Book Review - Valley Forge: George Washington and the Crucible of Victory by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen
Courtesy of the publishers, I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Valley Forge: George Washington and the Crucible of Victory by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. This is the follow-on to their collaboration on their book To Try Men's Souls, and again Gingrich and Forstchen put flesh on the ordinarily dry depictions of what went on during the Revolutionary War after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The authors go beyond events and dive into the characters, emotions, and physical hardships that comprised the day-to-day existence of those fighting for their lives and the newly found freedom of America.
The novel (based on historical fact) starts out at the Battle of Paoli on September 10, 1777. The American troops were defeated by the British, but it went beyond that. Rather than just claim victory and take prisoners, the bloodlust of the British troops led to a massacre using rifles, pistols, and bayonets. For those who escaped and fled, humiliation and anger fed their desire to regroup and avenge that loss. But before that could happen, Washington's troops had to regroup and spend the winter at Valley Forge, waiting for the spring when battles could begin again in earnest.
The harsh conditions usually depicted at Valley Forge don't begin to cover the reality. They arrived to find no supplies, no material, and no support promised by Congress. Tens of thousands of troops, literally clinging to life, had to endure freezing temperatures with little shelter and virtually no food. Slowly, Washington was able to start getting food from scavenging runs, as well as supplies to build cabins, but not before thousands either deserted or died of various diseases. And even if they survived the winter, there was no guarantee that they'd have the skills to battle and defeat the British in their depleted state. Washington gambled on the skills of Baron von Steuben to turn the ragtag band of soldiers into a disciplined fighting force capable of standing up to the Lobsterbacks regardless of the type of battle.
von Steuben had three months to accomplish what takes Prussian soldiers three years to achieve, and it all came down to the Battle of Monmouth on July 28, 1778. It was there that the Revolutionary and British forces met on an open field, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees. For the first time, the American forces were able to face and defeat the British using the tactics taught to them by von Steuben. While Washington was hoping for a decisive win that would end the war right there, it didn't happen. The British were able to withdraw and get a significant number of troops over to New York, which was their plan all along. But Monmouth was the turning point, when it became clear that the tide had turned, and no longer would the British be the superior force and have the support of the people of the land.
Valley Forge is one of those books that stays with you for a long time, and makes you ponder what sacrifices have been made to give us the freedom we enjoy today. I think you have to be a little careful to not take this as absolute truth as to the motivations and personalities of each major character. For instance, Washington is portrayed as a troubled leader who is all-consumed with the agonies and hardships his forces are enduring, losing sleep night after night over his ability to provide for them. While that may well be a significant part of his personality, I'm a bit cynical as to him being as perfect and selfless as he's painted here. Given Gingrich's political leanings, I can understand where patriotism might cause one to portray Washington in a very favorable light. But even taking that into account, Valley Forge still does an excellent job in adding the real blood, sweat, and tears to events that were pivotal to the formation of our country. This was a very good read, and well worth the time spent.
Obtained From: Publisher