Valley Forge – History

Read about the history below, pens made from trees at the site will be found here.  

A year before the encampment at Valley Forge Washington’s army was on the precipices of disaster. A miracle was needed, and it came in the form of the decisive victories at the two Battles of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton. Through 1777 things were arduously turning in the right direction for the continentals, but the continental line was far from the force it needed to be to assure eventual victory against one of the best trained and supplied armies in Europe.

The Americans were having their victories, most notably at Saratoga, and even their recent losses of the field at Brandywine and Germantown showed great improvement in their battle skills and cost the Red Coats dearly. True the Colonies had lost their largest city and capital, Philadelphia to British occupation, but they had held their ground at the battle at White Marsh repelling the British attack. But Washington’s army was in want of many things and he needed to keep the occupiers of Philadelphia in check.

The needs were simple to state but difficult to procure. Strategically Washington needed to stand his army between Philadelphia and the supplies of the land to the north and west. He needed to be close enough to the enemy to keep an eye on them, but far enough away, to prevent a surprise attack or constant harassment, in a place that could be made easily defensible. He also needed a place large enough to accommodate his 12,000 men and over 500 camp followers plus any new recruits that may join them, with ample room for the training his soldiers still desperately needed. He needed to be close to farm supplies for his own troops. He needed to be in reasonable communications with York PA, now the seat of the Continental Congress. After listening to much advice, he was persuaded that the area around the small industrial hamlet of Valley Forge would best serve these needs. However, Washington’s greater and more enduring need was to re-form the army itself. For want of such reforms could do more damage to the cause than any opposing army.

The difficulties, privations, and sufferings that took the lives of over 2000 of the men at Valley Forge are frequently and deservedly proclaimed and honored, but the most profound significance of this winter encampment is the transformation of Washington’s army from a here to for force of temporary militia, citizen soldiers, to a formidable standing army poised to serve the duration of the war. To do this Washington had to address the chronic problems with supply, discipline, training and organization. All this needed to be done with the approval and support of congress -- an argumentative group not known for their cooperation and support.

Congress had wanted a winter campaign, and Washington gave them one -- Washington and the needs of his army against the indecision and misconceptions of the Continental Congress. The congress formed a Committee on Conference to visit the Valley Forge encampment and meet with Washington and his staff. The committee quickly reported that things were indeed as dire as Washington had claimed and support swung into place for the plans Washington and his staff had drawn up. Now members of congress were working shoulder to shoulder with the staff to implement the reforms.

In the end and with the tireless aid of numerous talented men such as General Nathanael Green and Baron Von Steuben the colonial army emerged from Valley Forge a formidable military the likes of which the British had never expected to encounter and soon suffered for greatly at the Battle of Monmouth.

Washington Memorial Chapel - Valley Forge

Built as a wayside chapel for prayer and reflection for those who visit Valley Forge, the Chapel is a vibrant home for a faithful congregation of the Episcopal Church, part of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Each year its Gothic Revival architecture, stained glass windows, and interior furnishings, coupled with its congregation’s religious and patriotic mission, continue to attract and inspire many thousands of visitors. Washington Memorial Chapel stands as a testament to liberty, political and religious, and as a living memorial, honoring George Washington and the sacrifice of the patriots encamped at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778. Remembered also are all those past and present who have contributed to the freedoms we enjoy. Located within Valley Forge National Historical Park, the buildings and grounds are open year round. The Chapel is also home to the Washington Memorial National Carillon and the Justice Bell, a replica of the Liberty Bell used in the women’s suffrage movement. The Chapel was built as a tribute to General George Washington. The inspiration for the Chapel resulted from a sermon preached by founder and first rector, The Reverend Dr. W. Herbert Burk, Norristown, PA. In June of 1903 the cornerstone was laid on private property donated to Dr. Burk by the I. Heston Todd family. A small framed building preceded the present structure, which became known, as the "Theodore Roosevelt Chapel,” in honor of President Roosevelt after his visit to the site and address in 1904. The Chapel was completed in 1917. Designed by Milton B. Medary, Jr., the Chapel was erected for two purposes. It is the home of an active parish, as well as a National Memorial to Washington, welcoming visitors from all over the world and serving as a wayside Chapel to those who visit Valley Forge National Historical Park. The Chapel receives no government funds whatsoever and is entirely supported by contributions from members and visitors.