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This Day in History: A blizzard batters George Washington’s army

On this day in 1778, George Washington and his army endure an unusually bad week at Valley Forge. A snow storm had just started! The entire area was blanketed, and it left the army in pretty bad shape.

Wood could not be transported to make fires. Food was already scarce, but now that was worse, too. The food magazines were pretty far away from the camp. Normally, the distance would prevent hungry soldiers from breaking into the food stores, but now the distance simply complicated efforts to eat, at least as long as the blizzard raged.

George Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge, by Alonzo Chappel

Washington would soon write Governor George Clinton about the “famine in camp.” No meat was available. “Naked and starving as they are,” Washington concluded, “we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery, that they have not been ere this excited by their sufferings, to a general mutiny or dispersion.”

The men were sticking with Washington, despite their hunger.

On February 11, the weather warmed up a bit, but the change proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Fortunately, the rain washed away the snow. Unfortunately, the rain plus melting snow caused flooding. When the temperature dropped again, all that water turned into huge sheets of ice.

In the midst of this difficult weather, Washington traveled to meet a congressional committee that was staying nearby. Soldiers had been visiting the General at headquarters, talking to him about the problems in obtaining meat to eat. Some of these conversations had reportedly left Washington a bit teary-eyed. Now he traveled to the committee, making sure that they were aware of the problem.

His men were hungry! And Washington desperately wanted to fix it.

These days were difficult to get through, but some good was accomplished, too. The visiting congressional committee grew in their trust of Washington. A mutiny that had been rising up against him would be squashed. Just as importantly, the soldiers grew in their respect and trust of the General who stuck by them throughout these difficult days.

Fortunately, the winter would soon be over, and the army that went into Valley Forge would emerge stronger and better than ever. The men couldn’t then know it, but one of the best aspects of that long winter was just around the corner: A Prussian named Baron von Steuben would soon arrive, determined to offer his assistance in training Washington’s ragtag army.

Naturally, that is a story for another day.

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