Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Valley Forge Visitor Center

At the end of 1777, General George Washington decided to encamp the revolutionary army in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The Continental Congress had fled Philadelphia when the British took over earlier that year. Valley Forge was only a day's march from Philadelphia, making it easy to keep track of British activity. Washington's position was highly defensible--a high ground with a clear view to Philadelphia. The British would not be able to sneak up on the army. Washington's troops would have time to train together and become a more cohesive fighting force.

The area they occupied is administered by the National Parks Service, with a visitor center, some recreated structures, some original structures, some memorials, and a long driving trail showing the main features of the camp. Our visit started at the Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center at Valley Forge

Almost the first thing visible when entering is a statue of George Washington on horseback.

General George Washington

Also commemorated is Prussian officer Baron von Steuben. He came from Germany to help train and unify the army. The Continental Army consisted of militias from the thirteen colonies, each with its own training (or lack thereof) as well as their own signals and commands. Von Steuben first trained 100 men who then went out and trained other men. With a six-month encampment, they had plenty of time to turn into a cohesive fighting force.

Baron von Steuben

The center has plenty of displays about the encampment with weapons naturally being prominent.

Swords and other bladed weapons

Rifle and supplies

Another display explains one of the defenses built by the Continental soldiers--the redoubt. Gabions, or wicker baskets with rocks and other debris, are buried in dirt to make a solid defense against cannon fire. Several of these earthen works were positioned around the encampment. Opposing British General Howe saw these as signs of an entrenched army and never attacked. The last time he assaulted an entrenched force was at Bunker Hill, a disaster for the British.

Model of a redoubt

Once completed, the encampment was temporarily the fourth largest city in the colonies. As such, it was home to a variety of people. Some of the soldiers' wives and children came to the camp. The camp included free men and slaves who hoped to become free men. Some Native American tribes fought on the side of the revolutionaries. Religious minorities like Catholics and Jews served in the Continental Army to defend their homeland and their religious freedom.

Display on the camp's diversity

More on the diversity

Native American items

Other items, such as cooking supplies, cards, dice, and other diversions were on display.

Cooking Equipment

Various forms of entertainment during the long, slow months

We watched an eighteen minute film about the encampment, ate a snack, and bought a CD to guide us on a driving tour of Valley Forge. We could have bought tickets for the trolley tour, but with the kids we wanted to have the freedom to linger at some spots or to skip over other spots. More on the ride in the next post!

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