The winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge was rainy and moderate rather than snowy and cold, yet General George Washington’s colonial soldiers still suffered.
They were hungry. Provision shortages prompted Washington to write to the President of Congress, Henry Laurens, three days after their arrival at Valley Forge. His letter, dated December 22, 1777, reported alarming deficiencies in food supplies that, unless solved, must dissolve the army.
Incompetence in the Commissary and Quartermaster Department were partly to blame, though the practice of Purchase Commissaries working on percentages encouraged dishonesty.
William Buchanan served as Commissary General that winter. Washington asked Buchanan to rise to the challenge in a December 28th letter. He asked that at least a 30-day supply be stored near camp. Buchanan’s response wasn’t effective.
Nearby farmers, knowing the army’s great need, charged high prices. Local government passed legislation to fix prices to control this problem.
To supplement the food supply, Washington sent soldiers out to forage.
Members of the Continental Congress visited Valley Forge in mid-January. Washington reported the serious shortage.
The March 2nd appointment of Major General Nathanael Greene to Quartermaster General greatly improved the whole supply system along with the help of a new Commissary General, Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth.
Greene and Wadsworth worked well together. Their previous commissary experience was a refreshing change and helped turn a bad situation around at Valley Forge.
-Sandra Merville Hart
“Provision Shortages at Valley Forge,” UShistory.org, 2018/03/20 http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/history/provisions.html.
“Ten Facts about Washington and the Revolutionary War,” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 2018/03/11 http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/the-revolutionary-war/ten-facts-about-the-revolutionary-war/.