Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

12
“A RESPECTABLE ARMY”: THE GRIM YEAR, 1778

THE CONTINENTALS marched down Gulph Road toward their winter quarters, tramping past trees with scruffy brown leaves and over small patches of old snow that once had been white. On December 19 they entered the place that was to be their encampment, a site that one soldier called a “wooded wilderness.”1 These men were not in high spirits. Had they known of the diplomacy under way in Paris, they would have been happier, but as it was they were hungry and exhausted after weeks of campaigning, and their thin and tattered clothing offered no defense against the bite of early winter. The army's supply system, at its best never particularly distinguished, had begun to crumble around the end of October. Some men had not savored a good meal, or known a full stomach, for longer than they cared to remember. The officers were troubled by the plight of their soldiers and incensed that the civilian authorities seemed unable to get a handle on the army's logistical needs. Many of the senior officers were angry with the choice of Valley Forge for winter quarters, and angrier still that such a substantive decision had resulted from the meddling of state and national officials. One was vexed that Washington had bowed to the demands of Congress. “It is unfortunate,” he said, “that Washington is so easily led.” Another fumed that it was “unparalleled in the History of Mankind to establish Winter Quarters in a Country wasted and without a single Magazine.”2

Washington and most of his generals would have preferred to scatter the army in a series of small camps on a line from Reading to Lancaster. A few general officers, including Greene, to whom the commander usually listened, preferred an encampment at Wilmington, below Philadelphia on the Delaware

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