Valley Forge Narrative by James Martin
Narrative attributed to James Sullivan Martin.
Soon after the British had quit their position on Chestnut-hill, we left this place, and after marching and countermarching back and forward some days, we crossed the Schuylkill in a cold, rainy and snowy night, upon a bridge of wagons set end to end and joined together by boards arid planks; and after a few days more manouvering, we at last settled down at a place called "the Gulf" (so named on account of a remarkable chasm in the hills); and here we encamped some time, and here we had liked to have encamped forever-for starvation here rioted in its glory. But, lest the reader should be disgusted at hearing so much said about "starvation," I will give him something that, perhaps, may in some measure alleviate his ill humor.
While we lay here there was a Continental thanksgiving ordered by Congress; and as the army had all the cause in the world to be particularly thankful, if not for being well off, at least that it was no worse, we were ordered to participate in it. We had nothing to eat for two or three days previous, except what the trees of the fields and forests afforded us. But we must now have what Congress said—a sumptuous thanksgiving to close the year of high living we had now nearly seen brought to a close. Well—to add something extraordinary to our present stock of provisions—our country, ever mindful of its suffering army, opened her sympathizing heart so wide, upon this occasion, as to give us something to make the world stare. And what do you think it was, reader?—Guess.—You cannot guess, be you as much of a Yankee as you will. I will tell you: it gave each and every man half a gill of rice, and a table spoon full of vinegar!!
After we had made sure of this extraordinary superabundant donation, we were ordered out to attend a meeting and hear a sermon delivered upon the occasion. We accordingly went, for we could not help it. I heard a sermon, ~ "thanksgiving sermon," what sort of one I do not know now, nor did I at that time I heard it. I had something else to think upon; my belly put me in remembrance of the fine thanksgiving dinner I was to partake of when I—could get it. I remember the text, like an attentive lad at church; I can still remem I ber that; it was this: "And the soldiers said unto him, And what shall we do? | And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, nor accuse any one falsely."
The preacher ought to have added the remainder of the sentence to have made it complete: "And be content with your wages." But that would not do, it would be too appropos; however, he heard it as soon as the service was over; I it was shouted from a hundred tongues.
Well—we had got through the services of the day and had nothing to do but to return in good order to our tents and fare as we could. As we returned to our camp, we passed by our Commissary's quarters; all his stores, consisting of a barrel about two thirds full of hocks of fresh beef, stood directly in our way, but there was a sentinel guarding even that; however, one of my messmates purloined a piece of it, four or five pounds perhaps. I was exceeding glad to see him take it; I thought it might help to eke out our thanksgiving supper; but, alas! how soon my expectations were blasted! The sentinel saw him have it as soon as I did and obliged him to return it to the barrel again. Sc l had nothing else eo do but to go home and make out my supper as usual, upon a leg of nothing and no turnips.
The army was now not only starved but naked; the greatest part were not only shirtless and barefoot, but destitute of all other clothing, especially blankets. I procured a small piece of raw cowhide and made myself a pair of moccasons, which kept my feet (while they lasted) from the frozen ground, although, as I well remember, the hard edges so galled my ankles, while on a march, that it was with much difficulty and pain that I could wear them afterwards; but the only alternative I had was to endure this inconvenience or to go barefoot, as hundreds of my companions had to, till they might be tracked by their blood upon the rough frozen ground. But hunger, nakedness and sore shins were not the only difficulties we hadat that time to encounter; we had hard duty to perform and little or no strength to perform it with.
The army continued at and near the Gulf for some days, after which we marched for the Valley Forge in order to take up our winter-quarters. We were now in a truly forlorn condition—no clothing, no provisions and as
disheartened as need be. We arrived, however, at our destination a few days before Christmas. Our prospect was indeed dreary. In our miserable condition, to go into the wild woods and build us habitations to stay (not to live) in, in such a weak, starved and naked condition, was appaling in the highest degree, especially to New-Englanders, unaccustomed to such kind of hardships at home....
We arrived at the Valley Forge in the evening; it was dark; there was no wate'to be found, and I was perishing with thirst. I searched for water till I was, and came to my tent without finding any; fatigue and thirst,
joined with hunger, almost made me desperate. I felt at that instant as if I would have taken victuals or drink from the best friend I had on earth by
forced I arn not writing fiction; all are sober realities. Just after I arrived at my tent, two soldiers, whom I did not know, passed by; they had some water
in their canteens which they told me they had found a good distance off, but could not direct me to the place as it was very dark. I tried to beg a draught of water from them but they were as rigid as Arabs. At length I persuaded them to sell me a drink for three pence, Pennsylvania currency., which was every cent of property I could then call my own, so great was the necessity I was then reduced to.