On this day, January 4th, in the year 1780, a major snow storm hit General Washington and his troops encamped at Morristown, New Jersey. The weather from January through March was extremely cold with snow accumulating to 12 feet high in places. It is well that we remember the sufferings of the Revolutionary soldiers at that time. A brief account follows:
“Washington again decided upon Morristown for his winter encampment and on November 30th (1779), informed General Nathanael Greene of his decision. The various units marched to Morristown arriving between the first week of December and the end of the month. An area southwest of Morristown, called Jockey Hollow, was selected. It is estimated that 600 acres of forest were cut down to build more than 1,000 1og huts. It became known as "log-house city". Each hut was built to specifications required by General Washington measuring about 14 by 15 feet. The height at the eaves was 6 feet 6 inches. They were built of notched logs, with clay used as chink to seal the huts from the cold, and with a door at one end and a fireplace at the other. …Each hut held 12 men. The officers' huts were somewhat larger, with one to four officers, depending on rank to occupy each….
General Washington set up Headquarters at the Ford Mansion, some five miles from Jockey Hollow. Across what is now Morris Street, some 75 yards from Ford Mansion, the Commander-in-Chief's Guards constructed twelve huts of the same design as the main army and one officer's hut for Major Caleb Gibbs and Captain William Colfax. Gibbs, in personal correspondence, referred to his hut as "Gibb's Manor".
By 1780, the Continental Army had been at war six long years. It was in deplorable condition. Congress had exhausted all their resources, including the promised assistance from France. The Continental paper dollar had depreciated to 3,000 to 1! Even those supporting independence would not accept "Continentals", hence what money available to the army was worthless. The expression "Not worth a Continental" originated at this time.
George Washington wrote the Marquis de Lafayette on March 18th, 1780 from the Ford Mansion. "... The oldest people now living in this Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from. In a word the severity of the frost exceeded anything of the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before. "
When the Army arrived at Jockey Hollow, there was already a foot of snow on the ground. Doctor James Thacher, whose journal is one of the best sources of first person descriptions of events during the war, wrote: "The weather for several days has been remarkably cold and stormy. On the 3rd instance, we experienced one of the most tremendous snowstorms ever remembered; no man could endure its violence many minutes without danger to his life. ... When the storm subsided, the snow was from four to six feet deep, obscuring the very traces of the roads by covering fences that lined them. "
…General Johann de Kalb wrote: "...so cold that the ink freezes on my pen, while I am sitting close to the fire. The roads are piled with snow until, at some places they are elevated twelve feet above their ordinary level."
Private Joseph Plumb Martin's memoirs, writing in the rollicking style of a soldier, reported: "We are absolutely, literally starved. I do solemnly declare that I did not put a single morsel of victuals into my mouth for four days and as many nights, except for a little black birch bark which I gnawed off a stick of wood. I saw several men roast their old shoes and eat them, and I was afterward informed by one of the officer's waiters, that some of the officers killed a favorite little dog that belonged to one of them." He then wrote that he wore "what laughingly could be called a uniform, and possessed a blanket thin enough to have straws shoot through it without discommoding the threads "
…All roads were impassable and would stay that way until the snow melted. Not a single cart or wagon load of supplies could move.” The Continental Army was in danger of utter starvation.
May we never forget the sacrifices of these early patriots for our precious liberty.