The winter of 1777–78 brought dark days to the American Revolution. The British had captured Philadelphia, the colonies’ largest city, and settled into snug quarters there for the season. George Washington’s battered army, meanwhile, limped to a bleak hillside in Pennsylvania and set about making winter camp. The name of the place was Valley Forge.
The coming weeks saw unimaginable suffering. The Americans lived in crude log huts that did little to keep out rain or snow. The army dressed in rags. Some soldiers had no shoes except strips they had cut from their precious blankets to wrap around their feet. At night they lay on the frozen ground, or stayed up until morning crowding around their fires to keep from freezing to death. At one point Washington wrote, “We have this day no less than 2,873 men in camp unfit for duty because they are barefooted and otherwise naked.”
There was almost never enough food. Men lived for whole days at a time on nothing but flour and water baked on hot stones. Disease swept through the camp, leaving an army of skeletons shivering in the biting winds.
But the Patriot spirit never broke. Somehow, in the midst of misery, the troops managed to march, drill, and train themselves to fight. “If we can just live through this winter,” they told themselves, “we can win our freedom.”
The Americans had arrived at Valley Forge with perhaps 12,000 men. By the time the snows of winter melted, only 8,000 remained—8,000 who had survived on little but loyalty, courage, and resolve. It was a tougher army that marched away from Valley Forge, an army ready to fight.