The dawn that crept into Valley Forge on June 20, 1778, was unlike any the countryside had seen for the six months prior.
Gone were men, women, children and livestock that had camped there since December. The air had cleared of the smoke from their fires, the barked orders from officers, the din of artillery and the aftermath of more than 12,000 soldiers living onsite for more than 180 days. No more trees were felled for huts; no more communiques arrived on thundering horseback from Philadelphia; no more bedraggled soldiers foraged for provisions; no more wagons departed with ill or injured troops.
The Continental Army had gone on the offense, chasing the British forces evacuating Philadelphia.
The silence must have been deafening.
And for the area neighbors left behind, certainly welcome.
Farmers Elizabeth and David Stephens, as chronicled in the book Following the Drum (Nancy K. Loane), lived nearby the Isaac Potts House that eventually became Washington's Headquarters. The Stephens' home hosted General James Varnum from December 1777 to April 1778, when Varnum's own hut was eventually completed.
Once the army departed, the Stephens and their agrarian neighbors concentrated on putting their lives back together. The entire area entered a period of rebuilding in an effort to regain its economic footing:
...the Stephens family, like other farm families, busied themselves with preparing the fields for planting. Army huts were torn down for fencing. Trenches were filled in. The land was plowed and readied to receive the seed. Two years later, farm output was about what it had been before the army assaulted the ground.
-Following the Drum, pg. 145
The winter of 1777-1778 had a profound effect on the Continental Army, testing its resolve and sharpening its skills. Lost to history is the effect on the "forge-in-the-valley" residents who endured unique hardships and challenges of their own.
But for both officer and civilian, both infantryman and farmer, one thing was clear in the aftermath of that 1777-1778 winter: The quest for independence was deepening and its pursuit would eventually transform 13 discrete colonies into the United States.