The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War / Edition 1

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2003 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Of the many dramatic episodes of the American Revolution, perhaps none is more steeped in legend than the Valley Forge winter. Paintings show Continentals huddled around campfires and Washington kneeling in the frozen woods, praying for his army’s deliverance. To this day schoolchildren are taught that Valley Forge was the “turning point of the Revolution”—the event that transformed a ragged group of soldiers into a fighting army. But was Valley Forge really the “crucible of victory” it has come to represent in American history? Now, two hundred and twenty-five years later, Wayne Bodle has written the first comprehensive history of the winter encampment of 1777–78.

The traditional account portrays Valley Forge in the 1770s as a desolate wilderness far removed from civilian society. Washington’s army was forced to endure one of the coldest winters in memory with inadequate food and supplies, despite appeals to the Continental Congress. When the mild weather of spring finally arrived, the Prussian baron Friedrich von Steuben drilled the demoralized soldiers into a first-rate army that would go on to stunning victories at Monmouth and, eventually, at Yorktown.

Bodle presents a very different picture of Valley Forge—one that revises both popular and scholarly perceptions. Far from being set in a wilderness, the Continental Army’s quarters were deliberately located in a settled area. And although there was a provisions crisis, Washington overstated the case in order to secure additional support. (A shrewd man, Washington mostly succeeded at keeping his army supplied with food, clothing, and munitions. Farmers from the interior provided food that ensured that the army didn’t starve.) As for Steuben’s role in training the soldiers, Bodle argues that it was not the decisive factor others have seen in the army’s later victories.

The freshness of Bodle’s approach is that he offers a complete picture of events both inside and outside the camp boundaries. We see what happens when two armies descend on a diverse and divided community. Anything but stoically passive, the Continentals were effective agents on their own behalf and were actively engaged with their civilian hosts and British foes. The Valley Forge Winter is an example of the “new military history” at its best—a history that puts war back into its social context.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“One of the best in-depth studies of an army in action that I have seen. Bodle expertly integrates all of the important aspects of war—supply, logistics, battle, interaction with civilians and with civil authorities—and is especially strong on the details of army organization and life in the camp as well as on guerrilla warfare. This is an extremely fine book, one that will appeal not only to scholars but also to anyone interested in the Revolutionary War.”
—William Pencak, Penn State University

“What’s fresh about The Valley Forge Winter is the depth to which Bodle’s scholarship goes. It sets the stage both militarily and politically for the encampment, and through reminiscences by those who were there, recounts what really happened among the troops who were coached into shape by Von Steuben.

Bodle takes a look through the patriotic sheen that often blurs the Valley Forge experience. He cites what has become legend, explaining how (even then) the guys at the top saw the need to put spin on facts. Why Washington had to, or thought he had to, is worth knowing. And he didn’t even have a press secretary.

Development of Valley Forge into legendary status was needed to give a potential country something to hang its three-cornered hat on. As this study shows, the reality of citizen soldiers would have been enough.”
—David Sallinger, McKeesport Daily News

“This important study challenges most of the accepted views of Valley Forge.”
—J. C. Bradford, CHOICE

“Wayne K. Bodle strips the Valley Forge account of many layers of legend to craft a carefully researched, well-written, and judiciously argued interpretation that places the Valley Forge experience in political, cultural, and military context.”
—Charles H. Lippy, History: Reviews of New Books

“It is hard to say something new about the American Revolution. Wayne Bodle has done just that, turning the Valley Forge winter from myth into history, from legend into lived experience. History buffs will appreciate the fascinating narrative; social historians will admire the formidable research. Read it.”
—Linda K. Kerber, May Brodbeck Professor of History, University of Iowa

The Valley Forge Winter is not a simple retelling of the oft-repeated story about the famous encampment of the Continental Army during the winter of 1777–1778. Author Wayne Bodle proposes that while it was a difficult experience to endure, the conditions were not nearly as bad as retained in our national memory. He does so with an interesting, informative and well-documented narrative that supports his thesis. Credit must be given to Bodle for a well-researched effort.

Valley Forge Winter may provide different explanations than what some readers may be aware of, but it is a well-crafted history in which the substance and conclusion of the story of the winter of 1777–1778 survives unscathed.”
—MAJ Glenn Williams, AUS-Ret., On Point: The Journal of Army History

“Americans, including their historians, think they know the story of Valley Forge. They are mistaken, but Wayne Bodle sets them straight in this highly readable, original, deeply researched and engaging book.”
—John Shy, University of Michigan

“Readers will develop a broader understanding reading The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War of life in this area during that winter. It will enhance libraries’ history area and give historians information as they do their own research. The lay historian will enjoy a well presented documentation of that famous winter. History classes in high schools and colleges will find this an outstanding resource for their students.”
—Mary Smith, Reviewers Consortium

“This important study challenges most of the accepted views of Valley Forge.”

—J. C. Bradford, CHOICE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271025261
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 7/15/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.25 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Wayne Bodle is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His articles have appeared in numerous journals, including Pennsylvania History, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, and The William & Mary Quarterly.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: The Myth and the Map

1. The Seat of War

2. The Campaign for Pennsylvania

3. Doing What We Can

4. Learning to Live With War

5. Starve, Dissolve, or Disperse

6. Trublesum Times for Us All, but Worse for the Solders

7. The Stone Which the Builders Have Rejected

8. The Lord’s Time to Work

9. The Chapter of Experiments

10. As the Fine Season Approaches

11. The Seated War




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