Sunday, April 16, 2017

Valley Forge National Historical Park: Exploring Pivotal American History




Valley Forge National Historical Park

Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania was one of the first historic sites I visited as a child. The struggles faced by General Washington and his men during the winter encampment of 1777-1778 forever left an impression on me. During our recent trip out to New Jersey, we had just an enough time to make a stop at this significant site. The site is incredible both for learning about the founding of our country and enjoying nature.


Cannon at Valley Forge

We began our Valley Forge visit at the Visitors Center to orient ourselves. Staff aided us with strategies for touring the park and taking in the exhibits in the Visitors Center. We spent some time appreciating artifacts. If you happen to have a relative that served in the Revolutionary War, Valley Forge has a searchable database you can use to see if they were encamped there. My ancestor served in the Massachusetts Militia very early in the war so I was not sure if he would have been part of the Valley Forge encampment. As I thought, he was not  listed in the database. But, it is a useful tool Costumed interpreters added to the experience. The Visitors Center also includes a light snack shop and bookstore. A neighboring building runs a short film explaining some of the history of Valley Forge.

Log barracks at Valley Forge
Reconstructions of log barracks
Next, we embarked on a driving tour. During our drive, we listened to an informative set of recordings you can dial into using your phone. On our first stop, we explored the barracks the soldiers endured the winter inside. The barracks today are reconstructions but do give a bit of an understanding of the conditions the soldiers endured. Each of the barracks was home to 12 soldiers -- cramped indeed. With quarters so cramped and the soldiers being malnourished due to lack of supplies, disease spread like wildfire.

Inside one of the log huts at Valley Forge
Inside one of the log huts at Valley Forge
Barracks include placards explaining more details of life in the encampment. Other clusters of barracks are smattered throughout the park including my favorite covered in moss!

Log hut at Valley Forge covered with moss

Monuments also dot the sprawling preserve and introduce visitors to significant figures that were present during the encampment. Keeping with my tradition at military parks, I snapped a photo of the New Jersey Brigade Memorial in honor of my home state.

New Jersey Brigade Monument at Valley Forge
New Jersey Brigade Monument at Valley Forge
The National Memorial Arch is particularly iconic and draws inspiration from the Triumphal Art of Titus in Rome. The arch is quite an impressive memorial to General Washington and his troops.

National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge
National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge
Along the route we also viewed some earthernworks that were excavated and partially reconstructed. In the photo below you can also note how General Washington chose high land for his encampment. This was crucial in order to see movement of British troops.

Earthenworks at Valley Forge

Valley Forge is where Baron Von Steuben who served as a drill master in the Prussian Army began training troops. His methods would be the model for the United States Army though the War of 1812. The bronze statue of Baron Von Steuben stands above the parade ground where troops drilled.

Baron Von Steuben Bronze statue at Valley Forge
Baron Von Steuben
The officers had different lodging than the rank and file soldiers. General Washington's Headquarters and General Varnum's Headquarters can be seen today. Each headquarters was a stone home rented from locals. Lower ranking officers would have their own huts as opposed to sharing with eleven other soldiers as rank and file did. They also would have more desired locations. The headquarters are open seasonally.

General Varnum's Headquarters
General Varnum's Headquarters
Washington Memorial Chapel was built to honor General Washington's leadership and character. The early 20th century chapel certainly inspires with striking features. The grounds include stunning monuments and artifacts.
Washington Memorial Chapel
Washington Memorial Chapel


Cloister at Washington Memorial Chapel
Cloister at Washington Memorial Chapel
Valley Forge also provides for a peaceful natural respite. When we first arrived, we immediately noted the plethora of bird songs -- so definitely a place to look for birds.Visitors can enjoy a collection of meandering paths throughout the park.

Natural beauty at Valley Forge

The winter at Valley Forge was one of the pivotal moments of the war. The weather was particularly harsh and the troops were not well supplied. Disease spread quickly throughout the encampment. This easily could have been a breaking point of the war. We owe so much to General Washington and his troops for having the fortitude to survive and win our independence.
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