American Legends: George Washington at Valley Forge

August 4, 2020

This story comes from American Folklore and Legends by Reader’s Digest. According to the book, the winter of 1777-78 was a mild one, but the army was so ill prepared that approximately 2500 soldiers died and left a memory in the snow.
The story appeared approximately 100 years later, so 19th-century literary style is used. This story is separate from George Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge, which was a prayer for help, guidance,

…”The British took Philadelphia, and we took to the woods, into winter quarters at Valley Forge. We had dreamed of the winter in Philadelphia, of snug houses, warm clothing, full rations and sich [such], but General Howe had shut the door and we were turned out into the cold, the bare ground for our beds, the naked sky for a covering, and as for feathers for our beds, they came down presently, in the form of snowflakes.”

235 Years Ago, Washington's Troops Made Camp at Valley Forge - HISTORY
George Washington at Valley Forge

The ground was the soldiers frozen bed until the log huts were roofed in. They never took their frozen clothes off, whether wet or dry, and were frozen so stiff that the men often rattled around in them as they walked around. Many would gather together, build a fire, cook their mess, spread out straw, and snuggle up close together. “One night the snow came swooping in whirlwinds. It stung like birdshot; the sentinels had to be relieved every fifteen minutes so they would not freeze to death. When daylight came, some of the soldiers who slept in tents were under a foot of snow.These storms blocked roads, and rations were cut down. For seven days the army was without a speck of meat. A thousand well-fed countrymen with old fashioned flails could have thrashed the whole of us easy.”

General Green agreed to see what could be done by appealing to the local Dutch farmers. The collections that were gathered kept the army from disbanding. A committee had been set up, to see what could be done, knowing that the officers weren’t much better off.

Some imagine that General Washington was living off the fat of the land, while his men starved. This just isn’t so. “Sir,” his cook said one day, “we have nothing to eat but the rations.” “Well then, cook the rations,” was Washington’s reply.

Washington often came over to visit with the men, who were really having a rough time of it. Their feet were frostbitten, dressed in ragged clothes and many with no shoes. The wind was fierce, about two feet of snow lay on the ground suffered as they continued their duties, pacing in front of the huts. The men loved Washington “as if he had been their father, and would rather have died with him than lived in luxury with the red coats.”

One day, Washington came to visit with his men. One day, he visited the hut of Josiah Jones, who lay dying on a bed of straw. He knew he was dying and wanted someone to pray for him. The soldiers loved him as a brother but when it came to praying, none of them knew what to do. In walked George Washington. The commander-in-chief may have been justified for being angry that the ill were not being properly cared for, but instead, he knelt down beside Josiah and prayed. Before Washington had finished praying, Josiah’s soul had fled.

“He had the love and confidence of the men on account of his character as a man.”

George Washington's Prayer at Valley Forge - MeetAmerica
George Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge
via Wikipedia, painting by Arnold Friberg

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