Yesterday, I attended a lecture at my university titled, “After Valley Forge, What?” by Dr. Bethany A. Morrison of Western Connecticut University. I first noticed the poster Tuesday. My eyes perked up at the sight of Valley Forge. It’s not often my college, which likes to focus on dates after 1854 (It’s founding), has talks on periods before it, let alone the Revolution. Fortunately for me, I had no plans or classes from 12-2 and decided this would be a great chance to do some “professional development”, if you will.
I arrived in the room about 5 minutes early. There were about 9 people in total, all were professors. A bit intimidating to be the only student but I sat myself down and waited anxiously.
The talk was on archaeological exploration of a winter encampment of the Continental Army in Redding, Connecticut from November of 1778 to the Spring of 1779. The main camp is now Putnam State Park. The other in Redding proper was developed on before any digs could be. This camp, known as Middle Encampment, had never been touched since the army left. After they dismantled the cabins, the land had been turned into pasture so nobody had done any heavy farming or developing. The neighbours kept a close eye on who was going in and out of it and guarded it as their little secret. This was the perfect place to find artifacts.
As a history major, my view of archaeology is pretty narrow. Just the mention of it and Indiana Jones comes to mind. No Ark of the Covenants or Holy Grails were found here, but a different treasure was to be had.
Numerous firebacks (the stone portion of the wooden chimneys of the huts) were found. Some in a row pattern like General Von Steuben ordered after the training at Valley Forge, some…not so much. The army had a particular problem with this location. It was on an incredibly steep hill. They still tried to follow Steuben’s orders though. They faced the encampment to the South and put it behind a stream with running water. Interestingly, they carved out sections of the hill to make it level enough to build their huts which goes against the theory that the Continental Army did not do any planning or floor prep before building. They may have been ordered not to do it but this encampment, like the rest of the army, was a bunch of rebels.
An FTIR (An infrared scanning of absorption and emission into an object) of some fireback rocks from the huts were even able to tell them what the army was eating in late winter/early spring. What’s on the menu you ask? Malnourished goats, acorns, wild asparagus, and cattails. All available in the wetlands and the nearby farms of the encampment.
What stuck out the most to me was the layout of the camp. Here was a group of four regiments (3rd, 4th, 6th, and 8th CT Regiments) that tried their very best to follow Steuben’s orders but ended up having to modify them to suit their needs. They even built their cabins to the exact dimensions set forth in the General Orders.
Artifacts were found all over the place. Metal detecting showed that these men were 1. Losing shoe buckles left and right. and 2. Used a lot of nails. The nails struck everyone in the room by surprise. The myth has it that enlisted men would not have used nails in construction of their huts but the quantity, location, and the size of the nails surprised everyone in the room. These were long nails and were plentiful. This lead to speculation of would these huts have had a wooden flooring?
The layout also left some questions. Where in the world was the parade ground? There’s orders for the camp that the regiments paraded but there didn’t seem to be any suitable land to parade 1500 men. Would it be across the stream? Where were the camp followers? Were they in a separate camp? Were they sharing the huts?
Unfortunately, money for the project has run out and they barely scratched the surface. But thanks to their research, the land is now protected so nobody can go in with their own metal detectors and scavenge for artifacts. Fortunately for me, I was able to harass Dr. Morrison with a ton of questions afterwards and she was even so kind to give me the print out of her slideshow with her notes (both typed and handwritten.) It just goes to show that the woods behind your house with some weird piles of rocks may not be just woods.