MORRISTOWN: WORSE THAN VALLEY FORGE
John T. Cunningham (1979)
John T. Cunningham’s vivid address on the hardships endured by the “Winter Soldiers” during the Second Morristown Encampment of 1779-1780 was delivered in the middle of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution. He is marking the 225th anniversary this year by writing a full-length history of Washington’s three winters behind the Watchung Mountains in Morris and Somerset counties. Cunningham’s address is rich with firsthand descriptions by Dr. James Thacher and Joseph Plumb Martin of what historians agree was the coldest winter of the 18th Century, and its impact on an army of 9,000 who were “exactly like the soldiers of Viet Nam in the 1970's—out of sight, out of mind, out of sympathy.”
My title on this spring-like day really should be Morristown's Winter Soldiers, for when I talk today about Morristown in 1779-80, I will stress two things—the unbelievably cruel weather and the even more unbelievable soldiers who took from that winter horrors far worse than anything that the British ever inflicted in battle.
Winter soldiers: the phrase comes indirectly from Thomas Paine. Paine never used the words, as such, but they were much on his mind in late November of 1776 when he sat in a park in Newark and wrote the first words of his Crisis Papers.
Those words of Paine ought to be emblazoned everywhere— ought to be read, taught, remembered, made part of every person's knowledge of history and knowledge of literature. The words shine in their sparse beauty. They begin:
These are the times that try men's souls;
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will,
In this crisis,
Shrink from the service of his country;
But he that stands it now,
Deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered;
Yet we have this consolation with us:
That the harder the conflict,
The more glorious the triumph.
What we obtain too cheap,
We esteem too lightly;
'Tis darkness only that gives everything its value.
Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods.
And it would be strange indeed,
If so celestial an article as Freedom
Should not be highly rated.
Three long years had passed since Paine had written those words, when Washington rode into Morristown on December 1, 1779, to face the fifth winter with his army. Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Trenton, Princeton, Saratoga, even Monmouth, were almost distant memories by December 1, 1779.
Many in the infant nation — and particularly many in Congress—had long since wearied of this general who couldn't seem to bring the enemy to its knees. They were asking, as it might be put today: “What have you done for us lately?” Such questions were especially easy to ask from the security of the warm homes enjoyed by Congressmen.
Washington properly might have replied in quick defense: “We did well at Monmouth in June of '78.”
“True,” even the most grudging would admit, “true, but Monmouth was at best a draw and it had occurred 17 months before. Lately, say this summer of 1779, what have you done, Mr. General?”
I theorize Washington as replying: “Well, there were the battles at Stony Point and Paulus Hook—both tidy little American victories.” And I can hear the response: “Those weren't tidy little victories, General; those were tidy little skirmishes—and don't forget that the British moved right back into Stony Point when Wayne left.”
I continue my imaginary dialogue: “General, what about that embarrassing disaster at Penobscot Bay in Maine last summer? Nearly 500 men and 40 ships were lost in a fool expedition. And what about Savannah, given up in October 1779, with another 1,800 precious soldiers lost? Where, Mr. General, are the victories?”
Congress really did not want any answers, for genuine answers would have bared the inescapable fact that Congress and the 13 States had acted—and continued to act—abominably in their lackluster support of the army, in their refusal to heed Washington's urgings that a regular army be established, in their refusal to do anything about the galloping inflation spreading ruin across the nation.
Action to feed, house, clothe, and arm the American forces inevitably would have led to a proper system of taxation. Congressmen preferred to think that the United States of America had been founded to escape taxes, with or without representation.
A lesser man than Washington would not have been in Morristown that December 1; he would long ago have ridden southward to warm retirement in Mount Vernon. But Washington stayed. And, because he stayed, so did the army, for by now it was an army loyal to him. I do not believe that it is possible to avoid the fact that Washington—and Washington alone—saved the Revolution.
The army marched into Morristown from the North and East, headed for the desolation of Jockey Hollow. By mid-December, nearly 9,000 men were camping out under the walnut and oak trees on the slopes at Jockey Hollow.
In retrospect, the number of soldiers headed for Jockey Hollow was astonishing, considering that in 1776, when Thomas Paine wrote his words about "summer soldiers and sunshine patriots," fewer than 5,000 soldiers were with Washington. After the great victory at Trenton, during January of 1777, when the American army also had been in Morristown, fewer than 1,000 soldiers answered roll call. Now, three years later, about 9,000 men had made their choice in December. They were here to vie with yet another winter. Imagine the impact of that army of 9,000 soldiers on Morristown in December 1779. This was a village of about 250 persons. Washington's Life Guard alone had more members than there were citizens in the village. All of Morris County had only about 8,500 people. Thus, the influx of soldiers doubled the population.
And what an army this was—ragged, straggling, bearded, dirty, dressed in every conceivable kind of tattered uniform and armed with everything from clubs and pitchforks to ancient muskets and Pennsylvania long rifles. There was little effort at discipline or snappy marching, for these hardened soldiers had clearly established that they were not fighting to be like the overdressed, over-drilled, over-stupid soldiers of King George the Third.
The mere sight of such a motley cast of thousands must have sent every Morris County husband and father into the house to warn his females to stay out of sight for the duration. I am sure, too, that all farmers for miles around put extra locks on their chicken coops and hid their cattle deeper in the woods. These invaders had a lean and hungry look.
Traditional history has been cluttered with romantic tales of the cleanliness and dignity and undying chivalry of Revolutionary War soldiers, the kind of men from whom we like to be descended. The usual image is of handsome, well-fed “Jersey Blue,” dressed in a spanking clean uniform, armed with a glistening new rifle, and chivalrous to a fault. That kind of soldier is useful mainly in selling insurance.
The men marching into Morristown in December 1779, were tough, battle-hardened, desperate soldiers. They were bitter, disillusioned, starving, neglected, forgotten. In many ways, those soldiers of 1779 were exactly like the soldiers of Viet Nam in the 1970's—out of sight, out of mind, out of sympathy.
These were the winter soldiers, officers and men. These were the remnant who stayed, knowing full well that hundreds of thousands of young men just like themselves were comfortable at home in every state from New Hampshire to the Carolinas. This cannot be stressed too emphatically: Those winter soldiers at Morristown were the men who won the Revolution.
General Nathanael Greene, the Army's Quartermaster General, had personally inspected the Jockey Hollow site, and he reported on December 1—the day that Washington reached Morristown—that the area "is mountainous and uneven; and, therefore, will not be so agreeable as I could wish." That was probably the understatement of the century.
Slightly more than a week later, on December 9, the optimistic General Greene wrote concerning the building of huts: "Our hutting goes on rapidly, and our troops will be under cover in a few days."
Why Greene wrote in that bubbling spirit will never be known. Had he visited Jockey Hollow on December 9, he could have seen that his optimism was totally unwarranted.
Less than a week later, on December 14, Dr. James Thacher, the Massachusetts surgeon who was one of the deeply committed winter soldiers, arrived at Jockey Hollow as a member of General Stark's Brigade. Thacher saw no evidence of completed huts in what he called "this wilderness."
The snow on the ground already was two feet deep, Dr. Thacher wrote, and the weather was “extremely cold.”
Thacher's diary etches the winter soldiers into vivid memory: “The soldiers are destitute of both tents and blankets, and some of them are actually barefooted and nearly naked.”
Actually “barefooted and nearly naked!” How desperate for independence can men get?
Dr. Thacher wrote how the officers spread their blankets on the ground, pulled their greatcoats close about them, built roaring fires at their feet, and huddled up to one another in groups of six or eight for shared warmth. Remember that they were officers, the most privileged; most of the enlisted men had neither greatcoats nor blankets.
It is necessary now to place Morristown and Jockey Hollow in the larger weather pattern of the winter of 1779-80, for cold had not settled alone on Morristown.
The best study of Colonial and Revolutionary War weather that I have ever read is a little-known book by David Ludlam of Princeton, titled, simply enough, Early American Winters, 1604 to 1820.
Ludlam's careful analysis of the weather, based on diaries, newspaper accounts, army reports, and official summaries of the period, makes it abundantly clear, from a bare bones statistical standpoint, that not only was this the worst winter of the war— worse by far than Valley Forge—but it was also far and away the worst winter of the 18th century.
Ludlam points out that weather historians refer to a period beginning in 1750 and extending for about a century as “A little ice age” or “the cool one hundred years.” The winter that I am considering today was called “The Hard Winter.” The prolonged cold and incessant snow reached as deep south as Georgia and as far north as frozen fingers could be found to write.
There is no possible way for anyone to describe fully in limited time the viciousness of that winter. There is no possible way to relive it, in an age when winter suffering is only that awful agony we undergo while waiting for the car to heat up.
There were 28 separate snowstorms recorded at Morristown from November 1779, to April 1780. At least two of the falls were of genuine blizzard proportions—and by real blizzard proportions I do not mean the kind of few hours of wind-driven snow that enthusiastic TV people now call a blizzard and prove it with their charts and pointers. By blizzard I mean howling winds, biting cold, and snow piling up and drifting for two or three days at a time.
The winter of 1779-80 was the only time in recorded history that the Hudson River froze so solidly that sleighs could be driven between Paulus Hook (now Jersey City) and New York. Simultaneously, The New Jersey Gazette reported that sleighs could be driven on the Delaware River ice from Trenton to Philadelphia. Ice froze to reported thicknesses of six feet in the Passaic and Raritan Rivers. Every East Coast seaport from Virginia north was closed for weeks by ice.
So much for the national weather, as they say on TV. Now back to our man on the local scene, Dr. Thacher. Let him describe the worst of the blizzards, a storm that roared wildly through the Morris County area in the first week on January, 1780. Dr. Thacher wrote:
On the 3d instant, we experienced one of the most tremendous snow storms ever remembered; no man could endure its violence many minutes without danger of his life. Several marquees were torn asunder and blown down over the officers' heads in the night, and some of the soldiers were actually covered while in their tents, and buried like sheep under the snow . . .
My comrades and myself were roused from sleep by the calls of some officers for assistance; their marquee had blown down, and they were almost smothered in the storm, before they could reach our marquee, only a few yards, and their blankets and baggage were nearly buried in the snow.
We are greatly favored in having a supply of straw for bedding, over this we spread all our blankets, and with our clothes together, preserve ourselves from freezing. But the sufferings of the poor soldiers can scarcely be described. While on duty they are unavoidably exposed to all the inclemency of storms and severe cold; at night they now have a bed of straw on the ground, and a single blanket to each man; they are badly clad, and some are destitute of shoes.
So much for General Greene's huts that were to be in place by December 14. Indeed, it was Valentine's Day—February 14— before the last of the huts had been completed.
Yet the winter had only begun to extract its insidious toll. Again my witness, man-on-the-scene, Dr. Thacher, speaks, this time on about January 10:
For the last ten days we have received but two pounds of meat a man, and we are frequently for six or eight days entirely without bread. The consequence is that the soldiers are so enfeebled from hunger and cold, as to be almost unable to perform their military duty or labor in constructing their huts.
Also out there in the cold of Jockey Hollow was a New England private, unknown to Dr. Thacher. He was Private Joseph Plumb Martin of Connecticut, who left memoirs that stamp him as probably the most carefree, lackadaisical, honest, hell-fire soldier in the entire American army.
Joseph Plumb Martin's memoirs have been republished in an engaging little paperback book called Private Yankee Doodle. Joseph Martin served from June of 1776 until June of 1783— seven long years. He had fought in the battles of Long Island, was in the thick of things at Monmouth, would fight at Springfield and would ultimately follow Washington to Yorktown. Martin spent his winters in the camps—at Valley Forge, Middlebrook, and Morristown.
What gives Private Joseph Martin's book such rollicking insight was his total lack of regard for what his descendants might think of him. Thus, Martin told how he and his fellow foot soldiers slogged along in the mud or snow, drinking whatever, and as much, whiskey as they could get, whistling at the girls and, with the slightest encouragement, dropping out of line to linger with a saucy miss. Martin didn't hide the fact that he and the other soldiers often borrowed from neighboring farmers without benefit of formal army requisitions. It is fair to say that Joseph Plumb Martin was the first “GI Joe”—the very essence of the kind of men who chose to go wherever George Washington led, and the very essence of the kind of men who have answered the nation's calls ever since. When Martin wrote of suffering, his words must be heeded, for he was apt to see the brightest side of the darkest days. At Valley Forge, for example, he wrote how he and his mates had bedded down in straw—and “felt happy that pigs were no better off than ourselves.” At Valley Forge, too, Martin wrote that Congress had ordered a day of thanksgiving, so that the soldiers, who had been unfed for three days, could give thanks for what Martin called “our high living.” After a long sermon, in which the minister offered thanks for the supposed bounties which the men had received, Martin wrote that he went back to his tent and “made my supper as usual, out of a leg of nothing and no turnips.”
Now, two years later, here he was at Jockey Hollow, still in what might laughingly have been called a uniform, and possessed of a blanket “thin enough to have straws shot through it without discommoding the threads.” It certainly was no security blanket. Let Private Yankee Doodle Martin tell about Jockey Hollow as he saw it:
Our destination was at a place in New Jersey near Basking Ridge. We arrived on our wintering ground in the latter part of the month of December, and once more, like the wild animals, began to make preparations to build us a “city for habitation.” The soldiers, when immediately going about the building of their winter huts, would always endeavor to provide themselves with such tools as were necessary for the business (it is no concern of the reader's, as I conceive, by what means they procured their tools)..
Do not blame them too much, gentle reader, if you should chance to make a shrewd yankee guess how they did procure them; remember they were in distress, and you know when a man is in that condition he will not be overscrupulous how he obtains relief, so he does obtain it.
We encamped near our destined place of operation and immediately commenced to build. The snow was more than a foot deep, and the weather none of the warmest. We had to level the ground to set our huts upon. When digging just below the frost, which was not deep, the snow having fallen early in the season, we dug out a number of toads, that would hop off when brought to the light of day as lively as in summertime. We found by this where toads take up their winter quarters, if we can never find where swallows take up theirs.
The suffering went on. In mid-February, Martin wrote:
We were absolutely, literally starved. I do solemnly declare that I did not put a single morsel of victuals into my mouth for four days and as many nights, except a little black birch bark which I gnawed off a stick of wood, if that can be called victuals. I saw several of the men roast their old shoes and eat them, and I was afterwards informed by one of the officers's waiters, that some of the officers killed and ate a favorite little dog that belonged to one of them.
If this was no “suffering” I request to be informed what can pass under that name. If “suffering” like this did not “try men's souls”" I confess that I do not know what could.
Washington was well aware of the paralyzing hunger that struck the camp after the early January blizzard. Since each state was supposed to bear the brunt of feeding the army that it was fortunate to have as guests, Washington wrote to the New Jersey Legislature on January 9, 1780:
The present state of the army, with respect to provisions, is the most distressing of any we have experienced since the beginning of the war. For a fortnight past the troops, both officers and men, have been almost perishing for want.
As might be expected, the cautious New Jersey Legislature failed to welcome such a bearer of bad tidings. I assume that the matter was referred to the Committee on Starving Soldiers for study in the spring, or as soon thereafter as the army had moved on to another state. Washington wearied of pleading with politicians. On January 8, he ordered armed detachments of soldiers to visit leading officials in each county, asking them to send in bread and wheat.
If the officials showed any reluctance, Washington ordered the men to take the provisions “with as much tenderness as possible.” They also were instructed to take, if necessary, wagons to carry the food. The message was clear: the food would be had at gunpoint if necessary. Officials cooperated, sometimes cheerfully. In modern parlance, Washington had “made them an offer they could not refuse.” Those unwilling to give might have been expected to sell. But Dr. Thacher pointed out that even buying was difficult because of runaway inflation. In 1780, one silver dollar had become worth, at most, about thirty paper dollars.
New Jersey was not peculiar in its reluctance to feed the army. Many Pennsylvania farmers near Valley Forge grew fat and sleek in the winter of 1777-78 by selling their products to the British in Philadelphia while soldiers in their own nation's army starved to death nearby.
The Jockey Hollow army lived off the neighbors as much as possible, often being the beneficiaries of warm-hearted hospitality, but just as often—possibly more often—making their visits in the dark of night to escort a few hens or a lonely cow back to camp, where, with proper ceremonies, the hens and cows served as sacrifices to the never-ending fight for freedom.
The terrible severity of that winter of 1779-80 was difficult to describe, even for those who were there. General Johann De Kalb noted in February, 1780:
Those who have only been in Valley Forge or Middlebrook during the last two winters, but have not tasted the cruelties of this one, know not what it is to suffer.
Many years later, in 1955, Douglas Southall Freeman, the distinguished Virginia biographer of Washington, would write without qualification that “the winter of 1779-80 at Morristown was a period of far worse suffering than the corresponding months of 1777-78 at Valley Forge.”
But even if the weather had been warm, the food plentiful, and the clothing ample, the winter would have been a shocker, for it brought the astonishing news that one of America's greatest generals, Benedict Arnold, faced an army court martial in Morristown.
Arnold was a man of courage. In the esteem of the army and Congress alike, he stood—at worst— second only to Washington. Many in Congress felt that he was the nation's finest field commander, and Arnold agreed. Arnold had been twice severely wounded—in the same leg—at Quebec in 1775 and at Saratoga in 1777.
To simplify it, Arnold's court martial was based on charges that he had enriched himself and had dealt leniently with Tories while he was military commander of Philadelphia in 1778-79. The trial began in the Dickerson Tavern in Morristown on December 23, 1779.
Arnold prepared carefully for this trial, and well he might, for he had demanded that he be given a court martial by fellow officers so that he might be found innocent of the charges. Washington had personally begged Arnold the previous May not to seek the trial, and gave in only on Arnold's insistence.
Arnold could walk, if he wished, with little more than the suggestion of a slight limp, but as he strode into Dickerson's Tavern to face his fellow officers on December 23, 1780, he limped badly, as befitted the hero of Saratoga. He wore a spotless uniform and played artfully the role of a great soldier who had been desperately offended by the allegations against him.
It was an artful performance—and at the same time a thoroughly despicable performance—for it would be discovered later that this man who was so indignant at Morristown in December had been dealing directly with the top British command since the previous May! In modern terms, it was as if a man who had sold the secret of the atom bomb were being tried for taking hams from the mess hall.
Arnold dared his fellow officers to challenge his military record, and they did drop most of the charges against him. Despite his vigorous protestations, Arnold was found guilty on two minor counts. Washington was asked to reprimand the convicted general. He did so as gently as possible, trying to placate the enraged Arnold.
Many agreed with Arnold at the time that he had been wronged. His defection to the British seven months later was more shocking because of his lavish show of innocence.
Arnold paraded and strutted in all his wounded vanity that winter, all the while callously trying to get British General Clinton to raise the ante that he would pay for Arnold's betrayal of America. It was no longer a question of what Arnold had become; all that was at issue for Arnold personally that winter was the price.
Strutting and artificiality was not confined to Arnold. Many of the officers in town that winter decided that the place needed to be enlivened by a series of regular dances, called “an Assembly.”
Washington himself wrote of the dances to a friend in Philadelphia on February 29, 1780, seeming to be proud that “we have opened an Assembly in camp.” He hastily went on: “From this apparent ease, I suppose it is thought that we must be in happy circumstances. I wish it was so, but alas, it is not.”
Be that as it may, 34 persons, including Washington and other top army officers, paid 400 dollars apiece for a dancing Assembly. That money went to pay a dancing master and to rent Arnold's tavern for a few nights. Apologists for the Assembly have since hastened to point out that inflation had made the total contributions of $13,600 worth only $300 in silver money.
The Rev. Joseph F. Tuttle, 19th century historian, wrote that he was at first offended on first reading by the seemingly shocking contrast between the candle-light dances and the suffering at Jockey Hollow, but then Tuttle went on in mixed apology and explanation:
Let us rather admire than condemn these brave men at Morristown, who were striving to invest the stern severities of that winter with something of the gayer and more frivolous courtesies of fashionable life.
Unfortunately for posterity, what Private Joseph Plumb Martin thought of those Assemblies was not recorded. While he ate bark, dandies danced. I am sure Martin could have been court-martialed for his thoughts.
One of the men who paid his $400 for the privilege of dancing was Captain William Tuttle, who previously had written:
There was a path which led from the Wicke house down to the Jersey camp and I have often seen that path marked with blood, which had been squeezed from the cracked and naked feet of our soldiers, who had gone up to the house to ask an alms! Certainly no men with cracked and naked feet would have wanted to dance anyway.
The question properly is raised: why did any men, but particularly enlisted men, continue to endure at Jockey Hollow in the face of the all-too-evident mass indifference of the public at large? Consider that in a nation of about three million people, only 9,000 soldiers were at Jockey Hollow in December 1779.
Not all stayed. Many of the soldiers quickly left Jockey Hollow as soon as their nine-month enlistment period ended in late December. The army rolls fell steadily—down to 5,600 persons in January, down to 4,800 in April.
One account tells that there were 1,072 deserters during the winter of 1779-80. Each month also saw an average of 153 men absent without leave—an official figure. It can be assumed that far larger numbers of soldiers wandered in and out of camp as they saw fit. Who, or what, was to stop them? Who was to blame them?
Despite the cold, the starvation, the privation, it is estimated that there were only about 305 deaths in camp that winter. I say “only” because more than 2,000 died at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78. Bruce Stewart, who wrote the brief history of Morristown in the Revolution, titled, Crucible of Revolution, believes that the low total of deaths was because the very sickest of men were sent elsewhere to die. It is also probable that many of those listed as deserters or absent without leave limped home to die where they might be loved and comforted for even a tiny time.
And it can only be conjectured that many of those half-naked, shoeless, starving soldiers at Jockey Hollow suffered all the rest of their days from infirmities due to the winter of 1778-79. Frozen fingers or frozen feet never regain strength. Spring came with agonizing, bittersweet slowness. After a warm spell in mid-March raised hopes, more snow swept Jockey Hollow at the end of the month. April 1 fooled everyone: about ten inches of snow fell that day.
But, in time, the winter would end. The soldiers would move out of Jockey Hollow, to fight the Battle of Springfield, to move onward for another year, on to another winter. Nothing eases the anguish of winter better than the sweet flirtation of spring. But men who survived that Morristown winter left their thoughts. I have chosen two that are starkly in contrast.
One classic letter of disgust was written by Major Ebenezer Huntington on July 7, 1780, after he had endured the Morristown winter. He was not a dancer by the way. Huntington wrote:
I despise my countrymen. I wish I could say I was not born in America. I once gloried in it but now am ashamed of it—the insults and neglects which the army met from the country, beggars all description. It must go no farther, they can endure it no longer. I have wrote in a passion, indeed I am scarce ever free from it. I am in rags, have lain in the rain on the ground for 40 hours past and only a junk of fresh beef and that without salt to dine on this day, received no pay since last December. Constituents complaining and all this for my cowardly countrymen who flinch at the very time their exertions are wanted and hold their purse strings as tho they would damn the world, rather than part with a dollar for the army.
Bear in mind that Huntington was an officer—supposedly one of the best fed and best attended of those stationed at Morristown in 1779-80.
On the other hand, an enlisted man who also lived through that winter was able to write:
I am in the hopes the army will be kept together till we have gained the point we have so long contending. For if the army could be supported I have not the least reason to think that a man would wish to leave it till peace and harmony was restored to a bleeding but unconquered and still to be conquered country. For my own part, if we was paid according to agreement, I could wish I had two lives to loose in defense of so glorious a cause sooner than bee over come —I was free born and if I can supporting selfe I will stand or fall in defense of my country.
What did my chief witness, Dr. Thacher think ? He wrote:
It is a circumstance greatly to be deprecated, that the army, who are devoting their lives, and everything dear, to the defence of our country's freedom, should be subjected to such unparalleled privations, while in the midst of a country abounding in every kind of provisions.
And what about Private “GI Joe” Martin? He wrote:
When General Washington told congress the soldiers eat every kind of horse food but hay, he might have gone a little further and told them that they eat considerable of hog's fodder and not a little of dog's—when they can get it.
In short, Private Martin declared: “I'm hungry!”
Winter soldiering gets scant attention in the history books; it pales beside the supposed glories and violent gore of bloody battlefields. That is why Morristown has not earned its rightful place in history. That is why it took a group of private citizens—the Washington Association—to save the Ford Mansion, one of the nation's great historic houses. That is why it took one citizen— Lloyd Smith—to buy the land of Jockey Hollow and present it to the National Park Service in 1933.
Without Lloyd Smith's foresight, I have no doubt that Jockey Hollow today would be covered with a myriad of houses on three-acre plots. Of course there would be a small bronze plaque somewhere, vandalized with paint spray, telling of the sufferings there —but not too large a plaque, lest it interfere with real estate decor.
I still see only the scantest of interest in Morristown and Jockey Hollow on the part of our town, county, and state governmental leaders. I have yet to hear of any kind of major national commemoration being shaped for Morristown for 1779-80—but then there wasn't much a stir about Valley Forge, either. Thanks only to the Washington Association and the National Park Service, we will at least remember 1779-80.
We just can't seem to warm up to winter soldiers. They disturb us, with their astonishing fidelity to a cause that we might secretly believe would have been too much for us. Soldiers slowly freezing to death on a Jockey Hollow Hill are far less dramatic than men being slain by bullets.
I suppose that it might make a statistical difference whether a soldier dies in battle or whether he freezes to death in a lean-to. It is doubtful whether either of those death possibilities ever is acceptable or preferable to soldiers who must face them. Death from starvation, traceable in part to one's selfish neighbors, is not pleasant. Nor is death from exhaustion on a frozen, slippery road between Jockey Hollow and Morristown something to welcome.
Those winter soldiers died often—slowly, agonizingly, despairingly. Far more died in winter camps than in summer battles. The wonder is that mutiny did not come sooner, that desertions from the ranks were not greater at Jockey Hollow, The selfish, grasping quest for power in Congress should have discouraged even the toughest of armies.
Yet the army stayed together. Soldiers slept in the snow. They walked barefoot on the hard ground. They hugged blankets to freezing bodies. They starved. They kept the faith alive.
Why did they keep the faith? I don't know. I often ask myself this. Was it patriotism, an innate quest for freedom, a passion for independence—all of these? I don't know. I just don't know. No one ever will know. We can only be grateful that, for whatever cause, the winter soldiers of 1779-80 never quit.