The colonial troops in the Revolutionary War faced many hardships due to lack of supplies and money, leadership miscommunication and difficult weather conditions. The war lasted for several years from the time Massachusetts was declared to be in a state of rebellion in February 1775 to the Treaty of Paris in September 1783.
Delaware River Crossing
George Washington, the military general of the Continental Army, transported 24,000 troops over the icy Delaware River on Christmas Day 1776. He led his troops into stormy winter conditions with hopes of surprising enemy troops at the Hessian garrison across the river in the town of Trenton, New Jersey. The troops met severe weather conditions while slowly crossing the Delaware River in hail, snow, wind and rain. The boats had trouble crossing the river due to ice jams with the boats and limited vision caused by the extreme darkness. General Washington and his troops were successful in the battle, securing their first major battle victory in the Revolutionary War.
The Continental Army experienced another difficult winter in 1777 after suffering several battle defeats. The troops encamped at Valley Forge near the continental capital city of Philadelphia -- which had already been taken by the British. An estimated 2,000 soldiers died at Valley Forge due to lack of proper clothing and the spread of diseases, such as typhoid and dysentery. Albigence Waldo, an army surgeon who kept a diary at Valley Forge, described the low morale of the continental troops and complained about their lack of food and drink. “Provision and Whiskey very scarce,” he wrote on December 8, 1777. Waldo later described in his diary the sickness at the camp and the uncomfortable cold weather.
The Continental Army set up a special department called the Quartermaster General's Department to deal with the challenge of delivering important supplies to the troops during battles. The Quartermaster was responsible for transportation facilities and important camp tools such as shovels and tents. There were miscommunication between the Army and the Quartermaster Department. In his personal writings, General Washington called out Quartermaster General Thomas Mifflin for his lack of assistance. In addition, there were communication problems throughout the Army. Washington wrote: “No Man, in my opinion, ever had his measures more impeded than I have, by every department in the Army.”
Lack of money in the Continental Army caused a hardship for soldiers who rarely received pay on time. To help pay for the war, Congress issued a national currency known as the Continental Dollar. The soldiers were paid in Continental Dollars, which became increasingly worthless due to continual inflation of the currency.
- Mount Vernon: Crossing of the Delaware River
- University of Groningen: Albigence Waldo-From the diary of a Surgeon at Valley Forge 1777
- US Army Quartermaster Foundation: Nathanael Greene and the Supply of the Continental Army
- Digital History: Blaming Wartime Inflation on Loyalists
- Eye Witness to History: The Continental Army at Valley Forge, 1777
Brian Gabriel has been a writer and blogger since 2009, contributing to various online publications. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in history from Whitworth University.