Historians agree that the American Revolution surely would have been lost if Washington’s troops had not survived the coldest winter of the era -- even colder than Valley Forge two years earlier. Here the Continental Army under Washington’s leadership emerged as a cohesive and disciplined fighting force. Jockey Hollow is a story of American perseverance that remains a source of inspiration for Americans and the world.
The Army comes to Morristown.
Nineteen-year-old Private Joseph Martin, 8th Connecticut Regiment, reached the Army's wintering ground late on a gray and foreboding afternoon in December 1779. The snow in Morristown was already two feet deep when nearly 10,000 Patriot soldiers arrived. Martin wrote in his diary that they had marched for several days "through cold and snow," barely subsisting on a daily portion of a little "miserable fresh beef, without bread, salt or vegetables." A hardwood forest in the rough hills some four miles southwest of Morristown, the place was locally known as Jockey Hollow. The winter would prove to be the coldest of the century.
The First Encampment
This was not the first time the Army had come to Morristown. Three years before, fresh from its triumphant surprise of the British at Trenton and Princeton, the Army had wintered in the Morristown neighborhood. That winter, the men were quartered in citizens' homes as part of a ruse to get the British to believe that there were more than the actual 3,000 soldiers and officers. It was an uneasy affiliation, and all endured hardships. Washington ordered mandatory smallpox inoculations for his men and the general populace — a very unpopular notion.
Wick House - Henry Wick built his Cape Cod Style house around 1750. His 1,400-acre farm, mostly covered by forest, made him the largest landowner in Morristown. Henry Wick's trees attracted Washington's Army to the area as a winter encampment site because they needed logs to build cabins for shelter and wood to burn for heating and cooking. Additionally, Major General Arthur St. Clair, commander of 2,000 Pennsylvania soldiers, made his quarters in Mr. Wick's home for the winter.
The Village and the Log Hut City
Upon taking up its ground at Jockey Hollow, Washington intended that his Army should build a "Log-house city." He insisted that all the soldiers' huts be finished before work started on the officers' quarters. (Washington himself and other senior officers were immediately quartered in homes in the area.) The work of felling trees and putting up hundreds of cabins went slowly amidst harsh winter weather. It was nearly February before the huts were completed. More than 600 acres of forest Introduction were cut to create streets of huts for over 10,000 soldiers and officers. The presence of the Army at Morristown considered a "pretty little village" of some fifty or sixty houses and two to three hundred inhabitants, created problems for the citizens of the community, as it had Bare Feet and Empty Stomachs
The Hard Winter
Despite the extreme cold, many men, noted one of the Army's surgeons, were "actually barefooted and almost naked." Many of the regiments had no blankets or tents. For most, a little brushwood and some straw piled together was the only defense against the snow and cold. Limited supplies brought starvation to the troops. After a prolonged snowfall, Joseph Plumb Martin found himself "literally starved." For four days and nights, he put not "a single morsel of victuals" into his mouth except "a little black birch bark which I gnawed off a stick of wood." At dark the fourth day, when rations were finally issued, he received only a half-pound of fresh beef and a gill (half-cup) of wheat to boil.
In 1780, a Congressional committee came to inspect the Army. It found things in a terrible state. Commissaries were depleted of food, men had not been paid in five months, and there were shortages of equipment, livestock, and horses. The committee reported, "The patience of the soldiery who have endured every degree of conceivable hardship and borne it with fortitude and perseverance... is on the point of being exhausted." three years before. But Washington treads carefully in dealing with the men who stole from and offended the community. The weather was severe, and his troops were poorly fed and clothed and unpaid. In addition, Washington faced the possibility of losing his men to expiring enlistments or, worse, desertion. The timing of the letter was fitting, as the Army's patience indeed "exhausted" itself, and a mutiny threatened to occur among the 8th Connecticut Regiment. Joseph Plumb Martin's own regiment, without food for several days, threatened to go out into the country and procure some for itself. Angry words were exchanged between the men and officers. After two more regiments joined the mutiny, another confrontation occurred, during which an officer was roughed up. Fortunately for us, the mutiny died, and the soldiers stayed with Washington. As Joseph Plumb Martin wrote, "We were unwilling to desert the cause of our country, when in distress...we knew her cause involved our own."
Each brigade camped in the Jockey Hollow neighborhood occupied a sloping, well-drained hillside area about 320 yards long and 100 yards in-depth, including a parade ground 40 yards deep in front. Above the parade were the soldiers' huts, eight in a row and three or four rows deep for each regiment; beyond those were the huts occupied by the captains and subalterns; and higher still, the field officers' huts. Camp streets of varying widths separated the hut rows. This arrangement is clearly shown in a contemporary sketch of the Stark's Brigade Camp. Logs notched together at the corners and chinked with clay formed the sides of the huts. Boards, slabs, or hand-split shingles were used to cover their simple gable roofs, the ridges of which ran parallel to the camp streets. All the soldiers' huts, designed to accommodate 12 men each, were ordered built strictly according to a uniform plan: about 14 feet wide and 15 or 16 feet long in floor dimensions, and around 6x2 feet high at the eaves, with wooden bunks, a fireplace and chimney at one end, and a door in the front side. Windows were not cut in these huts until spring. The officers' cabins were generally larger in size, and individual variation was permitted in their design and construction. Usually accommodating only two to four officers, they had two fireplaces and chimneys each and frequently two or more doors and windows. Besides these two main types of huts, there were some others built for hospital, orderly rooms, and guardhouse purposes. The completed camp seems to have contained between 1,000 and 1,200 log buildings of all types combined.
In 1933, Congress honored Morristown National Historical Park as the first national park placed under the stewardship of the National Park Service -- and for a good reason. During two critical winters during the Revolutionary War, 1777 and 1779-80, the rolling countryside in and around Morristown, New Jersey, sheltered the main encampments of the American Continental Army. Moreover, it served as the headquarters of its commander-in-chief, George Washington.
The Situation of the Army, with respect to supplies, is beyond description alarming. It has been five or six weeks past on half allowances, and we have not more than three days bread at the third allowance on hand, nor anywhere within reach. When this is exhausted we must depend on the precarious gleanings of the neighboring country. Our magazines are absolutely empty everywhere and our commissaries are entirely destitute of money or credit to replenish them. We have never experienced a like extremity at any period of the war. . . . Unless some extraordinary and immediate exertions are made by the States, from which we draw our supplies, there is every appearance that the army will infallibly disband in a fortnight.