History Of Valley Forge 5th Grade Essay

Consider the importance of the Declaration of Independence - what it meant during the time of the Revolution, what its impact is today and how it influenced political thinking over the last few centuries.


The Continental Army & Washington

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman...

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis


On Christmas night 1776, the eve of the famous crossing of the Delaware River, Washington and his troops were encamped nine miles from Trenton on the banks of the Delaware preparing for a surprise offensive that, Washington hoped, would save his position as general and invigorate his troops. His soldiers were beyond weary. They did not have tents or proper winter clothing, the weather had turned bitterly cold and they were losing battle after battle. Washington’s poor military record had sparked open talk in Congress about replacing him.

Hoping to inspire soldiers and save his own job, Washington ordered all his officers to read Thomas Paine's "The American Crisis" to their troops. Paine, the passionate pamphleteer, was embedded with Washington’s troops and had just written a now-famous essay on the back of a drumhead. The opening refrain had a stirring beat of its own: "These are the times that try men's souls. . ." The next day, Washington’s soldiers went on to win the Battle of Trenton. It was a small victory, but it changed the entire psychological makeup of the war.

In the winter of 1777, George Washington's Continental Army found themselves, once again, overwhelmed. After suffering several major defeats at the hands of the British, in particular the Howe brothers, American morale was at a low, and Washington was concerned that the army might mutiny entirely. Washington decided to encamp that winter at Valley Forge close to the continental capital Philadelphia, which had fallen into British hands. While it was a strategic location, the Continental Army went through a winter of cold, hunger and extreme discomfort. At Valley Forge, AlbigenceWaldo, a surgeon in the army, kept a diary of his experiences and observations.

In this lesson, students will use both Waldo's diary (a primary document) and the scenes of crossing the Delaware from Episode 3 of Liberty! which document the Continental Army on the eve of the Battle of Trenton to better understand American soldiers' experiences as well as the significance and impact of Washington's leadership skills.

Related Resources for the Lesson

In this lesson, students will use the following resources:

1.Episode #3 of Liberty! ("The Times That Try Men's Souls")

2.Excerpts from the diary of Albigence Waldo found at (http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/D/1776-1800/war/waldo.htm).

3.Military Journal written at Valley Forge (George Ewing) (very long) (http://www.sandcastles.net/military1.htm)

4.Valley Forge and Monmouth (http://www.usahistory.info/Revolution/Valley-Forge.html)

5.Letters from Valley Forge (http://www.americanrevolution.org/vlyfrgeltrs.html) (various sources)

6.The Winter at Valley Forge (http://www.americanrevwar.homestead.com/files/VALLEY.HTM)

7.Map of the Battle of Philadelphia and Valley Forge (http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/national_parks/valley_forge_battle97.pdf)

8.In addition, the teacher should also supplement the reading with various segments of "Liberty!", in particular Episode 5, which has a small discussion of Valley Forge.

9.The text of "The American Crisis"

10. A newspaper-style description of The Battle of Trenton on The Liberty Web site, with many related links embedded at http://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/chronicle_trenton1776.html

Relevant Standards

This lesson addresses the following national content standards established by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) (http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/)

US History

  • Understands the major political and strategic factors that led to the American victory in the Revolutionary War (e.g., the importance of the Battle of Saratoga, the use of guerilla and conventional warfare and the importance of King's Mountain in defining the war)
  • Understands the social and economic impact of the Revolutionary War (e.g., problems of financing the war, wartime inflation, hoarding and profiteering and the personal and social impact of economic hardships caused by the war)
  • Understands the strategic elements of the Revolutionary War (e.g., how the Americans won the war against superior British resources, American and British military leaders and major military campaigns)

    Strategy for the Lesson

    The teacher may wish to begin the lesson with a discussion of primary historic sources, explaining they are sources that come "direct from the past", in other words, from an eyewitness who was at the scene of the event. Primary source material includes photographs, home movies, speeches, diaries, and letters. Discuss with students how primary source documents might differ from historians' accounts.

    The class should also brainstorm other instances of primary sources familiar to them in World or American History. Familiar contemporary examples might include:

  • "The Diary of a Young Girl" (Anne Frank)
  • "Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo"
  • The "Zapruder Film" chronicling President John F. Kennedy's assassination
  • And, comparable exhibits on the National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/) and Records Administration (http://www.loc.gov) or other similar resources.
  • The teacher should also highlight other primary source material from the Revolutionary period as featured in the Liberty! series. Several sources are available for Joseph Plumb Martin, an enlisted man in the Continental Army, including excerpts from his diary on the "History Matters" web site (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6597/). Students can use these sources to collaborate or discount other accounts of the period.

    The teacher should note that the primary source used in this lesson not only highlights Valley Forge but the overall conditions faced by American soldiers throughout the Revolutionary war.

    Next, the teacher should ask students to discuss important issues regarding the hardships faced by soldiers at Valley Forge and on the banks of the Delaware, and the role of George Washington as commander-in-chief of the army. These include:

  • The difficulty in fighting for the "abstract concept" of liberty, and the style of leadership needed to command a more egalitarian army
  • Difficulty in maintaining troop morale amidst such awful conditions
  • Washington's strategy as "de facto" leader of the country to keep the army (the only symbol of the nation which existed at that point) together at all costs
  • Differences between the British "professional army" and the American army (usually made up of militia and "minutemen" who participated when fighting was nearby, but then returned to their homes and farms)
  • The uniqueness of the Revolutionary war as a war about ideals rather than territory or treasure

    The teacher should have students view Episode 3 of Liberty! and note points in the film which show Washington's "despairing mood" as well as concern about losing the war. The teacher may also wish to read (or have a student read) the famous "These are times that try men's souls" excerpt from Thomas Paine's The American Crisis.

    Next, the teacher should distribute copies of the question sheets for this lesson to the students. Direct the students to either access the Waldo diary online or copy and distribute the diary excerpts.

    Allow sufficient time for students to read the diary excerpts and to answer the questions. Once students have completed the questions, the teacher should evaluate them according to the depth of answer desired, the amount of time allowed for the assignment, as well as any other criteria established by the teacher, such as spelling and grammar.

    Extension Activities:

    1.Have students compare conditions and circumstances which affected soldiers in other situations, such as weather affecting a battle or military maneuver. For example, the teacher might ask students to research and report on the impact of weather on the D-Day invasion or the Battle of the Bulge as well as the German advance into Russia during World War II or Napoleon's attack on Russia during the early 19th Century. The teacher may decide to ask students to write essays on the comparisons or may ask the students to produce multimedia projects.

    2.Ask students to further research Valley Forge, pretend they are soldiers in the Continental Army encamped there and write letters "home" describing the conditions and hardships soldiers faced there.

  • "These are the times that try men's souls." Thomas Paine

    The Continental army, led by George Washington, had suffered a series of defeats. The British had moved into Philadelphia. The Continental army could not seem to get them out. Washington took his troops to Valley Forge, which was located about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia. From there, he could keep an eye on the British, while he planned what to do next.

    No battles were fought at Valley Forge. But, many men died. During the six months Washington kept the Continental Army camped at Valley Forge, conditions were terrible. It was winter. Men were housed in crude log cabins. Food, medicine, and clothing were in short supply. The men were cold and hungry, and many were sick. They missed their families. They worried about their farms. They were not an army. The militia and Minutemen had participated when fighting was near their homes. But after a battle, they expected to go home. For those men who had enlisted in the Continental Army, their terms were nearly up. Washington was worried that, come spring, he might not have an army to lead.

    Washington believed it was critically important to keep the army together at all costs. The Revolutionary War was not about gaining or defending territory. It was about ideals. The men knew they were fighting for liberty. Most understood what that meant. It's why they enlisted in the first place. But it did not help matters that they had lost several small battles in a row. Or, that nearby in Philadelphia, only 20 miles away, the British were warm, housed, fed, and clothed; while the Continental army was cold and hungry and dying.

    Washington needed men that could not only fight effectively, but also could be used as a symbol of freedom to give heart and hope to those at home. Washington needed the home front to be as strong and as committed as his men, so they would provide information, food, clothing, and morale.

    Martha Washington was a wonderful help to George Washington's plans. His men were starving, their feet freezing in the snow, and their clothes far too thin for the weather. But Martha helped to keep them warm and fed by donating as much food as she could and by sewing socks and other garments. Martha Washington was a tiny woman, under five feet tall, but she had impressive organization skills. She rallied many local women to help her. The soldiers truly appreciated her efforts. Those who survived the horrible conditions at Valley Forge knew that without her help, and her commitment to their welfare, many more men would have died. The men addressed her as "Lady Washington" in great and lifelong appreciation.

    More help for the troops came in the form of a Prussian volunteer, Baron Von Steuben, a military leader. He was shocked at the lack of American fighting discipline he found at Valley Forge. Washington urged him to train the Continental Army, Prussian-style. Under Baron Von Steuben, the men learned how to march, how to fight, how to follow orders; and slowly, the men became a more professional army. As the army became stronger, they became firmly resolved.

    Still more help came through the efforts of Benjamin Franklin. While the troops marched and trained and shivered at Valley Forge, Benjamin Franklin was busy securing help from the French.

    In May 1778, word arrived at Valley Forge that the French had entered the war on the side of the colonists! That changed everything!

    Upon hearing the French had entered the war, the British troops in Philadelphia departed the city and marched towards New York. With its many waterways, New York offered a much better position should the French send their navy.

    Washington and his (by now) trained troops secured Philadelphia, cleaned up Valley Forge, and marched towards New York in pursuit of the British.

    They caught up with the British at the Battle of Monmouth. The battle itself was a draw, but it clearly showed that the Continental army had learned a great deal while training during the cold winter at Valley Forge.

    Washington had achieved his goal. Although there was some desertion and much illness, Washington had kept the Continental army together. With the entry of the French into the Revolutionary War on the side of the colonists, things were definitely looking up!

    Across the Delaware (video, animated)

    Liberty's Kids - Valley Forge (video, animated)

    The Difficult Winter at Valley Forge - the troops learn discipline (thinkquest)

    10 Podcasts - Hear what happened at Valley Forge

    Eyewitness to History - Continental Army at Valley Forge

    What happened at Valley Forge?

    Honor & Compromise (Spies, the army leaves Valley Forge, Liberty Kids, video, animated)

    Battles of the Revolution


    Warriors Game - Revolutionary Soldier (good luck!)

    Drum Corps Tryout

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