As you spend Christmas safe and warm, inside with your family, take a moment to remember the bleak Christmas that American revolutionary soldiers spent at Valley Forge.

How bad was it? Senator Ben Sasse explains:

Amidst blustery winds and freezing cold, they built a village of huts at Valley Forge (legend has it that Washington himself slept in a canvas tent until the last of the soldiers was in winter housing). He hoped it would be a place for them to regain their strength to win with “one heart” and “one mind.”

Needless to say, they ran into some complications. Like, the lack of food.

Congress was funding the army from money scraped together from state’s voluntary offerings. That money didn’t cover winter clothing, or Christmas rations (we’re talking meal plans of rice and vinegar).

“We have experienced little less than a famine in camp,” Washington wrote to Patrick Henry.

But if conditions were harsh, then the army’s resilience was even more moving.

Washington’s letters are full of awe and admiration, of men leaving bloody footprints in the snow. Although he estimated a third of the force had no shoes, these soldiers displayed “patience & obedience which in my opinion can scarce be paralel’d.”

He was a grateful leader, a general overwhelmed by the task ahead, but also by the dignity of the men in his charge.

It would be six months before the Continental Army marched away from Valley Forge—but they did not give up, did not despair. And their leader didn’t leave them.

So this week, enjoy all the benefits and privileges of freedom—fleece blankets & fuzzy slippers included. But don’t forget the folks who paid for our comfort and freedom. And the general who, by sheer force of will, gave troops who had no shoes the hope and strength to persevere.

Click here for more on the unique greatness of George Washington.

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