“Virginia Makes the Poorest Figure of Any State”: The Virginia Infantry at the Valley Forge Encampment, 1777-1778 by Joseph Lee Boyle (Clearfield, 2019)
Joseph Lee Boyle is a man with a mission, one which his thirty-two years of service with the National Park Service has prepared him nicely for. The former park historian at one of America’s most prestigious historic sites, the Revolutionary War encampment at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, has steadfastly researched official records and private papers to, as he states in the first of eight volumes of his Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment, “allow greater understanding and appreciation” of the famous winter cantonment of the Continental Army.
Collecting and organizing such material is no easy task and Mr. Boyle is to be admired and commended for his accomplishment. His work provides a treasure trove of eye-witness accounts and observations of the six-month American encampment and is an invaluable resource to anyone seeking to learn more about Valley Forge. It is impossible to read the letters that comprise his eight volumes and not come away with both a better understanding of and appreciation for the troops who endured the winter of 1777-78 in the Pennsylvania countryside of Valley Forge.
Boyle acknowledges, however, his regret that few of the accounts used in his eight volumes derive from private soldiers. This is, of course, not by choice, but because very few letters still exist from such soldiers.
Not to be deterred, Boyle has set out to achieve the next best thing, to document the presence at Valley Forge of every American soldier who served there in order to, “recognize some of these heroes of the Revolutionary War.” Culling through the pay lists and muster rolls of the American army in the National Archives, he has meticulously collected the names of Virginia troops who served at Valley Forge from ten of the state’s regiments. He notes that the remainder of the Virginia troops will appear in a second volume.
Compiling this list of soldiers is a monumental task fraught with several daunting challenges. Regimental and company records of the Virginian units were rarely complete for the entire encampment and they often held inaccurate and sometimes contradictory information. Over the span of six months the rolls were frequently recorded by different officers which meant that Boyle often faced a variety of different name spellings for the same soldier from one roll to the next. He addresses the challenge of interpreting the muster and pay rolls in the preface of his work, offering some clarification for his presentation of over 360 pages of alphabetized names of Virginia soldiers at Valley Forge.
“Virginia Makes the Poorest Figure of Any State”: The Virginia Infantry at the Valley Forge Encampment, 1777-1778, Volume One, is a solid resource for anyone conducting research on the Virginia troops at Valley Forge, particularly genealogists. It provides useful information to researchers similar to the way Francis B. Heitman’s Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Armyassists those researching American officers in the Revolutionary War.
Boyle provides a clear, alphabetized starting point for researchers, sparing them endless hours of searching through the National Archives for the proverbial needle in a haystack. He has already combed through the haystack, actually ten haystacks, and has organized the needles for ten of Virginia’s regiments. Volume two will complete the task, a task we should all be thankful to Mr. Boyle for tackling.
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