The six-month encampment of General George Washington’s Continental Army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778 was a major turning point in the Revolutionary War. While conditions were notoriously cold and harsh and provisions were in short supply, it was at the winter camp where George Washington proved his mettle and transformed a battered Continental Army into a unified, world-class fighting force capable of beating the British.
As they entered Valley Forge the men were hungry and tired after a string of losing battles that had resulted in the British capture of Philadelphia.
Washington chose Valley Forge because it was close enough to keep an eye on British troops sheltering in Philadelphia, yet far enough away to prevent a surprise attack on his own Continental Army.
Within days of arriving at Valley Forge, troops constructed 1,500 log huts in parallel lines that would house 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children throughout the winter.
Many soldiers lacked proper clothing; some were even shoeless. Army records suggest that each soldier received a daily ration of one-half pound of beef during January 1778, but food shortages during February left the men without meat for several days at a time. And disease killed nearly 2,000 people during the encampment.
Prior to Valley Forge the Continental Army had been hindered in battle because units administered training from a variety of field manuals, making coordinated battle movements awkward and difficult. They struggled with basic formations and lacked uniformity. Under Baron von Steuben's leadership at Valley Forge, the Continentals practiced volley fire, improved maneuverability, standardized their march paces, exercised skirmishing operations, and drilled bayonet proficiency.
The Continental Army left Valley Forge for good in June 1778. The British soon tested their newfound discipline at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778. While many historians consider the Battle of Monmouth a tactical draw, the Continental Army fought for the first time as a cohesive unit, showing a new level of confidence.
Valley Forge was established as the first state park of Pennsylvania in 1893. In 1976, Pennsylvania gave the park to the Nation for the Bicentennial. Valley Forge National Historical Park became the 283rd Unit of the National Park System.