Winter at Valley Forge

As the Continental Army moved into Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78, they began a long season of terrible suffering tempered by great rewards. Many of the 6000 men that stayed with Washington that winter had no shoes, pants or blankets. There were weeks when food was extremely limited, so much so that men boiled there shoes and ate them. Albeit the suffering those men endured was purely courageous, it was largely uneccessary. The supply and transport system had become greatly incapacitated by the dissolving of the upper levels of the Quartermaster and Commissary Corps during mid 1777. Many in these corps found the private trade more lucrative.

Regardless, Washington and the Continental Army endured and gained much hardiness due to both the hardships and the arrival of Friedrich Wilhem von Steuben. Steuben arrived in February of 1778 from Prussia where he had been a Captain under Frederick the Great. Washington saw the need for uniform training and organization in his command and gave von Steuben a chance to manifest those goals.

After a short trial period, von Steuben was appointed Inspector General in charge of a training program. During the winter and spring of 1778 von Steuben taught the Continental Army a simplified but effective version of the drill formations and movements of European armies. He also taught them the proper care of equipment and the use of the bayonet, a weapon that the British were far superior with in the past. He made progress in consolidating under-strength elements and also developed light infantry companies as the army's elite force. He took constant measures to impress upon the officers their obligation to be responsible for their men. His successes were greatly built upon his recognition of the American soldier as a citizen-soldier, versus the European professional. His training philosophy incorporated this insight by understanding the need to tell the Americans why they needed to do the things they were instructed to do.

In all, von Steuben's good humor, incessant use of profanity, and understanding of the men under him made the rigors of his intense training more palatable and even entertaining to the soldiers. The end result was a far more effective force that would fight on equal terms against the British Regulars.

 
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