On December 19th, 1777 Washington & 12,000 battle weary continentals entered Valley Forge & prepared for the onset of winter. The first order of business was to build shelter. Washington himself specified the dimensions & spacing of the huts & small villages like the one depicted at left began to pop up. These huts provided sufficient protection from wind & cold but the damp, drafty crowded conditions were breeding grounds for disease. Supplies were almost non-existent. Meat was a rarity but thanks to Baker General Christopher Ludwig, the men did receive regular rations of fresh baked bread. Blankets were scarce, clothing was horribly inadequate & some men were even without shoes. Nakedness, hunger, cold & sickness were the order of the day at Valley Forge. Some of the enlisted men's female relatives followed them into Valley Forge & if not for their dedicated services at laundry, sewing & nursing, more men would most certainly have perished. Despite the miserable conditions, discipline had to be maintained. Washington decided to achieve this through training & he had just the man for the job, Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Von Steuben had been a member of the elite General Staff of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. With these credentials & a letter of recommendation from Ben Franklin, von Steuben went to work. Washington's men lacked the training necessary to compete on the 18th century battlefield. They didn't even have a standardized manual. So, von Steuben, who spoke little English, authored a manual himself in French which his aides translated at night & passed it to the men the following day. He taught them to march in formation, to load & fire muskets more rapidly & with greater precision & to fight with the bayonet. 12,000 dispirited men limped into Valley Forge on December 19th, 1777. On June 19th, 1778 about 10,000 trained soldiers marched in formation away from Valley Forge, confident & with renewed sense of purpose in pursuit of the British.
In May 1778, British Commander Sir Henry Clinton was ordered to evacuate Philadelphia & concentrate his troops at the main British base in New York City. On June 18th they began their 100 mile march across New Jersey to New York City. Seeing an opportunity to put Baron von Steuben's training to the test, Washington planned to intercept Clinton at Monmouth Courthouse before he could reach New York. Washington held a council of war & his second in command, General Charles Lee argued against any large scale attack since French involvement guaranteed ultimate victory. Washington decided to send 4,000 troops to harass Clinton's rear guard. Lee turned down the assignment so Washington gave the command to the Marquis de Lafayette. Later, Washington increased the force to 5,000 men & Lee changed his mind. Lee engaged the British rear guard under the command of Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis. Lee quickly lost control of the situation & ordered a general retreat. When Washington arrived he spotted the fleeing troops. Outraged, he rebuked Lee in one of the few times where he swore in public. Washington proceeded to rally the troops & formed a new line along a hedge row & repelled repeated British assaults. Von Steuben's training & discipline must have paid off because Washington managed to fight Clinton to a standstill until the British, bloodied & exhausted from the brutal heat, broke off & retreated for New York. Monmouth would be the last major engagement in the northern theater as the British shifted their attention to the southern colonies. More importantly, it proved that von Steuben's training was effective & the new colonial army was able to hold it's own against the British on the open battlefield.
Battle of Monmouth Monument
Valley Forge Monument
Valley Forge Cabin Town
Baron Friedrech von Steuben
"Naked & starving as they are we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience & fidelity of the soldiery." G. Washington Valley Forge Feb 18, 1778
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