Valley Forge: George Washington and the Crucible of Victory

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9780312591076: Valley Forge: George Washington and the Crucible of Victory

In To Try Men's Souls, New York Times bestselling authors Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen cast a new light on the year 1776 and the man who would become the father of our nation, George Washington. Valley Forge picks up the narrative a year after Washington’s triumphant surprise attack on Trenton, and much has changed since then.

It’s the winter of 1777, and Washington’s battered, demoralized army retreats from Philadelphia. Arriving at Valley Forge, they discover that their repeated requests for a stockpile of food, winter clothing, and building tools have been ignored by Congress. With no other options available, the men settle down for a season of agony. For weeks the dwindling army freezes under tents in the bitter cold. Food runs out. Disease festers. The men are on the point of collapse, while in Philadelphia the British, joined by Allen van Dorn, the Loyalist brother of the dead patriot, Jonathan van Dorn, live in luxury.

In spite of the suffering and deceit, Washington endures all, joined at last by a volunteer from Germany, Baron Friederich von Steuben. With precious few supplies and even less time, von Steuben begins the hard task of recasting the army as a professional fighting force capable of facing the British head-on—something it has never accomplished before—and in the process he changing the course of history.   

Valley Forge is a compelling, meticulously researched tour-de-force novel about endurance, survival, transformation, and rebirth. It chronicles the unique crucible of time and place where Washington and his Continental Army, against all odds, were forged into a fighting force that would win a revolution and found the United States of America.

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About the Author:

NEWT GINGRICH, former Speaker of the House, is the bestselling author of Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor and the longest serving teacher of the Joint War Fighting course for Major Generals.  He is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation, Chairman of American Solutions and a commentator for Fox News Channel. He resides in Virginia with his wife, Callista, with whom he hosts and produces documentaries, including their latest, Nine Days that Changed the World.

WILLIAM R. FORSTCHEN, Ph.D., is a Faculty Fellow at Montreat College in Montreat, North Carolina. He received his doctorate from Purdue University and is the author of more than forty books.  He resides near Asheville, North Carolina, with his daughter, Meghan.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Near Middle Ford of the Schuylkill River, Five Miles Southwest of Philadelphia
December 22, 1777

     A cold and blustery wind blew out of the northeast, carrying with it the promise of yet more snow. Undaunted by the wintry blast, Zebulon Miller faced the rising storm from the doorway of his spacious barn. The pitiful mooing inside was an abrupt reminder of the abandoned predawn milking. As the ominous darkness gave way to a pale dawn light, a startling revelation was now confronting him: The war was once again coming to his farm, his land, and this time it had caught him by surprise.
     His wife, Elsa, ran from the house and clung nervously to his side. A sudden gust of wind caught her cap, revealing auburn tresses that whipped wildly about her face.
     “We can still try to hide them,” she pleaded breathlessly.
     He shook his head. “Too late,” was all he could say bitterly. His voice trembled with the seething rage that was beginning to erupt within him.
     Over the past four months, Zebulon had unfortunately come to know the paraphernalia and uniforms of this war: the threadbare rags of the so-called Continental Line, the ridiculous foppery of the militias that would turn out boldly enough but then turn and run at the mere rumor of an approaching enemy. What he saw now was a striking contrast, for the men advancing in open lines across his neighbor’s fields were professional soldiers of the king.
     They were British light infantry, their hat feathers dyed red in mocking defiance of pledges made by the Pennsylvania Line to show them no quarter in battle after the bitter memories of what was now called the Paoli Massacre. The red feathers were a taunt, a statement that boasted, “Here we are, we defeated you at Paoli, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop us.”
     Deployed into open skirmish lines, the light infantry advanced toward Miller’s farm. A mounted troop of dragoons in the center of the formation held the road leading up from Middle Ferry Road and the village of Darby. The synchronized movements of the formations resembled the choreography of a dance; they were leapfrogging forward at the run, flanking a hundred yards to either side of the road. Half were moving, half remained still, with weapons raised to provide covering fire for those who in turn would then leap forward another couple of hundred yards. Taking advantage of every bit of cover, they crouched behind trees and ducked into ditches. After hurdling the split rail fence that divided Zebulon’s fields from his neighbor, Snyder, half the men dropped down on one knee with their muskets at the ready, the other half sprinted toward his home.
     There might have been a time when British infantry would foolishly march up a road, and straight into an ambush, as some militia boasted, but he doubted it. Perhaps at Concord and Lexington, in 1775, when the British thought they were just sweeping up rabble, there might have been a certain complacency. But now, after nearly two years of grueling war, they were well trained and exceptionally efficient. The events of the last four months, from Brandywine to Germantown, were proof that no militia could ever stand against them. Zebulon Miller knew he was watching the best- trained infantry in the world. He stepped out from the entry of his barn. Resolved to make the best of it, he tried to force a welcoming smile. He could at least claim to look like a Loyalist, now that his troublesome son had run off to join the rebels.
     A light infantryman ran swiftly toward Zebulon and Elsa. The soldier fought to catch his breath as he raised his musket to his shoulder and steadied his aim at the farmer. His eyes darted to size up Zebulon, then looked past him to the barn, and focused again on the farmer and his wife.
     “Show your hands there!”
     Zebulon did as ordered. In the last four months, he had faced a loaded musket more than once. He recalled a frightening incident when he caught some foolish militiamen trying to loot his chicken coop. His blunderbuss won the standoff, and the men ran like hell at the sight of the gaping muzzle of his weapon.
     With his hands held high, he took a daring step forward.
     “I am loyal to the king,” he announced.
     The soldier didn’t move or reply, glaring at him coldly, his musket still poised. Several comrades forced their way into the farmer’s home; the sounds of breaking glass were mixed with jeers and raucous laughter as they took great delight in ransacking the home for plunder.
     “No need for that!” Elsa cried, stepping out from behind Zebulon to defend the sanctuary of their home.
     “Damn you, woman, don’t move!” the soldier snapped.
     Zebulon lowered a hand to pull her in by his side.
     Zebulon studied the countenance of the soldier before him. The pale light of dawn that broke through the turbulent skies revealed a young, ruddy, weatherbeaten face; the lack of expression in his eyes disclosed a stoic detachment.
     “I have some cider in the barn. My good wife would be glad to heat it for you and your comrades. Would you care for some?” he offered.
     The barrel of cider left out in the open would be lost anyhow; he hoped they would not find the other barrels concealed in a pit dug under the floorboards of the barn.
     The soldier didn’t waver. A comrade came out of the house, held up his musket on the porch, and waved back to the support line covering their advance. The second line got up from their ready position and dashed forward in turn. As the other two in the house came out, one stuffed a slab of bacon, which would have been Zebulon’s breakfast over the next few days, into his haversack. Elsa began to object, but Zebulon squeezed her shoulder to warn her not to move.
     Seconds later, the support line burst forward, barely glancing at the couple as they raced through the farmyard, past the barn, and out into the orchard to the west.
     Two infantrymen dashed into the barn and came out seconds later with jubilant expressions.
     “Plenty in there,” one exclaimed, and they raced to join the rest of their detachment, already moving through the orchard.
     Zebulon’s heart sank with those words.
He owned twenty acres of woodlot to the north. In the center there was a deep hollow cut formed by a creek that meandered down to the Schuylkill. With considerable effort, he had dug into the bank and covered its approach with deadfall. With each appearance of armed men, he had been able to conceal his prize team of draft horses, his breeding bull, two of the milk cows, and the last of his sows, old Beatrice. Elsa had declared that Beatrice would never be slaughtered; the old grotesque thing had become like a pet to her.
     Up until this moment, he had managed to keep enough hidden to see them through the winter and into the planting and breeding time of spring.
     But this time, war came without warning.
     He turned anxiously to look back into his barn. Before this damn war started he was planning to add on to the barn, built by his grandfather, who had cleared the land fifty years ago. Two years ago he owned thirty head of dairy cows, creating a thriving business of selling the milk in the city. Each year rich litters of pigs were slaughtered in the autumn, smoked or salted down, barreled and sold to the ships that docked in the busiest port of North America. His orchard yielded hundreds of bushels of apples to be pressed into cider and sold in the city as well.
     He had prospered until the coming of this damn war. After Brandywine, he lost the herd of dairy cows, along with most of the harvest. It was a war in which he saw no part for himself. The cries about taxation and liberty? What taxes had he ever paid, other than what the local commissioners extorted for his rich farmland? As a young man, the call of adventure enticed him to serve with the militia, along with a promise of simple garrison duty without any prospect of fighting. He had never ventured farther than the east bank of the Susquehanna for the tedious duty of garrisoning a fort, and then returned home satisfied that he had done his service to his king.
     The young soldier who confronted him slowly lowered his musket.
     “Why are you still here?” Elsa snapped angrily. “Your thieves of men have left, and they’ve stolen our breakfast!”
     “Orders,” he responded sharply.
     “Whose orders?”
     “The officers will inform you.”
     “Support line! Forward at the double!”
     The young soldier looked toward Middle Ferry Road. A sergeant, with his short musket raised, was pointing westward.
     “Stay here and don’t move,” the soldier commanded. As if pulled along by some vast machine, of which he was but one cog, he took a deep breath, exhaled, and sped off, running past the barn and into the orchard.
     Zebulon and Elsa stood aghast as the soldier retreated.
     “Can we still hide something?” she whispered.
     “Too late,” he replied despondently. Down on Middle Ferry Road, a company of heavy infantry was advancing at the double; a sergeant urged them forward with obscene cries. Behind them was a company of mounted troops, uniforms blue and green. Zebulon gazed at them coldly. These were the mounted Hessian riflemen, the dreaded Jaegers.
     A long, sinuous column of dozens of wagons followed. Mounted troops covered their flanks. Several of them turned off the road into his neighbor Snyder’s farmyard.
     The lead wagon in the column reached the pathway to his farm and turned in, followed by two more.
     “Three wagons in here,” announced the leading officer, as he dismounted and stretched, tossing the bridle of his horse to a waiting private. He studiously ignored Zebulon and Elsa for the moment; his gaze swept the farm with the air of a buyer contemplating an offer of purchase, or an overseer inspecting his property.
     He finally turned back to Zebulon.
     “Lieutenant Peterson of the Commissary Department of His Majesty’s Army,” he announced languidly, as if already bored with the proceedings.
     Behind him, the wagon drivers dismounted; several soldiers in the back of each wagon jumped down to join them.
     Zebulon knew that it was not customary to shake hands with king’s officers, but he offered the friendly gesture anyhow. Peterson limply accepted his grasp, but only for a second, and then stepped back.
     “The Commissary Department is requisitioning supplies for the army,” he announced.
Zebulon tried to keep his smile.
     “Lieutenant, let’s get out of the cold. We were about to have breakfast, that is, until your men stole it. Perhaps Elsa can still find something to prepare.”
     He tried to force a friendly wink: perhaps something to drink as well.
     “No time for that now.”
     He turned his back on Zebulon, a gesture that the farmer saw and was meant to see as an insult.
     “Corporal Henson, move lively there, move lively!”
     A soldier who was headed toward the house stiffened to attention, saluted, and turned back to the others, barking orders.
     “Sir. We are loyal to the king here.”
     “Of course, that’s what you all say.”
     “Sir, we are loyal,” Elsa interjected.
     Peterson barely nodded, looking past her.
     “Jones, what’s in that barn?”
     A soldier appeared at the open doorway and stood stiffly to attention.
     “Sir. A rich haul, sir. Two fat cows, two horses, big’uns they are. Plenty of hay and feed too, sir.”
     “Move lively there.”
     “Sir, what are your intentions?” Zebulon asked, trying to force some authority into his voice.
     The lieutenant glowered at him with cold eyes.
     “How many live here?”
     “Sir?”
      “You heard me, how many live here?” he retorted.
      “Just the two of us,” Elsa replied anxiously.
      “No children, hired hands, or slaves?”
     “No children,” Elsa whispered. “We had two girls; they died of the smallpox six years ago. No, no children ...”
     Her voice trailed off. She made no mention of her son, trying to artfully dodge the question.
     “No sons with the damn rebels?”
     “She is a godly woman and answered truthfully, sir,” Zebulon shot back. “We have no children.”
     “Don’t take that tone with me. I am doing my duty as a soldier of the king.” A hint of menace now filled his voice.
     “As I told you, we are loyal to the Crown.”
     “If that is so, why do you still have that livestock? This area is crawling with rebel raiders. Why the livestock? Did you pay them off ?”
     “I hid them, sir. I had thirty head at midsummer; this is all that is left.”
     “And would you have hidden them if you had known we were coming?”
     He didn’t reply. Did the man take him for an utter fool?
     The lieutenant pointed toward the east; a plume of smoke was rising with the wind. It looked to be the Mueller farm, down near the river.
     “He got off lightly; he’ll live, by orders of General Howe. I would have shot the bastard for striking one of my men. But his house is being razed.”
     Neither replied.
     “Slaves or hired hands?”
     “They ran off.”
     “Joined the rebels?”
     “I didn’t ask them about their personal business when they left.”
     A loud bellowing interrupted them. Zebulon looked back to find a soldier trying to lead the bull out of the barn. As if sensing his fate, the bull was fighting back. More soldiers joined in, prodding its butt end with their bayonets to force him along.
    ...

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