"Revolutionary America! 1763-1789 April 20-November 3, 2002

Threats to the Continental Army:
Starvation, Disease, Casualteis, Capture

photo of exhibit section
In this photo:


  On loan from the collection of:
    --Claude and Jeanne Harkins
LADLE for pouring lead to make musket balls into 3 molds: SINGLE made of brass, GANG or multiple mold, and one carved from SOAPSTONE; also a GRIDIRON with a French fleur de lis design, a FRENCH BAKING POT, and a TRENCHER, or wooden plate
    --Robert G. Oswald
LANTERN of pierced tin, 1700s
    --A. Moffett
PRINT depicting conditions at Valley Forge by Polish artist, Szyk
    --Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park NY
POT TRIVET, CAMP KETTLE, IRON FLINT STRIKER and TINDERBOX - fires were started by a piece of steel striking a flint, creating a spark. This ignited the tinder (often cloth) used to light the kindling.
    --Andy Ball, Des Moines IA

Unbearable Suffering

Both British and French observers remarked on the resilience of American soldiers, especially their endurance of constant hardship with little complaint. However, so many men were weakened from malnutrition that they easily succumbed to disease. There was a 40 percent death rate for smallpox alone, yet an inoculation program ordered by General Washington probably saved the lives of thousands. Even so, the suffering in the winter camps was nearly unbearable.

One week before Christmas 1777, thousands of shoeless soldiers left bloody footprints in the snow as they staggered into winter headquarters at Valley Forge, 20 miles from Philadelphia. Enduring freezing temperatures, the common soldier went without winter coats, blankets, even food. About 2,000 men deserted that winter and another 2,500 died of smallpox, measles, pneumonia and exposure. The army's numbers sank below 4,000 men.

The hardships continued through the winter of 1778-1779 at Morristown, New Jersey, where the entire army nearly starved to death. Again there were no shoes or blankets ... most had been eaten. Memories of Valley Forge seemed nostalgic by comparison.

Pray For Death

If an 18th century soldier were to fall in battle, he prayed for a head shot because death was quicker. Often the wounded lay on battlefields for more than 24 hours before help arrived. Wounded arms and legs were usually amputated, especially if bones were shattered, and abdominal wounds ended life within hours or days. The mortality rate was compounded by the use of unsterilized instruments and contaminated dressings.
These horrid circumstances, however, were no match for the atrocities experienced by prisoners of war.


The French
Threats to the Continental Army (You are here)
  Prisoners of War
Redcoats and Turncoats
  Benedict Arnold
Southern Campaign


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