Valley Forge

I’m going to take you back more than 200 years to the winter of 1777-78. The Revolutionary War was going badly for the American colonies. New York City was held by the British, and from there the British sent an army to capture the Capital of the colonies, Philadelphia. George Washington, with his ill-trained and ill-equipped army, met the British head on at Brandywine and again at Germantown, but both times he was defeated. Philadelphia was captured, the capital moved to York, Pennsylvania, and Washington and his army withdrew and went into winter quarters.
Who can tell me the name of the place where his army encamped for the winter? Valley Forge, not a place of fighting, just an encampment under the most trying circumstances for 11,000 exhausted, half-starved, half-frozen troops. There was very little food and insufficient clothing and shelter.
General Washington, in his first report to the Continental Congress after the arrival of his troops at Valley Forge, said: “We have 2898 men now in camp unfit for duty because they are barefoot or otherwise naked…. Without arrogance or the smallest deviation from the truth, it may be said that no history can furnish an instance of an army’s suffering such uncommon hardships as ours has done, and bearing them with the same patience and fortitude…Our men are without clothing to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie upon, without shoes (for the want of which their marches might be traced by the blood from their feet).”
Thomas Paine, one of the foremost writers of the Revolutionary times, served with Washington’s army and must have been thinking of Valley Forge when he wrote his famous pamphlet “The Crisis.” You recall Paine’s words: “These are times that try men’s souls, the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from service of his country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of all.”
When the agony of Valley Forge was over and the brave men who had suffered so many hardships moved out to challenge the red coats of the British empire, they left behind about 3000 men who had died from disease and exposure.
But the 8000 men who came through the ordeal of Valley Forge were rough and tough veterans, and they formed the backbone of the Continental Army that within two years won the War of Independence.
In reading about Valley Forge, I ran across this interesting item. Ten years after that bitter winter, a traveler came to Valley Forge, a tall, handsome and dignified stranger. When someone inquired who the stranger was, he was told that this was General George Washington himself who had come to Valley Forge to pay his respects to the 8000 men who suffered and the 3000 men who died there.
Valley Forge is now a park and millions of visitors come to this national shrine to pay tribute to the gallant and determined men who were not summer soldiers or sunshine patriots, men who did not shrink from the service of their country.

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