Reproductions of cabins used by soldiers at Valley Forge.

It seems like I have been running non-stop since leaving town the last week of June to attend a book signing in Elizabeth City, N.C.

From there I spent a few days on the Outer Banks, and then it was back to Gettysburg for all of the activity surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Once those events ended, we were up and running with a Civil War play at the Majestic Theater where I work. “The Road from Appomattox” ran for two weeks and just ended last Sunday.

I had to spend my first day off on Monday cleaning my house and doing laundry, but on Tuesday I hit the road for a day trip to Valley Forge. Much like the Gettysburg battlefield, the Valley Forge National Historic Park comprises 3,500 acres of picturesque, rolling hills.

General Anthony Wayne, looking toward his home that lies
five miles away. He never got to visit it while at Valley Forge.

The landscape was so green and peaceful, it was hard to imagine that General George Washington forged his Continental Army into a fighting force during the winter encampment there in December of  1777 to June 1778.

No battles were fought on the grounds. Nonetheless, some 2,000 soldiers died – more Americans than were killed at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown combined. The enemy the soldiers faced was hunger, disease, and an unusually brutal winter.

General Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge.

Today at the Park, Washington’s original stone headquarters is restored and furnished, and log soldier huts have been reconstructed.

Washington located his headquarters (the “Pentagon” of its time) in a small house in the village of Valley Forge. The General and his military staff worked and lived in the house throughout the winter.

Mrs. Washington also joined him there for several months of the winter encampment.
According to reports, up to 25 people resided or worked there at one time.

Room set up to look like an office for General Washington.

The house looks bigger on the inside than it does on the outside, but would still be crowded with that many people!

The small, attached building to the left is the kitchen, built somewhat away from the main building in case of fire.

The first floor has basically two rooms besides the kitchen. One was set up as an office (see photo), and the other was not open, but would probably be a parlor or dining room.

Bedroom upstairs.

Upstairs there were three bedrooms, with another floor above that for additional sleeping space. The rooms were laid out as they assume they might have been, but there are no records from the original home to tell exactly what was located where.

Crowded as it was, I would imagine it was still more comfortable than the huts that the men slept in.

The house itself is believed to have been constructed in 1773 for Isaac Potts, operator of the family grist mill, although some sources place the construction date as early as 1759. In 1777-8 the property was owned by Isaac but rented to his aunt, the widow Deborah Hewes, who sublet it to Washington.

Another bedroom.

Valley Forge was actually named for an iron forge on Valley Creek that was burned by the British in September of 1777.

The area was chosen because it was close enough to the British to keep their raiding and foraging parties out of the interior of Pennsylvania, yet far enough away to halt the threat of British surprise attacks.

The densely forested plateau of Mount Joy and the adjoining two-mile long plateau of Mount Misery combined with the Schuylkill River to the north, made the area easily defensible. It also provided abundant forests of timber that would later be used to construct the thousands of log huts in the camp.

Bunks in the cabins.

It’s hard to picture the snow and freezing temperatures the soldiers endured during that winter. Only about one in three of the soldiers had shoes, and many of their feet left bloody footprints from marching.

As you can see from the picture, the huts provided some shelter, but certainly didn’t offer much in the way of comfort.

Valley Forge was a two-hour drive, so it made a nice one-day road trip. I’m still in the planning stages of my next one!


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