Letters from Soldiers at Valley Forge, 1777-1778


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created AmericanRevolution.org in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      Editor’s note
      The following is a series of letters sent by soldiers during the winter at Valley Forge, describing the conditions they were experiencing. We have left these excerpts mostly unedited after being scanned, which is why there are some unusual capitalizations in places. It should also be noted that 18th-century English has certain words and spellings that are quite different from the language we are used speaking, and average literacy levels were not as high as they are today.

      1. Letters from Lieutenant William Barton of the Fourth and later the First New Jersey Regiment to his father, Gilbert Barton of Allentown, NJ

      Whitemarsh, Nov 22. 1777

      “…I expected to have been at home before this, but cannot Obtain leave Until we go into Quarters, I have sent some clothes by Mr. Griggs which is one pair of Breaches two Jackets three pr Stockings…l am removed from the company I was in which was Capt. Lyon’s and am know in Capt. Holmes Compy. as first Lieut, there are many officers resigning which is Like to make a Great deal of Promotion…my love to my Mother Sisters & all inquiring friends…”

      Camp Valley Forge, Feb. 18th 1778

      “…I should wrote oftener but have been in expectation of Coming home but this day find my expectations blasted, and have no manner of hope to get home untill April…I have Received my Coat & boots by Capt. Weycoff and am Inform’d you have procured me some shirts which I am Extremely Glad of as l shall be in Great need of them in a short time. I’me at this Present time in health, and hope these may find you all in Perfect health, if to the reverse at any time Please to give me intelligence Thireof and I shall come home at all Events. I have not Receiv’d a Letter from you since at home, should be very Glad to be favour’d with a few lines if Convenient and Likewise a few pounds of Sugar and A little Chocolate…there is a scarcity of those articles in this Place…Camp does not very well agree with me…”

      Just six days later, Barton’s friend Lt. John Blair of the 3rd New Jersey wrote for him, Barton being in dire straits according to Blair.

      Valley Forge, Feb. 24th 1778

      “By request of your Son Wm. Barton I embrace the opportunity of Informing you that he is very unwell these ten Days and no appearance of getting any better, and is very Desirous that you would send a Wagon or Cheare for him as he is too weak to Ride a horseback, he likewise beggs that you would appeal to Colo. Brearely to Write to Major Cumming to give him leave to go home as Genl. Orders is very strict against any Officer ever leaving Camp. Mr. Willm. Desires his Love to you & his Mother & Sisters…”

      In fairness to Barton, it should be noted that this period was one of unusually severe weather and extreme shortage of provisions.

      Elizabethtown NJ, 1 July 1778

      “After congratulating you Upon the Grand news of the arrival of the french Ambassador…and war being certainly Declared as the french have Taken several of the Enemies Vessels…I inform you that there is an Exchange of Prisoners Taking Place at this Time; four or five hundred have already been Exchanged…among them are several from our Regt. Taken at the Action of Short hills & some others that was taken at Monmouth…our Prisoners look very Healthy and say they have been well Treated since the Declaration of a French war…I am Inclin’d to believe that this present campaign will End the war in america, when every one that has been Ingaged in the Glorious cause may Return to their abode and see his Country flourishing in peace and plenty…”

      2. Letter from Ezra Selden, Adjutant and Captain in the First Connecticut Regiment, to Doctor Samuel Mather, Lyme, Connecticut.

      Valley Forge, May 15, 1778.

      “Agreeable to your desires I do myself the honor of writing you, though nothing material occurs.

      The welcome news which Mr. Dean brought us from Europe gave great Joy to our army. his Excellency Directed three Feu de Joys, one for ye Thirteen United States. One for France and One for other Friendly European powers. After dismissing the Soldiery He Directed the Assembling of the Officers of the whole army and entertained them with as good a Dinner as could under our Situation in the Field be provided, after which they were served with wine &c. At the same time, his Excellency gave the Toasts which were Proclaimed by his Aid de Camp who ascended a high step for that purpose; after a sufficient merriment his Excellency retired, Desiring the Officers to be very attentive to their Duty as the Intelligence which he had required it.

      Our Army is at present very busy and intent upon a New mode of Exercise Pointed by Major General Baron Stuben from Poland. His knowledge in Discipline is very great, his method of maneuvering is very Difficult; but mostly satisfactory, he never informs what is to be Done in future; but gives Lessons and we Practice untill he gives new Directions; he allows no musick while we are manuevering, or does he ever allow us to be steping upon our Posts, but at the word march to step right off and allways with the left foot. Our manuel Exercise as yet continues the same – excepting in the Charging the Bayonet.

      …the Enemy are about leaving Philadelphia. Inhabitence & Deserters inform that they have their Heavy Artillery on Board their Shiping, reports also are that they will attack us Prior to their leaving the City. Reports are Reports. Genl. Howe has not sailed for England unless within 3 or 4 Days. Our Incampment is strongly fortified and Picqueted, I have no suspicions that we shall be attacked in Quarters.

      This is a very Different Spirit in the Army to what their was when I left it, the Troops considerably well Cloathed, But then the Cloathing which they have lately Received, is such as ought to have been worn last winter, not the Summer.

      Gen. McIntosh is appointed to the Command of Fort Pit and the Back settlements & c.

      I am content should they remove almost any General Except his Excellency… even Congress are not aware of the Confidence The Army Places in him or motions would never have been made for Gates to take the Command….”

      Related posts