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Military operations in the USA in 1775 - 1777 passed with varying degrees of success. In the 1777 campaign, the British were about to take control of the Hudson River Valley in order to split the colonies in half. By cutting off New England, they would greatly facilitate the task of further routing the Americans.

In mid-January, the commander-in-chief of the British forces W. Howe proposed to the Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs Lord D. Jermain [1] an operation to seize Philadelphia, "since the main enemy forces are located there, against which one must actively act" [2]. But all attempts by the general to lure the army of patriots into a general engagement in northern New Jersey failed. Then W. Howe sent 15,000 troops on ships to the Chesapeake Bay to land 90 km from Philadelphia and capture the city.

 J. Washington on July 2, 1777, led his army (14 thousand) from the Middle Brook camp (New Jersey) to the south to prepare the defense of the city, but was outflanked by the British and on September 11, 1777, lost the Battle of Brandywine ( Pennsylvania), having lost more than 1000 people [3]. Thereafter, both armies maneuvered west of Philadelphia, clashing in minor battles such as the Battle of the Cloud and the Battle of Paoli. [4] The frightened Continental Congress fled under cover of night to Lancaster, then to York.

 On September 26, W. Howe outplayed Washington and entered Philadelphia unopposed. As Captain John Montresor, Chief Engineer of the Army, wrote in his diary, “Among the several thousand residents who greeted were mostly women and children.” [5] The capture of the rebel capital did not bring the end of the war, as the British thought. [6] divided his army, sending a garrison of 9 thousand men to Germantown, 8 km north of Philadelphia, leaving about 3 thousand soldiers in it. Learning about the division of the enemy army, D. Washington attacked Germantown on October 4, but unsuccessfully. the fall of 1777 put an end to the hopes of the patriots to recapture the capital. The last major clash in the Philadelphia campaign was an unsuccessful attempt by W. Howe to involve D. Washington in the Battle of Whitemarsh and Edge Hill (Pennsylvania) in early December [7].

Thereafter, the royal army moved into the winter quarters in Philadelphia, showing no desire to attack, although minor battles around the city continued. Washington's army was shrinking before our eyes, many soldiers were running out of contract [8], and the number of deserters increased due to hunger and poor supplies. Connecticut police officer Joseph Plumb Martin described the situation as follows: “We were really in a dire situation. There was no provisions, no clothes, no confidence that was so much needed. Our prospects were sad ”[9]. In mid-December 1777, the general led his 12,000-strong army to Camp Valley Forge (Pennsylvania), 32 kilometers north-west of Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania legislature, fearful of the withdrawal of troops from the state, forced it to remain close to the capital.

It was no coincidence that Washington chose this place. There was a hill behind which the Skulkill River flowed. This position was easy to prepare for defense and hold. A double system of ramparts and ditches was built on the slopes of the hill. In addition, the army was provided with fresh water. But with all this, the place was wild and deserted, and the district was ravaged by the war. D. Martin writes: “We arrived at Valley Forge in the evening a few days before Christmas [10]. In our dire condition, coming into the wild forest and building our own homes when we were weak, hungry, and naked [11] was an extremely terrible ordeal, especially for the New England people who were not used to such hardships and hardships. However, we had no choice, the alternative was either to do it or to disperse - but I suppose no one thought about dispersed, at least I did not have such thoughts. We were all involved in the defense of our unfortunate country and were determined to hold out until the hardships became unbearable ”[12]. Having cut down trees in the forest, “the soldiers had to drag them to their camp, because there were very few carts and even fewer horses, the animals could not stand the hunger” [13]. The soldiers even put together a song that included the words: "Whoever has been to Valley Forge is not afraid of hell."

On December 23, in rage and despair, Washington wrote in a letter to Congress: “Today I am convinced ... that if fundamental changes are not immediately undertaken, our army will face one of the following outcomes - starve to death, disintegrate or scatter to get food. ... it is much easier to compose reproaches in a warm room by the fireplace than to be on a frozen dull hill and sleep in the snow in the frost without clothes and blankets ”[15]. For those who went on guard, they collected all possible clothes, the soldiers wrapped themselves in blankets and pulled their hats over their feet to protect themselves from the cold.

The army and its commander-in-chief made desperate attempts to survive the harsh winter. On a large plain, with an area of ​​about 1.5 thousand hectares, more than 1000 barracks were built of logs, each of which could accommodate 12 people. The officers' barracks were larger and had wooden floors. While construction went on, the soldiers slept in tents and around bonfires. Then they built warehouses and a hospital at a distance of half a kilometer from the dwelling. This was done by order of Washington for two reasons: so that there was no contact with infectious patients, and so that the soldiers did not see how many of their comrades were dying [16].

  In addition to the soldiers, there were a large number of civilians in the camp, mostly women and children. All women can be divided into three unequal groups: the first - the most numerous consisted of representatives of the poor - soldiers' wives, daughters, sometimes mothers. Their homes were ravaged by the British, and in order to survive on their own and feed their children, they came to their men in the army, looking for work and food. The second group consisted of the wives of senior officers, who did not follow their husbands on campaigns, but joined them in their winter quarters; the third group, the smallest, consisted of the wives of junior officers, a very diverse community.

Of all Washington's wartime orders, about 25 relate to women - "Camp Followers". At first, the orders were of a prohibitive nature - the commander-in-chief strongly recommended that senior officers in every possible way get rid of women in the camp, do not allow them to follow the regiments, and forbade them to be put on carts and boats when troops were redeployed [17]. Benjamin Lincoln, Secretary of War for Congress, and Robert Morris, Superintendent of Finance, were keen to limit the number of women who were recruited into auxiliary jobs in the military. But as the war dragged on, Washington's attitude towards the presence of women changed. On January 29, 1783, the general wrote from his headquarters in Newburgh to R. Morris: “I was forced to feed more women and children in these regiments, otherwise I would have faced desertion, perhaps even to the enemy camp, of some of the most experienced and best soldiers in the army ... ". “Our women could earn their own food, but neither the soldiers nor the officers had the means to pay them even for washing ...” [18]. Many women, mostly representatives of the first group, were engaged in difficult, but very necessary work for the army. Sarah Osborne, the wife of the quartermaster sergeant, said that the women's duties were “washing, cleaning, darning, cooking ...” [19]. They also recruited medical staff. After the reform of the organization of hospitals in 1777, the army envisaged 1 sister-mistress and 10 sisters for every 100 wounded. The hostess sister supervised the work of the hospital, was responsible for supplies, gave orders to the sisters. For their work, they received a full soldier's ration, 50 cents a day - a hostess sister and 24 cents - a sister. 

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