We knew Valley Forge was where George Washington's Continental Army spent the miserable winter of 1777-78. Although the Visitor Center has big murals of militiamen clothed in rags, stumbling through the snow, we found out about a lot of misconception we learned in American History--and it was promulgated by General Washington himself!
Washington's troops spent one winter in Valley Forge. When he wrote his letter to Gov. Clinton, saying his men were "naked and starving", he apparently didn't mean it literally; evidence shows they had clothes and food, but needed ammunition. Even so, it's become a parable on American perseverance for liberty.
Although he spent the other winters of the war elsewhere, most people (including me) haven't a clue where. The reason we remember Valley Forge is because the most men died there--but disease, not cold or starvation, was the biggest killer. Surprisingly, the biggest percent of those died in spring, not winter.
We watched the Visitor Center video so we could brush up on the Revolutionary War. We took a walking tour with a ranger to the replica soldiers' huts where one of the brigades had camped. Huts? Turns out there had been more than 2,000 of these "huts" (which I would call "cabins") laid out in military avenues like a little city. Each group of 12 men built their own hut, with wood chimneys! General Washington insisted that they be lined with 12" of clay to make them fireproof. (I had no idea that would work! George says he did. Hmmm...)
There's an archaeology dig going on nearby. I tend to think of archaeology with ancient history, but sometimes it doesn't have to be that long ago to find interesting things. I have no idea what they've found. There weren't even any archaeologists around to ask.
Another ranger showed us what a typical enlisted man wore and carried. It wasn't the red and blue wool uniform officers wore, but much simpler. Even in winter, most men had decent clothing and shoes, supplied by their home state. (This guy's barefoot because it's HOT!) Connecticut soldiers were better supplied than those from some of the southern states, probably because they had more experience in how to dress for cold weather.
The National Memorial Arch was dedicated in 1917. You can tell how big it is when you look at me by the base of it.
I found this huge(!) Imperial Moth in the grass behind the stables. (The brochure is 8 1/4" wide.) Cool, huh?
Washington Memorial Chapel, built in the early 1900s as a tribute to George Washington and the patriots of the Revolution, is an active congregation on private property within the park. (I found a little brochure that explains all the memorials and symbolism.)
There's a carved organ with 3,000+ pipes. (Sorry, you don't get to see it. My picture didn't work well--and George didn't even take one!) There are 13 stained glass windows, one for each of the original states. The one over the alter is the Martha Washington window. The Pews of the Patriots commemorate a patriot or a group of them.
The George Washington window over the door has 36 scenes from his life. There's even symbolism in the roof--the Roof of the Republic has seals from all 50 states, in order.
The Daughters of the American Revolution built the bell tower, with a bell for each state and territory. They have summer carillon concerts. I'd love to hear the bells ring.
*This probably wasn't one of my better ideas. To cross the Delaware River INTO NJ, it's free. To cross on any bridge across the Delaware out of NJ, there's a toll. It could be that once NJ gets you in, they don't want to let you out. Or perhaps once you get to NJ, you're willing to pay to leave? It's cheaper to go to Delaware ($4) than to Pennsylvania ($5)--maybe because it's a smaller state. It cost $22.50 for us with the trailer. (sigh) Maybe we should have just stayed in Pennsylvania...
More pictures of Valley Forge here: Valley Forge NHP