Atmosphere And Weather

Cold Winters in United States History



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The winter of 1777-78 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania may not have broken any records for low temperatures or large amounts of snow but don’t tell that to the soldiers who fought there! This particular winter remains a famous one in American history because it represents the extreme hardships the soldiers faced to win freedom from the British

After a string of defeats the weary American troops were being sent to winter on a rolling plain thirteen miles outside the city of Philadelphia. They trudged along for a week to get there through sleet, snow and freezing rain. All the while the British troops were housed in warm Philadelphia homes.

The American troops were not only exhausted but also ill equipped for the journey. Their already battle-worn clothes hung in shreds on their bodies. When boots fell apart they wrapped rags around their feet in an attempt to provide protection from the icy ground. Many went barefoot with sores and blisters on their feet. Through the blustery weather they inched along with wounded soldiers clinging to their comrades. Food was lacking which further weakened the men.

Upon arrival to Valley Forge the soldiers found open fields and forests, no shelters and no water to be seen. Many slept without adequate clothing or blankets in the frigid winter air.

General George Washington was bitter because the government did not provide assistance. While Congressmen were settled in their warm homes the troops were without necessary things such as horses, clothing, food, ammunition, bedding and medical supplies. He wrote that things were so desperate that the army could be tracked by following the bloody footprints in the snow.

If the cause was so important, why wasn’t the government helping? Partly it was the lack of organization in the new government. Also they argued over who should fund the effort, the individual states or the national government. All of this delayed vital shipments intended for the troops.

Records indicate that this particular Valley Forge winter was technically not the coldest or the snowiest. It was ranked as a “moderate” winter.  In fact, just two years later the winter was listed as severe. But all things are relative when it comes to weather. Your perception would be different if you were dressed in warm clothing and sitting by a fire than if you were outside without warm apparel.

The story goes that one winter night at Valley Forge a lonely soldier was standing with his feet in his hat while guarding the area. This was to keep his bare feet out of the snow.  If you were that soldier, wouldn’t you be convinced that the winter of 1777-78 was one of the coldest in the United States?

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