book review: Washington at Valley Forge (Russell Freedman)

Russell Freedman’s exceptional research and writing skills have once again hit the mark with his latest work published by Holiday House. This book focuses on the tough winter endured by George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge from 1777-1778, framing the winter’s events within the scope of the entire American Revolutionary War, from Lexington and Concord all the way to Yorktown.

Using direct quotes from Washington and his men, Freedman seamlessly feeds the reader details about the difficulties the Continental Army faced, including the overall situation: “Washington had warned Congress that without adequate supplies, ‘this army must … dissolve.’” Another informative perspective Freedman weaves into his book is that of Private Joseph Martin, who, after the war, “was known for miles around as a popular yarn-spinning veteran of the Revolutionary War.” Freedman includes quotes from Martin at strategic points in the book, including several references during the winter, as well as some both before and after the freezing months at Valley Forge.

The picture Freedman paints of this difficult winter meshes with the legends we’ve all heard: soldiers marching out in the snow without shoes or boots, hungry men unable to get much in the way of food from surrounding farms, and a ragtag group of individuals who learned discipline and gained strength under the leadership of Washington, his generals, assistants, and military trainer Baron von Steuben.

Complete with reproductions of paintings and engravings created during and after the war, this excellent book places the reader behind the eyes of the soldiers who were there, as well as inside the head of the commander who eventually led them to victory.

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