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Valley of the Shadow

There was an old forge in the bleak valley by the winding Schuykill River. The hills were as bare and as lonely as a wasteland; and already in November, the howling, stinging wind and the drifting snow gave promise of one of the coldest winters the land had ever known.

It was a year later, in 1777, and still the farmers and artisans had known nothing but lost fields and retreat--after their one victory at Trenton. They left bloody tracks in the snow as they marched slowly into Valley Forge and dug in for the winter. It was a winter this nation will never forget, a winter that has become a symbol of liberty and courage the world over.

Even their first city, Philadelphia, had been taken by the enemy. The American leaders chose Valley Forge because it was close by the conquered city. Encamped there, they could at least make a pretense of watching the enemy.

Yet that was their last retreat; in that long, terrible winter, they were tempered the way steel is tempered. There, the angry rabble became an army; there the weak in body died and the faint of heart deserted; there they drilled and marched and drilled and marched until even in their rags they became something grim and ominous. A man lived on a handful of parched corn a day; he slept in a dirty, cold dugout, and he saw his comrades die by the hundreds; but he lived, and a deadly fire began to burn inside him.

There the Southerner came to know the Northerner, and the man from the city came to know the man from the farm. In a sense, America was born there, out of suffering, cold and hunger and death--and abiding courage.

And when spring came, an army stood forth. Dirty and ragged they might be, but their weapons were clean and shining. That army had had enough of retreat--now they marched out to attack.

They found the enemy at a place called Monmouth Court House, and the ragged army struck like a pack of wolves. They charged with the naked bayonet, and they cut the redcoat columns to pieces. And when the enemy counter-attacked, the rabble held its ground, stood like a rock, and saw the enemy stagger away, dazed and broken.

That was the turning point in the war, and never again would it be a question of victory or not--but rather of how long until the end.

Today, on an arch at Valley Forge, you can read these words: "...this valley of the shadow of that death out of which the life of America rose regenerate and free,..."