There are many stories about how George Washington’s army went hungry during the winter of 1777-1778 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. As the National Park Service notes, “The winter encampment at Valley Forge is one of the most famous episodes of the American Revolution…”
“The myth often obscures the actual history of the event, however… Hardship did occur at Valley Forge, but it was not a time of exceptional misery in the context of the situation. The encampment experience could be characterized as ‘suffering as usual,’ for privation was the Continental soldier’s constant companion.”
In the video above, Starving Winter Soldier’s Meager Meal, Townsends YouTube channel host and 18th-century-enthusiast Jon Townsend reads from Joseph Plumb Martin’s book A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier (1830), sometimes titled Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier.
The young private describes foraging for food and enduring the wet and cold from day to day. Townsend notes:
“What he feared most was not the battles but the deprivations, the lack of clothing, the lack of shelter, the lack of water, even the lack of food…
“Joseph Plumb Martin’s job was not to win the war; that was George Washington’s job. Joseph’s job was to survive the day.”
And that he did, participating in the the Battle of Monmouth and the Battle of Yorktown, two of many engagements. He also survived the winter encampment at Valley Forge, and after the war, went on to live a long life in Prospect, Maine.
• Museum of the American Revolution: For Students and Educators.
• First-Person Theatrical Performances from the Museum of the American Revolution.
• A History of US: segment 1, webisode 2 (.pdf), one of many teaching guides for the series from Thirteen.org.
• What Happened at Valley Forge from NPS.gov.
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