Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Visit to Valley Forge...with Valley Forge Weather

Today, some forty history students from my campus of Penn State Altoona trekked the hallowed grounds of Valley Forge National Historical Park. The extremely knowledgeable and ever entertaining Joe Petrulionis was the teacher and supervisor. I was actually pleased by the amount of snow and muddy pathways. What better way to get a taste of Valley Forge's history than to be just slightly cold and muddy?

Following the American defeats at Brandywine on September 11 and Germantown on October 4, 1777, George Washington required a site to simultaneously train his men and keep an eye on British forces occupying Philadelphia 16 miles to the east. Valley Forge provided a site close enough for surveillance and foraging, but far enough away to avoid a British assault. In addition, the geographic components of the Schuylkill River and formidable high ground made the Forge a considerable defensive position. Six to ten inches of snow covered the ground for the majority of the winter. Of course, most know of the great suffering which took place there that winter, but that is only half the story. The new training methods implemented by Prussian Baron Freidrich Von Steuben throughout the six month encampment led to an arguably more efficient American fighting force.

Our guide was Ranger Scott Houting, an incredibly well-versed historian of the Revolution and military history. Our first stop in the park was the extreme left flank of the outer line defenses of the encampment. In this sector lived the men under the command of General Peter Muhlenberg's brigade. Upon the Continentals' arrival at Valley Forge, Washington broke down his army into companies of twelve men. These soldiers built cabins 14x16 feet in perimeter, humble shelters where they would live until the following spring. "Company Streets" were formed in this log cabin city. The Continental Army would leave the Forge on June 19, 1778 upon word of the British evacuation of Philadelphia.

Our first video features Ranger Pete Maugle discussing the composition of the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

Next, the very young but quite experienced sergeant in the photo's foreground helped demonstrate some small squad drilling and firing.

Here, Ranger Pete describes one of the modes of firing the muskets.

A fire was blazing away in their small cabin, yet the cold was still considerable.

After driving past the National Memorial Arch (similar to the arch in Paris) and the inner defense lines near Redoubt Number 3, our caravan arrived at the Isaac Potts House. In 1777, a woman by the name of Deborah Hues was a tenant of the stone house. The home was then subleased to Washington for use as his headquarters. The first "public" commemoration of Washington's birthday took place in the front yard of this home when an artillery band serenaded the general and wife Martha. (Or did the men just want their overdue pay?)

Ranger Houting talks about the architecture of the structure. Minus a new roof and some minor restorations, the Potts House largely remains as it did 232 years ago. Visitors can grasp the same stairway railing that the general used.

The front room of the house is where aides such as Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette would have completed much clerical work.

A brief synopsis of the work done in the front room.

The dinning room at the rear of the headquarters. Notice the almonds on the table - one of George's favorite treats. No wonder he had bad teeth...

An upstairs bedroom furnished as officers' quarters.

Reproduction cabins of Washington's "Life Guards," the 18th Century equivalent of the Secret Service.

In our final video, Ranger Houting provides additional information about Washington's elite personal body guards.

Our day in the Valley Forge area concluded with with a well-deserved meal at "Five Guys Burger and Fries." A good day indeed!

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