Driven into Pennsylvania by the British, it was on this day, December 19, in the freezing winter of 1777 that the Continental Army set up camp at Valley Forge, just 25 miles from British occupied Philadelphia.
Lacking food and supplies, soldiers died at the rate of twelve per day. Of 11,000 soldiers, 2,500 died of cold, hunger and disease. A Committee from Congress reported “feet and legs froze till they became black, and it was often necessary to amputate them.”
Soldiers were there from every State in the new union, some as young as 12, others as old as 50, and though most were white, some were Black and American Indians.
Quaker farmer Isaac Potts observed General Washington kneeling in prayer in the snow.
Hessian Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister noted that the only thing that kept the American army from disintegrating was their “spirit of liberty.”
In a letter written to John Banister, Washington recorded: “To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lay on, without shoes, by which their marches might be traced by the blood from their feet…and at Christmas taking up their…quarters within a day’s march of the enemy…is a mark of patience and obedience which in my opinion can scarce be paralleled.”