American History Stories—Volume II - Mara L. Pratt

Valley Forge

All through the winter of 1777 and '78 the British and the American armies lay only twenty miles apart. The redcoats with their commander, General Howe, were quartered in Philadelphia. There they were entertained by the Tories who gave parties, and balls and dinners, and did all in their power to make the winter a pleasant one for these British soldiers.

Twenty miles away, in a rocky, desolate, mountain gorge known as Valley Forge, Washington had led his army from White Marsh. When he went there in bitter December weather, his men, shoeless and almost naked, had marked their way with blood from their bare feet. They reached the valley, and for want of tents were obliged to cut down trees and build huts of logs for shelter from the cold. Congress had no money to pay the men, no money to buy them food. For days and days together, during this winter, they had no bread and lived upon salt pork alone. They sickened with hunger and cold, and there was no money to buy medicines, no comfortable hospitals where they could be nursed. They were ragged and without shoes.

It was a terrible winter for them all. Washington's brave heart ached, and sometimes was very heavy as he saw his men starving, and freezing, and dying. It seemed almost as if the cause of the colonists must be given up. But you have heard the saying that "it is always darkest just before day." And so it proved just now; for in the spring word came from France that aid was to be sent them from that country. When the British heard this, they would have been very glad to make peace with the colonists. Indeed, messengers were sent over from England with very liberal offers—offers which, before the war, the colonists would have accepted; but that time was past now. Then these messengers tried to bribe some of the officers in the patriot army. One man, General Reed of Pennsylvania, was offered ten thousand guineas and distinguished honors if he would exert his influence to effect a reconciliation. "I am not worth purchasing," said the honest patriot, "but such as I am, the king of Great Britain is not rich enough to buy me."