On Road Trip 2010, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman stops at the encampment where George Washington's troops spent the harsh winter of 1777.
Soldier at Valley Forge
In the winter of 1777, about 12,000 men in Gen. George Washington's Continental Army, having recently suffered losses in two key battles and having lost Philadelphia to the British, set up camp for the winter in a place where they could keep an eye on the British, but not be caught off guard. They also needed more training.
According to the National Park Service, "Washington had to balance the Continental Congress's wish for some type of winter campaign aimed at dislodging the British from the capital [Philadelphia] against the needs of his weary and poorly supplied army. By mid-December , he had decided to encamp at Valley Forge.
"From this location, twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia, the army was close enough to maintain pressure on the British yet far enough away to prevent a surprise attack. While the solders who entered camp on December 19, 1777 were not well-supplied, they were not downtrodden."
Over the course of that winter, more than 2,000 American soldiers died, mainly of disease. For every solider who died in battle, 10 died from disease. In large part, that was because most of the soldiers were poorly supplied and poorly nourished. But it was not because they were cold: Many of them died in the warmer spring months that followed the harsh winter.
By early summer of 1778, with a new alliance with the French locked down, the Americans were ready to take on the British. On June 28, 1778, at the Battle of Monmouth, in New Jersey, Washington's troops defeated the British.
As part of Road Trip 2010, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman stopped Monday at Valley Forge, located in Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. It was nearly 100 degrees in the sun, nothing like the frigid winter conditions Washington's men encountered. Still, Terdiman got a sense for what the beautiful encampment was like.
Seen here, a Continental Army "soldier" ponders his next move. Enactors are regularly on site to entertain visitors.
Although enlisted men lived up to 12 to a hut, Gen. Washington had much more comfortable digs. This is the renovated building where Washington and his family lived during his army's time at Valley Forge.
These huts are representative of the cabins that Washington's Continental Army spent the winter of 1777 living in. The soldiers made the log cabins themselves and were given incentives to build quickly. Washington offered monetary rewards to the groups of men that could construct them the fastest.
This memorializes the unknown Continental Army soldiers who are buried at Valley Forge. All told, more than 2,000 men died while the army was encamped there in the winter of 1777, yet most died from disease--not battle, cold, or starvation.
Once the army arrived at Valley Forge, it was time to start building camp ovens, like this one, a representation of what was used in 1777. The crafting of the baking ovens was overseen by bakers.
"The heart of the oven was a set of portable iron plates which teamsters transported to the site," according to the National Park Service. "Workers then assembled the oven and placed it onto an earthen mound. The dirt mound both insulated the oven and placed it at a proper working height."
One the ovens got going, they would be used around the clock so that the bakers could make thousands of pounds of bread a day. On average, the National Park Service says, the soldiers consumed bread using 84,000 pounds a day of flour.
At Valley Forge, the National Park Service employs enactors dressed as Continental Army soldiers would have been. Here, we see what a soldier would have with him and what he would consume on an average day.
According to the National Park Service, a soldier was allotted one-and-a-quarter pounds a day of beef or salt fish or one pound of pork, one-and-a-quarter pounds of soft bread or flour or one pound of hard bread.
This is the National Memorial Arch, located at Valley Forge. It was dedicated in 1917 and remembers the "patience and fidelity" of the Continental Army soldiers who spent the winter of 1777 there, according to the National Park Service.
This is Washington Chapel, an early-20th century church that is on private property within the boundaries of Valley Forge National Historic Park. It was built to commemorate Washington's national service.
Inside Valley Forge, this is a statue of Anthony Wayne, who was a brigadier general in the Continental Army from February 1777 until November 1783.
On the statue, a plaque includes these words: "Resolved unanimously that the thanks of Congress be presented to...Wayne for his brave, prudent and soldierly conduct in the spirited and well conducted attack on Stony Point."
Washington turned the training of his Valley Forge troops over to Prussian volunteer, Maj. Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben, who molded the troops over that harsh winter and helped get them ready to fight the following spring.