Winter Quarters at Valley Forge

I started out my morning (7/15/17) with a quick trip through Valley Forge.  I have wanted to visit here for a while, and I intentionally chose a hotel in the vicinity so I could visit.  Because of the rain the past two days, I waited til this morning so I could get good pictures for use in class power points.

One of the things I was immediately struck with is how great a role Washington played in his men’s morale.  Trying to understand him for writing a book makes me focus more on his personal character than just the events.  We all have learned in school about the conditions at Valley Forge–freezing, disease, lack of clothing and supplies–but think about who had to keep those men willing to endure those things.  George Washington.  Additionally, I’d never looked at the fact that he brought Baron von Steuben in as a morale booster.  But, when you read von Steuben’s military experience, that had to give the men some hope and a reason to continue to press on.  Private Joseph Plumb Martin may had summed it up best when he stated, “We had engaged in the defense of our injured country and were willing, nay we were determined to persevere.”

The lay of the land

Another side of the war we don’t normally consider is its affect on the townspeople living there.  A picture display in one of the cabins explains that soldiers took down farmer’s fences to use the wood for construction.  They also demanded livestock of the people for food, and the encampment made such a mess of things, the townspeople couldn’t even plant crops after the army had left, the fields were so deep in mud and trampled from drilling.  I’m sure that made for two hard winters for the people who lived here–both while the army was here and after they’d left.  Apparently, George Washington visited later after fields were able to be plowed and planted, and–a farmer at heart–was pleased to see the agriculture up and running again.

While I’m sure there was much more I didn’t have a chance to explore–especially the reenactment areas–I needed to head to the Old Barracks.

The Old Barracks Museum

The Old Barracks is a fascinating Museum and the only remaining one of its kind.  It contains both original and reconstructed portions.  They do tours every hour, and it is well worth the price of admission!

Our tour guide, David, gave an amazing tour lasting over an hour (I had to leave to get to Gettysburg).  He started by explaining the reasons behind the creation of the barracks.  There had been a movement in parliament to expand the British empire. As a result, England sent 20,000 soldiers–the single largest investment of soldiers–to the colonies to help secure the lands to the west.  Problems arose because the British army had to be treated differently than the colonial militia.  Usually militias served 9-12 months as needed in a crisis (often going home for the winter when they disbanded to be formed again as needed.) But, British soldiers needed to be housed, as they obviously weren’t going home for the winter. Later, in order to handle this situation, Britain passed the first quartering act:  The Mutiny Act of 1765.  Under this law, British soldiers had to occupy barracks, then public houses (taverns). If none of those were available, then they moved to private homes or rented warehouses.

The Tour begins

During the French Indian War, New Jersey didn’t have anything to accommodate troops. The Population was only 1,000, and 250 British soldiers were sent. With no places to put them, they had to be quartered in homes.  Contrary to popular belief, you did have right to refuse to house soldiers, but you got paid for quartering troops, so many people accepted the offer.  However, the citizens of New Jersey began to complain that they were not paid as much as they were owed.

Additionally, though the British sent the largest number of troops they ever had, they were not winning the French Indian War. One by one, states stop raising armies to support the cause.  Then, in 1758, William Pitt became Prime Minister in Britain, instituting many new policies. First, he fired the old commander and instead of demanding things from the colonies, he started formally requesting what he desired.  He also made the colonists a deal:  He offered $100,000 lbs in gold specie–as much as you spend for the crown, you’ll get a portion of that back in specie. Since specie was hard to get in the colonies, this spurred many colonies to help out the crown.  New Jersey voted to erect 5 barracks to house soldiers. This is the only one still standing. Within two years of William Pitt’s leadership, France surrendered.

Soldiers’ quarters

The rooms in the barracks are 15 feet square, designed to house 12 men.  Men were divided in 6 man mess groups which shared camp (mess) equipment. The barracks was designed to house 300 soldiers. When a tent is 7 feet square at base, this is a real improvement–especially when the building usually only occupied 200-250 men.

The winter quarters were designed to conserve the soldiers’ health. Drilling usually started back up again in March. So, in the winter months, soldiers really didn’t have much responsibility  other than once a month guard duty.

External of officers’ quarters

David also gave insight into the lives of officers.  He reminded us that Officers had to be gentlemen. Because of that, most soldiers never aspired to leadership. Basically, commissions recognized individuals already in place in society. Otherwise, you had to purchase commissions (which cost about 4 years’ salary). Additionally, because officers were gentlemen, they were expected to pay for themselves–uniforms, the trip over, etc.
Initially, Benjamin Franklin turned down a commission because he was still a printer (gentleman didn’t work with hands). Later when he sold his business, he accepted the title of Colonel. While attached to the barracks, the Officers’ house was tacked onto end of building (no doubt the idea of 300 leaderless men left to their own devices was the motivation for this.)  While guests were illegal for enlisted men, the officers’ quarters were designed to bring visitors in. The Officers’ house was designed for 12 officers, though there likely was only 8-10.

Prussian Blue

Inside the quarters also gives insight.  The Spanish Brown paint used in the office area is the cheapest paint available, and corner fireplaces were more practical but less elegant.  On the opposite side of the house, the long room is painted in Prussian Blue–the most expensive paint. This room was used for entertaining. When you understand that a Captain could draw 7 times what a soldier’s ration was–and they had the option to get the equivalent cash price, most took the cash, then bought their own food.  Understanding this context of both officers and soldiers helped me understand Washington’s role, and the fact that he had no possibility of becoming an officer under the British standards.  In fact, he even resigned his commission in the French-Indian War and served as an aid because a non-ranking officer (Washington) could not hold leadership over a commissioned officer.

David concluded the tour with information on George Washington’s role in the American Revolution and the uses of the barracks after the war.  But, I needed to head to Gettysburg and towards home.  This concludes leg one of the Washington grant studies.  Stay tuned for the Western Pennsylvania installments!

 

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