Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Numerical Strength at Valley Forge

 From Journal of the American Revolution:

To come to an understanding of how many men actually arrived at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777, we need to look back to December 3, 1777, when the previous monthly strength report was competed for the army. For this analysis all fifteen present-for-duty columns for officers and men were combined with “sick present” men and “on command” men to assess the bulk of the soldiers that comprised the main army. This gives 22,824 men in seventeen infantry brigades, five independent regiments, and the Pennsylvania and Maryland militia.[11] The December 3 strength report does not include Daniel Morgan’s independent corps, the four regiments of light dragoons, or any of the army’s artillery.

The light dragoons are included on the December 31 return with 497 men at Valley Forge which suffices as their strength four weeks earlier.[12] After casualties at Saratoga and the long march south to rejoin Washington’s army, Daniel Morgan joined the main army with 300 men, a conservative estimate. A December 22 artillery return located in the Timothy Pickering papers lists 754 men present.[13] Therefore, 760 is a reasonable representation of their strength at the beginning of the month. When these units missing from the December 3 strength report are added to the 22,824 men delineated on the report, the army had approximately 24,381 in its camps at Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, on December 3, 1777. If we accept the “traditional” number of 11,000 troops marching into Valley Forge, what happened to 13,000 men of Washington’s army over those sixteen days? Maybe nothing.

Certainly, casualties were inflicted on the army at Whitemarsh, Matson’s Ford, and other minor skirmishes over that time span. But those casualties only totaled approximately 300 men in these relatively minor actions.[14] That brings army strength down to 24,081 prior to December 19. Do we really believe over 13,000 men simply deserted or vanished in sixteen days?

Only a few 1777 weekly reports compiled for the Continental army remain in existence today; fortunately, the December 22 report—the first and closest one for determining the number of troops that entered Valley Forge—is among those few.[15] Much like the routine monthly army returns, the template of columns and rows on the December 22 weekly report consists of twenty-one columns where numerical strength was tabulated: fourteen columns within an “Officers Present” section, a Rank & File section subdivided into six columns of present and absent categories, culminating into an aggregated “Total” for only these foot soldiers. The present-for-duty numbers do not include other men present in camp: those listed as “sick present” and “unfit for duty wanting shoes.” Both must be included in the army’s total presence during an encampment. There is also no accounting of sick officers that were present with the army when it marched into Valley Forge. Lastly the December 22 report enumerated infantry only; there is no accounting of artillery or cavalry personnel—numbers that would significantly add to the army’s strength.

Of special importance is the “On Command” column of all weekly and monthly reports which tallies soldiers detached from their respective regiments and brigades for temporary service where additional manpower was required. Examples of this include assistance to the commissary and quartermaster departments, additional servants for officers, or household duties such as butchers or bakers. The calculation of fifty-eight percent of the “on command” force as readily available in an emergency was formulated in May, highlighting that most of these special-duty assignments were conducted within camp boundaries.[16] A much higher percentage of soldiers in the “On Command” column in the December 22 report at least marched into camp with the army before being dispersed to their respective duties. Given that the two brigades under Lord Stirling were not included in this column, it can be assumed that from the remaining thirteen brigades (approximately eighty-five percent) nearly all the reported “On Command” soldiers entered Valley Forge on December 19.

The weekly strength report for December 22, 1777 enumerates 11,026 officers and men present for duty at Valley Forge just three days after their arrival.[17] While this number approaches the “traditional” 11,000 men that entered Valley Forge, a close analysis of that number quickly sends up red flags for the careful researcher. This report was never cited in any nineteenth, twentieth or twenty-first century literature; the rounded “11,000” officers and men initially tallied in this report is purely coincidental to the 11,098 privates determined from Washington’s letter to Congress. (Read more.)


1 comment:

julygirl said...

As a woman who does not have any military expertise I still unapologetically ponder the wisdom of 3 military decisions that have come down to us through history and cost numerous casualties...(1) Why did the Continental Army need to gather at Valley Forge throughout the winter, freezing and starving, when they had no intention of fighting any battles until Spring, (2) What went into the decision to launch Pickets Charge at Gettysburg during the Civil War, and (3) Why would anyone think it was a good place to launch an attack on Omaha Beach during WWII when the German army was situated at the top of the cliffs where they could rain down grenades and bullets at our hapless troops?