Valley Forge.

Sundays in Autumn mean football. Specifically, as a native of the Philadelphia metropolitan region, cheering for the Eagles. However, with the hometown team performing poorly this year, and a beautiful late fall day unfolding outside, I decided to ignore this week’s game, leave my home, and venture twenty miles west of Philadelphia to a site where, 239 years ago this month, George Washington developed the army that would eventually defeat the British and lead to the founding of the United States. Despite disease, hunger, and misery, the soldiers encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania during the winter of 1777-1778 would lay the foundation for the modern American military.

Maintained by the National Park Service, Valley Forge National Historic Park preserves much of the land where the Continental Army encamped during the winter and spring of 1777-1778. General Washington moved the army to this location after the British captured Philadelphia. Chosen due to the hilly terrain, access to roads and waterways, and strategic placement, Valley Forge was easily defended against attack. Arriving in Valley Forge on December 19th, 1777, 12,000 ill-prepared soldiers of the Continental Army quickly built log huts in which to live. Lacking adequate food, proper clothing, and ravaged by disease, the soldiers were faced with dire conditions. To quote Private Joseph Plumb Martin: “We are now in a truly forlorn condition, no clothing, no provision and as disheartened as can be.”

After supplies began flowing to the army in late January of 1778, conditions began to improve. As the soldiers became healthier, they were in a far better position to be trained, and a Prussian soldier newly arrived from Europe, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, began drilling the Continental soldiers in military tactics. Having survived a brutal winter, and having learned how to operate as a professional military, in June of 1778 Washington led the Continental Army to recapture Philadelphia, and ultimately to defeat the British five years later.

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Living in the crowded Northeast means traffic, even on a Sunday. This is the Schuylkill Expressway, which runs east-west through Philadelphia. Two lanes each direction, a speed limit of 55 mph which no one takes seriously, no proper shoulders  to safely stop, and accidents galore have given this road a rather grim nickname: The Surekill Expressway.
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Arrived safe and sound at the Visitor Center of Valley Forge Park. According to a park ranger, forensic science has been used to try to accurately recreate George Washington as he appeared at age 45, as well as his horse Blueskin.
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Modern medicine in 1777-1778. No thank you.
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Quick snack at the visitor’s center and planning my route.
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Recreations of the wooden huts that the Continental Army hastily assembled.
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Inside the huts. Bunks for 8 soldiers and a fireplace. And not much else. Inadequate sanitation meant that disease spread through the camp rapidly.
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The high ground made Valley Forge easy to defend against attack.
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Redoubts, which were a form of defensive earthwork, still can be seen, although they have long since been overgrown by vegetation.
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National Memorial Arch, dedicated in 1917 to honor the soldiers who lived and died at Valley Forge.
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The route through the park is about a five mile drive, and the views are simply spectacular.
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Stopping quickly by the statue of General Anthony Wayne. Nicknamed “Mad Anthony” for his military victories and his fiery personality, Wayne served throughout the Revolutionary War, including wintering at Valley Forge. He later ratified the US Constitution as part of the Pennsylvania delegation.
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The officers had slightly better conditions than the soldiers. Local farmhouses and business in Valley Forge  were rented by the Continental Army for its leaders. Henry Knox spent the winter here…
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…and George Washington had his headquarters and office in this house.
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Washington’s office, where he directed the war efforts. According to a park ranger, the house is almost completely original, aside from a new roof and new floors.
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If you travel through the east coast, you will see many old houses claiming that “Washington Slept Here.” Well, Washington really did sleep HERE.
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The kitchen, which is actually a separate building from the main house.
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DH, with Washington’s house in the background.

With the sun setting, I had thoughts of heading home. Before leaving the area, however, I stopped by Washington Memorial Chapel, an Episcopalian church which was built in 1921 to honor soldiers of the American Revolution. The interior of the chapel is stunning. The bell tower houses the Justice Bell, a replica of the Liberty Bell that was cast for the women’s suffrage movement.

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Washington Memorial Chapel.
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The interior. Sadly, my photo does not do it justice. It’s quite beautiful.
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The Justice Bell, cast in 1915 to support the movement for women to have the right to vote.
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Interior of the bell tower, looking upward.
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Heading home in more traffic! At least I had a good view of the Philadelphia skyline.
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Back home. The miles keep on accumulating!

Much like my trip to Gettysburg several months ago, I was glad to be able to make time to stop at yet another historic site located so close to home. The Northeastern United States is so full of history, especially regarding the founding of the nation, and it is easy to take these historical sites for granted. However, making the time to stop and visit these important locations is well worth the effort. I hope you enjoyed yet another installment of the Voyage of DH!

‘Til next time.

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