While Valley Forge was not a site of a great battle during the American Revolutionary War, it was the site of one of its pivotal moments. George Washington and the Continental Army spent a brutal winter there in 1777-78, and during this time, many soldiers died not from battle, but instead from cold, disease, and hunger. The men who lived through the winter came out in the spring as a renewed force, however, both eager and ready to fight the British against all odds.
After fighting the last battle of 1777, Washington decided to march his men to Valley Forge, where they would wait out the winter. He chose the site because it was easily defensible, and he could track the movements of the British. While tactically it was a strong choice, the location proved to be a harsh place to spend the winter. Soldiers built lodgings on the site, but the dwellings were constantly damp and cramped. This promoted the spread of diseases, such as typhus, pneumonia, and smallpox, which claimed the lives of many men.
The soldiers of the Continental Army had marched great distances and fought in several battles, and the clothes they wore reflected such trials. Many soldiers wore threadbare uniforms that left them cold and damp during the winter months. Blankets were scarce, and many men succumbed to the cold. As the winter wore on, food became dangerously scarce, and men were often forced to eat what they called fire bread. This was a biscuit made from water and flour, and it had very little flavor, if any at all. Since animals, too, were succumbing to cold and disease, meat was a rare treat.
A turning point for the men at Valley Forge came when Baron Friedrich von Steuben arrived from Europe. He had joined the cause of the Continental Army and, shortly after his arrival, took up the task of training the soldiers who had been hindered in battle because of their lack of training. Von Steuben drilled the men and showed them many tactics for success, which re-energized the downtrodden men who had spent the winter in constant suffering.
Today, the location is known as Valley Forge National Historical Park. The site commemorates the difficult winter that proved to be a turning point for the Continental Army. Several historical exhibits and recreated structures populate the area, and a chapel in honor of George Washington also stands on the site. It is a recreational area with bicycle and walking trails running throughout.