Tangents: Valley Forge Edition
Welcome to the Poison Room, a podcast that’s usually about books or texts that can be construed as dangerous in one way or another.
But this is not going to be a normal episode. Instead, I’m going to share with you some of the curious stories and articles I’ve come across whilst researching other things. Mainly so I can justify to myself having spent the time reading them, rather than focusing on the actual research I was supposed to be doing when I found them, but also because I think they’re cool, and therefore want to share them with y’all. Some of them are very short, and some are a bit longer, and this first one is long enough that it’s going to be the only one in this episode. Next time there will be a bunch of shorter stories. My plan was to do these ‘tangent’s every nine episodes, so episode 10, 20, etc. would be tangents. After each tangent episode I’m going to take a week off just to make sure I can keep on top of research. However, I have already encountered a slight problem with this plan. Despite my best efforts to find a topic that I could cover in one episode, I started a topic and realised halfway through that it was going to be a two-parter (just two parts, I promise). So instead of sticking a two-week break in between those two episodes, I decided to move the tangent episode and the week off forward by a week. So next week there will be no episode, and the week after I’ll be back with a new story full of religious and political intrigue.
Anyway, this week’s tangent is from the diary of Albigence Waldo, who, at the time of this story, is a surgeon in the First Infantry Regiment of the Connecticut Line during America’s Revolutionary War. The extracts of the diary are from the period during which Albigence was present at the building of the Valley Forge encampment at the end of 1777. This was the third of eight encampments of Washington’s Continental Army. The extracts were published in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography in 1897. I’m largely going to read it without comment, but I’ll drop in a few explanatory notes when they might be needed. For those of you reading the transcript, I copied the spelling and grammar of the original, and it’s not always consistent, so if you see something that looks like an error, it’s probably him, not me.
I think the only necessary historical context to follow this account is that in September of 1777, Washington ordered Albigence’s regiment to join the army in Pennsylvania. The British had captured the city of Philadelphia, and winter was setting in. It was not going to be a pleasant one. So let’s get to Albigence’s diary.
Albigence Waldo (1897) ‘Valley Forge, 1777-1778. Diary of Surgeon Albigence Waldo, of the Connecticut line’ The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 299-323.
November 10, 1777.—Captain [Henry] Lee, of the Light Dragoons brought in Capt. Nichols of the English Packet whom we took prisoners at New Castle. I heard Capt. Nichols observe that one hour before he was taken he had the following reflections:— “His Majesty has made me commander of a fine ship—a packet, too; I need not ever fight. I have nothing to do but transport gentlemen and ladies of the first rank. I have a fine stock of provisions aboard, hens, turkeys, geese, pigs, ducks, wine and cider. I have a good interest at home, and what is above all, an agreeable family. I am not troubled in my mind. In short, I’ve nothing to make me uneasy, and believe I am the happiest man in the world.”
Capt. Nichols was now the unhappiest man in the world. His reflections were turned upon the vicissitudes of life, the sudden changes of fortune and the variety of events that may happen to a man in the course of a few hours. If we would set our reasons to work and believe what is undeniably true that there is no dependence to be put on the wiffling wind of fortune, we could bear disappointments without anxiety. A man of the least observation will find every state changeable, and while he considers this mutability of time and things, he will be better prepared to undergo the misfortunes of life and the disappointments inseparable from it. When a disappointment overtakes us unguarded by such reflections, it often throws us into a fit of anger which vents itself on those connected with us in opprobrious words against the Providence of God.
An incessant cannonading at or near Red Bank this day. No salt to eat diner with.
November 11, 12, 13 & 14.—Nothing material happened.
November 15.—An attack was made on Fort Mifflin by 4 ships, 4 Batteries, & 1 Gally. Our People fired from Fort Mifflin 1 Battery, 12 Gallies & two Shearbacks or small ships. The firing was incessant all Day. Our people defended themselves with unparallel’d bravery amidst a continual storm of Balls ‘till at length when Capt. Lee’s company of Artillery were almost all cut off, and a reinforcement had stood at the Guns till 9 o’clock in the evening the Garrison evacuated the fort, after having spiked up the Cannon. Capt. Stephen Brown was kill’d by a shot from the round-top of a Ship that had hauled up in pistol shot of the Fort.
Mem.—Fort Mifflin was a Burlesque upon the art of Fortification.
November 19.—The Boston and Hampshire Regiments began to join the Grand Army. This Day Huntington’s Brigade consisting of Prentice’s, Bradley’s, & Swift’s, march’d for Red Bank, which the Garrison Evacuated before we arrived. Greene’s Division next day march’d for the same place, who, with Huntington’s Brigade and the Garrison consisting of Varnum’s Brigade met at Mount Holly 5 miles east of Burlington, where we Encamped till the Evening of the 25th. Mount Holly—so call’d from a little Mount nigh the town—is a Compact and Pleasant Village, having a great proportion of handsome women therein. Near this Town in a Wood, a Hermit has dwelt these 27 years, living on Bread and water. His bed is a hole dug in the ground about one foot and a half below the surface, and cover’d at pleasure with a board—over this is built a small bark hut hardly big enough for a man to sit up in. When he goes to bed he claws into his hunt and at the further end slips into his hole which he calls his grave, drawing over the Board and goes to sleep. He crawls night and morning on his hands and knees about two rods to a particular tree to pray. He says he was warned of God in a remarkable Dream when he first came to America to take this course of Life. He has many Latin and other Books in his lonely Cell, and is said to write considerably. He kisses every man’s hand that visits him and thankfully accepts of what is gave him, except Money, which he refuses. His Beard is done up in a loose club under his chin, he is small of stature and speaks very fast, he talks but little English—chiefly German or Latin. He says he shall come out purified & live like other folks if he continues in this State till he is eighty. He says he often wishes for Death, being frequently afflicted with pains of Body by the method of his life. He never goes near a fire in the coldest time. Much is said about the reasons of his doing penance in this manner, but chiefly that he murdered his own sister, and that he killed a gentleman in a Duel while an officer in the French Service. He was also in the German Service among his countrymen the Germans.
Note: this was one of the parts that interested me the most. I was really hoping I’d be able to find out more about him, and lo and behold, there was a book published in 1811 of some letters that give an account of his life. So I’m definitely going to be reading that soon. For now, I’ll just say that his name was Francis Adam Joseph Phyle, and he was apparently a native of Switzerland, not Germany.
November 25.—In the Evening we march for Haddonfield (not far from Red Bank) where we arrived in the morning of
November 26.—Lay in the Forest of Haddonfield, cold and uncomfortable. Two Hessian deserters came in who declar’d our little parties had kill’d a number of the Enemy—15 prisoners were bro’t in, 2 women.
November 27.—Returned to Mount Holly. Same Day Greene’s Division and Glover’s Brigade (who had arriv’d from the Northward 2 Days Before) march to Burlington. Morgan with his Riflemen were left with the militia to harrass the Enemy as they were Recrossing the River from Red Bank to the City.
November 28.—The remainder of us marched to Burlington. P.M. the rear of the army crossed over to Bristol. A Storm prevented the Baggage going over this Night, which prevented Dr. L. and myself also crossing with our horses.
November 29.—Storm increas’d. About one p.m. An alarm was made by a report that the enemy were within 15 minutes march of the Town to take the Baggage. Those of us who had horses rode up to Burdentown. The baggage and the Sick were all hurried out of Town the same way, but had not got 2 miles before they were turn’d back on its being a false Alarm. For the sake of good living however Dr. L., Parson E. & myself went to Burdentown up the River, liv’d well & cross’d over to Winsor the next Day, and arrived at Bristol in the Evening when I had my Shoes and Silver Buckles stole. Dr. L. had a valuable Great Coat stole the Day before at Burlington.
December 1.—We marched to Head Quarters and our Division (McDougals) encamped on the Left of the Second Line. Our former station was in the Centre of the Front Line. Here Huts of sticks & leaves shelter’d us from the inclemency of the Weather and we lay pretty Quiet until
December 5.—At 3 o’clock a.m. the Alarm Guns were fired and Troops immediately paraded at their several Alarm posts. The Enemy were approaching with their Whole Strength to give us Battle. Nothing further remarkable ensued this Day—at Night our Troops lay on their Arms, the Baggage being all sent away except what a man might run or fight with.
December 6.—The enemy forming a Line from towards our right to the extremity of our left upon an opposite long height to ours in a Wood. Our men were under Arms all Day and this Night also, as our Wise General was determined not to be attack’d Napping.
December 7.—Alarm given. Troops on their several posts. Toward Noon Col. Ch[arles]. Webbe’s Reg[iment] were partly surrounded and Attack’d on the Right of the Army. They being overpower’d by Numbers retreated with loss-the brave Capt. Walbridge was wounded in the head—Lieut. Harris kill’d. A scattering fire through to the left soon began & continued a few minutes, till our Piquets ran in. The firing soon ceased on the Right and continued on the Left, as tho’ an Attack was meant to begin there. On this supposition the Left were Reinforced. But a scattering fire was kept up by Morgan’s Battalion, at Intervals all Day, and concluded with a little skirmish at Sun Set. Our Troops lay on their Arms this night also. Some firing among the Piquets in the night.
December 8.—All at our Several Posts. Provisions & Whiskey very scarce. Were Soldiers to have plenty of Food & Rum, I believe they would Storm Tophet. Our Lines were on a long hill extending about three Miles—all Man’d. An Abettes in front from Right to Left—another in the rear of the Left, with a Cross Abettee near the Extremety.
Note: I was confused for a while about what exactly this ‘abettes’ was. Pretty much only this account comes up when you search for the word. Then, upon studying a map, I realised the word was Abatis, which is a type of fortification where you chop down some trees and place them over each other with the branches pointing outwards. I can’t tell you if the mistake is Albigen’s, or of whoever typed up his account for the magazine.
Five men from each Reg[iment] in Varnum’s and Huntington’s Brigades as Volunteers join’d Morgan’s Rifle Men to Harrass the Enemy and excite an Attack. Some Reg[iments] were ordered to march out if an Attack should begin in earnest. This Afternoon a small Skirmish happen’d near the Enemies line against our left. Towards Night the Enemy fired some Cannon against our Right & 2 against our left. Their horse appear’d to be busily moving. In the Evening there were but two spots of fires in the Enemies Camp. One against our Park (or main center); the other against the extremity of our Left, when the evening before they extended from almost our Right to our Left. At 12 o’clock at Night our Reg[iment], with Sixteen more were Ordered to parade immediately before his Excellencies Quarters under Command of Sullivan & Wayne. We were there by One, when Intelligence came that the Enemy had made a precipitate retreat and was safely got into the City. We were all Chagrin’d at this, as we were more willing to Chase them in the Rear, that meet such Sulkey Dogs in Front. We were now remanded back with several draughts of Rum in our frozen bellies, which made us so glad we all fell asleep in our huts, nor experienced the Coldness of the Night ‘till we found ourselves much stiffened by it in the morning.
December 9.—We came from within the breastworks, Where we had been coop’d up four tedious Days, with Cloathes & Boots on Night and Day, and resumed our old Hutts East of the Breastwork. The rest of the Army Chiefly had their huts within the Lines. We are insensible what we are capable of enduring till we are put to the test. To endure hardships with a good grace we must allways think of the following Maxim: “Pain succeeds Pleasure, & Pleasure succeeds Pain.”
December 10.—Lay still.
December 11.—At four o’clock the Whole Army were Order’d to March to Swedes Ford on the River Schuylkill, about 9 miles N. W. of Chestnut Hill, and 6 from White Marsh our present Encampment. At sun an hour high the whole were mov’d from the Lines and on their march with baggage. This Night encamped in a Semi circle nigh the Ford. The enemy had march’d up the West side of Schuylkil—Potter’s Brigade of Pennsylvania Militia were already there, & had several skirmishes with them with some loss on his side and considerable on the Enemies. An English Serj. deserted to us this Day, and inform’d that Webb’s Reg[iment] kill’d many of their men on the 7th, that he himself took Webb’s Serj. Major who was a former Deserter from them, and was to be hanged this day.
I am prodigious Sick & cannot get any thing comfortable—what in the name of Providence am I to do with a fit of Sickness in this place where nothing appears pleasing to the Sicken’d Eye & nausiating Stomach. But I doubt not Providence will find out a way for my relief. But I cannot eat Beef if I starve, for my stomach positively refuses to entertain such Company, and how can I help that?
December 12.—A Bridge of Waggons made across the Schuylkill last Night consisting of 36 waggons, with a bridge of Rails between each. Some skirmishing over the River. Militia and dragoons brought into Camp several Prisoners. Sun Set—We were order’d to march over the River—It snows—I’m sick—eat nothing—No Whiskey—No Forage—Lord—Lord—Lord. The Army were ‘till Sun Rise crossing the River—some at the Waggon Bridge & some at the Raft Bridge below. Cold & uncomfortable.
December 13.—The Army march’d three miles from the West side the River and encamp’d near a place call’d the Gulph and not an improper name neither, for this Gulph seems well adapted by its situation to keep us from the pleasures & enjoyments of this World, or being conversant with any body in it. It is an excellent place to raise the Ideas of a Philosopher beyond the glutted thoughts and Reflexions of an Epicurean. His Reflexions will be as different from the common Reflexions of Mankind as if he were unconnected with the world, and only conversant with immaterial beings. It cannot be that our Superiors are about to hold consultations with Spirits infinitely beneath their Order, by bringing us into these utmost regions of the Terraqueous Sphere. No, it is, upon consideration for many good purposes since we are to Winter here—1st There is plenty of Wood & Water. 2dly There are but few families for the soldiery to Steal from—tho’ far be it from a Soldier to Steal. 4ly There are warm sides of Hills to erect huts on.
Note: that’s not an error on my part; either he skipped number three, or the transcriber did.
5ly They will be heavenly Minded like Jonah when in the Belly of a Great Fish. 6ly They will not become home Sick as is sometimes the Case when Men live in the Open World—since the reflections which will naturally arise from their present habitation, will lead them to the more noble thoughts of employing their leisure hours in filling their knapsacks with such materials as may be necessary on the Journey to another Home.
December 14.—Prisoners & Deserters are continually coming in. The Army which has been surprisingly healthy hitherto, now begins to grow sickly from the continued fatigues they have suffered this Campaign. Yet they still show a spirit of Alacrity & Contentment not to be expected from so young Troops, I am Sick—discontented—and out of humour. Poor food—hard lodging—Cold Weather—fatigue—Nasty Cloathes—nasty Cookery—Vomit half my time—smoak’d out of my senses—the Devil’s in’t—I can’t Endure it—Why are we sent here to starve and Freeze—What sweet Felicities have I left at home; A charming Wife—pretty Children—Good Beds—good food—good Cookery—all agreeable—all harmonious. Here all the Confusion—smoke & Cold—hunger & filthiness—A pox on my bad luck. There comes a bowl of beef soup—full of burnt leaves and dirt, sickish enough to make a Hector spue—away with it Boys—I’ll live like the Chameleon upon Air. Poh! Poh! Crys Patience within me—you talk like a fool. Your being sick Covers your mind with a Melanchollic Gloom, which makes everything about you appear gloomy. See the poor Soldier, when in health—with what cheerfulness he meets his foes and encounters every hardship—if barefoot, he labours thro’ the Mud & Cold with a Song in his mouth extolling War & Washington—if his food be bad, he eats it notwithstanding with seeming content—blesses God for a good Stomach and Whistles it into digestion. But harkee Patience, a moment—There comes a Soldier, his bare feet are seen thro’ his won out Shoes, his legs nearly naked from the tatter’d remains of an only pair of stockings, his Breeches not sufficient to cover his nakedness, his Shirt hanging in Strings, his hair dishevell’d, his face meager; his whole appearance pictures a person forsaken & discouraged. He comes, and crys with an air of wretchedness and despair, I am Sick, my feet lame, my legs are sore, my body cover’d with this tormenting Itch—my Cloathes are worn out, my Constitution is broken, my former Activity is exhausted by fatigue, hunger & Cold, I fail fast I shall soon be no more! and all the reward I shall get will be—“Poor Will is dead.” People who live at home in Luxury and Ease, quietly possessing their habitations, Enjoying their Wives and families in peace, have but a very faint Idea of the unpleasing sensations, and continual Anxiety the Man endures who is in a Camp, and is the husband and parent of an agreeable family. These same People are willing we should suffer every thing for their Benefit & advantage, and yet are the first to Condemn us for not doing more!!
December 15.—Quiet. Eat Pessimmens, found myself better for their Lenient Opperation. Went to a house, poor & small, but good food within—eat too much from being so long Abstemious, thro’ want of palatables. Mankind are never truly thankfull for the Benefits of life, until they have experienc’d the want of them. The Man who has seen misery knows best how to enjoy good. He who is always at ease & has enough of the Blessings of common life is an Impotent Judge of the feelings of the unfortunate….
December 16.—Cold Rainy Day, Baggage ordered over the Gulph of our Division, which were to march at Ten, but the baggage was order’d back and for the first time since we have been here the Tents were pitch’d, to keep the men more comfortable. Good morning Brother Soldier (says one to another) how are you? All wet I thank’e, hope you are so (says the other). The Enemy have been at Chestnut Hill Opposite to us near our last encampment the other side Schuylkill, made some Ravages, kill’d two of our Horsemen, taken some prisoners. We have done the like by them…
December 18.—Universal Thanksgiving—a Roasted pig at Night. God be thanked for my health which I have pretty well recovered. How much better should I feel, were I assured my family were in health. But the same good Being who graciously preserves me, is able to preserve them & bring me to the ardently wish’d for enjoyment of them again.
→ Rank & Precedence make a good deal of disturbance & confusion in the American Army. The Army are poorly supplied with Provision, occasioned it is said by the Neglect of the Commissary of Purchases. Much talk among Officers about discharges. Money has become of too little consequence. The Congress have not made their Commissions valuable Enough. Heaven avert the bad consequences of these things!!!
Note: There’s a gap in the text here, and it picks up again halfway through a sentence…
up the Bristol Road & so got out unnoticed. He inform’d that Cornwallis was embark’d for England, and that some High-landers had gone to N. York for Winter Quarters.
There is nothing to hinder Parties of the like kind above mention’d, continually coming out between Delaware and Schuylkill, and plundering and destroying the Inhabitants.
Our brethren who are unfortunately Prisoners in Philadelphia meet with the most savage and inhumane treatments that Barbarians are Capable of inflicting. Our Enemies do not knock them in the head or burn them with torches or flee them alive, or gradually dismember them till they die, which is customary among Savages and Barbarians. No, they are worse by far. They suffer them to starve, to linger out their lives in extreem hunger. One of these poor unhappy men, drove to the last extreem by the rage of hunger, eat his own fingers up to the first joint from the hand, before he died. Others eat the Clay, the Lime, the Stones of the Prison Walls. Several who died in the Yard had pieces of Bark, Wood, Clay, & Stones in their mouths, which the ravings of hunger had caused them to take in for food in the last Agonies of Life! “These are thy mercies, O Britain!”
December 21.—[Valley Forge.] Preparations made for hutts. Provisions scarce. Mr. Ellis went homeward—sent a Letter to my Wife. Heartily wish myself at home, my Skin & eyes are almost spoil’d with continual smoke. A general cry thro’ the Camp this Evening among the Soldiers, “No Meat! No Meat!”—the Distant vales Echo’d back the melancholly sound—“No Meat! No Meat!” Immitating the noise of Crows & Owls, also, made a part of the confused Musick.
What have you for you Dinner Boys? “Nothing but Fire Cake & Water, Sir.” At night, “Gentlemen the Supper is ready.” What is your Supper Lads? “Fire Cake & Water, Sir.” Very poor beef has been drawn in our Camp the greater part of this season. A Butcher bringing a Quarter of this kind of Beef into Camp one day who had white Buttons on the knees of his breeches, a Soldier cries out—“There, there Tom is some more of your fat Beef, by my soul I can see the Butcher’s breeches buttons through it.”
December 22.—Lay excessive Cold & uncomfortable last Night—my eyes are started out from their Orbits like a Rabbit’s eyes, occasion’d by a great Cold & Smoke.
What have you got for Breakfast, Lads? “Fire Cake & Water, Sir.” The Lord send that our Commissary of Purchases may live [on] Fire Cake and Water, ‘till their glutted Gutts are turned to Pasteboard.
Note: Fire cake is literally just flour and water combined, and then cooked on the fire.
Our Division are under Marching Orders this morning. I am ashamed to say it, but I am tempted to steal Fowls if I could find them, or even a whole Hog, for I feel as if I could eat one. But the Impoverish’d Country about us, affords but little matter to employ a Thief, or keep a Clever Fellow in good humour. But why do I talk of hunger & hard usage, when so many in the World have not even fire Cake and Water to eat.
The human mind is always poreing upon the gloomy side of Fortune, and while it inhabits this lump of Clay, will always be in an uneasy and fluctuating State, produced by a thousand Incidents in common Life, which are deemed misfortunes, while the mind is taken off from the nobler pursuits of matters in Futurity. The sufferings of the Body naturally gain the Attention of the Mind, and this Attention is more or less strong, in greater or lesser souls, altho’ I believe that Ambition & a high Opinion of Fame, makes many people endure hardships and pains with that fortitude we after times Observe them to. On the other hand, a despicable opinion of the enjoyments of this Life, by a continued series of Misfortunes, and a long acquaintance with Grief, induces others to bear afflictions with becoming serenity and Calmness.
It is not in the power of Philosophy, however, to convince a man he may be happy and Contented if he will, with a Hungry Belly. Give me Food, Cloathes, Wife & Children, kind Heaven! And I’ll be as contented as my Nature will permit me to be. This Evening a Party with two field pieces were order’d out. At 12 of the Clock at Night, Providence sent us a little Mutton, with which we immediately had some Broth made, & a fine Stomach for same. Ye who eat Pumkin Pie and Roast Turkies, and yet Curse fortune for using you ill, Curse her no more, least she reduce your Allowance of her favours to a bit of Fire Cake, & a draught of Cold Water, & in Cold Weather too.
December 23.—The Party that went out last evening not Return’d to Day. This evening an excellent Player on the Violin in that soft kind of Musick, which is so finely adapted to stir up the tender Passions, while he was playing in the next Tent to mine, these kind of soft Airs it immediately called up in remembrance all the endearing expressions, the Tender Sentiments, the sympathetic friendship that has given so much satisfaction and sensible pleasure to me from the first time I gained the heart & affections of the tenderest of the Fair. A thousand agreeable little incidents which have Occurr’d since our happy connection, and which would have pass’d totally unnoticed by such who are strangers to the soft & sincere passion of Love, were now recall’d to my mind, and filled me with these tender emotions, and Agreeable Reflections, which cannot be described, and which in spite of my Philosophy forced out the sympathetic tear. I wish’d to have the Musick Cease, and yet dreaded its ceasing, least I should loose sight of these dear Ideas, which gave me pain and pleasure at the same instant. Ah Heaven why is it that our harder fate so often deprives us of the enjoyment of what we most wish to enjoy this side of thy brighter realms. There is something in this strong passion of Love far more agreeable than what we can derive from any of the other Passions and which Duller Souls & Cheerless minds are insensible of, & laugh at—let such fools laugh at me.
December 24.—Party of the 22d not returned. Hutts go on Slowly—Cold & Smoke make us fret. But mankind are always fretting, even if they have more than their proportion of the Blessings of Life. We are never Easy, allways repining at the Providence of an Allwise & Benevolent Being, Blaming Our Country or faulting our Friends. But I don’t know of any thing that vexes a man’s Soul more than hot smoke continually blowing into his Eyes, & when he attempts to avoid it, is met by a cold and piercing Wind.
December 25, Christmas.—We are still in Tents—when we ought to be in huts—the poor Sick, suffer much in Tents this cold Weather. But we now treat them differently from what they used to be at home, under the inspection of Old Women and Doct. Bolus Linctus. We give them Mutton & Grogg and a Capital Medicine once in a While, to start the Disease from its foundations at once. We avoid Piddling Pills, Powders, Bolus’s Linctus’s Cordials and all such insignificant matters whose powers are Only render’d important by causing the Patient to vomit up his money instead of his disease. But very few of the sick Men Die.
December 26.—Party of the 22d not Return’d. The Enemy have been some Days the west Schuylkill from opposite the City to Derby. Their intentions not yet known. The city is at present pretty Clear to them. Why don’t his Excellency rush in & retake the City, in which he will doubtless find much Plunder? Because he knows better than to leave his Post and be catch’d like a d——d fool cooped up in the City. He has always acted wisely hitherto. His conduct when closely scrutinized is uncensurable. Were his Inferior Generals as skillfull as himself, we should have the grandest Choir of Officers ever God made. Many Country Gentlemen in the interior parts of the States who get wrong information on the Affairs & State of our Camp are very much Surprized at G[eneral] Washington’s delay to drive off the Enemy, being falsely inform’d that his Army consists of double the Number of the Enemy’s—such wrong information serves not to keep up the spirit of the People, as they must be by and by undeceiv’d to their no small disappointment;—it brings blame of his Excellency, who is deserving of the greatest encomiums; it brings disgrace on the Continental Troops, who have never evidenced the least backwardness in doing their duty, but on the contrary, have cheerfully endur’d a long and very fatigueing Campaign. ‘Tis true they have fought but little this Campaign; which is not owing to any Unwillingness in Officers or Soldiers, but for want of convenient Opportunities, which have not offer’d themselves this Season; tho’ this may be contradicted by many; but Impartial Truth in future History will clear up these points, and reflect lasting honour on the Wisdom and prudence of G[eneral] Washington. The greatest Number of Continental Troops that have been with his Excell[ency] this Campaign, never consisted of more than Eleven thousand; and the greatest Number of Militia in the field at Once were not more than 2000. Yet these accounts are exaggerated to 50 or 60,000. Howe, by the best, and most authentic Accounts has never had less than 10,000. If then, Gen[eral] Washington, by Opposing little more than an equal Number of young Troops, to Old Veterans has kept his Ground in general, Cooped them up in the city, prevented their making any considerable inroads upon him, Killed and wounded a very considerable number of them in different Skirmishes, and made many proselytes to the Shrine of Liberty by these little successes, and by the prudence, calmness, sedateness & wisdom with which he facilitates all his Opperations. This being the case, and his not having wantonly thrown away the lives of his Soldiers, but reserved them for another Campaign (if another should Open in the Spring) which is of the utmost consequence This then cannot be called an Inglorious Campaign. If he had risk’d a General Battle, and should have proved unsuccessfull, what in the name of Heaven would have been our case this Day. Troops are raised with great difficulty in the Southern States, many Regiments from these States do not consist of one hundred men. What then was the grand Southern Army before the N[ew] England Troops joined them and if this Army is Cut off where should we get another as good. General Washington has doubtless considered these matters & his conduct this Campaign has certainly demonstrated his prudence & Wisdom.
Note: That statement about history supporting Washington’s decision is the kind of thing that I normally would have consulted multiple books over, to see if that had been the case, or was the case now. But I resisted, because that’s not the point of this episode. This winter was seen as a defining moment in the war. Multiple books have been written just about what happened at Valley Forge and its impact on the war. It was certainly a trial of Washington’s leadership, and one he survived. Washington chose the Valley Forge site because he wanted to stay close to Philadelphia, but all the surrounding towns were full with refugees that had fled the city. So instead, his army ended up at Valley Forge – an inhospitable site. Plenty of people at the time thought this was a bad idea, and throughout the winter, as we’ve already partly seen, Washington struggled to obtain supplies for his men. Anyway, back to Albigence.
This Evening, cross’d the Schuylkill with D[octor] Col[eman]—eat plenty of Pessimmens which is the most lenient, Sub Acid and Subastringent fruit, I believe that grows.
December 27.—My horse shod. A Snow. Log’d at a Welchman’s this Night, return’d to Camp in the morning of the 28th. Snow’d last Night. December 28.—Yesterday upwards of fifty Officers in Gen[eral] Greene’s division resigned their Commissions—Six or Seven of our Regiment are doing the like to-day. All this is occasion’d by Officers Families being so much neglected at home on account of Provisions. Their Wages will not by considerable, purchase a few trifling Comfortables here in Camp, & maintain their families at home, while such extravagant prices are demanded for the common necessaries of Life—What then have they to purchase Cloathes and other necessaries with? It is a Melancholly reflection that what is of the most universal importance, is most universally neglected—I mean keeping up the Credit of Money.
The present Circumstances of the Soldier is better by far than the Officers—for the family of the Soldier is provided for at the public expence if the Articles they want are above the common price—but the Officer’s family, are obliged not only to beg in the most humble manner for the necessaries of Life,—but also to pay for them afterwards at the most exorbitant rates—and even in this manner, many of them who depend entirely on their Money, cannot procure half the material comforts that are wanted in a family—this produced continual letters of complaint from home. When the Officer has been fatigued thro’ wet & cold and returns to his tent where he finds a letter directed to him from his Wife, fill’d with the most heart aching tender Complaints, a woman is capable of writing—Acquainting him with the incredible difficulty with which she procures a little Bread for herself & Children—and finally concluding with expressions bordering on despair, of procuring a sufficiency of food to keep soul & Body together through the Winter—that her money is of very little consequence to her—that she begs him to consider that Charity begins at home—and not suffer his family to perish with want, in the midst of plenty. When such, I say—is the tidings they constantly hear from their families—What man is there—who has the least regard for his family—whose soul would not shrink within him? Who would not be disheartened from persevering in the best of Causes—the Cause of his country,—when such discouragements as these ly in his way, which his Country might remedy if they would?
December 28.—Building our Hutts.
December 29.—Continued the Work. Snow’d all day pretty briskly.—The party of the 22nd return’d—lost 18 men, who were taken prisoners by being decoyed by the Enemies Light Horse who brought up the Rear, as they Repass’d the Schuylkill to the City. Our party took 13 or 14 of their Horsemen. The Enemy came out to plunder—& have strip’d the Town of Derby of even all its Household furniture. Our party was several times mixed with the Enemy’s horse—not knowing them from our Connecticut Light Horse—their Cloaks being alike.
So much talk about discharges among the Officers—& so many are discharged—his Excellency lately expressed his fears of being left Alone with the Soldiers only. Strange that our Country will not exert themselves for his support, and save so good—so great a Man from entertaining the least anxious doubt of their Virtue and perserverance in supporting a Cause of such unparallel’d importance!!
All Hell couldn’t prevail against us, If Heaven continues no more than its former blessings—and if we keep up the Credit of our Money which has now become of the last consequence. If its Credit sinks but a few degrees more, we shall then repent when ‘tis too late—& cry out for help when no one will appear to deliver. We who are in the Camp, and depend on our Money entirely to procure the comforts of life—feel the Importance of this matter—He who is hording it up in his Chest, thinks little more of it than how he shall procure more.
December 30.—Eleven Deserters came in to-day—some Hessians & some English—one of the Hessians took an Ax in his hand & cut away the Ice of the Shuylkill the Other Day—but part of two Brigades were left in the City. Cold Weather. Hutts go on moderately—very cold lying in Tents—beyond what one can think.
December 31.—Adjutant Selden learn’d me how to Darn Stockings—to make them look like knit work.
Valley Forge, Dec. 31st, 1777.
Doct[or] Waldo Surgeon of Col[onel] Prentices Reg[iment], is recommended for a Furlow.
J. Huntington, B. General.
Apply’d with the above for a furlow, to Doct[or] Cochran, who reply’d—“I am willing to oblige every Gentleman of the Faculty, but some of the Boston Surgeons have by taking an underhand method of getting furlows, occasion’d a Complaint to be lodg’d with his Excellency, who has positively forbid me giving any furlows at present. We shall soon have regimental Hospitals erected—and general Ones to receive the superabundant Sick from them;—if you will tarry till such regulations are made—you will have honourable furlow, and even now—I will, if you desire it—recommend you to his Excellency for one—but desire you would stay a little while longer—and in the mean time, recommend to me some young Surgeon for a Regiment, and I will immediately appoint him to a chief Surgeoncy from your recommendation—I shall remember the rascals who have us’d me ill.”
I concluded to stay—& immediately set about fixing accommodations for the Sick &c. &c.
We got some Spirits and finish’d the Year with a good Drink & thankfull hearts in our new Hutt, which stands on an Eminenc that overlooks the Brigade, & in sight of the Front Line. The Major and Commissary Little are to live with us which makes our Hutt Head Quarters.
In the Evening I joyfully received a Letter from my good and loving Wife. The pleasure and satisfaction a man enjoys upon hearing of the health & peace of a Friend, and more especially of a Wife, on whose affections & peace his own happiness depends, is a greater pleasure than…
1778, January 1. New Year.—I am alive. I am well.
Hutts go on briskly, and our Camp begins to appear like a spacious City.
A party of our Army at Wilmington took a Ship in the Delaware from New York tother day, in which were a Number of Officers Wifes and about 70 or 80 men.
His Excellency Issued an Order this day that No one in the Army should have a new Coat made without first obtaining a pattern…
Nothing tends to the establishment of the firmest Friendship like Mutual Sufferings which produces mutual Intentions and endeavours for mutual Relief which in such cases are equally shar’d with pleasure and satisfaction—in the course of this, each heart is laid open to full view—the similar passions in each, approximate themselves by certain impulsive sympathy, which terminates in lasting esteem.
Bought and embroidered Jacket.
How much we affect to appear of consequence by a superfluous Dress,—and yet Custom—(that law which none may fight against) has rendered this absolutely necessary & commendable. An officer frequently fails of being duly noticed, merely from the want of genteel Dress;—and if joined to this, he has a bungled Address,—his situation is render’d very disagreeable. Neatness of Dress, void of unnecessary superfluities is very becoming—and discovers a man at least to have some Ambition—without which he will never make any figure in life. A man Appears to much greater advantage, especially among strangers, with a genteel Dress, which will naturally prepossess the Company in his favour, before they hear him speak. In this way,—even the fool may pass for a man of consequence—A man ought always to dress according to his business let his Abilities be what they will;—for if his Business is not sufficient to support a Credible appearance in the world, let him discontinue it and undertake some other branch. But these are trifles not to be compared with Virtue and good Sense: by these is the road to true fame & Glory,—by these we walk thro’ the world with the least hazzard—and obtain that peace of mind; that variety of agreeable Reflection—and that esteem among the Virtuous & Amiable, which the Vicious Fool is a stranger to.
January 3.—Our Hutt, or rather our Hermits Cell, goes on briskly, having a short allowance of Bread this morning we divided it with great precision, eat our Breakfast with thankful hearts for the little we had, took care of the Sick, according to our daily practice, and went to Work on our little humble Cottage. Now ye poets give me my Wife & Children, with your daisies, your Roses, your Tuleps and your other insignificant poetical materials, & I believe I should be pretty contented in this humble Cottage which the muses have so often described.
Another ship was taken from the Enemy this Week, the lading taken out & the Ship burnt. The other Ship mention’d New Years day, was loaded with Officers Baggage and Medicines, with other valluable matters, & Cloathing for 200 men Compleat.
Note: He quotes some lines from the poet Alexander Pope here, but I’m not going to include them.
Fresh Beef and Flour make me perfectly Sick, especially as we have no Spirits to drink with it;—but others stand it, so must I.
To day his Excellency in Orders acquainted the Troops of the Congress’s high approbation of their spirited perseverance and good Conduct this Campaign, that Rations should be raised monthly in proportion to the rise of the Articles of life, that the Congress were exerting themselves to supply the Commisary, and Coathiers Departments, with a greater quantity of better Stores, than hitherto, that the Troops may be Supply’d with a greater quantity of Provision than they have been of late; and that a Month’s Wages extraordinary shall be given to every Officer & Soldier who shall live in the Hutts this Winter.
Good encouragement this, and we think ourselves deserving of it, for the hunger, Thirst, Cold & fatigue we have suffer’d this Campaign, altho’ we have not fought much, yet the oldest Soldiers among us have called the Campaign a very severe & hard one…
Sunday January 4.—Properly accouter’d I went to work at Masonry, None of my Mess were to dictate me, and before Night (being found with Mortar & Stone) I almost compleated a genteel Chimney to my Magnificent Hutt, however, as we had short allowance of food & no Grogg, my back ached before Night.
I was call’d to relieve a Soldier tho’t to be dying—he expired before I reach’d the Hutt. He was an Indian—an excellent Soldier—and an obedient good natur’d fellow. He engaged for money doubtless as others do;—but he has serv’d his country faithfully—he has fought for those very people who disinherited his forefathers—having finished his pilgrimage, he was discharged from the War of Life & Death. His memory ought to be respected, more than those ones who supply the world with nothing better than Money and Vice. There the poor fellow lies not Superior now to a clod of earth—his mouth wide open—his Eyes staring. Was he affrighted at the scene of Death—or the consequences of it?—doubtless both;—but he has doubtless acted agreeable to the dictates of Nature in the course of his whole life—why should he then be afraid of the consequences of Death. Where then is his immaterial part taken its flight—undoubtedly the scene Changes, and admits him into another State,—and there fixes him forever,—but what is that state—happy or miserable. He has been an honest fellow—has done his duty to his Maker and his fellow creatures as far as his Inclinations and Abilities would permit of,—therefore we’ll suppose him happier now than ever.
What a frail—dying creature is Man. We are Certainly not made for this world—daily evidences demonstrate the contrary.
Note: There are a few more lines of poetry here. I don’t know who the poet is, or if its Albigence himself. But I’m pretty sure it’s not Pope. Watch it be Pope, now.
The Marquis De la Fayette, a Volunteer in Our Army—& he who gave three Ships to Congress, is very agreeable in his person and great in his Character; being made a Major General—Brigadier Conway, an Irish Colonel from France, took umbrage thereat, and resigned—but is now made Inspector General of the Army—he is a great Character—he wore a Commission in the French Service when he was but ten years old. Major General Lord Stirling, is a man of very noble presence,—and the most martial Appearance of any General in the Service—he much resembles the Marquis of Granby—by his bald head—& the make of his face—and the figure of his Body—He is mild in his private Conversation, and vociferous in the Field;—but he has allways been unfortunate in Actions.
Count Pulaski—General of the Horse is a Man of hardly middling Stature—sharp Countenance—and lively air;—He contended a long time with his Uncle the present king of Poland for the Crown—but being overcome he fled to France—and has now joined the American Army, where he is greatly respected & admired for his Martial Skill, Courage & Intrepidity. Gen[eral] Greene & Gen[eral] Sullivan are greatly esteemed. Baron De Kalb, a Major General is another very remarkable Character, and a Gentleman much esteemed.
January 5.—Applied for a Furlow, Surg[eon] Gen[eral] not at home—come back mumping and Sulkey.
January 6.—Applied again—was deny’d be reason of Inoculations being set on foot—& because the Boston Surgeons had too many of them gone—one of whom is to be broke for his lying & deceiving in order to get a furlow—and I wish his cursed tongue was pull’d out, for thus giving an example of scandal to the New England Surgeons, tho’ the Connect[icut] Ones are well enough respected at present. Came home sulkey and Cross-storm’d at the boys—and swore round like a piper and a fool till most Night—when I bought me a Skin—dress’d with the Hair on:—This will answer me to ly on—Set on…
Note: There’s another lacuna in the text, here.
Case;—it serves to keep off those melancholy Ideas which often attend such a person, and who loves his family and wishes to be with them. If I should happen to lose this little Journal, any fool may laugh that finds it,—since I know that there is nothing in it but the natural flowings & reflections of my own heart, which is human as well as other Peoples—and if there is a great deal of folly in it—there is no intended Ill nature—and am sure there is much Sincerity, especially when I mention my family, whom I cannot help saying and am not asham’d to say that I Love. But I begin to grow Sober, I shall be home sick again.—Muses attend!—File off to the right grim melancholly! Seek no more an asylum in thine Enemy’s breast!—Waft me hence ye Muses to the brow of Mount Parnassus! For to the summit, I dare not, will not presume to climb—…
We have got our Hutts to be very comfortable, and feel ourselves happy in them—I only want my family and I should be as happy here as any where, except in the Article of food, which is sometimes pretty scanty.
The Brigg taken from the Enemy (& mention’d New Year’s Day) is the greatest prize ever taken from them—There is Scarlet—Blue—& Buff Cloth, sufficient to Cloath all the Officers of the Army—& Hats—Shirts—Stockings—Shoes—Boots—Spurs—&c. to finish compleat Suits for all. A petition is sent to his Excellency, that this cloathing may be dealt out to the Regimental Officers only—at a moderate price—Excluding Commissaries—Bull Drivers &c.—There are 4 or 5000 Apelets of Gold and Silver—Many Chests of private Officers Baggage—& General How’s Silver Plate—& Kitchen furniture, &c. This Cargo was sent to Cloathe all the Officers of the British Army.
January 8.—Unexpectedly got a Furlow. Set out for home. The very worst of Riding—Mud & Mire.
We had gone thro’ Inoculation before this furlow.
Note: I didn’t even find this story whilst researching smallpox. You just can’t get away from inoculation.
The last page and a half is an expense log, so I’m not going to read that out.
That brings us to the end of the extract, and to the end of this episode. Thanks for listening.
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You have been listening to The Poison Room, a podcast that grants unexpected furlows.
The voice in your ears has been: a hermit in the woods sleeping in a hole.