The Military Journal of George Ewing:
Soldier of Valley Forge
Some background on George Ewing and the events contained in his Military Journal
are helpful. Ewing enlisted in the Army and received the commission of first lieutenant in
the Jersey line. Under the command of Captain John Barkar, he fought in the battles
of Brandywine and Germantown and survived the winter at Valley Forge with
In the summer of 1777, British General William Howe's redcoats sailed from New
York City to the top of Chesapeake Bay, about 50 miles southwest of Philadelphia.
Washington had rebuilt his army during the spring, and he had received weapons from
France. He positioned his troops between Howe's forces and Philadelphia. The opposing
armies clashed on Sept. 11, 1777, at Brandywine Creek in southeastern Pennsylvania. George
Ewing describes this battle beginning on page twenty
one. One wing of the British army swung around the Americans and attacked
them from behind. The surprised patriots had to retreat. Howe skillfully moved his troops
after the Battle of Brandywine and occupied Philadelphia on September 26.
On Oct. 4, 1777, Washington struck back at British forces camping at Germantown, north of
Philadelphia. But his complicated battle plan created confusion. In a heavy fog, described
by Ewing on page twenty three,
patriot forces fired on one another. The Americans again had to retreat. Written in early
October, we are given a clue to Ewing's anguish: "Were I to describe the hardships
and the difficulties we underwent...no person but those who were with us would credit my
relation. Therefore, I choose to pass it over in silence..."
Washington led his troops to Valley Forge, along the Schuylkill River, 25 miles northwest
of Philadelphia, after his defeats at Brandywine and Germantown, Pa. These defeats left
Philadelphia under British control. Washington's soldiers had little food and too little
clothing to protect themselves from the cold. The Continental Congress could not provide
additional supplies to fill the soldiers' needs. The army of about 10,000 lived in crude
log huts that they built themselves. George Ewing helped build these huts and describes
them vividly on page twenty five.
Many of the troops lacked shoes and other clothing. They also suffered from a severe
shortage of food. By spring 1778, nearly a fourth of the soldiers had died of
malnutrition, exposure to the cold, and such diseases as smallpox and typhoid fever. Many
soldiers deserted because of the horrid conditions. But the people around Valley Forge
enjoyed all the comforts of a rich countryside because little fighting took place at this
time. The British lived a carefree life in Philadelphia.
The winters at Valley Forge tested the loyalty of the American troops. Only dedicated
patriots stayed with the Continental Army. Many people criticized Washington, but he held
his position at Valley Forge throughout the winter and spring of 1778. He improved
his troops with the help of Baron von Steuben, a former Prussian soldier. Steuben drilled
the soldiers in a system of field formations. Ewing refers to Baron von Steuben and the
commands they followed on page thirty four.
The Marquis de Lafayette, a young French soldier, also spent part of the winter at Valley
Forge. Ewing mentions him on page fifty two.
Fired with enthusiasm for the revolution, Lafayette had joined Washington's staff as a
major general without pay. By spring, Washington had a disciplined, well trained army.
The news of the alliance between France and the United States reached Valley Forge on May
6, 1778. Beginning on page forty eight,
George Ewing writes several pages about this welcome news and about the celebrations that
followed. This news cheered Washington and his soldiers and helped him move successfully
against the British in June.
Continue to Military Journal, pages 1-9