Following the Drum


Following the Drum

Women at the Valley Forge Encampment

Nancy K. Loane

228 pages
7 photographs, 9 illustrations, 1 appendix, index


March 2020


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eBook (EPUB)
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November 2021


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April 2009


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About the Book

Friday, December 19, 1777, dawned cold and windy. Fourteen thousand Continental Army soldiers tramped from dawn to dusk along the rutted Pennsylvania roads from Gulph Mills to Valley Forge, the site of their winter encampment. The soldiers’ arrival was followed by the army’s wagons and hundreds of camp women. Following the Drum tells the story of the forgotten women who spent the winter of 1777–78 with the Continental Army at Valley Forge—from those on society’s lowest rungs to ladies on the upper echelons.

Impoverished and clinging to the edge of survival, many camp women were soldiers’ wives who worked as the army’s washers, nurses, cooks, and seamstresses. Other women at the encampment were of higher status: they traveled with George Washington’s entourage when the army headquarters shifted locations and served the general as valued cooks, laundresses, or housekeepers. There were also the ladies at Valley Forge who were not subject to the harsh conditions of camp life and came and went as they and their husbands, Washington’s generals and military advisers, saw fit. Nancy K. Loane uses sources such as issued military orders, pension depositions after the war, soldiers’ descriptions, and some of the women’s own diary entries and letters to bring these women to life.

Author Bio

Nancy K. Loane is a former seasonal ranger at Valley Forge National Park, a founding member of the American Revolution Round Table of Philadelphia, and an honorary lifetime member of the Society of the Descendants of Washington’s Army at Valley Forge. She lives in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.


“[Loane] pulls together a rich array of sources to offer great detail about women’s lives, and she is diligent to tread carefully through recollections written down years after the fact. . . . Loane has found some great stories.”—Journal of American History

"Nancy Loane brings to light a truth all but forgotten in the shadows of history. This work takes the reader beyond Valley Forge and fills in the gaps of the lives of those who endured the winter of 1777-78. Truly one of the great works on the Valley Forge Encampment."—Timothy Eldridge Massey, Commander in Chief, Society of the Descendants of Washington's Army at Valley Forge

"Nancy K. Loane has cleared away the myths surrounding the women at the Valley Forge encampment, from Martha Washington to Mrs. Mary Geyer. Her careful documentation and relaxed writing style make this a not-to-be-missed book for historians and re-enactors."—Clarissa F. Dillon, Valley Forge historian

"In addition to the details . . . about the women at Valley Forge, Ms. Loane gives us many other fascinating general details about life in the camp among all of the social groups who were there."—Tredyffrin Easttown History Quarterly

“Dr. Nancy K. Loane’s fascination and passion regarding the women who supported General George Washington . . . during their encampment in Valley Forge, PA, shines through in her new book.”—Phoenix

"Reveals an area of knowledge that has seldom been reported in the historical press."—Pennsylvania Magazine

“A narrative that deftly synthesizes stories about women . . . Loane adds interesting, pertinent analysis of inaccuracies and fictions about these camp followers.”—Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"Sometimes a book comes along, smacks readers in the head, alleviates our ignorance, and leaves us with a new perspective on something we thought we already knew. That's what happened when I read Following the Drum. . . . The work adds colorful, riveting details to the basic portrait of the American Revolution that hangs in our minds . . . elements that help give us a more complete, accurate picture. . . . A treasure trove . . . that highlights what women did to give us the country we have today."—

“A wonderfully readable account of that cold, winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in 1777-1778.”—Muzzleloader

"Thoroughly researched and a compelling read. Loane's study of the women of Valley Forge--the 'camp women' as well as Martha Washington and the officers' 'ladies'--adds vastly to our understanding of that terrible winter, the Continental Army, and the vital role women played in the founding of the Republic."—Paul Lockhart, author of The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army

Table of Contents

1. Setting the Stage: The War, Army, and Community
2. Martha Washington at Valley Forge: "The Worthy Partner of the Worthiest of Men"
3. Martha Washington at the Other Encampments: A Resolute and Loyal Lady
4. Catharine Greene and Lucy Knox: The Ladies Come to Valley Forge
5. Rebekah Biddle, Lady Stirling, and Alice Shippen at Valley Forge: "I Should Not Be Sorry to See You Here"
6. The Women with Washington's "Family": Slaves, Servants, and Spies
7. Camp Women at Valley Forge: "A Caravan of Wild Beasts"
8. Camp Women with the Continental Army: Cannonballs and Cooking Kettles
9. The General Returns to Valley Forge: A Distinguished Officer's Musings
Appendix: Making the Myth of Martha Washington: Nineteenth-Century Fantasy vs. Eighteenth-Century Reality
About the Author

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