Dec 24, 1776
Merry Christmas! You'll never guess where I am: Trenton, New Jersey. Well, across the river, actually, but if the rumors I'm hearing are correct, we will be in Trenton tomorrow. You see, the Captain told us to get our equipment ready and get a good night's rest tonight, but he wouldn't tell us anything else. And then I overheard him speaking to one of the Lieutenants about the Hessians over in Trenton. The Hessians are mercenary soldiers from Germany hired by the British, and right now they've got a stronghold across the Delaware River.
Some of the guys are scared, especially the ones that were in Long Island. People still talk about the defeat there. I'm sure glad I didn't enlist until last month, because of their stories...
But don't worry, Ma. I'm sure I'll be fine. It's time we give the King something to worry about, and besides, General Washington knows what he's doing. He is so smart and capable-I'm sure he has a good plan.
Dec 26, 1776
We did it! We captured Trenton and about 900 Hessians yesterday! They didn't know what hit them until it was all over. We crossed the Delaware River early in the morning on Durham boats and then marched to Trenton with General Washington. We didn't find anybody at first-it seems they all had a big Christmas party last night and were sleeping it off! It took us less than 2 hours to declare victory, and the Hessians who weren't captured ran off like scared children. We literally ran them out of town.
Oh, Ma, I feel so good! All the guys are happy, morale is high and even Daniel and Adam now think we can win this war. They were so scared last night! After what they saw in Long Island, I don't blame them, but at least now they know we can do some damage too.
Much love from your triumphant son,
Sep 21, 1777
There's been bloodshed in Saratoga! The British, led by General Burgoyne, had been moving south for weeks and they ran into us 2 days ago. Some Virginia riflemen tracked their movements and before we knew it, we were engaged in battle. We had the upper hand for a while, but then Hessian reinforcements showed up and forced us to withdraw. Although they technically "won" this battle, the British are surrounded by our troops and we're certainly not going to let them get any further south (not if I have anything to do with it, at least!)
I must be off now. In haste,
Oct 17, 1777
I write this letter with a heavy heart. Adam is dead. He was among the 500 men we lost during the Second Battle of Saratoga. I grieve for the loss of my dear friend, yet I know he did not die in vain, for we won a major victory here. Still, his death is a blow to the regiment. I will miss his stories of his hometown sweetheart, and his jokes, and his good nature. He was a loyal soldier, never one to complain about anything. When others talked of desertion or mutiny, he would scold them, all while defending General Washington. One could almost forget that he was a free black man.
Our victory, though bittersweet, was remarkable. Our force of nearly 20,000 men surrounded Burgoyne's troops at their fort on the heights of Saratoga. They attacked us again on October 7, but couldn't push past our defense line and had to retreat the next day. Over 5,700 British have reportedly surrended. This is the turning point of the war-I can feel it.
If only Adam were here to see it too.
Love from your son & brother,
Dec 20, 1777
Thoughts of you are the only thing keeping me alive. I am cold, hungry and very weak. After losing Philadelphia, we arrived in Valley Forge yesterday. Gen. Washington picked this place as our winter encampment, so here we are. I haven't been able to survey the area, but some of the officers were explaining that it's a good site because it's close enough to Philadelphia to keep the British there from advancing further, yet far enough away to halt any surprise attacks they may launch.
That may all be true, but I don't really care about that right now. I'm worried about the lack of shelter and about some of the men. I don't know how they are going to survive - many of them have no coats, and some don't even have shoes! My boots are in pretty good shape, but I don't know if they'll last the winter. The Captain said supplies are on the way, but nobody believes him.
We're supposed to start building a hut tomorrow. The order from above is to make them 14 x 16 feet long and 6 ½ feet high, but I don't know how we'll be able to cut wood to measure. There's not much of it around for the whole winter... General Washington has offered a $12 reward for the party in each regiment that finishes its hut the quickest and in the best manner, but even this incentive doesn't make the task ahead any easier.
I miss you and long for the day until we are together again. Please don't tell my mother about any of this. I don't want her to be worried about me, though I'm sure she's heard about our defeat in Philadelphia and is suffering greatly.
Dec 25, 1777
Merry Christmas! I know you were hoping I'd be home by now, but unfortunately you'll have to wait a couple of months. I'll receive my discharge in May and will run all way the home if I have to!
Things are going well. My regiment is working very hard to finish building our hut, and if we keep up the pace we might win $12 from General Washington! Some of the guys are getting sick, but don't worry about me - I'm as healthy as a horse. There are 12,000 men here at Valley Forge and several hundred women. They help out by cooking, sewing uniforms and taking care of the sick. We are being treated well and our daily ration consists of:
1 ¼ lb. of beef or salt fish (or 1 lb. of pork);
It doesn't compare to your meatloaf, but at least it's something. By the way, are you making apple pie for Christmas this year? Oh, how I wish I were there with you and Pa and the girls. And Linda, of course.
Jan 16, 1778
My sweet Linda,
I'm afraid this may be the last letter you receive from me. I have fallen very ill and will soon be transferred to one of the makeshift hospital huts in the camp. Even they can't cope with all the sick! People are saying that thousands of men have been declared unfit for duty, and just last week my friend Andrew passed away. He lived in the hut next door and a few weeks ago we stood guard together. Poor Andrew - he came down with smallpox and died 4 days later. I was shocked at the news, but lack the strength to grieve. All of my energy is spent trying to survive.
Supplies are dwindling and we haven't eaten anything but "firecakes" for a week. In case you don't know, "firecake" is simply flour mixed with water. How can I get well if I don't eat? How can I fight if I have no warm clothes? How can I live like this?
Some of the men are talking about a mutiny. Still others are thinking of deserting. At this point, I would do either, except that I'm too weak! Why not? The officers don't seem to be doing anything to alleviate the situation and I can't help but feel resentful. Or at least I did until I got sick.
Please know that you'll always be in my heart. I only regret not marrying you before I joined the army. If I live through this, I hope you'll still have me.
Jan 27, 1778
Linda - I'm back at camp! Your thoughts and prayers must have been heard because I recovered enough to leave the hospital. If the bloody flux didn't kill me, nothing else will! I feel healthy and although I'm still a little weak, I know the worst is behind me.
I was one of the lucky ones. A nurse told me over 1,500 men have died. Out of the 12,000 who arrived at Valley Forge, only 6,000 have been fit for duty! Several thousand remain sick with smallpox, the itch and putrid fever. The poor sanitation and the cold weather don't help, but the fact remains that everyone is weak from hunger. Supply lines are badly organized and the high inflation prevents many of us from purchasing anything - the money I earn is almost worthless! British raids don't help the situation either.
Winter continues. I was given more clothes at the hospital, but even they don't keep me warm. General Washington was overheard saying, "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." How can I carry on fighting for a man who has no faith in the future of his soldiers? I am looking for a way out, if only to be near you and away from all the death and suffering of Valley Forge.
Feb 28, 1778
There is hope after all! A few days ago, a man by the name of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben arrived at camp from Prussia with a letter of introduction from the distinguished Benjamin Franklin. No one knows who he really is (and no one can pronounce his name!) but rumors abound. Some say he used to be part of the Prussian army, while others claim he is a spy. Still, General Washington seemed quite taken with him and offered him the post of Acting Inspector General.
The Baron speaks little English and it's very hard to understand him, but despite this obstacle, he has been meeting with all the regiments - our officers were aghast! High-ranks never work directly with the troops, but this man seems intent on breaking all the rules.
His aides have been translating manuals into English so we can learn drills and other skills. Morale is higher and curiosity even more. Danny, however, isn't having any of it. He's made up his mind to desert and Ma, I was going to go with him, but have decided against it. I don't want to risk getting caught, and besides, perhaps our luck is changing. Keep your fingers crossed!
PS: Supplies arrived this morning! We're eating meat for the first time in what feels like an eternity - thank goodness!
May 7, 1778
The French are with us! Yesterday we held a parade to celebrate this wonderful piece of news and we were great! The Baron has done wonders for the army - we march better, know our drills and look splendid (in brand-new uniforms)! We're no longer a rag-tag army of badly trained men; we're fighting soldiers!
During the Grand Parade, thousands of muskets fired the ceremonial "feu de joie" (including one by yours truly), which is a running fire that passes up and down the double ranks of the infantrymen. People cheered and clapped throughout it. France (and Spain too, I later found out) declared the United States of America (that's us!) free and independent states and pledged to assist us in carrying out this war.
Linda, with the help of the French, we really have a chance against the British. They will strengthen our supply lines and bring reinforcements. I've decided once and for all to re-enlist and continue fighting. I'm needed and I feel more confident than ever before. Please forgive me for not coming back immediately, but I want you to be proud of me and of the country I'm helping create.
Please email me at: email@example.com
MAD - 30,000 shot dead each year - what YOU can do!
Nick - Shave, grease up, and put on a skirt, there's a war on!