Valley Forge: Coincidence or providence?

Published 10:33 am Friday, July 7, 2017

By Al Early

Hanging over my office desk is a picture of George Washington next to his horse, on his knees, in prayer to God Almighty, in the pine trees at Valley Forge.

The painting is inspired by the eye witness account of Valley Forge resident, Isaac Potts. I have read prayers written by George Washington. They are profound in their humility. Throughout his public life, Washington always deferred to the providence of God as the foundation of the success of our war for independence and our nation’s growth and strength.

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People have wondered what he was praying about, for the future looked bleak for the young country and the fight for independence. Perhaps the words of Romans 8:26-27, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Historians have said  it was at Valley Forge that the soldiers of the United States proved they had the courage to be a nation. Valley Forge is known as one of America’s finest hours, but the only battle ever fought there was the battle of hunger and cold and despair.

When Washington and his army retreated into Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, they had been beaten repeatedly by the British in the fall campaign, and showed no signs of being able to fight the British any longer. It turned out to be one of the harshest winters on record, and the General himself wrote, “There are men in the camp unfit for duty, because they are barefoot and naked.”

The soldiers lived in small huts built of logs and clay. Many sat up all night by the fire because there were not enough blankets. There was near famine in the camp; men went for weeks without meat. But Washington provided strict discipline for strength, and his wife Martha tempered it with tenderness as she moved among the men daily, praying for them.

That winter one third of the army died, and another third of the army quit and went home. Something quite providential happened to the remaining third.

The something was General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a general without an army or a war. Not knowing what to do with himself, he volunteered to help the American independence cause without rank or pay.

Benjamin Franklin found him in France, sent him to Valley Forge, where General Washington saw promise in this Prussian general who spoke little English, and cursed in French and German. Washington assigned von Steuben the job of training the army during the winter.

During the day, the army was drilled hard in proper military formations. Soon companies, regiments and then brigades moved smartly from line to column, column to line, loaded muskets with precision, and drove imaginary redcoats from the field by skillful charges with the bayonet.

At night, translators would take von Steuben’s written drill notes, and turn them into a drill manual that was used until 1811. By the end of the winter, Washington, with heavy aid from von Steuben, had made a professional, disciplined, unified and efficient army out of the Continental troops. Von Steuben himself claimed that his “enterprise succeeded better than he had expected.”

With their French allies (another providential gift from God), the Americans could now proceed into the battlefield with hopes of winning the war, which would rage on for many years, but the British now knew they had to deal with a formidable foe.

Valley Forge could have destroyed the continental army. The above providential acts of God were just a few of the miracles that turned the war in the favor of the U.S. General Washington gave all the glory to God. In announcing that the French decision to become our ally he said, “It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the universe to defend the cause of the United American States, and finally to raise up a powerful friend among the princes of the earth, to establish our liberty and independence upon a lasting foundation, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine goodness, and celebrating the important event, which we owe to His divine interposition” (This Nation by Kistler, pp. 74-75).

Though July 4 happened a few days ago, the benefits we enjoy from the sacrifice of others will be experienced for the rest of our lives, and the lives of our posterity for generations to come, Lord willing.

Do you think God’s hand was at work forming our nation? Is God’s hand still at work today? Do you believe in coincidences? Is God’s hand at work in all things? What is God providentially doing in your life? God bless America!

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, see