On January 4, 1780, a severe snowstorm bore down on George Washington and his troops at Morristown, New Jersey. Then six years into the Revolutionary War, Morristown was chosen to be the army’s encampment for the winter. The conditions soldiers faced throughout the duration of war were notoriously deplorable, a fact only exacerbated by the harshness of that year’s winter. The temperature was bitterly cold, the wind stinging, and the snow packing onto the land in some places up to twelve feet high.
On March 18th of that same year, still under the thumb of the season’s brutal conditions, George Washington wrote a letter to Marquis de Lafayette stating: “The oldest people now living in this Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from. In a word, the severity of the frost exceeded anything of the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before.“
James Thacher, a Revolutionary War doctor and surgeon who was also encamped at Morristown, wrote of the snowstorm in his journal: “The weather for several days has been remarkably cold and stormy. On the 3rd instance, we experienced one of the most tremendous snowstorms ever remembered; no man could endure its violence many minutes without danger to his life.”
Congress had exhausted all of its resources at this point in the battle for independence, and the Continental Army was suffering greatly for it. Again, the weather conditions further compounded the struggles soldiers faced. Those at Morristown later recounted “starving,” saying they frequently went days without any food at all, and some days they were so hungry they ate the bark off trees.