — he labours through the mud and cold with a song in his mouth extolling war and Washington — if his food be bad — he eats it notwithstanding with seeming content, blesses God for a good stomach, and whistles it into indigestion."

- Surgeon Albigence Waldo from Connecticut

The army arriving at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777 was disorganized and poorly trained. In contrast, the army leaving Valley Forge six months later was a vastly more effective fighting force. Baron von Steuben was largely responsible for training, reorganization and standardization of the Continental Army during their stay at Valley Forge.

Credit goes to the Commander-in-Chief as well. General Washington expressed great dismay at the poor conditions through which his loyal troops suffered, and admiration for their perseverence, writing in a letter to governor George Clinton, "Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery, that they have not been ere this excited by their sufferings, to a general mutiny." Washington took action to rectify numerous problems in the supply chain that largely contributed to the hardships at Valley forge.

While the soldiers drew strength from a variety different sources, certainly the leadership of those two towering charismatic figures was a key factor.