On days like July 4th, it gives me the chance to talk about the nation I will always put before myself. My life is possible because of America, and so I will give it if that means the protection of her and the American people.
The founding father that I identify with most is George Washington. One of the most consequential moments in our nation’s history is the winter at Valley Forge in 1777-1778. The Continental Army, after losing the Battle of Germantown, was forced to march 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, now in British hands under General William Howe. Two-thirds of the soldiers marched in the dead of winter with no shoes, their bloody footprints staining red the dusting of snow. The 12,000 Continental troops were malnourished, ill, and unequipped to construct a full camp.
General Washington, joined with the Prussian Baron Von Steuben, was blessed with the unique quality that allowed them to raise morale in others no matter how deep the despair had set in. Washington was able to make the lowliest into some of the most honorable soldiers in the army. The two men immediately got to work, Washington drawing up defensive strategies and instructing the troops on how to build shelters, Von Steuben training the men so well in that winter that they excelled at military procedure that British troops required at least half a decade to learn.
The first shelter, despite the bitter cold and illness, went up 3 days after the army’s arrival at Valley Forge. The next 4 days later. By February 1778 over 2,000 shelters were up, which made Washington proud and saved many of the troops from dying.
The man that seemed to pluck grain out of thin air, Baker General Christopher Ludwig managed to provide food, though in meager quantity, to the 12,000 soldiers. Washington, when Ludwig became Baker General at Valley Forge, asked for one pound of bread per one pound of grain; Ludwig immediately replied “Not so; I must not be enriched by the war. I shall return 135 pounds of bread for every 100 pounds of flour.” He followed through, using what little ingredients he had, especially with Philadelphia cut off by the British, to supply the army with sustenance.
The months at Valley Forge, despite all of these men achieving what no one thought possible, were clouded over by the many deaths of soldiers because of malnutrition, the cold, and illness. The men suffered through unimaginable circumstances, poorly clothed, freezing, typhoid, typhus, dysentery, pneumonia, and smallpox all ravaging the camp. By the end of the time at Valley Forge Washington had lost almost 2,500 soldiers. Washington felt this loss greatly as he felt himself equal to those he was leading, and worried “that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place…this Army must inevitably…starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can.”
In February 1778 that “great and capital change” came to the Continental Army. After a long period of persuasion on America’s behalf by Ben Franklin (my other favorite founding father) France agreed to ally with the Colonies to fight Britain. The soldiers at Valley Force cheered “Long live France! Long live the friendly powers! Long live the American States!”
With France now on their side and the British having departed from Philadelphia, Washington’s troops retook the city in June of 1778. The army then moved on to reemerge in the Battle of Monmouth. In 1781 General Cornwallis surrendered in Yorktown and the British evacuated New York City in 1783, leading to the Treaty of Paris. The war was over, Washington’s Continental Army victorious and the British suffering the greatest military defeat since the Roman occupation of Britain over a thousand years prior.
Washington always said that the perseverance the troops showed in Valley Forge led to the army’s development from a ragtag group of rebels to one that defeated the greatest military in the world. These moments, like the time at Valley Forge, remind us that great leaders, like Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, all have the power to inspire people to keep fighting despite cynicism and despair.
America needs leaders who can do this in the 21st Century now just as much as we did during the Revolution. It is up to all of us to make America better, not complain and blame. I know my path, one of leadership of the entire nation, not meant for many and being one that I may give my life for. I will serve in this regard because America is the greatest nation on earth, and she needs her people just as much as her people need her.
On the 4th of July, remember the struggle at Valley Forge and reaffirm that no matter how great the trials are the American spirit can overcome anything as long as we dedicate ourselves to it.