Wintering At Valley Forge National Historical Park In the Footsteps Of the Continental Army

Interior of a reconstructed soldier's shelter at Valley Forge. NPS photo.

An upcoming mid-December event at Valley Forge National Historical Park has nothing to do with the holiday season, but plenty to do with the story of our nation: a reenactment of the desperate march by Washington's army to Valley Forge in search of shelter and safety.

The summer and fall of 1777 had been a terrible time for Washington and his troops. Failed attempts to defend Philadelphia forced the army to withdraw to a site for a winter encampment. The soldiers had little food, boots and clothing for many were in tatters, other supplies were in short supply, and they had no shelter from the bitter winter which was now upon them.

One history of the era notes that, "Conditions were so severe at times that General Washington wrote, "that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place... this Army must inevitably... starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can."

Against such dismal odds, Washington's army arrived at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777, seeking a place to survive and regroup. It did both, in one of the most dramatic and inspiring stories from the American Revolution.

Washington would write the following April, "To see the men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie upon, without shoes...without a house or hut to cover them until those could be built, and submitting without a murmur, is a proof of patience and obedience which, in my opinion, can scarcely be paralleled."

Now, more than two hundred years later, the end of the march to Valley Forge will be commemorated at the park on Monday, December 19.

From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., re-enactment soldiers will lead visitors on 20-minute, quarter-mile, candlelit walks from the Park's Theatre (adjacent to the Visitor Center) to the Muhlenberg Brigade area. Muhlenberg will be patrolled by Washington's Guards and occupied by soldiers and camp followers who'll tell attendees about hut construction and daily life at Valley Forge. Visitors may also "report for duty" at the regiment's headquarters and warm up around the campfire listening to soldiers' tales.

Inside the Visitor Center, General Washington, portrayed by the well-known actor Dean Malissa, will greet guests and speak on a variety of topics. The Historical Harmonies-Colonial Revelers will entertain with songs of the period and light refreshments will be served.

The visitor center is located in southeastern Pennsylvania, just north of the intersection of I-76 and US 422. You'll find driving directions and links to a map on the park website, along with other information to help plan a visit.