Hills, Huts, and Horse-Teams: The New Jersey Environment and Continental Army Winter Encampments, 1778-1780
New Jersey’s role as a base for the Continental Army during the War of Independence has played an important part in the state’s understanding of its role in the American Revolution, and continues to shape the state’s image as the “Cockpit of the Revolution,” and “Crossroads of the American Revolution” today. This article uncovers how and why the Continental Army decided to place the bulk of its forces in northern New Jersey for two consecutive winters during the war. Unlike the more renowned Valley Forge winter quarters, neither New Jersey encampment has received significant scholarly attention, and most works that have covered the topic have presumed the state’s terrain offered obvious strategic advantages for an army on the defensive. This article offers a new interpretation, emphasizing the army’s logistical needs including forage for its animals and timber supplies for constructing winter shelters. The availability of these resources, rather than easily defended rough terrain or close-proximity to friendly civilians, led Washington and his staff to make northern New Jersey its mountain home for much of the war. By highlighting the role of the environment in shaping military strategy, this article adds to our understanding of New Jersey’s crucial role in the American struggle for independence.
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