Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Following the Drum

Friday, December 19, 1777, dawned cold and windy. Fourteen thousand Continental Army soldiers tramped from dawn to dusk along the rutted Pennsylvania roads from Gulph Mills to Valley Forge, the site of their winter encampment. The soldiers’ arrival was followed by the army’s wagons and hundreds of camp women. Following the Drum tells the story of the forgotten women who spent the winter of 1777–78 with the Continental Army at Valley Forge—from those on society’s lowest rungs to ladies on the upper echelons.

Impoverished and clinging to the edge of survival, many camp women were soldiers’ wives who worked as the army’s washers, nurses, cooks, and seamstresses. Other women at the encampment were of higher status: they traveled with George Washington’s entourage when the army headquarters shifted locations and served the general as valued cooks, laundresses, or housekeepers. There were also the ladies at Valley Forge who were not subject to the harsh conditions of camp life and came and went as they and their husbands, Washington’s generals and military advisers, saw fit. Nancy K. Loane uses sources such as issued military orders, pension depositions after the war, soldiers’ descriptions, and some of the women’s own diary entries and letters to bring these women to life.

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