Cover image for The Valley Forge winter : civilians and soldiers in war
The Valley Forge winter : civilians and soldiers in war
Bodle, Wayne K.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
University Park, Pa. : Pennsylvania State University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiii, 335 pages : maps ; 25 cm
Introduction : the myth and the map -- Seat of war -- Campaign for Pennsylvania -- Doing what we can -- Learning to live with war -- Starve, dissolve, or disperse -- Trublesum times for us all, but wors for the solders -- Stone which the builders have rejected -- Lord's time to work -- Chapter of experiments -- As the fine season approaches -- Seated war.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E234 .B63 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E234 .B63 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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2003 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Of the many dramatic episodes of the American Revolution, perhaps none is more steeped in legend than the Valley Forge winter. Paintings show Continentals huddled around campfires and Washington kneeling in the frozen woods, praying for his army's deliverance. To this day schoolchildren are taught that Valley Forge was the "turning point of the Revolution"-the event that transformed a ragged group of soldiers into a fighting army. But was Valley Forge really the "crucible of victory" it has come to represent in American history? Now, two hundred and twenty-five years later, Wayne Bodle has written the first comprehensive history of the winter encampment of 1777-78.

The traditional account portrays Valley Forge in the 1770s as a desolate wilderness far removed from civilian society. Washington's army was forced to endure one of the coldest winters in memory with inadequate food and supplies, despite appeals to the Continental Congress. When the mild weather of spring finally arrived, the Prussian baron Friedrich von Steuben drilled the demoralized soldiers into a first-rate army that would go on to stunning victories at Monmouth and, eventually, at Yorktown.

Bodle presents a very different picture of Valley Forge-one that revises both popular and scholarly perceptions. Far from being set in a wilderness, the Continental Army's quarters were deliberately located in a settled area. And although there was a provisions crisis, Washington overstated the case in order to secure additional support. (A shrewd man, Washington mostly succeeded at keeping his army supplied with food, clothing, and munitions. Farmers from the interior provided food that ensured that the army didn't starve.) As for Steuben's role in training the soldiers, Bodle argues that it was not the decisive factor others have seen in the army's later victories.

The freshness of Bodle's approach is that he offers a complete picture of events both inside and outside the camp boundaries. We see what happens when two armies descend on a diverse and divided community. Anything but stoically passive, the Continentals were effective agents on their own behalf and were actively engaged with their civilian hosts and British foes. The Valley Forge Winter is an example of the "new military history" at its best-a history that puts war back into its social context.

Author Notes

Wayne Bodle is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This important study challenges most of the accepted views of Valley Forge. It opens by tracing the American Revolution from the British capture of New York City through the failed attempt by the Continental Army to defend Philadelphia. Bodle (Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania) shows that Valley Forge was chosen for the army's winter encampment as much for political as for military reasons, and that Valley Forge was neither remote nor virtually uninhabited, as it is often depicted. Key sections of the book focus on the interaction between encamped soldiers and area civilians, on divisions within the army, on George Washington's relations with political leaders, and, especially, on the supply crisis of February 1778, which Washington overstated in order to extract reforms from Congress. These changes, including pensions for officers and changes in rank structure and in the commissary system, proved to be more important to the future success of the Continental Army than the drill and discipline introduced by Baron Friedrich Von Steuben during the same period. Historians of the American Revolution will have to take into account the findings and implications of this fine study, the first in-depth account of the winter encampment of 1777-78. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All public and academic levels and collections. J. C. Bradford Texas A&M University

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Myth and the Map
1 The Seat of War
2 The Campaign for Pennsylvania
3 Doing What We Can
4 Learning to Live With War
5 Starve, Dissolve, or Disperse
6 Trublesum Times for Us All, but Worse for the Solders
7 The Stone Which the Builders Have Rejected
8 The Lord's Time to Work
9 The Chapter of Experiments
10 As the Fine Season Approaches
11 The Seated War