Things Improve • Anti-Washington "Cabal" • Leaving Valley Forge
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by Ron Avery
Writer for the Philadelphia Daily News
Written exclusively for ushistory.org
• Suffering •
The troops arrived at Valley Forge in time for Christmas, but there was no holiday feast. Already the men's diaries spoke bitterly of a diet of "fire cakes and cold water." A fire cake was simply a flour and water batter fried on a griddle. The morning after Christmas, the men awoke to find four additional inches of snow on the ground.
The first priority was the building of huts. An order issued by Washington spelled out the style and size of the Spartan quarters.
Every 12 men would share a 16x14 foot log hut with walls six and a half feet high. Each would have a stone fireplace. The roof would be of wood board. Most huts were built in a pit about two-feet below the ground. Generally, there was only a dirt floor and some sort of cloth covering for a door. The huts were drafty, damp, smoky and terribly unhealthy.
The primitive shelters were laid out in regular patterns to form streets. Officers built their huts behind the enlisted men's cabins. These were similar in construction but, perhaps, not as crowded.
Housing the Army was fairly simple. Clothing and feeding the troops was a daunting challenge.
Transportation was the major stumbling block. The supplies were out there. Getting them to Valley Forge seemed impossible. Roads were rutted quagmires. It was difficult to recruit wagoneers. Continental money was nearly worthless, so Pennsylvania farmers often hid their horses and wagons rather than contract with the Army.
The man in charge of military transportation, Quartermaster General Thomas Mifflin hated his job. Mifflin was a wealthy Philadelphia merchant and a born politician who wanted glory on the battlefield not the headaches of transportation. He literally ignored the job.
It wasn't until the spring when Washington's most capable general, Nathanael Green, took over the quartermaster's post that supplies began to move in decent quantity.
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