Valley Forge, Chester County, Pa.
From: History of Chester County, Pennsylvania
By: Charles William Heathcore, A. M., Ph. D.
Department of Social Studies, State Normal School
West Chester, PA 1926

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After several weeks of campaigning, in which the celebrated Battle of Germantown took place (October 4th, 1777), which the Americans would have won if equipment, arms and discipline had been adequate, Howe went into winter quarters at Philadelphia, which he had previously captured, and Washington established his winter camp at Valley Forge, December 19th, 1777. Howe had failed to drive Washington and his army over the Blue Mountains. Washington concluded to form his cantonment at Valley Forge, as he was sufficiently close to Philadelphia to observe the British Army, and to be ready to strike if necessary.

His entire army set to work and constructed rude log huts, and in a few days quite a log city had spread over the hills of Valley Forge. During the construction of the cabins, Washington shared the outdoor life with his soldiers. It seems that on Christmas Day, 'Washington moved into the house which served' as his headquarters during the Valley Forge encampment.


The general contour of Valley Forge was very well adapted for the cantonment, and the hills and high elevations provided means for good fortifications and defense in case of a surprise attack.

This sacred ground was acquired as a State Park by an Act of the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1893. Since that time, the roads have been improved, additional ground acquired, and numerous monuments and markers erected.

Washington established his headquarters in the home of Mrs. Deborah Hewes, formerly the widow of Thomas Potts, which is located near the juncture of the Schuylkill River and Valley Creek and the station of the Reading Railway.

Very close to, and somewhat east of Washington's headquarters, McIntosh's Brigade was encamped. Following the road to the northeast of Macintosh's Brigade, Star Redoubt was established, and somewhat to the left of the redoubt, near the south bank of the Schuylkill River, Sullivan's Brigade was located. East of the redoubt Varnums Brigade was stationed. The southern line of the cantonment was guarded by the following troops: On the east wing, Muhlenberg's Brigade, and then westward on the same line Weedon's, Patterson's, Learned's, Glover's, Poor's, Wayne's, Scott's, and Woodfords Brigades, somewhat to the north, Fort Washington was established; due north from this point, which would be somewhat west of the center of the camp and a short distance to the right, Knox's Artillery Brigade was located, and to the left Maxwell's Brigade was stationed; continuing north of Maxwell's position, Conway's and Huntingdon's Brigades were encamped, which united with the line of the camp which extended east from Washington's headquarters. When the cantonment was begun, the American Army numbered 11,098, and of this number 2,898 were incapacitated. The army as a whole was poorly equipped in arms, blankets, clothing, shoes and other necessary things. Due to the strenuous campaign through which they had passed, large numbers of the men were well nigh naked and hundreds were without shoes.


General Lachlin McIntosh was born in Scotland in 1727. His father settled in Georgia. Lachlin, as a youth, was considered the most handsome man in Georgia. In 1776, he was commissioned brigadier general. He died at Savannah in 1806.

General Jedediah Huntingdon, of Connecticut, was made a brigadier general by Congress in 1777.

General James M. Varnum was born at Dracut, Massachusetts, 1749. He was a lawyer. He was made a brigadier general in 1777. Later he served as judge in the Northwestern Territory and died at Marietta, Ohio, in 1790.

General John P. G. Mublenberg was born at Trappe (near Valley Forge) in 1746. He served as pastor of a church at Woodstock, Virginia, from 1772 to 1775. In 1775 he was commissioned a colonel of a Virginia regiment. Lossing states: "In concluding his farewell sermon. he said. that in the language of the Holy Writ, 'There was a time for all things; a time to preach, and a time to pray, but those times had passed away; and then in a voice that echoed like a trumpet blast through the church, he said, 'that there was a time to fight, and that time had now come!' Then laying aside his sacerdotal gown, he stood before his flock in the full regimental dress of a Virginia colonel. He ordered the drums to be beaten at the church door for recruits; and almost his entire male audience capable of bearing arms joined his standards." He was made brigadier general in 1777, and major general at the close of the war. He died near Philadelphia in 1807.

General George Weedon was born in Virginia in 1730, and shortly before the Revolution kept a hotel in Fredericksburg, which became quite famous as a center for anti British feeling. He was made a brigadier general by Congress in 1777. His brigade was of General Greene's division at Valley Forge. He died in Virginia in 1790.

General John Patterson, of Massachusetts, was commissioned a brigadier general by Congress in 1777. He took an active part in the war.

General Ebenezer Learned. of Massachusetts, was commissioned a brigadier general by Congress in 1777. He saw much active service in the war.

General John Glover, of Massachusetts, was made a brigadier general by Congress in 1777. He took an active and creditable part in the war.

General Enoch Poor was born in New Hampshire in 1736. He was made a brigadier general by Congress in 1777, and saw much active service, in which he died, near Hackensack, New Jersey, September 8th, 1780.

General Anthony Wayne was born in Easttown, Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1745. He entered the American Army as colonel in 1775, and later was made brigadier general. He rendered distinguished service to the American cause. In 1792 he was made ma jorgeneral and placed in supreme command of the armies in the war against the Western Indians. He died at Presque Isle in 1796.

General Charles Scott was born in Cumberland County, Virginia, in 1746. He was made a brigadier general by Congress in 1777, and served with distinction throughout the war. He was Governor of Kentucky from 1808 to 1812. He died in 1820.

General William Woodford was born in Virginia in 1736. In 1776 Congress made him a brigadier general in appreciation of his bravery in the battle of Great Bridge in 1775. He died as a prisoner of the British in New York, 1780.

General Henry Knox, a native of Massachusetts, was born in Boston in 1750. He entered the army from his book store, and in appreciation of his services Congress made him a brigadier general and placed him in command of the artillery. Later, he served as Secretary of War. He died in 1806 at Thomaston, Maine.

General William Maxwell was born in Ireland. He entered the American Army from New Jersey. In October 1776, Congress made him a brigadier general. He took an active part in the service until 1780, when he resigned from the army. He died in 1798.

General Nathaniel Greene was born in Rhode Island in 1740. Very early in the war his ability was recognized, and in 1776 Congress made him a major general. General Muhlenberg commanded the brigade of Greene's division at Valley Forge. He became quartermaster general of the army in March 1778. He died in Georgia in 1786.

General Thomas Mifflin was born in Philadelphia in 1744. He was made a major general by Congress in 1777 He was somewhat antagonistic to Washington's policies at Valley Forge, but later changed his opinions. He also took an active part in Pennsylvania politics. He died in 1800.

Baron DeKalb was a distinguished Alsatian soldier who united with the American cause for Independence with La Fayette in 1777. He was made a major general by Congress in 1777. General Learned commanded a brigade of Baron DeKalb's division at Valley Forge. DeKalb died from wounds received in the battle of Camden, South Carolina, 1780.

Marquis de La Fayette, a brilliant and patriotic French nobleman, came to America in 1777 and united with our Revolutionary Army from pure patriotic motives and ideals. A strong and intimate friendship sprang up between Washington and La Fayette which lasted as long as Washington lived. Congress commissioned him a major general in 1777, and he rendered excellent service in the army. It is a service which our nation will never forget. He died in 1834.

Brigadier General Louis L. DuPortail was in charge of the engineers.

General Lord Stirling (William Alexander) was born in New York City in 1726. For conspicuous service Congress made him a major general in 1777. General Conway commanded a brigade of Stirling's division at Valley Forge. Stirling died at Albany, New York in 1783.

General John Sullivan was born in Maine in 1740. He became a lawyer and practiced in New Hampshire. He was made a major general by Congress in 1776. General McIntosh commanded a brigade of Sullivan's division at Valley Forge. General Sullivan died in 1795.


During the six months the army was encamped here, the men endured untold suffering and hardships. The heavy snows and extreme cold of that winter added to their misery. .The hills are silent witnesses and monuments to the sacrifice, patriotism and courage of Washington and his men who held liberty, freedom and representative government dearer than life. Congress had failed to provide adequate supplies for the army. Unfortunately, the Commissary Department was under the control of Congress, and Washington was hampered in securing supplies. Money was scarce and the continental notes were well nigh valueless. Food supplies were gathered from far and near and the farmers compelled to take continental notes in payment. Large numbers of the farmers in the neighborhood were sympathetic to the American cause and made large sacrifices to help Washington.

Due to these conditions, sickness and death invaded the camp. Marshall wrote that, "On February 1st, 1778, only five thousand and twelve men out of a total of more than seventeen thousand were capable of any kind of service; four thousand were unfit for duty because of nakedness." In one of the hospitals which contained about two hundred and fifty beds, more than one thousand ill and afflicted soldiers were housed, which was typical of the dire conditions of the camp.

The school house built in 1705 by Laetitia Penn, a daughter of William Penn, was also used as a hospital. It is interesting to remember that without a doubt it is the oldest school building in America.

During the winter, Washington was compelled to deal with an indifferent, indecisive, bickering and jealous Congress, which met in York, the temporary capital of the States, since Philadelphia was in the possession of the British. Washington wrote letter after letter to Congress, beseeching them to improve conditions, but with little success. One of his letters well summarizes the condition of the camp. "To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness without blankets to lie on, without shoes, by which their marches might be traced by the blood from their feet, and almost as often without provisions with them, marching through the frost and snow, . . . . and submitting to it without a murmur, is proof of patience and obedience which, in my opinion, can scarce be paralleled."

In Philadelphia, where the British were stationed, conditions for the officers and soldiers were the reverse. The city was gay with reveals, balls, concerts. Money was plentiful, - and taverns, coffee houses, and markets did a thriving business. The common soldier was well housed, provided with abundant food, but twenty miles away starvation and death stalked over the bleak and blood stained hills of Valley Forge, a picture which the American citizen will never forget.

The approach of spring, which brought brighter days, renewed the spirit of the men. During these trying weeks Washington, largely through his own effort, had improved the commissariat. To encourage his men Washington issued from headquarters March 1st, 1778, an order of which the following is an excerpt: "The Commander in Chief takes this occasion to return his warmest thanks to the virtuous officers and soldiers of this army for that persevering fidelity and zeal which they have uniformly manifested in all their conduct from their fortitude, not only under the common hardships incident to a military life, but also under the additional sufferings to which the peculiar situation of these States have exposed them clearly proves them to be men worthy of the enviable privilege contending for the rights of human nature, the freedom and independence of the country; the recent instance of uncomplaining patience during the later scarcity of provisions in camp is a fresh proof that they possess to an eminent degree the spirit of soldiers and the magnanimity of patriots."

During the six months the army was stationed here, approximately four thousand men perished, the larger number of whom occupy unmarked graves.


During these trying days, Washington was the body, soul and spirit of the American cause. He never lost heart, though at times he was sorely tried by friends and foes alike. His faith in God was the strength of his optimism. Lossing reports that, "As Mr. Potts, of Valley Forge, strolled up the creek, not far from his dam, he heard a solemn voice. He walked quietly in the direction of it, and saw Washington's horse tied to a sapling. In a thicket nearby was the beloved chief upon his knees in prayer, his cheeks suffused with tears. Like Moses at the Bush, Mr. Potts felt that he was upon holy ground and withdrew unobserved. He was much agitated, and on entering the room where his wife was, he burst into tears. On her inquiring the cause, he informed her of what he had seen, and added, 'If there is any one on this earth whom the Lord will listen to, it is George Washington; and I feel a presentiment that under such a commander there can be no doubt of our eventually establishing our independence, and that God in His providence has willed it so'." Whether this event took place exactly as Lossing states is rather doubtful. However the fact remains that numerous instances are on record testifying to the earnest prayer life of Washington at Valley Forge.

The defeat of the American troops at the Brandywine, September 11th, 1777, and Washington's subsequent failure to destroy Howe's Army, had led a number of critics to find fault with him. Later, when Gates compelled Burgoyne to surrender at Saratoga, October 17th, 1777, he ignored Washington as Commander in Chief, and sent the dispatches direct to Congress; and Congress had failed to censure Gates for his slight of Washington. Gates became a hero and unfortunately he was ready to listen to plans to supplant Washington. Gates did not prove strong enough to oppose the plans of Washington's enemies, but followed them in their dictation. They persuaded Congress to organize a new Board of War and Gates was made chairman of it. In January the Board proposed an invasion into Canada without consulting Washington, and placed La Fayette in command of the expedition. La Fayette desired to refuse the appointment, but Washington urged his acceptance, although he explained to his friend that he did not believe it would materialize. Subsequent events proved Washington's conclusion to be correct.

Conway became associated with Gates and others in seeking to undermine Washington's leadership. Conway took a more active part than others. He was more or less a soldier of fortune, an Irishman by birth, who had seen long years of service in the French armies. He was boastful and selfish in seeking to obtain his personal ends. He was one of Washington's brigadier generals, and he hoped to be made a major general, but Washington opposed it. This act of his chief angered Conway, and in November 1777, he took an active part secretly and openly among Washington's enemies to secure his displacement from chief command. Conway wrote a very strong letter to Gates in which he severely scored Washington. During this trying time Washington carried himself as became a gentleman and soldier. The reaction against Washington's enemies set in very quickly when the people of the States learned of the affairs, and his soldiers likewise stood by him. Gates tried to explain that he had no desire to succeed Washington.

Conway's mannerisms had created a large number of enemies among his fellow officers, and in a short time, Congress perceived him in his true nature. Conway noticed the changed attitude, and in the early part of 1778 he wrote a sharp letter to Congress, in which he expressed his intention to resign. Much to his surprise and chagrin, Congress took him at his word. During the summer, Conway wrote a very humble letter of apology to Washington. Later he left the country and returned to France. After the trouble was settled, Washington stood out stronger than ever in the estimation of the people and army.

Therefore, Charming has well written: "Of all men in history, not one so answers our expectations as Washington. Into whatever part of his life the historian puts his probe, the result is always satisfactory."


Baron von Steuben came as a volunteer to America to aid the cause of liberty. He had a long and honorable experience in the Prussian Army. He was interested in the American cause by Franklin and a number of French sympathizers at Paris. He brought letters from Franklin to Congress and Washington. He was the man Washington needed to bring the army to the point of efficiency for active service for the campaign of 1778. Congress received him very hospitably and Washington welcomed him very warmly to the camp. In the Weedon Orderly Book under date of March 28th, 1778, there is this interesting citation:-

"Baron Steuben, a lieutenant general in foreign service, and a gentleman of great military experience, having obligingly undertaken to exercise the office of inspector general in this army, the Commander in Chief (till the pleasure of Congress shall be known) desires that he may be respected and obeyed as such; and hopes and expects that all officers of whatever rank in it. will afford him every aid in their power, in the execution of his office."

Congress made him inspector general of the army. As a disciplinarian he showed results in a short time. The soldiers learned to like his gruff manner and responded to his demands. When the army took the field in June, 1778, it was a well drilled and efficient body of men. Their subsequent conduct in battle showed this.

At the close of the war, in appreciation of his service, New Jersey and New York gave him grants of land and the United States granted him an annual pension of $2,500. He died at Steubenville, New York, in 1795.


Very early in the struggle for liberty, Congress sent a number of Commissioners to Paris to secure aid and recognition from the French Government. Largely due to Franklin's influence, official recognition was accorded the United States and aid was secured. This joyful news reached Washington at Valley Forge early in May. In honor of the event and appropriate to the occasion, Washington issued the following order under date of May 5th, 1778:-

"It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the Universe propitiously to defend the cause of the United States of America, and finally by raising us up a powerful friend, among the Princes of the Earth, to establish our Liberty and Independence upon lasting foundations: it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging its Divine goodness, and celebrating the important event, which we owe to his benign interposition. The several brigades are to be assembled for this purpose at nine o'clock tomorrow morning, when their chaplains will communicate the intelligence contained in the Postscript from the Pennsylvania Gazette of the second instant, and offer up a thanksgiving and deliver a discourse suitable to the occasion. Upon a signal given, the whole army will Huzza, long live the King of France. The artillery then begins again and fires thirteen rounds. This will be succeeded by a general discharge of the musketry in running fire, Huzza and long live the friendly European Powers. Then the last discharge of thirteen pieces of artillery will be given, followed by a general running fire and Huzza to the American States." The next morning, May 6th, 1778, Washington issued this order: "The Commander in Chief, being more desirous to reclaim than punish offenders, and willing to show mercy to those who have been misled by designing traitors, and that as many as can may participate in the pleasure of this truly joyful day is pleased to pardon (two soldiers names mentioned), now under sentence of death, and orders their immediate relief from confinement, hoping that gratitude to his clemency will induce them in future to behave like good soldiers." The French aid heartened people and soldiers alike.


The sad showing made by the British in the autumn of 1777 under the command of Howe led the English Government to recall him and ordered Sir Henry Clinton to supersede him. Clinton took charge May 11th, 1778 and proceeded to depart from Philadelphia. Clinton succeeded rapidly with his plans and left the city early in the morning of June 18th, crossing the Delaware River via Gloucester Point.

As soon as the news of the British evacuation reached Washington, he proceeded to pursue them. For some time Washington had laid his plans for such an emergency. He had improved the condition of his troops in a remarkable way. General Greene had reorganized the quartermaster general's department, consequently a marked improvement resulted. The troops were well drilled and in good spirits, and officers and men alike were ready and anxious to meet the British troops in action. Baron von Steuben had done a fine piece of work in drilling and getting the army in shape for the campaign of 1778. Washington's army at this time numbered approximately 17,000 men, and with these he started in pursuit across New Jersey after Clinton's army. After considerable skirmishing the armies engaged in the battle at Monmouth, June 28th. The struggle raged with terrific intensity during the day, and would have resulted in a decisive victory for the American armies if it had not been for the perfidy of General Charles Lee, who retreated before the British Army instead of attacking as Washington had ordered. Washington revealed his marvelous leadership and saved the army from defeat but the struggle should have resulted in an American victory.

General Lee had shown marked ability in the American service in the South in 1776, where he was taken prisoner by the British. He was exchanged in May 1778, and when he rejoined the army at Valley Forge he was cordially received by 'Washington. Many years after the struggle at Monmouth it was found that Lee was in league with the British.

The heroism and sacrifice displayed by Washington and his men at Valley Forge and Monmouth reveal the spirit to secure independence and freedom. It was this spirit which overcame all obstacles, and eventually won our independence and secured our place among the nations of the world.

At the present time, as one travels over the macadam roads and notes the markers, monuments and memorials erected to symbolize the heroic spirit of Valley Forge of the past in the Valley Forge of the present, one cannot help but feel and note the terrific sacrifice which was willingly paid by our forefathers so that we might have a nation in which the ideals of civic and religious liberties would be realities.

War of 1812. In the war of 1812, Chester County did her share in raising men. A number of companies were recruited and prepared for duty. Those from the western part of Chester County marched to Baltimore and those from the eastern part to Philadelphia and from there to Marcus Hook, where they were received into the services of the United States and served until regularly discharged.

La Fayette's visit. In 1824 La Fayette returned to the United States as an honored visitor. He was joyously received by the President and the people. In appreciation of his services to the nation during the trying days of the, War for Independence, Congress voted him a township of land and a gift of $200,000.

He was also triumphantly received in Chester County on this same visit and conducted over the Brandywine Battlefield. He was given a very hospitable and warmhearted reception at West Chester, July 26th, 1825 to which he responded in an appreciative manner. America will never forget the fine service of La Fayette.

Mexican War. - There were no companies or organizations formed in Chester County, but quite a number enlisted in other companies and served in the armies of the United States.

Civil War. - In the Civil War Chester County responded nobly to the cause. It is estimated that this County furnished not less than 6,500 men of whom about 500 were colored. Although there were no separate colored companies or organizations, hundreds enlisted. The colored men rendezvoused at Camp Penn at Chelton Hills.

Camp Wayne was established at West Chester early in the war; many regiments were fitted there for active duty.

Spanish American War. - West Chester sent a company of soldiers to the scene of the Spanish American War. However, they did not get to Cuba. Quite a few also enlisted in the navy.

The World War. - The participation of Chester County in the World War is well known, but the organization of data in a detailed form is yet to be done.

To present that material in a condensed form is an impossibility. However, Chester County rendered splendid service to the nation during that crucial period. Her manhood responded to the call in large numbers. The citizens participated in every war activity, excellent support was given to the Red Cross and kindred organizations, and more than $24,000,000 was subscribed for the Liberty Loan Bonds.

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