Historic Valley Forge

Housing at Valley Forge

Q.I am doing a report on the housing used during the winter at Valley Forge, 1777-78. I know they had brick, stone, wood and log housing in many different styles. What would have been the best type of housing for the soldiers during the winter months at Valley Forge? Also, what was the most commonly used housing? Thank you.
Megan Bereskin, Iowa, grade 8

A. The soldiers who marched into Valley Forge on December 19th, 1777 stayed in tents initially, but set about building more substantial housing facilities immediately. A common type of tent used during the Revolution was the "wedge tent." The style is still used today: It is the triangular front and back with two sloping sides. Sizes varied, but were approximately 6' by 6' and about 55-60" high. Another type was described by Lochee in "An Essay on Castramentation" in 1778: it is called the "Bell Back Tent" which is similar to the wedge tent, only the rear of the tent has an additional section that extends out — sort of in the shape of a semi-circle. This space could give an additional 12"-20" of space. Some wedge tents were also "convertible" (one side of the wedge tent would be extended like a fly or a leanto, leaving the side opened for warmer climates and temperatures).

The plans for building construction were of the utmost importance. The Commander-in-Chief knew his troops needed to be housed properly for the winter ahead of them. In the Poor's Brigade Orderly Book in the collection at the Valley Forge Historical Society, the following entry appears:

December 18, 1777:

. . . The Major General and Officers commanding Divisions are to appoint an active Field Officer, in and for their respective Brigades to superintend the business of Hutting, agreeable to directions they shall receive and add to them. The Commanding Officers of each Regt is to appoint an Officer to oversee the building of Hutts for his own Regt which Officer is to take his orders from the Field Officer of the Brigade he belongs to, who is to mark out the precise spot that every Hutt for Officers and Soldiers is to be placed on, that uniform good order may be observed.

An exact return of all the Tools known in the hand of every Regiment is to be made immediately to the Q M General, who with the adjutant Genl is to see that they, together, with those in store are duly and justly allotted to the Regimental overseers of the week; who are to keep an exact account of the men's names into whose hands they are placed, that they may be accountable for them.

The superintendents and overseers are to be exempt from all other duty.

The Col or commanding officers of Regt. with their Captains, are immediately to excuse their men to be divided into Squads of twelve, and see that each squad have their proportion of tools, and set about a Hutt for themselves; And as an incouragement to industry and Art, the General promises to reward the party in each Regt which finishes their Hutts in the quickest and most workman like manner with twelve Dollars; And as there is reason to believe that boards for covering may be found scarce & difficult to be got, M(illegible), offers one hundred Dollars to Officer or Soldier who in the opinion of there Gentleman he shall appoint as Judges, shall substitute some other covering that may be cheaper and quicker made, and will in every other respect answer the end; The Soldiers Hutts are to be of the following dimensions VIZ fourteen by sixteen each, Sides, Ends & Roofs made with Logs and the roofs made tight with split slabs, or in some other way, the sides made tight with clay, Fireplace made of wood & secured with clay on the inside eighteen inches thick, this fireplace to be in the rear of the Hutt, The door to be in the end next the street, The door to be made of split Oak Slabs unlefs boards can be procured, Side(illegible) to be 6 1/3 feet high, The Officers Hutts to form a line in the Rear of the Troops, One Hutt to be allowed to each Genl Officer, One to the staff of each Division, One to the Staff of each Brigade, One to the Genl Officers of each Regiment, one to the Commifs. Officers of two companys, one to every 12 noncommisioned Officers and Soldiers.

The above information is transcribed directly from the original manuscript with the grammar and spelling of the time period. Some abbreviations which may be unfamiliar:
  • Regt: Regiment
  • Col: Colonel
  • QM: Quartermaster

The majority, or most common type of housing for the troops were the "hutts". The noncommissioned soldiers were housed twelve (+) to a hut, while officers (captains, colonels, etc.) had to share their space with fewer people. The encampment grounds at Valley Forge would have looked like a "log city" The generals were headquartered in various farmhouses in the surrounding area — these were primarily of stone, very rarely were they brick. The General himself stayed in his own tent until his troops were fixed in their housing. He rented the Potts House from Deborah Hewes for his headquarters.