The winter of 1777–1778 may have been the low point of the Revolutionary War for George Washington and the Continental Army. After the Battles of Brandywine (September 11, 1777) and Germantown (October 4, 1777), the British Army occupied the American capital, Philadelphia, Congress was on the run, and the Army was in shambles.
On December 19, 1777, Washington led somewhere between 10,000 to 12,000 troops to the site of their winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. While the British Army enjoyed the relative warmth and hospitality of Loyalist sympathizers in Philadelphia, just a few miles away, the Americans suffered terrible deprivations throughout the winter. Faced with severe shortages of food, clothing, firewood, and adequate shelter, an estimated 2,500 men died from disease and exposure. Prospects looked bleak as morale plummeted. Nevertheless, the army did not crumble.
Despite the brutal conditions, Valley Forge was significant because Washington used the time to improve his army. Troops drilled daily under the tutelage of a Prussian officer, Baron von Steuben, who implemented a system of standardized military training that enhanced the fighting capacity of the Continental Army. The elevated level of military discipline proved invaluable for the remainder of the war.