Clay and David are joined by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, the #1 New York Times bestselling authors, to discuss their newest book, Valley Forge.
In December of 1777, the American Continental Army struggled to survive the coming winter. Valley Forge tells the story of how this army, after a string of demoralizing defeats, not only survived, but regrouped to take advantage of their last chance at redemption in a stunning victory at the Battle of Monmouth Court House.
Valley Forge was the darkest moment of the revolutionary war. Twelve thousand American troops were stationed at a place 23 miles northwest of Philadelphia. If there could be suffering, they felt it at Valley Forge — nearly starving, mutiny, disease, internecine struggles, you name it. Drury and Clavin also give us insights about Alexander Hamilton, and perhaps why George Washington listened to him so carefully. Of all of the people who have a role in this great story, Thomas Jefferson is not one of them, and for that reason, all of those present never quite felt that Jefferson was fully one of the band of brothers.
Tom Clavin is the author or coauthor of sixteen books. For fifteen years he wrote for The New York Times and has contributed to such magazines as Golf, Men's Journal, Parade, Reader’s Digest, and Smithsonian. He is currently the investigative features correspondent for Manhattan Magazine. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.
Bob Drury is the author/coauthor/editor of nine books. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Men’s Journal, and GQ. He is currently a contributing editor and foreign correspondent for Men’s Health. He lives in Manasquan, New Jersey.
Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
What Would Jefferson Do?
The following is a rush transcript:
David Swenson: 00:00 Good day citizens, and welcome to this edition of the Thomas Jefferson Hour podcast
Clay S. Jenkinson: 00:05 We will be mercifully brief. I must be rushing out to the Badlands of Dakota for an important meeting. Yes.
DS: 00:11 Keep your eyes out for Beau Wright. He's going to be out there.
CSJ: 00:14 I will look for him. Yeah, we, you know, we talked to him — He's in Virginia. I think down at – near poplar forest. And he is — used to work for the Obama White House. — Now he's a, a what — A young idealist trying to save democracy against all of the forces that are against it. But I'm heading there but, but this was a fascinating, fascinating program. We know — we're doing a series of interviews of authors. This is a book by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. They're joint authors. They've done a number of books together, including one you love on Red Cloud.
DS: 00:47 If you want to read a great book on the American plains. And uh, the history of native Americans — it's called the heart of everything that is best single volume I've ever read about Red Cloud for sure
CSJ: 00:59 and this one is called valley forge. It doesn't have a subtitle. It's the story of that moment in the winter of 1777, 1778, the darkest moment of the entire revolution when George Washington was in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania with 12,000 troops — 2,000 of whom died or deserted.
DS: 01:21 And this is not a dry read
CSJ: 01:23 smallpox, hunger, desperation.
DS: 01:27 We talked during the conversation about how they did such great character studies of all of these individuals and you, you learn so much about all of these individuals. I really enjoyed this book very, very much.
CSJ: 01:39 I did too. They're terrific. We want to have them back on the program and we've nominated this as you know, as a, as a club, it's already,
DS: 01:46 it's up to you.
CSJ: 01:47 Well, it's in. And so we want people to have
DS: 01:49 a little late.
CSJ: 01:50 If you haven't already read the book, read it now and then let us know what you thought — send us questions, we can do follow up with these two men. I think they would take our call.
DS: 02:00 We need to, we need to get back to our listeners are mail stack is rising and rising, but we've had so many special shows lately with authors
CSJ: 02:06 we will, and speaking of books just to say the winter retreats at Lochsa Lodge are coming; one on water in the West. That's January 13th through 18th and January 19th through 23rd. These are the book clubs you always wanted to have playful, humorous conversation about serious ideas in American history. One: water and the other. Well, not American history at all. Shakespeare. I love doing these David and people always say to me, isn't that awfully wintery up there? It's not. It's, it's like 35 degrees, which for North Dakota is like summer and the snow is there, but the — But it's not — No blizzard conditions. There's no wind. It's like a winter paradise and we sit around this open fire and talk about books and ideas and then in March there's Steinbeck — Steinbeck's Monterrey in California. That's I think a March 2nd through the ninth.
DS: 02:57 As long as you pitched, I will too; much shorter than you. I just want to thank everyone who has taken the time to go to Jeffersonhour.com and choose to support the show. We need you to support.
CSJ: 03:11 and we are so grateful.
DS: 03:11 Not like you and I are driving sports cars. We do it for nothing.
CSJ: 03:14 I have a Ford Falcon out there with only three tires
DS: 03:17 you don't
CSJ: 03:18 No but it's pretty close to that.
DS: 03:20 I'd love a Falcon
CSJ: 03:21 I had one as a child.
DS: 03:22 So with that, let's go to the show. And again, thank you all who have chosen to support the show. We really do appreciate it. Go to Jeffersonhour.com to find out more about Clay's cultural tours. And again, the book Sir,
CSJ: 03:34 this book by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, Valley Forge, published in the autumn of 2018 by Simon and Schuster. A delightful conversation with the authors. Let's go to the show.
DS: 03:47 Good day citizens, and welcome to the Thomas Jefferson Hour. We have a very special program this week. A couple of authors
CSJ: 03:54 we've worked out a wonderful cooperative arrangement with Simon and Schuster and they're feeding us authors and new books that pertain in one way or another to the life of Thomas Jefferson and the founding generation and the first book in this series, and I'm just delighted by it, David, is called valley forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. They're veteran writers, they've got about 25 books between them over the course of their careers. They turn out to be just wonderful gentlemen to interview and their book is about that moment in the winter of 1777 in the spring of 1778 when 12,000 American troops under George Washington's command were wintering at a place called Valley Forge, which was 23 miles northwest of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And that's the basis of this story. Every, every American school child has heard about valley forge and you know, soldiers with rags on their feet and blood in the snow. But I'll tell you this, David, I had no idea until I read this book of how desperate this winter was
DS: 04:59 and we were so pleased that they agreed to, uh, to join us for the full hour. And with that, let's, let's get to the conversation.
CSJ: 05:06 We're talking about the newly published Simon and Schuster volume valley forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, both of them prolific authors, one who has written and or co written and edited nine books, the other 16. So You two bring an enormous amount of experience to this. Give us in the shortest possible compass, the idea of what actually happened at valley forge.
Clavin: 05:29 Many people believe that there was a battle of valley forge — that's why it's familiar to a lot of people, or they have this social studies view of a couple of guys freezing in the snow and George Washington and watching those guys freeze in the snow. But a big reason why we feel passionate about the book is we believe that the valley forge experience was the major turning point in the revolutionary war. If — some people argue Washington's crossing, some people argue Yorktown, maybe a couple of other events or battles you could throw in there, but we believe that — the research and everything that we put the put it to the book backs this up, that if the continental army had not survived that six month encampment, that there would not have been a revolutionary war to continue fighting in the summer of 1778. George Washington took 12,000 troops in the valley forge in December of '77. And during the course of a horrific winter encampment, 2000 of those soldiers died from disease, from exposure, from starvation, generally nightmarish, conditions. And the main reason the army survived, we think is because of the integrity and leadership of George Washington. A big part of this book for us was showing him as a very human figure, a leader who's men revered him. And yes, dozens, hundreds deserted during the valley forge experience. But we focus more on those who stuck it out, who would not abandon George Washington and he wouldn't abandon his troops either. And so we believe that valley forge was the values of survival of the Continental army, but the survival and the revival of the American revolution
Drury: 07:11 Clay, this is Drury. And what — the only thing I would add to that is that we both contend that the characters who inhabit our book, the pages of valley forge and their shared core values were part of the most productive generation of statesmen in the history of this country. And we say this knowing full, well aware of Abraham Lincoln's team of rivals and FDR's kitchen cabinet, but these young men and they were all young. And that was another surprise to us. Uh, his home grown generals were in their thirties, his key age, his core — Alexander Hamilton, John Laurens, the Marquis de Lafayette, they were 22, 23 and 20 respectively. And the fact that these young men created this nation around George Washington who for that winter at valley forge was the personification of the United States government is just an amazing story. We think
CSJ: 08:10 It is an amazing story and you've told it very well indeed. Your book reads like a novel, it brings forth a lot of new and fascinating insights. Just a couple quick followup questions. Why valley forge and not somewhere else?
Drury: 08:23 Can I — Can I just say — I say this when I go out to speak at events, Tom and I had planned while we were in the course of putting this project together, putting this book together, we had planned, we had talked about, you know, people are gonna come to us — because we have argued with historians and as Tom said, some will say that the surprise attack the previous Christmas on Trenton and the mop up at Princeton, that was the key turning point of the war. Others will say Saratoga — Horatio Gates, his victory over gentleman Johnny Burgoyne up in Saratoga. Others will say it's when the French got into the war, that was the turning point — and as Tom mentioned, others will say, Nope, it's Yorktown, the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. So we were figuring how were we going to answer this. And then out of the blue, Joseph Ellis, who of course won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of George Washington. He won the national book award for his writings on Jefferson. As you well know — he came in with a blurb for us calling valley forge the existential moment in the war for independence when the direction of American history hung in the balance. So Tom and I just decided, well, if anybody wants to argue with, we'll give them Joseph Ellis
CSJ: 09:38 His blurb — Amazing — If I were in this encampment, food — at certain points near starvation, one disease after the next, I'm going through like wave's, no clothing, blood in the snow, all of that kind of anxiety. What are we doing here? What's the, what's the point of sitting in this godforsaken place where we are literally coming apart? I'd leave if I could. And you talk about those who've tried to swim the rivers or, or, or escape — some were caught, many just dissolved back into their lives. What is it about George Washington that enabled his charisma or his integrity or his stature to convince these frightened half starved men to hang on?
Clavin: 10:28 Well, this is Tom, I think a big reason was that, uh, quite a few of these men. I mean, there were enlistments and men that came and went there were militias from different states that came and went, but there, there were quite a few of the soldiers and the Continental army had been serving Washington since he had become the commander and chief a couple of years earlier. And so I think there was a — had been built up this reservoir of loyalty and dedication to Washington and recognition of his integrity and you compare it a little bit to the first couple of years, first two, three years of the, of the civil war, for example, in the case of the, union army, you had commanders in chief that were coming and going, you know, Pope and Hooker and Mcclellan twice and, and, and, uh, you know, sometimes some Mead you never — sometimes the soldiers never knew from one day to the next who was their commander in chief — on the southern side, everybody knew from day to day it was Robert E Lee. And I think there was something like that with Washington's case. He had been — he was their commander in chief. He was the most important military figure United States had. I mean, some people. Okay. You can mention Horatio Gates, Gates won that one victory that was basically it from the rest of his career was, uh, was, was not very distinguished at all. Washington even though many of his campaigns were unsuccessful and there were tough losses at the battle of Brandywine and German town, for example — he was the man, he was, he was the leader — of the military leader and I think the spiritual leader of the continental army. So I think that yes, there was some men that simply gave up and deserted, but I think there was a lot of — and we know from the evidence that there were a lot of men who stuck it out with George Washington because they believed in him — really did believe in the cause of liberty. This is not just a, uh, this was not just a way to pass the time for them, to put in their military service. They believed in what they were doing
Drury: 12:28 I would just add to that, uh, George Washington was willing to undergo the same deprivations as his troops — his headquarters at valley forge. At first it was a tent, Marquis, he called it and then he moved into a three bedroom farmhouse, the Pott's House, and his entire staff, 16, 17, 18 people. They all lived in this cramped space together and he didn't pull rank, so to speak. He wasn't feasting on mutton and — and fresh beef. While his troops were starving, he was eating the same dinner of Hickory nuts and a carrot and an onion. And I think it's that certain je ne sais quoi I guess you would put it. You don't know — It's the way the troops felt about Patton but not Ike — Ike. I'm not putting Ike down. Eisenhower was a tremendous general, but Patton inspired this personal loyalty much as George Washington did, and I think Tom put it best when he just said he was the embodiment of the American revolution in the United States for this winter.
CSJ: 13:37 Thinking about in reading your book, how to, how do two people write a book, how do you, how do you do the logistics of this?
Drury: 13:44 All right. Clay. I will finally admit it. I can't hide it anymore. I have pictures of Tom. He does everything. He does the research, reporting the writing and then when it was presented with the byline on, I pull it. I remind him that I have pictures — threat of exposure. Yeah.
Clavin: 14:00 That's an interesting question because we do get asked — people will think, well, do we trade chapters, does Bob write one and I write another one? And you know, from the very first book that we did, Halsey's Typhoon which was published, uh, 11 years ago, uh, we realized that you can't have four hands on a keyboard, you have to, you have to know write with one voice. And it was also very clear to me that that writing voice should be Bob's voice. So, you know, I do the majority of the research; Bob does all the writing. I do editing and revising and you know, the sexy stuff like the back bibliography and the photo captions and things like that, and that's, we're a double play combination and, and, uh, it worked with Halsey's typhoon and we just, we didn't really feel a need to vary our or routine up to the present.
Drury: 14:50 It's almost like think of Henry Ford's assembly line, Clay. We'll jump into this together. And uh, in this case, valley forge or in the Red Cloud book, the heart of everything that is there are obviously no one to interview – if there are people to interview as in – there were still World War Two vets alive during our research for Halsey's typhoon – the last stand of Fox company, there were Korean War vets alive and uh, and last men out about the marine security guard strapped on the Saigon Embassy. Seventy five – I'll do the interviewing, but you could throw me in the library of Congress or the National Archives and I probably eventually come out with what we need, but you have to send in a search party with miners' caps to findme, whereas Tom just swims through this, he swims through these, uh, these dense libraries and uh, between the two of us, uh, well, we, we formed a fairly good partnership.
DS: 15:49 I really enjoyed the way you delved into the characters and Clay said earlier, it read like a novel and that's part of it.
CSJ: 15:57 We're talking with Bob Drury and Tom Clavin about their new book, Valley Forge, Simon and Schuster, 2018.
DS: 16:02 Gentlemen, we need to take a short break, but we'll continue this conversation in just a moment. You're listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
CSJ: 16:13 Welcome back to this special edition of the Thomas Jefferson Hour, out of character. This week we're talking with Bob Drury and Tom Clavin about their new book, Valley Forge, Simon and Schuster, 2018. I'm very much interested in some of those other characters in this story.
DS: 16:32 They did such a good job on that. They, you know, every book has a voice that appears in your mind as you read it. Right. And this one just falls into place
CSJ: 16:43 – we are dedicated to our man, Thomas Jefferson. But one of the surprises for me was how important the figure in this valley forge story Hamilton is, not just because he's Hamilton, but he wrote this masterful 13,000 word report which changed the whole structure of the American army.
DS: 17:00 And he had great handwriting. Let's go back to the conversation. This is the Thomas Jefferson Hour, and of course we talk a lot about Alexander Hamilton and the squabbles between Jefferson and Hamilton. And I really enjoyed some of your details about Hamilton – at one point in the book. I can't remember exactly the words that you used, but you explained that he's kind of a crazy warrior
Drury: 17:26 – John Lawrence, who is the founding father you never heard of, unfortunately because he was killed in the waning, waning days, weeks before the British were about to abandon Charleston, who was killed – Hamilton, Lafayette. They all wanted, they all had this, this desire, this burning desire for battlefield honors, for battlefield glory. It was just a sign of the times, so to speak. And although I was a war correspondent for 20 years and I saw the same thing in a lot of our – they all look like boys to me. Our boys in Afghanistan and Iraq, uh, you're not fighting for – Hamilton was not fighting for the concept of the United States. Lawrence was not fighting for the newly minted American flag. They were fighting for each other. And when Washington finally let them loose, they were too valuable to him and to George Washington at Valley forge for him to let them go. He needed them as aides de camp, not only for their, for their, public duties, but they helped buoy him. Washington did not show any emotion to his troops, but in that cramped Pott's house headquarters, they could see the strain on him. They could see the weight on his shoulders and having them around, I think really pulled the commander in chief through this ugly, horrible winter. And yet, as you say, they strained, they screamed, no, I want to be out on the battlefields. And because Washington was such a hands on general, was out on the battlefield himself. Even as aides de camp they found themselves fighting. I mean, Lawrence made a name for himself, even in defeat at the battle of Germantown. And of course, Lafayette, once he was given command of a brigade, he distinguished himself also.
DS: 19:14 You also sort of infer that these were the sons that George Washington never had.
Clavin: 19:20 Yeah, it's interesting that the man has been known as the father of our country. And by the way, it was during the valley forge encampment when that phrase was first used by a German language, Pennsylvania publication, that he did not have children when he and Martha married, he adopted her two children. She was a widow – that she had had with her late husband. Um, so he, he was, uh, he, he, his 46th birthday took place, uh, at valley forge in February '78. And, uh, he was childless and obviously by this point was destined to remain that way, and he had these young men who were, as Bob mentioned, were – Lafayette was 20, Hamilton and Lauren's 22 going on 23 years old. They were, they were probably the age if Washington had sons, this is the age they would have been. And so, and they were totally devoted to him in a way that, that sons would be to fathers. And so, uh, and he, he was, he was devoted to them because he, as Bob said, they, they, they bouyed him. They supported him. They, their, their energy, their idealism, their loyalty, their desire, a burning desire for not only battlefield glory, but for the cause of freedom. I mean, we refer a couple of times in the chapter in which we discussed John Laurens and refer to him as, as the idealist. Um, so I think that, that, uh, we do call him, uh, do call them surrogate sons, because that's the way they were. And this is a very telling moment in the battle of Brandywine when Washington learns that Lafayette has been wounded and uh, and he sends a surgeon up to the front defined Lafayette and says, treat him as if he were my own son. And that's the way he felt. An interesting little footnote. Lafayette was also one of the few people that could look Washington in the eye because Washington was like six, three, six, four. He towered you – not only, not only psychologically but physically towered over everybody in a room he was in. And, uh, it was probably an extra little enjoyment for him that would, that would Lafayette this, this, this eager young man. And he could look, they can look each other in the eye.
Drury: 21:22 And on that note of Washington's a projection of strength, so to speak, uh, John Adams, who was not a Washington fan, uh, he was behind the cabal that seeked to replace Washington as commander in chief with Horatio gates after Saratoga. And once quipped that, uh, we only made him the commander in chief because he's the tallest guy in every room
CSJ: 21:47 typical John Adams; I want to go back to Lafeyette may have been the favorite son in some ways, but Hamilton was the most brilliant of the sons, and I'm looking at your page 188; Hamilton is suffering from pneumonia and yet he's managed just to to write a 13,000 word paper entitled a representation to the Congress, to the committee of Congress in which he proposes just a fundamental reorganization of the American army. Can you talk about, first of all Hamilton's brilliance, but also the importance of that document.
Drury: 22:25 I'll just say that of all the aides, not just Hamilton, Laurens and Lafayette. There were several aides who Washington was very close to, but Hamilton was the one that – he could almost finish Washington's thoughts. Washington of course dictated everything. He – early in the war he wrote his own letters, but then that just became too overwhelming and one of the reasons he hired Hamilton, promoted him to lieutenant colonel and made him an aide to camp was because his handwriting was so good. But as the two got to know each other, Washington realized that this young man can finish my thoughts for me. And although all the correspondence – and I read, I read close to 2000 of Washington's personal memos, personal letters, public proclamations, general orders, his correspondence with Congress, the continental congress. I read everything the man wrote or dictated between, uh, I think it was July one, 1777 and July 15th, 1778. And so many of them strikingly bear the imprint of these are Alexander Hamilton's thoughts, as well as Washington's. I'm not taking anything away from George Washington, but Hamilton and Washington were on the same plane as far as, uh, as far as knowing what they wanted and how to put it down on paper to convince other people, specifically the continental congress. The delegates needed to be convinced. They think that we're just lollygagging out here at Valley Forge. We have no food, we have no weapons, we have no clothes. Foreign officers who visited valley forge to volunteer their services or to – just to observe were shocked when they arrived. There would be sentries and when we say naked, we're not talking metaphorically, we're talking literally, there would be a naked sentry wrapped in an old blanket with no shoes. He'd be standing on his hat in the snow or the freezing mud. Hamilton felt this, Laurens felt this Washington's closest aides. They all felt what Washington was feeling himself about this, if that makes any sense. I don't know if it does or not.
CSJ: 24:38 Gives you a sense of why Hamilton later in life was the chief advocate for a very strong central government and despised Jefferson's views of states' rights and local control and militia only til actual invasion. You know, I think one of the things that comes out of your book is that it would almost be impossible to exaggerate the level of chaos and suffering at valley forge.
Drury: 25:03 True.
CSJ: 25:04 When I started reading the book, I thought, Oh, you have 12,000 soldiers here. Describe for our listeners why the logistics of feeding 12,000 and clothing 12,000 proved to be almost impossible.
Clavin: 25:18 Well, there's several answers – the supply line was run by civilians. The continental congress had appointed civilians. There was a general in the head of the supply stem, but they were run by civilians and they were totally corrupt, b) just a simple dearth of wagons. They didn't have horses and wagons, even if they could get food. They had a hard time getting it to valley forge because they didn't have enough wagons and – One of the myths is that the preceding autumn's Pennsylvania campaign had denuded Chester County, which holds valley forge. Neighboring Montgomery County Bucks County had denuded all the farms of food, which was not true at all. In fact, the crop outcome for 1777 was one of the highest of the decade, but these civilian merchants, I mean, the continental soldiers who survived valley forge, many of them went to their graves cursing what they call those damn Quakers, but it wasn't all Quakers. It was the merchants and the farmers in general. They didn't know which way this war was going and if they were going to sell their merchandise or bring their cattle, droves of cattle, their poultry, their pigs, their corn and their wheat. They wanted British pound sterling or sometimes even gold for this food, for this equipment, and at one point it wasn't for the French before the French even got into the war. They were surreptitiously sending shoes, tents and uniforms as well as arms as well as guns and artillery, but that is what kept for a couple of months. It was only that that kept the continental army from disbanding or dissolving or starving as Washington said in his famous letter to congress. We are on the verge of disbanding, dissolving, or starving unless you get your act together. And finally when Nathaniel Greene was named head of supply system, that's when things turned around. Green was a a general from Rhode Island. He didn't want the job. He preferred battlefield glory, but he said, I'll do it for the good of the team more or less, and he just went out and he started making sweeping changes in the supply stem and that's when things started to turn around in the late spring of 1778
DS: 27:41 I mentioned that I really enjoyed the character studies that you did throughout the book. Talking about the – how grim it was, but you just touched on Nathaniel Green and the changes that – there's a point in the book where things turn
Clavin: 27:56 a huge turning point in the valley forge encampment was the arrival of the Baron von Steuben, uh, who's also known as von Steuben. Um, so Bob take it away because it was the appearance of this Falstaff-ian character in the third week in February when George Washington and his army were at their absolute lowest point – that made a difference.
Drury: 28:17 Tom's right. I mean, George Washington, that's obviously my favorite character in the book. But if I have a secondary protagonist who I fell in love with it was the Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben – von Steuben to you and me, when he showed up at valley forge in late February, first of all, he arrived in a sleigh, pulled by a team of coal black ... horses he had purchased in France, in France, in order to make a good entrance. And the sleigh was adorned with 24 jingle bells. And he's sitting in there, with his Silk Tunic and two big horse pistols on his ample belly. He was a big man and he trailed by a retinue of servants and aids to camp and translators. And even a French chef who was in valley forge I think 36 hours before he quit. He said, I'm not working here; but he also arrived at valley forge with a resume more doctored up than the Mayo Clinic. I mean he, he had come, he had come – The French Foreign Minister ... had introduced von Steuben to Ben Franklin and Franklin's associates, Silas Deane in Paris. And at first they were like, no, no. First of all, you never rose beyond the rank of captain in Frederick, the Great Russian army. George Washington is already sending us letters telling us, please don't send me any more of these foreign – I love this word: poppinjays, these deadbeats. Most of them were French. They had no English. They showed up in the United States expecting to be made a general; Washington couldn't stand this. But Franklin and Dean in Paris realized that von Steuben had something that no one else they had interviewed had and that is in Frederick the great's army, officers spent the first six years of their enlistment living with the enlisted men and thereafter getting down in the muck and mire and training with them. I mean, so when von Steuben started to explain what he could do to transform the army, the continental army, Franklin and Dean looked at each other and said, this is just the guy we need to to make a professional force out of our disparate militias, but how are we going to present them to Washington? He's only a captain, so suddenly those captain's bars disappeared and they were replaced by the general stars, and von Steuben suddenly became a primary age, Frederick the great for over a decade, the inspector general of the Prussian Army, and it was – it was a total fraud, and of course he realized he was going to be found out eventually – everybody did. But by the time that von Steuben himself started to backtrack, his drilling methods were already transforming the American army. In fact, the very last letter Washington wrote in 1783 as commander in chief of the continental army was to the Baron von Steuben thanking him for making a professional fighting force out of his disparate militias. That's how much – Washington put out a decree at valley forge. No one else can train other than von Steuben. And one of the reasons I really liked the man, because as Tom mentioned, he was this Falstaff-ian character and Hamilton and Laurens in particular followed him around like a couple of ... following – Falstaff, wherever he went, but he also needed them because he had no English and they were his translators that Washington assigned to them. And so during the drills, von Steuben was a stickler for details and if someone made a mistake, he would – His face would turn red and he'd start flailing and spittle is coming out of his mouth and he'd yell at Hamilton or Laurens or whoever was translating. Get over here and translate for me – in French because he spoke French, and then a string of oaths and curses in German and French would come out of his mouth and by the time, say, Hamilton was translating, by the time Hamilton translated all of this into English, the soldiers were doubled over in laughter. I mean they loved this guy. He was one of them, and I think the transformation of the continental army began into a real polished force, began with the arrival of valley forge of Baron von Steuben.
CSJ: 32:32 I want to turn to Jefferson for a moment. I feel obliged to at least bring him into the conversation a little – in later life, you can understand why people like Washington and Hamilton and others had some sort of residual resentment about Jefferson and men like him. People who weren't there, who didn't understand the suffering or the the esprit de corps that came from that suffering, who didn't really understand the glory of war – Jefferson is a decided civilian in this story,
Drury: 33:04 That's correct. I believe it was in Virginia – although when Washington marched the continental army into Philadelphia before the battle of Brandywine – before Howe made his move on Philadelphia – they marched right beneath the rooming house. The windows of the rooming house where Thomas Jefferson had written the declaration of independence, but for the balance of the war, uh, you know, it, it's almost like Jefferson moved men's minds, but Washington made them get up and fight, and the two complemented each other, as I'm sure you're aware. It's just that in the – Jefferson was just a different kind of animal. And although he has held many of the same beliefs as Washington as we touched upon before regarding black soldiers, neither Washington nor Jefferson was particularly religious, which was a little bit out of step for the time – they went to church, Washington – that was an episcopalian, but he usually left before the communion. Jefferson – they were both deists and they were both Virginia plants. So they had that in common. But as far as what Tom calls, which George was, you can, the action figure. No. Jefferson was out of that picture.
CSJ: 34:17 And one thing that would have impressed Jefferson, and I found fascinating in your book, is Washington's decision to inoculate his troops against smallpox. Can you talk about that?
Clavin: 34:27 That shows one of Washington's more forward thinking decisions because he insisted that his troops be inoculated and you only can look back, you know, in retrospect that they could be – had not done that considering the vulnerability to disease this his troops were because of exposure to the elements, because of starvation – resistance to disease had to be extremely low and you know, they were suffering from cholera and other kinds of ailments that if smallpox had really had a chance to take hold of the continental army, that by itself could have rendered the army completely unfit for any further fighting.
DS: 35:06 Gentlemen, we need to take a short break, but we'll return to this conversation in just a moment. You're listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
CSJ: 35:14 Hello everyone. It's Clay Jenkinson. Just sneaking in a little announcement between segments of the Jefferson Hour. I want you to join me this winter at Lochsa Lodge west of Missoula for two humanities cultural retreats: the first one, water and the west, January 13th through 18th, and the second, Shakespeare without tears, January 19th through 24th. For more information, go to our website, Jeffersonhour.com/tours. We'll see you in the mountains.
CSJ: 35:43 Welcome back. We're talking with Bob Drury and Tom Clavin about their new book, Valley Forge, which is not a Jefferson book. Jefferson was back in Virginia. I think they rightly say there are different ways to contribute to an American independence movement. These were men of action. Jefferson is more of a man of contemplation, more of a man of language, a statesman, a law giver.
DS: 36:07 You read this book and you are – You understand immediately why Washington gave such weight to Hamilton's opinions. Hamilton was there
CSJ: 36:18 and Lafayette was there, and one of the things that
DS: 36:20 And Jefferson was not
CSJ: 36:22 Jefferson was not. Lafayette was the only person who could make George Washington shed his reserve and his stiffness, and when he was around Lafayette, he became playful, physically affectionate. There was some magic between Lafayette and George Washington that he actually shared with no other person, I think, in the whole course of his life. Let's, let's return to the interview. We're talking with Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, and their new book, Simon and Schuster, valley forge, a fascinating account here. Let me ask a question about Washington again, because he is the central figure of the story. When we look back sort of without any knowledge of the revolution, we think of Washington as the unanimous, uncontested, admired and loved. That's just not true and some of this unfolded during valley forge. Can you talk about the internicine struggles?
Drury: 37:19 Well, there was – That's one of the largest discoveries when we were researching for that winter of 1777/1778. Washington was fighting a two front war. He was fighting militarily against King George III's red coats, and he was fighting for his political life against the continental congress, particularly the New England faction who just wanted to replace him. They wanted to usurp him as commander in chief and they found their opportunity when general Gates defeated the British at Saratoga, and Gates, of course, was a political animal himself. Gates had been born in Britain, had fought for the British in the French and Indian war, and then remained in the United States and he had a farm in western Virginia which – actually today it's in West Virginia and when war broke out, he pledged his loyalty to the rebels, to the United States, and he kind of expected to be named commander in chief. He considered – and when Washington was named instead, that was a political move right there. The New England firebrands, John Adams, Sam Adams, and the like. They realized that without Virginia in the fold, the former colonies, which now declared themselves states, had no chance against the mighty British army. So in order to get Virginia, the most populus state, the largest state into the fold, they named Washington as commander in chief and Gates harbored a grudge about this, as did a general Lee, another British born officer who thought he should have been commander in chief. So after the ill fated Pennsylvania campaign where Washington was just rushing willy nilly, losing battles and at Brandywine creek having troops massacred at Paoli, losing the battle of Germantown. Those whispers – the continental Congress of course, had flood Philadelphia, and most of them had returned to their own districts, but a quorum of delegates anywhere from 18 to 23 at any given time, had reconfederated in the inland Pennsylvania town of York. And the whispers about Washington being a military commander – being a bad military commander. Now they were growing. There were whispers anymore. I mean Dr Benjamin Rush, who was a signer of the declaration of independence, a former Washington ally. He wrote this anonymous screed against Washington, calling him a power mad dictator and a lousy general. And Patrick Henry, as a matter of fact, recognized Benjamin Rush, his handwriting, and he informed Washington, who this – these are the kind of powerful men who were trying to oust you, but Washington just played his hand. He was learning to become a politician on the job, much as he was learning to become a general on the job. When he was first appointed commander in chief, he rushed out to buy books on logistics, on artillery, on cavalry. This was stuff he had been a commander himself, a militia commander during the French and Indian war, but he was in – He was learning on the job both militarily and politically, and the smartest thing he did was request that a number of delegates come out to inspect the troops at valley forge and these five delegates. They became known as the camp committee. They wrote out to valley forge and when York was 80 miles away – they rode to valley forge, and when they saw the horrid conditions of the troops: barefoot, starving – and they were so embarrassed, they started taking off their own shoes and giving them to the soldiers. Once they realized that Washington was not this power mad authoritarian figure, he was the only reason that the army was being held together. They started, he – Washington put them up in a local farm house and listed his demands, but he listed them in a way that he made the congressmen. This camp committee, five delegates, he made it seem like it was their idea that we had to restructure the army and every day he would send John Laurens or Alexander Hamilton over to the farmhouse to kind of cajole and hinge. And it came to the point where it was almost like the tail wagging the dog. These five delegates were dictating back to the continental congress in New York. This is what we need. This is what we have to do. And this was Washington's idea. The entire time. He didn't stand up and demand, uh, so many of these emotional generals, you know, if you said one bad word about them, they wanted to duel you or demand a court of inquiry or a court marshal, a clear mind, good name. Washington knew he had to play behind the scenes. He had to become a political player and he did.
CSJ: 41:55 We need a mini series or a blockbuster film on this story; you know, you describe these moments with great cinematic verve and drama. I just see these, these five members of the Continental Congress appearing in this sea of mud and disease and nakedness and blood and squalor, and I think you say that they were billeted in a house that was near horses that were rotting from dying. This is quite a scene in the middle of this, the squalor is, are you, are you, is this headed towards Hollywood?
Clavin: 42:29 Oh, well, I think Bob and I are both veterans of this, of the writing game to know that we have no control over these things. It's like this lightning strike, you know, we have – we had the heart of everything that is, the last we heard is being developed into what could be a mini series. And, uh, and so with this one, you know, certainly, uh, I mean, I would certainly agree with you that I think it lends itself – now in the age we have entities like Amazon and Netflix in addition to the old, the established ones, more established ones like HBO and Showtime – this hungry maw of looking for content that this would lend itself to. I mean, you have the founding, the founding father, I guess you could say in George Washington as your central character who, when you think about it in popular culture, rarely gets represented. You know, we, we've had a film called Lincoln and Lincoln as a young Abe Lincoln, Abe Lincoln of Illinois. And Lincoln has been represented many, many times in our, on
Drury: 43:31 Vampire Killer – wasn't there a film
Clavin: 43:33 Yeah, Abraham Lincoln vampire killer. So on the bigger and more recently, the small screen there has been no lack of Lincoln. And, but George Washington rarely gets portrayed. Uh, and, and I think here, if, you know, if anybody's listening to your program that's interested, you have the central figure being a very human George Washington that, I keep emphasizing that because it is, this isn't the George Washington who you see staring back at you from a, from a piece of money, for portrait on a museum wall. This is, this is George Washington with all his faults and his attributes and his passions and his very, very human emotions including fear and despair. And then you have surrounding him these iconic characters like Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette and Mad Anthony Wayne and Benedict Arnold. And this, there really is. Yes, a lot of potential for dramatic presentation of this. What we understood, came to realize is actually a very dramatic story,
CSJ: 44:45 And as Washington looks out on all of this squalor with hints of mutiny and cabals and internicine struggle and the cheating by the purveyors and the profiteering and so on. Does at any point George Washington say to, at least to himself, these people don't deserve liberty. These people don't deserve to win this war.
Drury: 45:01 I read everything Washington road are dictated for that year and never – although you can feel the despair and his voice when he's writing, for instance, before Martha arrives, when he's writing to Martha or writing to his adopted son, Jacky Custis, Martha's son, or when he's writing to his old planter friends who are now politicians in Virginia, you can actually feel and hear despair in his voice about will we make it out of here – but not once did I come across anything of the likes of, look what they're doing to us. We don't deserve the liberty we're fighting for – or, let's just give up now or let's make peace. And in fact, when other people – when the British, when the French got into the war, the British offered the United States liberty in all but name. You can have your continental congress. We might even put some of you Americans in our house of commons. Washington will make you a duke and never once did he veer from the path of no, no, we are the United States and we will remain the United States.
DS: 46:12 I'm glad you brought up the Heart of Everything That Is, that's how I first became acquainted with your work and I couldn't heap enough praise on you for that book. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to anybody. If, if people are interested to find your work, they can go to Jeffersonhour.com and we'll provide links. I have to just say, one of the things I enjoyed the most about your book was the epilogue. I really appreciated that and I hope that's taken in the right spirit, but how you went through what happened to everyone and the fact that Lee was a traitor, found out, uh, decades, centuries later. And I really enjoyed that.
Clavin: 46:52 Thank you. I'm glad you brought that up because when we were putting the epilogue together, you know, we did remark to each other, my goodness, this is a long epilogue, but we just, we couldn't find a way and we let our editor know about this. And then I think, when we turned it in, we said if you see any where that we need to cut, but we couldn't think of anything that we, that we wanted to leave out because you have so many characters who have traveled to the previous 360 pages of the book and the story and, and yeah, of course we know that Washington became, became president and served two terms. You know, he did – revisited valley Forge late in his second term –
DS: 47:34 All that information about Lafayette that no one does know
Clavin: 47:37 We just couldn't let it go. We were so engaged with these characters that we can't just end the book. Where – out of valley forge – They take on the British at the battle of Monmouth courthouse. The end. We had to follow up. We're hoping that people will be so engaged with the characters we wrote about that they would want to. And in fact many people have kind of echoed your words and say, Oh man, the epilogue was great. I didn't know what happened to Mad Anthony Wayne or Nathaniel Greene or Lafayette or. Well, even major Andre a was hung, I mean, and it was all that – Henry Knox, it was funny how many of these men turned out to be wonderful soldiers and bad businessmen
DS: 48:21 and the story about the gentleman who rises from his grave every January first to go search – I got to that passage and I had to stop and read it out loud to my wife and we both chuckled. It was great.
Drury: 48:34 Yeah. Yeah. We, we enjoy the epilogue, but there's also throughout, which I think is fun. There are the sidebars of the Valley Forge story which are fascinating. I mean we do ship scenes to Paris and what Franklin is going on there and how they revered Franklin. Yet he was again, had his own moments of despair – ever be able to work something out and then perhaps one of my favorites, if not my favorite sidebar story in the book, is that it was during the valley forge encampment that the United States for the first time deployed an attack submarine. And that sounds very strange to say that in January of 1778, we had an attack submarine that was capable of blowing up a British ship, but we did. It was called the Turtle and it was David Bushnell had created it and even invented a weapon called the torpedo. And there was actually a mission which is discussed in the book to, to blow up at bolthouse flagship in the harbor using the submarine of the torpedo – was the beginning of submarine warfare. And that, those kinds of sidebars, I just love when we were able to do include them throughout the book.
CSJ: 49:38 That story is just so delightful. You – first of all talk about a low tech contraption, the turtle, but the poor bloke who had to go down to attach the torpedo, and, what did you say? It's hour after hour after hour that he's paddling against the current, By the time he gets to the ship, he's exhausted. It's daylight. The whole. Apparently there was some sort of metal on the hull so he couldn't penetrate the hull. It was a failed mission, but it was a wonderful story.
Drury: 50:08 And he has to paddle all the way back across the harbor as the sun is coming up and you have these, these British soldiers and sailors looking over the side of the ships and say, look into – What the heck is that thing under the water?
CSJ: 50:18 One of the things I so admire about your book is that when we look back at these key stories in American history, in retrospect, they often are less mythologically patriotic or less triumphant than they, than they appeared and in our school books. But this story holds up, doesn't it? I mean, this story – there is, there are some myths about the story, but the triumph of overcoming these odds to fight again another day. And the Esprit de Corps that developed because of this, this moment holds up historic – to historical scrutiny, doesn't it?
Clavin: 50:55 I agree with that. It's a very patriotic story in the best sense of the word that, uh, I, I certainly feel that when the book was done, I did feel an extra that extra bit of pride in being an American. I don't mean in a jingoistic way, but, but I think that, uh, to look back and Bob said this very early in the conversation that, that these were, these, these were people who were fighting for a cause.
CSJ: 51:22 We have so greatly enjoyed this conversation. And the good news is it can happen again. You seem to write a book about once every three months and come back and be on the Jefferson Hour again, we have a long list of books here. Lucky 666, the impossible mission, the heart of everything that is, the untold story of Red Cloud, an American legend, the last stand of Fox company, a true story of US Marines in combat, last men out, which is the next one I'm going to read the true story of America's heroic final hours in Vietnam. And so on. Gentlemen, you have been just a delightful interview. We wish you well with the book and we urge all of the listeners to the Thomas Jefferson Hour to pick up valley forge, Simon and Schuster just out this year. 2018.
Clavin & Drury: 52:03 Thank you David. Thank you Clay.
DS: 52:04 We can't thank these two gentlemen enough
CSJ: 52:06 and you made a special point of reminding us about the epilogue, which is a long, interesting chapter. Remember at the end of the movie when it says this person went on to be an insurance adjuster, she didn't marry him after all, and he goes through each of the main characters in the story and then follows that person's career out.
DS: 52:22 Yeah, and the fact that they had considered maybe editing and cutting, but they didn't and I'm so glad they didn't because it's rare when you read this type of historical account. A lot of them had a lot of financial troubles and – wasn't happy for everybody.
CSJ: 52:37 The second book in our Jefferson book club series; you managed to put off Tacitus one more time by saying we should do this one. Right.
DS: 52:46 We'll talk
CSJ: 52:47 What a great conversation, David, I'm just so glad for this relationship we've formed with Simon and Schuster. We want other publishers to send us their books that relate in any way to the world of Thomas Jefferson – Jefferson doesn't come up much in this book and doesn't come up very favorably in this book. Nevertheless, it's a really important chapter in the history of the American revolution and this is an exciting book. It's not a tedious academic book. These guys know how to write. That's it for today. We'll see you next week for another exciting edition of the Thomas Jefferson Hour
DS: 53:21 The Thomas Jefferson Hour is brought to you each week by Dakota Sky Education. The program is distributed nationally by Prairie Public Radio. President Thomas Jefferson lived from 1743 to 1826, and this program presents his views. President Jefferson is portrayed by the award-winning humanities scholar and author Clay S. Jenkinson. To obtain a copy of this or any show for $12 donation, please call (888) 828-2853. This program is also available online at jeffersonhour.org and on iTunes. If you'd like to correspond with President Jefferson, or submit a question for him to answer on the program, please visit the website at jeffersonhour.org. The Thomas Jefferson Hour is produced at Makoché Recording Studios in Bismarck, North Dakota. Music by Steven Swinford. Thank you for listening. Please tune in again next week for another thought-provoking, historically-accurate program through the eyes of Thomas Jefferson.