Monday, February 21, 2011

For Presidents Day - a bit of Valley Forge

After reading this interesting Smithsonian Magazine piece on George Washington's skill with maps and his extensive use of them, I thought I'd post some photos from a visit this past summer to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania where the Continental Army was encamped the winter of 1777-78.

The army held its drills on these fields, under the supervision of Baron von Steuben (there would have been ice, mud and snow everywhere):


George Washington's Headquarters:




The accommodations for the soldiers guarding the house were more spare:


There was rampant disease and scarce supplies; over two thousand soldiers died over the course of the winter.

At the Washington Memorial Chapel, the "Grieving Mother" statue:


Some of the mothers of these soldiers would have been with them at Valley Forge (along with wives, sisters, children...); the estimated 500 women encamped there worked primarily as nurses and to repair and launder clothes.


From a letter that Washington wrote from Valley Forge to George Clinton, governor of NY:
I am calling upon all those, whose stations and influence enable them to contribute their aid upons so important an occasion... tho' you may not be able to contribute materially to our relief, you can perhaps do something towards it; and any assistance, however trifling in itself, will be of great moment at so critical a juncture, and will conduce to keeping the army together till the Commissary's department can be put upon a better footing, and effectual measures concerted to secure a permanent and competent supply.

Several years later he was addressing a meeting of his officers, who had serious grievances against Congress (with the danger of there being a clash between the army and the civilian government). At one point he said, in the middle of reading a letter written by a Congressman explaining the financial difficulties that made it difficult to adequately recompense the troops: "Gentlemen... you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country." Neither his speech (he wasn't the best of public speakers), nor the words he'd read to that point, seemed to move them as much as that little bit of human frailty.

It's amazing to think about all the turning points of history in which he was a key figure.