Volume 13 of the "Revolutionary War Series" documents a crucial
portion of the winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania,
when the fate of Washington's army hung in the balance. The volume
begins with Washington's soldiers hard at work erecting log huts to
the general's specifications and building a bridge over the
Schuylkill River under the direction of Major General John
Sullivan. Most of the fighting that characterized the bloody year
of 1777 had drawn to a close by Christmas, and although British
foraging and raiding parties ventured out of Philadelphia from time
to time, Washington's priority was no longer to fight General
William Howe but to preserve his own army and prepare it for the
The American army was badly in need of reform. Attrition and
ineffective recruitment had left most of the Continental regiments
dangerously weak, and the rising pace of officer resignations made
apparent the need for an equitable pay and pensionary
establishment. At the same time the battle losses of the previous
summer and autumn had exposed severe problems in military
organization, drill, and discipline. Washington hoped that a
congressional camp committee would rectify some of these problems,
and after consulting his officers on army organization, he
submitted to the committee one of the longest, most detailed, and
most thoughtful letters he ever wrote. The arrival in camp of a
Prussian volunteer who styled himself the Baron von Steuben,
meanwhile, promised to bring about improvements in drill and
discipline. Washington also had to look to his own authority, as a
dispute with Major Generals Thomas Conway and Horatio Gates
seemingly threatened to undermine his command of the Continental
The turning point of the Valley Forge encampment came in
February 1778, when a provision shortage led to what Washington
called a "fatal crisis" that threatened the continued existence of
the army. Poor management of the commissary department and a
breakdown of transport, resulting from bad weather and an
insufficiency of wagons, combined to bring about a logistical
collapse that brought provision supplies almost to a halt. For many
days bread was scarce and meat almost nonexistent. Soldiers, many
dressed literally in rags because of the incompetence of the
clothier general, threatened mutiny. Washington's efforts to save
his army in this crisis mark one of the highest points of his
military career and make up an important part of this volume.
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