Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, early 1900s.
Today is Day 1 of the Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill, December 13 – 19, 1777. That’s the day that 10,000 members of the Continental Army descended on and encamped at Rebel Hill, in Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania, some eight miles away from Valley Forge. The army stayed there until December 19, 1777, when they marched to Valley Forge. Those six days have largely been overlooked, so in 2011, I set out to change that. I grew up on Rebel Hill, and I felt that it was time that Rebel Hill’s amazing history was told and retold.
So, in 2012, I published an e-book titled, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill, December 13 – 19, 1777. It’s available on Amazon by clicking here. I also talk about those six days in my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, from the perspective of the people who lived on Rebel Hill and woke up one day to find 10,000 soldiers on their hill. The novel, which covers The Philadelphia Campaign, from the Battle of Brandywine on Sept. 11, 1777 through the Valley Forge Encampment, answers the question–what happens when the war comes to your back yard? You can read more about it here. And you can also read all about those six days in my 11/5/19 article, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Gulph Mills Encampment in the Journal of the American Revolution.
I’ll be blogging about these six days up through December 19. I will provide day-by-day coverage to the important activity that occurred during those six days, including the army’s celebration of the first Thanksgiving as a new nation and Gen. Washington’s decision to move to Valley Forge for the army’s winter quarters. These six days are the thrilling story about the threshold to Valley Forge and what happened when the war came to the backyard of the residents of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills.
So, here we go…
Late in the evening of December 12, 1777, in a blinding snowstorm, General George Washington and 10-11,000 of his hungry, tired, and barely-clothed Continental Army, spent from a December 5 -7 encounter with the British during the Battle of Whitemarsh and a Dec. 11 skirmish known as the Battle of Matson’s Ford, started the march from Swedes Ford, in Norristown, to Gulph Mills. One soldier writes, “We are ordered to march over the river. It snows–I’m sick–eat nothing–no whiskey–no baggage–Lord-Lord-Lord–. Till sunrise crossing the river cold and uncomfortable.”
At 3 a.m. on December 13, 1777, Washington and his army marched into Gulph Mills, where Rebel Hill is located. “…at 3 a.m. encamped near the Gulph where we remained without tents or blankets in the midst of a severe snow storm.”
Several historians believe that Washington was going to make Gulph Mills the Continental Army’s winter headquarters because if he had decided on Valley Forge, it would have been easier to march his tired army straight to Valley Forge, rather than detour them several miles to Gulph Mills. Some of the letters from members of the army bear that out. Soldier Timothy Pickering wrote, “the great difficulty is to fix a proper station for winter quarters. Nothing else prevents our going into them…it is a point not absolutely determined.”
Because of their elevation, Rebel Hill and the hills of Gulph Mills provided an advantageous view for miles around. The army could have easily seen the British advancing from Philadelphia to the east, where the British had established winter headquarters. Also, Rebel Hill gave the army great access to the Schuylkill River, particularly the crossing points of Matson’s Ford and Swede’s Ford. Finally, Rebel Hill was friendly territory–it is believed to have gotten its name because the people who lived there were definitely rebels and patriots supporting the Continental Army.
In any event, General Washington had to get his army, which had no tents to shield them from the elements, settled. He issued these orders:
GENERAL ORDERS December 13, 1777.
Head-Quarters, at the Gulph,
Parole Carlisle. Countersigns Potsgrove, White Marsh.
The officers are without delay to examine the arms and accoutrements of their men, and see that they are put in good order.
Provisions are to be drawn, and cooked for to morrow and next day. A gill of Whiskey is to be issued immediately to each officer, soldier, and waggoner.
The weather being likely to be fair, the tents are not to be pitched. But the axes in the waggons are to be sent for, without delay, that the men may make fires and hut themselves for the ensuing night in the most comfortable manner.
The army is to be ready to march precisely at four o’clock to morrow morning.
An officer from each regiment is to be sent forthwith to the encampment on the other side Schuylkill, to search that and the houses for all stragglers, and bring them up to their corps. All the waggons not yet over are also to be sent for and got over as soon as possible.
Mr. Archibald Read is appointed paymaster to the 8th. Pennsylvania regiment, and is to be respected as such.
On to Day 2…