On Saturday, February 19th, seven Scouts and five adult Scouters traveled to Valley Forge National Park to participate in the 99th annual Valley Forge Pilgrimage. This event commemorates the hardships endured by the Continental Army during their roughly six month encampment lasting from late December 1777 to early June 1778. These men fought starvation and horribly cold weather with inadequate supplies or winter clothing.
We arrived at the visitor center at 8AM and headed to the amphitheater for the opening ceremony. While waiting for all the scouts to assemble, we were provided a “pre-show” lecture/demonstration of fife and drums: how they were used to signal to the troops and keep their spirits high during long marches.
The opening ceremony included the traditional flag raising, pledge of allegiance, recitation of the Scout Oath and Law, and the singing of the National Anthem. We were addressed by the Scout Executive of Cradle of Liberty Council and a performance by a men’s singing group left us full of cheer and ready to start the event.
There were between 2000 and 2500 attendees. To keep the crowd manageable, we were split into seven groups, each with a color code. Our group was “blue” so we called ourselves “the blue man group” for fun.
We walked to our first station where we learned about Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (or more simply General Lafayette). He came to colonial America at risk of being arrested for supporting the revolutionary cause and he was commissioned as a major-general on July 31st, 1777 at the age of 19! We learned much more about his role in the war and the consequences he faced upon returning to France.
At our next station, we met a man who taught us about the Oneida Tribe – one of the five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, who lived in upstate New York. The Oneida people were brought into the war as allies by Lafayette. We also learned that “Oneida” is an English word based on the mispronunciation of “Onyota’a:ka” which means “People of the Standing Stone“.
After a short bus ride to a distant part of the park, we enjoyed a hot cocoa and settled in to learn more about the use of artillery — field cannon — during the revolutionary war. This included two firings of a field piece which was very loud and exciting.
We learned about the First Rhode Island African American Regiment. Two soldiers, dressed in appropriate uniforms told us about the conditions and prejudices that existed at the time and how soldiers overcame these biases and served with distinction.
Further along the trail we learned about the role of music in the revolution. A demonstration of how drums were used to signal troops for simultaneous actions was fascinating and we even learned the chorus to a historical song used to spread the news of a great American victory featuring General John Stark at the battle of Bennington.
Another bus ride, past the chapel at Valley Forge returned us to the other side of the park for our final two stations — “Musketry and Skirmishing” and “Medical Treatment during the Revolution”. We learned about the importance of having a “traditional” army that could face the British in the field and how they trained to use their muskets so that they could fire three to four shots per minute. We watched a live demonstration of skirmishing and firing muskets “on the run”. The surgeon we met at the last station showed us his tools and explained (in gory detail) how he would have used each to perform operations, amputations and even dentistry work.
After a visit to the gift shop and an 18-minute movie about the winter encampment, we had lunch and headed for home.
Additional photos of the trip have been uploaded to our sharing site.