US East Coast Drive with Two Cousins: Valley Forge

May 7, 2019

The story of Valley Forge and the formation of the Continental Army is far more complicated than I ever could have imagined.  Today Pius App and I met our cousin, Debbie (App) Gadzicki and her husband Walt at Valley Forge, one of eight military encampments of the Continental Army.

Valley Forge tour guide with Pius App, Debbie (App) Gadzicki, and Walter Gadzicki.

Walt had arranged for the four of us to “rent a park ranger” for a few hours who would ride with us in the car and give special commentary about what happened there during the miserable winter of 1777-1778. Thank you, Walt, for this experience!




Without the ranger and his stories of George Washington and this encampment of the Continental Army here, we never would have known about the hardships of these 12,000 brave men (including 400 women and children) who immigrated to this new land. The encampment was on about 3,500 acres (14 square km) located about 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The location was chosen because of its high ground and distance enough from Philadelphia to have ample warning of any annoyance by the British. But there were other problems.

Because of supply problems, nearly 3,000 troops were without shoes or proper clothing causing them to be unfit for duty. Sometimes men were without food for several days at a time. Troops were to build the 1200-1500 log huts to house everyone, meaning that they were to cut down the trees and create and transport the lumber necessary for building the cabins… all in wintertime conditions without adequate food or clothing. Hut roofs were usually made of thatch found in the area.

A small “luxury” hut that slept 12 people

A “luxury” cabin slept twelve people (no more than one woman per cabin) and if there was a space beneath the cabin door the woman was expected to sleep there to block the cold air. Women were required to be married, and were treated very harshly. In those days abusing one’s wife every few days in some way was expected in order to preserve the husband’s respect as a household leader in the eyes of his peers. However, for women to survive alone in the colonies was even worse, but generals encouraged their departure.

As if cold and starvation were not enough, disease killed one in six people. Influenza, typhus, typhoid fever, and dysentery were brought on by poor hygiene and sanitation in the camp. It was expected for everyone to use the camp latrines, but sometimes due to weather or weakness from disease they never made it outside the cabin. Bathing was all but impossible and the men smelled so badly that it was noticeable one mile away.

In February of 1778 General Washington appointed Prussian military officer Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben as temporary inspector general (to clean up the camp), but more importantly, he became the Continental Army’s chief drillmaster. He taught them to efficiently load, fire and reload weapons, charge with bayonets, and march in compact columns of four instead of miles-long single file lines.  He transformed them into a unified, world-class fighting force capable of beating the British.

Without our tour guide we couldn’t have understood that in spite of what these people endured, they were never overcome with adversity. They were unified in spirit and our nation began with them hanging onto this single thread of hope and resolve. Britain was a world power at the time, and the American Revolution was a lot of trouble for them. When France decided to support the Americans, the British moved on to their other colonies throughout the world.

The birthing pains of our nation were certainly difficult, and our roots can easily become forgotten after nearly 250 years. Valley Forge and a visit to the “Old City” in Philadelphia are the reminders we need to appreciate the liberty and freedom that we have today.  Never take patriotism lightly.

Dinner arranged that evening by Walt at an historic building restaurant. Brooke App, Debbie (App) Gadzicki, Walter Gadzicki, and Pius App.

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About storiesretoldblogger

I am an Elkhart, Indiana native and became interested in applying video to history when consumer video cameras were first introduced on the market in the late 1970’s. My production company, Stories Retold, specializes in preserving oral history, traditions, and values with video. Primarily interviewing individuals, I sometimes document families, and on occasion document an entire community. My niche is developing a personal relationship with clients which helps me to tell their story just the way they would like to have it told. Everyone has a story worth preserving, and I enjoy discovering interesting stories from people with whom I come into contact on a daily basis. In years to come, these videos will be priceless as they portray original stories complete with visual images and actual voices filled with all the primary material and emotion that was intended to be. I gain a strong sense of personal satisfaction with each completed project whether it involves an individual or an entire community.
This entry was posted in US East Coast Drive with Two Cousins: One Swiss & One American. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to US East Coast Drive with Two Cousins: Valley Forge

  1. Tom Russell says:

    Thanks Larry!

  2. Marthe Doll says:


  3. Carol Cope says:

    Thank you, Larry. As always, I’m amazed by the interesting stories you have to share.

  4. Suzanne Spencer says:

    Larry thanks for your writing. Really has been a way to enjoy American history, family history (the Apps) in a way to remember. I am still hoping you can write more about Leanna Donner and John Mathias App.

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