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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My crossing of the Delaware

Since I came this far to visit a friend in Philadelphia, I wanted to take advantage of being here, since I’m not sure when I’ll be in the neighborhood again.  Because of that, I booked a hotel by Valley Forge and planned to spend time today (7/13/17) in Trenton.

By the time I actually located my hotel (a fiasco that’s a story for another place) and navigated through the construction and traffic to actually reach the right entrance, I discovered I was unable to check in (despite the website claiming 24 hour check-in.  Apparently, it was not the official website.)  So, I left already frustrated with this leg of the journey.

Navigating around New Jersey is nothing like navigating around Virginia.  I desperately missed the times of going hours as the only car going in my direction and one of only a handful on the road.  But, finally, I made it to Trenton.  Now to figure out where to go.  If I had such famous events as “The Turning Point of the American Revolution” to my credit, I would shout it from the mountaintops.  I mean, this is how we became a nation! But, to find places in Trenton requires a bit more work.  After a bit of sleuthing (trying to decide where to actually go), I landed on the Visitor Center for Washington’s Crossing Historic Park.  I navigated around a path, illegally backed up, went the wrong way on a one way, and finally ended up in a parking lot for the center.  All the lights were off.

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Inside the Visitor Center.  I’m not sure where you weren’t supposed to take pictures, so I included a far away shot.

I went in, and the lone man at the desk informed me he had the lights off to help with the heat.  Understandable.  I paid my $1.00 to see the movie (I offered to pay the park entrance fee as no one had been at the gate, but he said they only charge on weekends.) and started to look around.  This is actually an incredible site with some incredible artifacts, including some of the first medals given out to a number of military men who made a huge difference in the American Revolution.  The movie explains about the time leading up to the American Revolution.  While the museum may not seem like much, the directors were apparently all at the American Revolution Museum in Philadelphia deciding how they wanted to make this museum better.  But, he assures me that project is still 6-10 years down the road.

One of the most interesting things I learned is that the story of the Hessians being hungover for the Battle of Trenton is a myth!  The site calls it the biggest myth in American History that is even in school textbooks. But, the series of skirmishes in the area and the journals of the Hessians revealed that they were on guard against Washington and his men.  The fact that the weather was horrible (freezing rain at our backs and in our enemy’s face, which also affected their gunpowder) and that Washington had crossed undetected and attacked forcefully made the real difference.

After looking through the museum, I asked the curator what he would recommend in town.  He drew me a map to the Old Barracks Museum and the Monument, but told me to head down to the Johnson Ferry houses.  One of the historians was down there, and she would be “a good one to talk to.”  He was more right than he knew.

The Johnson Ferry House

When I asked at the Ferry House, one of the historians said the other would be better as she’d grown up here and had been a docent here forever, whereas she was only a lowly seasonal employee (for 9 years!).  But, she brought down Nancy Ceperley, who is a jewel indeed.  For the next hour or so, Nancy and I sat on chairs in the Johnson house and talked about Washington.  We discussed the fact that he was an eloquent man, reserved, focused, and determined.  Nancy believes his aspirations to be in the gentry class stem from a desire to be able to serve on a greater level.  Our conversation then turned to Washington’s faith.  She mentioned his many letters and family observations that he was a deeply Christian man–not just a religious or moral man. We discussed his mason involvement, and the fact that the masons changed after Washington was in it, and that men at the time wrote to Washington to see if he could stop the changes, but he had a country to create by that time, and wrote that he could not focus on that at the time.

Lighting in the Johnson Ferry House

Our conversation then turned to the Crossing of the Delaware–the painting, the event, and the people who lived in this house located in a loyalist state who were willing to help Washington actively with ferrying troops and simply with their silence about the plan.  What a great risk they took!  This launched Nancy into a favorite subject of hers:  The Great Awakening.  While she covers the aspects of the house that are of interest to whichever visitors she has, her true passion and course of study is the affect the Great Awakening had in preparing for the American Revolution.  Were it not for that event pulling people together and giving them the principles, determination, and resolve to see Independence achieved, things might have been very different.

Replica of the flat boats that ferried troops and supplies

What an incredible privilege to meet Nancy!  We prayed together for the state of our nation today and for our respective roles in serving the public.  She gave me a copy of her book Whitefield in Philadelphia:  The Great Awakening of 1740, for which she spent years researching the connection between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution.  I can’t wait to read it!

Washington’s Crossing spot

As I stepped out to head to my car, contemplating the difference between my Turbo tour of yesterday, and this jewel, where I could literally sit for hours for a personal conversation with an expert, it began to pour rain!  So, I drove down to the crossing site and took pictures of the boat replica in the pouring rain.  But, as it was around 5:00, most things were closing.  Though I drove by the Old Barracks Museum and the War Memorial, I didn’t have opportunity to visit either.  Perhaps I’ll make it back before I head home.  But, regardless, I had an incredible day enjoying two of New Jersey’s hidden treasures!