Doggin’ The American Revolution

Valley Forge National Historic Park - Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
America can be a strange place for dog owners. Places where you would not expect to be able to take your dog, like outdoor historic shrines, often welcome dogs on the grounds while places you would expect to be able to take dogs, like national parks, nearly all ban dogs. It almost feels like we have found a loophole in the system when we take or dogs to some of the most historic grounds in the country.

Such is the case with Valley Forge National Historic Park.

The most famous name in the American Revolution comes to us from a small iron forge built along Valley Creek in the 1740s. After a disastrous campaign in the Fall of 1777 George Washington had left Philadelphia in the hands of the British and retreated to a defensible winter campsite out of harm's way but close enough to keep an eye on the British in their toasty Philadelphia homes. During the winter of 1777-78, as Valley Forge grew to be the third largest city in America, hundreds of soldiers died from sickness and disease. No battles were fought here but Valley Forge, the site where the American army was born, became a symbol for the young nation. After the Revolution, the land reverted to fields and Valley Forge was forgotten. America's interest in Valley Forge was rekindled during a Centennial in 1878 and preservation efforts eventually began with the Potts House, now known as Washington's Headquarters.

There are four marked trails in Valley Forge National Historical Park, plus miles of unmarked hikes. The Multi-Use Trail loops the Colonial defensive lines and Grand Parade Ground and visits George Washington's headquarters. Panoramic field vistas of the historic grounds are found all along the paved trail's six-mile length. The Valley Creek Trail is a flat, linear 1.2 mile walk along Valley Creek, past the original Upper Forge site.

Near the Valley Creek, beginning at the Artificer's Shops on Route 23, is the eastern terminus of the 133-mile Horse-Shoe Trail that ends at the Appalachian Trail in Hershey. In the park, the trail climbs steeply through the woods up Mount Misery, the natural southern defensive boundary of the Valley Forge camp. The historic Horse-Shoe Trail, so-named as it was built for rider and walker, quickly incorporates back roads and private property and is not worth following outside the park. 
Across the Schuylkill River is the 3-mile linear Schuylkill River Trail connecting the Pawling's Parking Area and the Betzwood Picnic Area. This wide, flat dirt trail skirts the river for its entire route and provides ample access into the broad and shallow water of the Schuylkill River for canine aquatics. A National Park Service map provides locations for the trails and does not indicate the variety of side trails available, especially in the Walnut Hill area that connect to the Schuylkill River Trail

Saratoga National Historic Park - Schuylerville, New York
Saratoga National Historic Park preserves 3200 acres of battlefield where American revolutionaries, behind General Horatio Gates, prevented British control of the Hudson River in the Fall of 1777. In two battles, three weeks apart, the British suffered 1,000 casualties and General John Burgoyne, awaiting reinforcements that never arrived, was forced to surrender an army of 6,000 men. By thwarting the British initiative to split the Colonies in half, the Americans went a long way towards gaining their independence.Saratoga is one of the most famous and influential battlefields in the world and the National park Service maintains the ground much as it looked 227 years ago.

The Wilkinson National Recreation Trail is a 4.2-mile loop across the property, much of which was farmland during the Revolution. The trail is named for the lieutenant who drew maps of the Saratoga Battlefield in 1777. Save for a single dip into the Great Ravine, this is easy canine hiking across rolling grasslands with islands of airy deciduous woods. The trail uses part of the roads British troops took to and from the two battles. Interpretive stops include British and German redoubts (outlined in red and white posts). The .6-mile Freeman Loopvisits the site of some of the fiercest fighting on John Freeman's farm. If you drive the auto tour road you will find additional short explorations, including a one-mile loop trail that passes the gravesite of Brigadier General Simon Fraser, the spirited core of the British troops. There is no water along the park trails so on hot days a canine canteen will certainly be in order.

Behind the Breymann Redoubt, Station C, on the Wilkinson Trail, is the unique Boot Monument. The boot in question belonged to American battle hero Benedict Arnold (before he switched sides to the British). Arnold rode through a cross-fire in front of the defensive position to secure victory and recieved a second wound in his leg. The marble boot monument does not mention the eventual traitor's name.

Morristown National Historic Park - Morristown, New Jersey
Morristown, a village of 250, was a center of iron supply for the American Revolution and even though it lay only 30 miles west of the main British force in New York it was protected by a series of parallel mountain ranges. It was the twin luxuries of a defensible position in close proximity to the enemy that twice brought General Washington to camp his main army here, first in 1777 and again in 1779-1780.

After the Battle of Princeton in January 3, 1777 a worn-down Colonial Armyswarmed the tiny town seeking shelter in the few public buildings, private homes, barns and stables then in existence. Steadily Washington rebuilt his flagging troops, overcoming desertion and insipient food shortages. When here, nothing could have prepared the Continental Army for the worst winter of the 18th century. Twenty-eight blizzards pounded the slopes and whipped through the wooden huts that were cut from 600 acres of hardwood forests here. His greatest foe, however, was disease. An outbreak of smallpoxthreatened to decimate the small army and Washington ordered the little known and, to many, horrifying procedure of innoculation. Some indeed died but most of his troops did not contract the deadly pox.

Morristown National Historic Park, created in 1933 in the heart of New Jersey, is most attractive for your dog at the Jockey Hollow Encampment Area. You can hike with your dog through open and airy forests with long views through the trees from the trail. Four main dog-friendly trails circle the Jockey Hollow Encampment. The 6.5-mile Grand Loop Trail, blazed in white, circles the park but doesn't visit any historical attractions without a detour. It is also the only trail that cannot be accessed from the centrally located Trail Center.

The Aqueduct Loop Trail and the stacked loop Primrose Brook Trail are two of the prettiest rambles with your dog in the park as they trace some of the many gurgling streams that once attracted the Colonial Army. The long-distance Patriot's Path links Jockey Hollow to the New Jersey Encampment Area and neighboring park's and contributes mightily to the total of 27 well-groomed miles of Morristown trails.

Kings Mountain National Military Park - York, South Carolina
Thomas Jefferson called it, "The turn of the tide of success." For the British, Sir Henry Clinton called the defeat at Kings Mountain, "the first link in a chain of evils that at last ended in the total loss of America.” The battle of Kings Mountain, fought October 7th, 1780, was the first major patriot victory to occur after the British invasion of Charleston, SC in May 1780. The park preserves the site of this Revolutionary War battle in the Carolina wilderness.

Revolutionary War buffs will certainly want to make the effort to bring the dog to Kings Mountain, site of some of the most vicious American vs. American fighting of the war. Here some 600 "backcountry" men who had marched over 200 miles attacked Carolinians loyal to the crown. The Loyalists were under the command of "Bloody" Patrick Ferguson, the only British soldier in the battle.

Ferguson chose to defend his position on traditional high ground, a rocky outcropping surrounded by a hardwood forest. The mountain men, however, worked their way up the slopes, fighting from tree to tree on their way to the summit. The high ground in this case worked against the defenders as they were unable to get clear shots at their attackers.

You can hike with your dog on an interpretive walking trail around Battlefield Ridge. Hiking on the thickly wooded mountainside provides an excellent feel for what fighting must have been like on that critical day in the American Revolution. Your canine hike will include an exploration of the spot where Ferguson was killed, marked by a monument and covered with a traditional Scottish stone cairn.

Kings Mountain has the second oldest Revolutionary War Monument in the nation. It is the 1815 Chronicle Marker located on the battlefield. Several veterans of the battle dedicated it. 

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park - Greensboro, North Carolina
With the Revolutionary War stalemated in the North in 1778, the British strategy to win the war shifted to the South. Georgia and South Carolina were completely under British control by 1780. Nathanael Greene, an ironmaster by trade, self-taught in the art of war and George Washington's hand-picked commander of the Southern Department, was determined to keep North Carolina out of British hands.

From his base in Virginia Greene harassed the British as their attack spread northward. Pursued by a frenetic Lord Cornwallis, Greene selected sloping ground near Guilford Courthouse to make his stand. He aligned his superior force of 4,000 men - of which scarcely one in five had ever seen battle action - in three lines to receive the British assault on March 15, 1781.

The first line, manned by inexperienced North Carolina militia, was quickly brushed aside and fled. Breaking through the second Patriot line, however, required savage fighting and by the time the redcoats reached Greene's last line, Cornwallis was becoming desperate. As the fighting raged Cornwallis directed his artillery to fire grapeshot over his own lines into the melee of friend and foe alike. The harsh directive to fire into his own troops dispersed the Americans and saved his army.

Greene retired from the field. Technically the loser, his losses had been light. Cornwallis kept the field but lost the war at Guilford Courthouse. His army limped on to Wilmington, convinced that conquering Virginia would collapse the Revolution. Greene let him go and moved southward to reconquer South Carolina and Georgia, confident that American troops assembling in Virginia would destroy Cornwallis - which they did seven months later in Yorktown. Begun in 1887, the 220-acre park was later established in 1917 as the first battleground of the American Revolution to be preserved as a national military park.

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is a local popular dog-walking destination with level, leafy paths in a suburban environment. Nothing remains of either the small wooden courthouse or the community of March 15, 1781 but the grounds are among the most decorated of Revolutionary battlefields, graced by twenty-eight monuments. The most impressive monument is the large equestrian statue of General Greene, sculpted by Francis H. Packer of New York. Unveiled on July 3, 1915, it bears Greene's words: "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again."

Monmouth Battlefield State Park - Manalapan, New Jersey
The American Army came of age in 1778 in the Battle of Monmouth, forcing the British from the field in a brilliant counterattack led by George Washington. The General had planned a support role for himself, hoping to deliver a final, fatal blow to the British Army but when he started for the battle he instead discovered 5,000 of his best troops in a confused retreat. A stunned Washington immediately took personal command from Charles Lee, the general he had entrusted the attack to, and stopped the retreat. Eagerly his troops, hardened from their experience at Valley Forge, rallied to rout the British in record June heat. It was the last major battle of the Revolution in the north and Washington’s finest hour in the field.

Trails, unadorned with historical markers, traverse the scene of some of the most desperate fighting. Most of the canine hiking in the historical park is across open fields with plenty of soft grass for your dog’s travels. 

Princeton Battlefield State Park - Princeton, New Jersey
Having finally achieved an important victory at Trenton in late December 1776, George Washington was in no mood to remain on the western side of the Delaware River. He came back to New Jersey after the new year hoping to surprise the British at Princeton. His army was spotted at daybreak by an alert British sentry and the Americans were pushed back through a field of frozen cornhusks. Washington, however, counterattacked and chased the British down the road. Major General Cornwallis had hoped to have all of New Jersey under his control by this time but instead had only the ports around New York City. The American Revolution was saved at Trenton and Princeton but little has been done to develop the sites historically. The terrain of the main fighting at the Battle of Princeton has remained virtually unchanged since that pivotal January day in 1777.

The explorations on the Princeton Battlefield are around a sloping open field that suggests the terrain on which the armies met. The real canine hiking begins when you slip behind the Clarke House and enter the 588-acre Institute Woods. The trails carve the woodlands into a checkerboard with the first east-west Trolley Track Trail marking the route Washington’s troops took during the battle. If you hike straight back you’ll reach the open paths of the Cornfield Trail

Brigadier General Hugh Mercer became one of the most celebrated American casualties of the Revolution when he fell on this field. Mercer was bayonetted seven times but refused to leave the battle and was laid under a white oak tree. He would die nine days later in the Clarke House. The famous Mercer Oaklasted awhile longer - until March 3, 2000 when a windstorm toppled the beloved tree.  

Moores Creek National Battlefield - Currie, North Carolina
In the years before the American Revolution a steady stream of Scottish Highlanders populated the North Carolina interior and on February 20, 1776 General Donald MacDonald organized some 1,600 Loyalists to march to the sea and join the regular British Army.

The march could funnel across Moores Creek - a dark, sluggish stream - at only one place and alerted American volunteers hastily erected earthworks on the other side. The Americans had the superior position but a British scout reported only a camp on the west side of the creek - not the fortifications on the east side.

The camp was a decoy and the Tories marched into a trap. Planks on the Moores Creek bridge were removed and the Highlanders had to pick their way through the fog across the creek. Reaching the opposite bank they were met with withering fire at the earthworks. What Patriot musketry didn’t take care of, a swivel gun and artillery did. The Loyalists lost 30 killed and 40 wounded. Only one Patriot died.

The victory demonstrated surprising Patriot strength, discouraging the growth of Loyalist sentiment in the Carolinas and convincing the British there would be no quick crushing of the rebellion. In fact, a little more than one month later North Carolina instructed its delegation to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to vote for independence, the first American colony to do so. Big consequences emanated from a small battle in the swamps of North Carolina.

Moores Creek National Battlefield is a winning combination of park and historical site. The one-mile interpretive history trail rolls across a well-groomed landscape of pine trees, open space and a winding creek. The reconstructed bridge and preserved earthworks, rehabilitated in the 1930s, vividly tell the tale of the trap set by the Patriots and the unwelcome terrain the Loyalist had to fight through.

There is more convivial canine hiking around the picnic area and on the Tarheel Trail. This interpretive path ducks into the forests to interpret the production of naval stores (tar, pitch and tupentine) that were the region’s chief economic resource during the Revolution.

Bushy Run Battlefield Park - Jeannette, Pennsylvania
For nine years during the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763, the British sought to wrench the DelawareShawnees, and Western Senecas from their alliance with France. To accomplish this the British agreed to stop settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains after the fighting ended.

The British promises lasted about three months. In fact the frontier was breached more extensively than ever before. The British continued construction of Fort Pitt, a brick and stone fortification larger than any they had built in North America.

In response Pontiac, an Ottawa war chief in the Great Lakes region, besieged Fort Detroit on May 8, 1763. Pontiac wanted the French to return to the western frontier and sought to unite the diverse tribes to fight the British. He came as close as any leader would ever do so, capturing ten small forts and controlling land from Michigan to Pennsylvania, but Pontiac’s Rebellion came to a close after fighting here ended a siege on Fort Pitt. Bushy Run Battlefield is the only historic site or museum that deals exclusively with Pontiac’s War.

Route 993 bisects the park with canine hiking available on each side. The Edge Hill Trail drops from the museum and remnants of the Lewis Wanamaker Farm into an airy second-growth woodland. The path is wide and inviting most of the way as the loop explores the battleground.

As you work back uphill with your dog to an open field you reach the site where British Colonel Henry Bouquet held the high ground with 450 soldiers during the skirmishing. His defensive position came to be known as the “flour bag fort” as stuffed flour bags were arranged to protect the wounded.

On the south side of Route 993 are single-track dirt paths leading into the quiet ravine cut by Bushy Run. This is classic woodswalking for you and your dog.