Valley Forge ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, was where the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-1778, while waiting for more favorable weather to continue the war with the British, now occupying Philadelphia eighteen miles away. The weather was miserably cold and the army was ill-equipped, with not enough food or clothing to go around. Many of the men went without shoes. A lot of times they went without eating or ate what they could forage. Makeshift huts for shelter were constructed out of logs. More than 2500 American soldiers died at Valley Forge by the end of February 1778, from exposure, starvation, malnutrition, or disease.
Valley Forge is a novel by American writer Mackinlay Kantor. Instead of being a novel in the traditional sense, it’s more a collection of interconnected stories: a young deserter named Mum decides to return to his regiment after being treated kindly by a sixteen-year-old girl (we learn at the end of the book what became of Mum); a seven-year-old slave girl brings General Washington some apples and potatoes because she has heard he doesn’t have enough to eat; a defector is hanged while calling out for his mother; a young cobbler who has his leg amputated wonders how he will pursue his trade after the war; a gang of foragers deals with recalcitrant civilians; a young man with a horse he loves named John must deal with having the horse taken away from him by an officer (the horse John reappears at the end of the book); a group of young girls find what they believe is a litter of puppies, but what they don’t know is the puppies are really wolves and the mother will kill the girls if she finds them messing around with her babies; a young officer has a torrid love affair with an older widow who always keeps her face covered. The one person who appears throughout the book is General George Washington, the commander of the American forces on whose shoulders rests the success or failure of the war with the British. General Washington refuses to have comforts for himself while his men are living miserably at Valley Forge. He is a true American hero.
Valley Forge is an interesting, little-read book. It’s not about war or warfare but about the small moments in the lives of mostly insignificant people who are engaged in the titanic struggle for independence from a repressive, invading foreign power. Although it’s fiction, it’s well-researched and based on fact, as the bibliography at the end of the book attests.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp