Historic Valley Forge

Militia at Valley Forge

Q.Did the militia work out of Valley Forge, or did they work autonomously on their own?
Jeff Johnson, Bedford County, VA

A.The nucleus of the army, of course were Continental soldiers or regulars. The American militia, or provincials, were actually state troops which were used in addition to the regulars. They were generally part-time soldiers, subject to state authority and very often unreliable. For example of the 13,000 Connecticut militia serving under Washington at Long Island in August of 1776, only 2,000 of them remained in the military after the battle. In a letter to Congress dated September 25, 1776, Washington wrote:

"if I was called upon to declare upon oath, whether the militia had been most serviceable or hurtful upon the whole, I should subscribe to the latter."

Valley Forge had been chosen for several prerequisites: terrain providing defense; water supply abundant; and woods for fuel and construction material. There were long-range foraging expeditions undertaken by various regiments sent by Washington. Some of these were the following: Anthony Wayne to New Jersey; Henry Lee to Delaware; and Allan McLane into the British Lines. Colonel Geist and his Maryland Militia were here at Valley Forge, but they too were sent out, later joining Smallwood's troops in Wilmington. Potter of Pennsylvania was also in charge of a militia group at Valley Forge and were also sent out at various stages of the encampment. The militias did bivouac at Valley Forge. The regiments would report to Washington regarding whatever areas they might be located in. Foraging parties from both sides were out and about the countryside that winter between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. Soldiers stationed at Valley Forge may have stayed for a few days, several weeks or even months. They were here and their ultimate orders came from Headquarters: the Commander in Chief.


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