Valley Forge
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In aisle number 3 at a Philadelphia supermarket, a shopper surveys the red and white landscape of Campbell's Soup cans. And nestled between the popular tomato and chicken soups are some of the less explored Pepper Pot.

Pepper Pot soup originated in the West Indies...but Philadelphia has its own version of the soup that's said to have saved the Revolution. According to legend, during the winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, General Washington ordered a meal to cheer up his hungry and battle-weary troops. The cook improvised with what was on hand...peppercorns and some scraps of animal stomach, known as tripe.

Marc Brier is an interpretive park ranger at Valley Forge:

I've seen that recipe and I don't know if you can trace it back to the troops here at Valley Forge. Yeah, it's neat. But... I've never seen it documented that's what the soldiers were eating here. They called most everything here ration soup.
Brier says Valley Forge is steeped in this kind of myth. He says it began with some of the first historians of the Benjamin Lossing...who in 1852 wrote Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution:

In all the world's history we have no record of purer devotion, holier sincerity, or more pious self-sacrifice, than was there exhibited in the camp of Washington.
Brier says this glorified account was a product of its time. He says that a deeply divided United States in the 1850's nostalgically looked back to revolutionary times...where there was a unifying cause and a common enemy.

Another Tour Guide:

Good afternoon and welcome to Valley Forge National Historic Park. The next presentation of our 18 minute film Valley Forge: a Winter Encampment will be shown in 5 minutes.
At the Welcome Center at Valley Forge, a handful of tourists mill around glass cased exhibits. Tom Wainwright...visiting from Connecticut...peers down at some worn surgical tools from the Revolutionary War. Wainwright says before visiting today, he already had a particular image about the Continental Army at Valley Forge:

Barefoot, high snow, a lot of disease, lot of deaths, morale very low...that's what I've always heard.
There's always some truth buried in the myth, says Marc Brier. Over 2,000 men died from disease and hunger in Valley Forge. Food and supplies were adequate, but not abundant. Valley Forge also helped transform the Continental troops into a professional army. But the winter of 1777 was just average...35 to 40 degrees, with a mixture of rain and snow.

Again, Marc Brier.

So the trouble with the myth is...even though it's gotten people interested in Valley Forge and gotten the site preserved it doesn't tell you what really happened here. And it takes away from some of the accomplishments of the soldiers while they were here.
One of those accomplishments, Brier says, is that within a month of their arrival at Valley Forge, the Continental Army built 2,000 log cabins for shelter:

Four cabins here are built to Washington's plan. They wouldn't have varied too much. But they were built for 8 to 12 enlisted men.
Brier stands outside a cluster of reconstructed log cabins....they're surprisingly sturdy...each with a small fireplace. The Continental Army often described their living quarters in written record as "tolerably comfortable."

Marc Brier:

We have a fire built and then the visitors come in and are like hey this isn't so bad. This is how all the soldiers at Valley Forge lived. And most of them imagine the army in tents. They don't think of the cabins because the myth doesn't allow them to expand on and think about how they might have survived the winter.
Brier says, when he's giving tours, some people don't want to move beyond the legend...but that's usually the exception:

We find with most people that once they start to hear about it they are more than willing to listen and ask questions about...who these people were. It's a very diverse group of soldiers.
Brier says recent scholarship on the presence of American Indians, African American soldiers, women and slaves paints a more complex picture of the winter at Valley Forge. I'm Joel Rose.
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