“A Fatal Crisis”
The Great Peril, 1778–1780
There was much to celebrate at Valley Forge in early May 1778. Warm, sunny days heralded the end of a long, besetting winter. Not only were the men better clothed and fed than they had been during the gloom of early year, but the army was intact and, in General Washington's estimation, better prepared than ever before to fight effectively. Washington also believed that he enjoyed more support in Congress than when he had brought his army to this bleak encampment. Furthermore, he radiated a confidence that his staff had seldom observed during the past two years. Only a few days earlier La Sensible, a French brig, had brought glad tidings to America. While the men had shivered and starved at Valley Forge, France had recognized the independence of the United States and emissaries of the two nations had concluded treaties of alliance and commerce.
Washington had feared problems even before his soldiery shuffled into Valley Forge. Since late in the previous summer he had known that southeastern Pennsylvania had been picked clean both by Howe's army and his own Continentals and militiamen. Furthermore, as chaos had reigned in the quartermaster corps since early 1777, Washington suspected that even if supplies could be found, most would never reach Valley Forge. Even so, Washington had never anticipated the adversity he encountered during that terrible winter.
Over 3,000 men died at Valley Forge. Food was always scarce. Housing was inadequate, consisting of jerry-built huts that were crowded, drafty, and cold. Nearly one-third of the men lacked shoes, and almost all were without