Historic Valley Forge

Who Served Here?

Physicians and Surgeons with Washington at Valley Forge

Hospitalization was a serious problem during the American Revolutionary War. Plans were made quite early to care for the wounded and sick, but they were meager and inadequate. On April 11, 1777 Dr. William Shippen Jr. of Philadelphia was chosen Director General of all the military hospitals for the army, and undertook numerous improvements and renovations.

Four hospital districts were created: Easter, Northern, Southern and Middle. The wage scale was as follows: Director General's pay $6.00 a day and 9 rations; District Deputy Director $5.00 a day and 6 rations; Senior Surgeon $4.00 a day and 6 rations; Junior Surgeon $2.00 and 4 rations; Surgeon mate $1.00 and 2 rations.

After the battle of Brandywine, September 11, 1777, hospitals were established at Bethlehem, Allentown, Easton and Ephrata. After the battle of Germantown, October 4, 1777, emergency hospitals were organized at Evansburg, Trappe, Falkner Swamp and Skippack. Hospitals at Litiz and Reading were also continued. By December 1777, new hospitals were opened at Rheimstown, Warwick and Shaeferstown. Yellow Springs (now Chester Springs) an important hospital was organized under the direction of Dr. Samuel Kennedy. At Lionville, Uwchlan Quaker Meeting House was also made a hospital for a time. Apothecary General Craigie's shop, Carlisle, was the source of hospital drugs.

The camp at Valley Forge was established in December 1777. Perhaps the earliest reliable record of the sick is found in the report under the date December 23, when 2,898 men were reported sick or unfit for duty largely due to the lack of clothing. A return made February 1, 1778 shows the number of incapacitated increased to 3,989, again traced to the need of clothing.

In order to understand the difficulties which faced the doctors and surgeons at Valley Forge it is necessary to follow sequentially the conditions in the cantonment as they were unfolded day by day. A careful study of Washington's orders and statements give valuable information concerning health conditions involved.

Weedon's Valley Forge Orderly Book is the primary source of health conditions within the camp. The first entry is under date December 26, 1777. "Complaints having been made by the Surgeons of Hospitals that the sick are often sent to him without a list required by Genl. Orders issued the 12th November, to them orders all officers are ref'd for directions in this point and of the directions in this point and of the disposition of the arms of the sick. It appears also that many men who go into the Hospitals well clad are in a manner naked when they get well and cannot return to their regiment till new cloathed, to prevent a continuance of this evil that those guilty may be known and punished. Hence forward every article of their cloathing, their lists signed by the captain or officer commanding compys." [Weedon's Valley Forge Orderly Book, p. 169]

Health Reports Neglected

It seems there was carelessness in making necessary health reports, consequently Washington ordered on January 2, 1778: "Every Monday morning regimental surgeons are to make returns to the Surgeon Gen'l. or in his absence to one of the senior surgeions, present in camp or otherwise under the immediate care of the regimental surgeons specifying the mens names Comps. Regts. and diseases." [Weedon's Valley Forge Orderly Book, p. 175]

Small pox and the itch caused much trouble in the army so that orders were issued under the following dates: January 6, 1778, "The regimental surgeons are immediately to make returns to Doctor Cochran Surgeon Gen'l. of all the men in their regiments who have not had the small pox, they will also call on Doctor Cochran for what sulphur they need for the use of their regiments."3 January 8, 1778. "Being informed many men are rendered unfit for duty by the itch, the Commander -in-Chief orders and directs the regimental surgeons to look attentively into this matter and as soon as the men who are affected with this disorder are properly dispersed in huts to have them anointed for it." [Weedon's Valley Forge Orderly Book, pp. 183-186]

Since sickness was so prevalent in the early days of the camp plans were made to take care of the ill directly on the camp grounds. Washington issued the following orders: January 9, 1778. "The Majr. Genl. and Brigaiders or officers commanding the brigades of each division are to fix on some suitable place near their respective brigades where hosptials may be erected one for the sick in each brigade as soon as the men can possibly be spared from hutting they are to erect those hospitals, the officers who shall be app'd. to superintend the work will receive directions therefore at the Adjudt. Genls. office." [Weedon's Valley Forge Orderly Book, p. 188]

Designs of Camp Hospitals

January 13, 1778. "The Flying Hospitals are to be 15 feet wide and 25 feet long in the clear and the story at least 9 feet high to be covered with boards or shingles only without any dirt, windows made on each side and a chimney at one end. Two such hospitals are to be made for each brigade at or near the center and if the ground permits of it not more than 100 yards distance from the brigade." [Weedon's Valley Forge Orderly Book, p. 191] The Commander-in-Chief always solicitous about the comfort of his soldiers issued the following order January 15, 1778: "The Qr. Mr. Genl. is positively ordered to provide straw for the use of the troops and the surgeons to see that the sick when they are removed to huts assigned for the hospital are plentifully supplied with this article." [Weedon's Valley Forge Orderly Book, pp. 192-199-204-216]

Stressing the need of accuracy concerning the sick Washington required, January 20, 1778: "The regimental surgeions every Wednesday and Saturday are to make returns to the brigadier of all the sick in their respective regts. They or their mates are duly to attend the huts of their men and see that the sick are provided for as well as possible. The surgeons are also to keep a book in which they will enter a copy of every return they give in." January 21, 1778. "The Director Genl. of the Hospitals is as soon as possible to furnish the R'mental surgeons with medicine chests supplied with such medicine as are necessary for the sick in camp." January 29, 1778. "The commanding officer of each brigade is to appoint a Capt'n daily to visit the sick of his brigade in or near camp to examine whether they have proper attention paid to them and are furnished with everything their situation requires as far as circumstances will allow."

In order to prevent small pox Washington ordered: February 18, 1778. "A return of those men who have not had the small pox in the brigade to be made immediately to the Brigade Major." [Weedon's Valley Forge Orderly Book, p. 237] The fact that carelessness continued in making reports concerning illness led to the issuance of the following sharp order from headquarters: February 27, 1778. "Colonel Stewart has been much surprised to find so little attention paid to the orders issued by Gen. Weedon, respecting the sick of the brigade. The colonel now positively orders the captain whose duty it is to visit the sick of the brigade to deliver in his report by 9 o'clock the foloowing morning to which he was appointed to the above duty, otherwise they may depend upon being called to a severe account as it is a duty the utmost importance in the army." [Weedon's Valley Forge Orderly Book, pp. 243; 268; 299]


Interested in using our content? Click here!