Teaching Guide: Exploring Saratoga and Valley Forge in the Revolutionary War

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Revolutionary War Turning Points: Saratoga and Valley Forge, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Using historical evidence from the map of the Saratoga battlefield and the National Park Service publication, explain how American troops were able to stop the British forces at the Battles of Saratoga.
  2. Three nineteenth-century lithographs in this set show fortifications at the Battle of Saratoga, Benedict Arnold’s wounding, and the surrender of General Burgoyne. What is the visual narrative being told in each lithograph? Why, almost a century later, might an artist choose one of these three specific moments to interpret as a way of preserving our nation’s historical narrative?
  3. Summarize the anecdotes from the pamphlet about Washington and Lafayette. What do these anecdotes tell us about how the author, Nathaniel Hervey, interpreted the Battles of Saratoga and the winter at Valley Forge when writing in the early 1850s?
  4. On the map of Valley Forge, what are the key geographic and man-made features included by the artist? Why might a Frenchman be the person to draw the encampment at Valley Forge?
  5. The History of Valley Forge, the lithograph of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, the lithograph called The March to Valley Forge, and the lithograph called The Prayer at Valley Forge all explore the experiences of Washington’s officers as well as of common soldiers. What types of actions are shown in each of the lithographs? Do these pictures differ from the account in The History of Valley Forge and if so, why might they differ?
  6. Compare and contrast the types of structure evident in the photograph of George Washington’s headquarters and the photograph of a soldier’s hut. Based on the evidence, who do you believe faced a harder struggle at Valley Forge and why?

Classroom activities

  1. Using the map of the Saratoga battlefield and the map of Valley Forge, ask classroom groups to create their own three-dimensional displays of the Battle of Saratoga or the encampment at Valley Forge. Students can design the displays using craft materials provided by the teacher or brought in from home. Encourage students to use geographical skills in drafting a key to explain symbols in the display and in ensuring the display is to scale. Students can view other groups’ final products during a gallery walk as a way to reinforce prior learning on these two pivotal events of 1777. During the gallery walk, ask students to choose one three-dimensional display to evaluate by determining its historical accuracy as compared to the map.
  2. Ask students to assume the role of one of the soldiers who appears in one of the lithographs of either the Battle of Saratoga or Valley Forge. The students should create a historically-informed backstory for the soldier, based on evidence in either the The History of Valley Forge or the National Park Service publication, in order to write a letter home detailing their experiences. Students will share their letters in order to explore which details of the event were deemed noteworthy by their classmates.

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