Here we are with our new friend George Washington Bear (he’s really a Valley Forge bear, but if he wants to be the father or our bear country, why not?). Valley Forge is the place in Pennsylvania where the Continental Army under General George Washington took up winter quarters in 1777-1778 during the Revolutionary War, when the colonists were fighting for independence against the British. The place got its name from an iron forge on Valley Creek about 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
The war had been going on for almost 2 years when General Washington made camp for the winter after the Battle of White Marsh. It was one of the harshest winters and with low supplies, almost 2,000 American continental soldiers died from starvation, disease and exposure to the harsh cold snow. (Bears have thick fur coats and sleep through the winter, but soldiers have to march a lot and get frozen toes.) The thick forest woods of the plateau of Mt Joy and the Schuylkill River made the spot easily defensible against attack by the British and the wood of the forest could be cut to build wood huts. Beginning on December 19, 1777, twelve thousand hungry and ill-equipped soldiers staggered in the valley after a long march. Only about one third of them had shoes, and left bloody footprints in the cold snowy ground from the marching.
The troops didn’t have enough supplies of meat and bread, and ate mostly something called “firecake,” flour and water cooked in a pot. Sometimes they would get “pepper hot soup,” a thin broth from boiled tripe with black pepper seasoning. (Bears will eat pretty much anything, but don’t like black pepper much.) When there was enough, they got some fresh baked bread. The snow wasn’t deep enough to collect for drinking water as it would melt in mud or freeze into ice. General Washington despaired in one of his gloomy letters “that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place – this Army must inevitably starve, dissolve, or disperse.” Animals didn’t do so good either, hundreds of horses died.
But the good thing that happened at Valley Forge is that a German soldier, a Prussian nobleman named Baron Friedrich Von Steuben volunteered to show the men how to march and fight like trained regiments. The British had hired German soldiers called “Hessians” (because they came mostly from Hesse in middle Germany) to fight for them. They were said to be mercenaries, because in Europe, soldiering was a profession and the rich rulers made money by hiring out their armies to fight for others, while the American continental soldiers were mostly amateurs and volunteers. But there were many German people who had already come to America before the war and were fighting for independence, too. Von Steuban was a Prussian drill master – and nobody knows how to march like Prussians! He drilled the soldiers and improved their battlefield formations and fighting techniques so they could better face the trained British soldiers. After Valley Forge the Americans recaptured Philadelphia and stopped the British from retaking New York, and eventually won the war a year later, so bears can live in peace and freedom and get to vote!