Why Valley Forge? (1777-1778)
On December 19, 1777, one day after America’s First National Thanksgiving, Washington’s army marched into Valley Forge to begin preparations for winter camp. Valley Forge, named after an iron forge on Valley Creek, was about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, PA, the site of the British army’s winter camp. Winter conditions were already difficult. Henry Dearborn noted in his Journal, “The weather still Remains uncomfortable- this is Thanksgiving Day thru the whole Continent of America—but god knows We have very Little to keep it with this being the third Day we have been without flour or bread…”
Why was Valley Forge chosen? Washington explained, “The General ardently wishes, it were now in his power, to conduct the troops into the best winter quarters— But where are these to be found? Should we retire to the interior parts of the State, we should find them crowded with virtuous citizens, who, sacrificing their all, have left Philadelphia and fled thither for protection. To their distresses humanity forbids us to add.
This is not all, we should leave a vast extent of fertile country to be despoiled [stripped] and ravaged by the enemy, from which they would draw vast supplies, and where many of our firm friends would be exposed to all the miseries of the most insulting and wanton depredation— A train of evils might be enumerated, but these will suffice—These considerations make it indispensably necessary for the army to take such a position, as will enable it most effectually to prevent distress & to give the most extensive security; and in that position we must make ourselves the best shelter in our power— With activity and diligence Huts may be erected that will be warm and dry— In these the troops will be compact, more secure against surprises than if in a divided state and at hand to protect the country.” George Washington, General Orders, December 17, 1777
“… the General… [will] take post in the neighborhood of this camp… the officers and soldiers, with one heart, and one mind, will resolve to surmount every difficulty, with a fortitude and patience, becoming their profession, and the sacred cause in which they are engaged: He [Washington] himself will share in the hardship, and partake of every inconvenience.” George Washington, General Orders, Dec 17, 1777
“The army marched about 5 miles & encamped near a height where we are to build huts to live in this winter.” Henry Dearborn, Entry in Journal, December 19, 1777
“… should we wander from [the Founding Principles]… let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.” Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801