by Jim Weaver
The Battle of Valley Forge was fought by 12,000 soldiers of the Continental Army. While many died of disease and some of starvation, it was a major victory for General George Washington and a turning point in the American Revolution against Great Britain. The battle was fought not against another military force, but against the weather (bitter cold, soaking rain and snow} and lots of mud, and lack of adequate shelter, food, medicine, and supplies. The Continental Congress, meeting in York, PA, (it had been forced out of Philadelphia by the Redcoats) was extremely slow in providing adequate funds for Washington to support an army and wage a war. It was the lowest point in the American Revolution and all might have been lost had the Continental Army not prevailed.
Washington’s troops, an ill-equipped ragtag group of untrained and undisciplined men, had been soundly defeated at the Battle of Germantown (now a Philadelphia neighborhood) just months earlier and were in retreat. The first stop was at Whitemarsh (now Fort Washington, PA) and then on to Valley Forge about 20 miles west of British held Philadelphia. Hope Lodge, a historic home located in Whitemarsh and used as a military hospital during the encampment, is now a state
operated museum open to visitors. We stayed the Hilton Garden Inn nearby.
Today, more than two million visitors each year visit Valley Forge National Park where the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-78 and where it became a cohesive military force capable of winning the war. Visitors to the National Park begin their tour at the Welcome Center where the story of the military encampment is told through informative exhibits and an excellent video presentation. Then its on to the park itself where visitors can see General George Washington’s headquarters, a fully restored and furnished gray stone house. While his wife Martha did not travel with him often, she did stay at Valley Forge and her room can be seen. Replicas of the log huts used by soldiers for housing can be seen nearby and give an authentic feeling for the encampment. There are field artillery canons located throughout the park and an tall observation tower that provides an excellent overview of the area.
There is a Memorial Chapel here that honors those who suffered and died here during the 1777-78 encampment. Today it is used for worship services, military funerals and weddings. Near the chapel is a giant stone arch honoring General George Washington that resembles the Arc De Triumph in Paris. There also is a bronze statue of Prussian (German) General Baron von Stueben who trained the troops during the encampment an made them a viable fight force. Without the aid of Stueben and Lafayette, we might well have lost the Revolution. Philadelphia honors Stueben each year with a major parade along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City.
The National Park Service offers a number of fine educational programs. Also, there are many excellent books and videos on Valley Forge and the American Revolution available at the Park’s Welcome Center. See www.nps.gov/vafo. Visitors to the park and surrounding area will want to view www.valleyforge.org.