Tag Archives: Anthony Wayne

A few highlights from Valley Forge

The harshest winter of the war wasn’t 1777-78, but the place where the Continental Army toughed it out has become synonymous with the hardship and perseverance associated with the Revolution.  It’s on every Rev War buff’s bucket list, so I had to take a day off from scanning microfilm to visit while I was in the area.

Valley Forge’s prominent place in American sentiment was evident from the crowds.  Acre for acre, it was possibly the busiest national historical park I’ve visited with the exception of Gettysburg.  It was one of the busiest places in America during the months the army spent there, too.  In fact, the encampment was one of the country’s largest population centers.

The army’s first camp during the siege at Boston was a hodgepodge of structures.  Valley Forge, for all its misery and squalor, at least had standardized cabins laid out in regular lines.

If the reconstructed accommodations for officers look quaint and cozy…

…the prospect of spending weeks in the enlisted men’s quarters is downright chilling.

The memorial arch is one of the most impressive monuments I’ve ever seen at a Rev War site.  Civil War battlefields tend to be more ostentatious in their adornment.

Pennsylvania has its own monument to native son Anthony Wayne.  The army arrived at Valley Forge not long after Wayne’s defeat at Paoli.

Washington had much finer quarters than the common soldiers, but the material perks came with a crushing weight of responsibility.

He shared the home with his “family” of staff and servants, whose accommodations were more modest—though still far preferable to the cramped huts of the enlisted men.

Valley Forge was in the Goldilocks zone for a winter encampment: close enough to occupied Philadelphia to keep an eye on the British, but far enough away to provide some security.  The terrain also made it a position amenable to defense.  In the same way, several factors made it an ideal location for the iron production that gave it its name: abundant wood, running water, and ore.  British troops burned the ironworks not long before the Continentals moved in.  Archaeologists dug up traces of the forge in the twentieth century, and some of the bits and pieces are on display near Washington’s headquarters.

Henry Knox set up the artillery park in a spot from which he could rush cannon to any point in the event of an attack.  Luckily for the Americans, the British never mounted an assault on the encampment.  (Sir William Howe wasn’t exactly a go-getter.)  The only combat at Valley Forge was a skirmish between Americans and redcoats before the whole Continental Army moved in.

The place wouldn’t be complete without a monument to Baron von Steuben…

…gazing out over the field where the Continentals celebrated the Franco-American alliance with a feu de joie.

The Washington Memorial Chapel is an active Episcopal church, and one of the loveliest features of any national historical park.

It’s also one of the few churches in the country with its own Rev War archaeology exhibit.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution, Museums and Historic Sites

General Grey makes a cameo

Historical connections pop up in weird places.  The other night I indulged in a repeat viewing of The Duchess, an eighteenth-century romantic biopic about Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire.

I made a point of seeing The Duchess when it hit theaters last year, for three reasons.  First, it’s based on Amanda Foreman’s bestselling biography of Georgiana.  This is one of those books I keep intending to read but somehow don’t get around to.  I figured seeing the movie would make me feel a little less guilty about it.

Second, I could think of far less pleasant ways to spend my time than watching Keira Knightley prance around for a couple of hours.

Third, this movie offered the potential for some interesting Revolutionary War cameos.  One member of Georgiana’s circle of gal pals was the actress Mary Robinson.  Robinson had a well-publicized fling with Banastre Tarleton, who’s most famous for wreaking havoc throughout the South as a cavalry commander during the British campaigns of 1780-81.  I wondered if the filmmakers would include Tarleton in the cast of characters.  He was, after all, a major character in 2006’s Amazing Grace, owing to his vocal opposition to abolishing the slave trade while in Parliament.  (In a nice authentic touch, Amazing Grace‘s Tarleton has a few missing fingers, owing to a wound he suffered in North Carolina in March 1781.)

Tarleton was a no-show in The Duchess.  But, to my surprise, another British veteran of the War for American Independence did put in an appearance: Major General Charles Grey. 

To American history aficionados, he’s more popularly known as “No-flint Grey,” due to his controversial victory over Anthony Wayne at Paoli, PA on September 20, 1777.  The “Paoli Massacre,” like Tarleton’s victory at Waxhaws, is one of those controversial engagements that made for great American propaganda during the war.  Before leading his men on a surprise night attack against Wayne’s Continentals, Grey had the flints removed from their muskets to prevent them from firing their weapons and accidentally alerting the Americans.  The British stormed the camp and laid into Wayne’s men with their bayonets and swords, killing 53 of them and wounding or capturing somewhere around 200.

Grey’s use of stealth and steel proved successful, but Americans accused him of perpetrating a cold-blooded massacre.  The “No-flint” moniker stuck, and “Remember Paoli” became an American motto.  In fact, the nation’s second oldest Rev War monument was erected on the site in 1817, and another was added sixty years later.  Today it’s one of the most well-preserved Revolutionary War sites in the country.

So what in the world is “No-flint” Grey doing in a period romance film?  Much of the movie focuses on Georgiana’s affair with Grey’s son and namesake, a prominent member of the Whig party and future prime minister.  When the two finally had a daughter together Georgiana had to turn the baby over to Grey’s parents to be raised.  In the movie, when she and a friend take a carriage ride out to a desolate spot to turn over the infant, “No-flint” Grey is the guy who shows up.

You wouldn’t expect a movie like this to have anything to do with military history, but there it is.  And if that’s not enough, the actor playing Grey has “Shrapnel” for a last name.  Coincidence?

(Grey portrait from the UK’s National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons)

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution