Surviving the Winters: Housing Washington’s Army during the American Revolution

Surviving the Winters: Housing Washington’s Army during the American Revolution
Steven Elliott
Rutgers University-Newark
December 2, 2021

George Washington and his Continental Army braving the frigid winter at Valley Forge forms an iconic image in the popular history of the American Revolution. Such winter camps were also a critical factor in waging and winning the War of Independence. Exploring the inner workings of the Continental Army through the prism of its encampments, Surviving the Winters shows how camp construction and administration played a crucial role in American strategy during the Revolutionary War.

Washington’s troops spent only a few days a year in combat. The rest of the time, especially in the winter months, they were engaged in a different sort of battle—against the elements, unfriendly terrain, disease and hunger. Victory in that more sustained struggle depended on a mastery of camp construction, logistics, and health and hygiene—the components that author Steven Elliott considers in his environmental, administrative and operational investigation of the winter encampments at Middlebrook, Morristown, West Point, New Windsor and Valley Forge. Beyond the encampments’ basic function of sheltering soldiers, his study reveals their importance as a key component of Washington’s Fabian strategy: stationed on secure, mountainous terrain close to New York, the camps allowed the Continental Army’s commander-in-chief to monitor the enemy but avoid direct engagement, thus neutralizing a numerically superior opponent while husbanding his own strength. Surviving the Winters demonstrates that these winter encampments stand alongside more famous battlefields as sites where American independence was won.

About the Speaker

Steven Elliott is a unit historian for the United States Army Center of Military History and teaches courses on national, local and military history at Rutgers University-Newark. Elliott holds a Ph.D. in history from Temple University. As a Society of the Cincinnati Scholars’ Grant recipient in 2017, he used our library collections to study how the Continental Army developed new methods of sheltering soldiers during the Revolutionary War, with a focus on winter encampments. Elliott’s research has also been recognized by awards and fellowships from the David Library of the American Revolution, The Fred W. Smith Library at Mount Vernon, the North Jersey Heritage Trail and the New Jersey Historical Commission. Surviving the Winters is his first book.