French noble the Chevalier Pontgibaud Eye-witness Account of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, December 1777, published after 1783 TEXT

That celebrated man - an ambassador who amused himself with science, which he adroitly made to assist him in his diplomatic work - said, when some friends came to Passy to condole with him on the fall of Philadelphia: 'You are mistaken; it is not the British army that has taken Philadelphia, but Philadelphia that has taken the British army.' The cunning old diplomatist was right. The capital of Pennsylvania had already done for the British what Capua did in a few months for the soldiers of Hannibal. The Americans the 'insurgents' as they were called - camped at Valley Forge; the British officers, who were in the city, gave themselves up to pleasure; there were continual balls and other amusements; the troops were idle and enervated by inaction, and the generals undertook nothing all the winter.

Soon I came in sight of the camp. My imagination had pictured an army with uniforms, the glitter of arms, standards, etc., in short, military pomp of all sorts; Instead of the imposing spectacle I expected, I saw, grouped together or standing alone, a few militiamen, poorly clad, and for the most part without shoes - many of them badly armed, but all well supplied with provisions, and I noticed that tea and sugar formed part of their rations. I did not then know that this was not unusual, and I laughed, for it made me think of the recruiting sergeants on the Quai de la Ferraille at Paris, who say to the yokels, 'You will want for nothing when you are in the regiment, but if bread should run short you must not mind eating cakes.' Here the soldiers had tea and sugar.

In passing through the camp I also noticed soldiers wearing cotton nightcaps under their hats, and some having for cloaks or greatcoats coarse woolen blankets, exactly like those provided for the patients in our French hospitals. I learned afterwards that these were the officers and generals.

Such, in strict truth, was, at the time I came amongst them, the appearance of this armed mob, the leader of whom was the man who has rendered the name of Washington famous; such were the colonists - unskilled warriors who learned in a few years how to conquer the finest troops that England could send against them. Such also, at the beginning of the War of Independence, was the state of want in the insurgent army, and such was the scarcity of money, and the poverty of that government, now so rich, powerful, and prosperous, that its notes, called Continental paper money, were nearly valueless.