Albigence Waldo: Surgeon, Soldier, Diarist, Poet

May 29th, 2024 News and Events

Originally published on Journal of the American Revolution and JAR Podcast Dispatches E259.

Albigence Waldo was a man of various talents but, in a Revolutionary context, is best known for the diary he kept before and during the Valley Forge encampment in the winter of 1777-1778. This article reflects the value of that work while also seeking to convey an appreciation of his life and accomplishments, as well as placing his commentary on camp life within the context of the impressions reported by those who were there.

Before Valley Forge
Albigence Waldo was born on February 27, 1750, in Pomfret, Connecticut, the son of Zachariah and Abigail (Griffin) Waldo. He received his early education in Pomfret, which included instruction in Latin, from the parish minister, Rev. Aaron Putnam. The youth studied medicine under the guidance of Dr. John Spaulding in the neighboring town of Canterbury and, after this apprenticeship, settled in Pomfret, where he took the place of Dr. John Hall, who had moved to Vermont. Waldo married Lydia Hurlburt on November 11, 1772 (they would have four sons and three daughters); when the revolutionary conflict began, he left his family and medical practice to join the cause.

The young physician first served as a clerk in Capt. Samuel McClelland’s militia company from Woodstock, Connecticut, in the period immediately following the outbreak of hostilities at Lexington and Concord. On July 6, 1775, Waldo was commissioned surgeon’s mate of the 8th Connecticut Regiment under Col. Jedediah Huntington, but was discharged that September because of ill health. On December 14, 1776, the Connecticut Committee of War commissioned him chief surgeon of the armed ship Oliver Cromwell, but he was induced to leave that vessel by an invitation from Col. Huntington to join his newly raised 1st Connecticut Regiment as surgeon. Waldo obtained the governor’s permission for this exchange and joined the regiment in early 1777. As regimental surgeon, he served under the command of Lt. Col. Samuel Prentice and Col. Josiah Starr, with the 1st Connecticut assigned to the brigade led by Huntington (who had been promoted from to brigadier general in May), in Maj. Gen. Alexander McDougall’s division of Connecticut and Rhode Island troops.

Raised largely in New London County, the 1st Connecticut took the field in the spring of 1777 at Peekskill, New York, and was ordered by Washington to join the main army in Pennsylvania in September after the defeat at Brandywine Creek. In the battle of Germantown on October 4, the regiment was engaged on the left flank at the front of Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene’s division and suffered its share of casualties. As winter settled in, Waldo recorded the experience of army life in a series of day-by-day chronicles that vividly convey his thoughts and feelings.

At Valley Forge

Dr. Waldo’s diary provides a graphic firsthand account of the challenges faced by the Continental Army leading up to and during its storied Valley Forge encampment. His commentary is regarded as an especially valuable historical resource for studying the army’s sojourn there, where he attended to many an ill soldier.[1] His entries from November 10, 1777 to January 8, 1778 were recorded in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography more than a century later based on a manuscript furnished by Amos Perry of the Rhode Island Historical Society. Waldo has been described in one account as a man with a droll name who, in addition to being a surgeon, was a witty amateur musician and artist, a faithful diarist, and a sickly sort who complained only to his diary.[2] There are frequent allusions to his poor health throughout his writings.[3]

Waldo’s remarks reflect the reality of winter’s hardship that caused another Continental soldier from Connecticut, Joseph Plumb Martin, to observe in his memoir of military service—perhaps the best-known such account in this war—that “the period of the revolution has repeatedly been styled ‘the times that tried men’s souls.’ I often found that those times not only tried men’s souls, but their bodies too. I know they did mine, and that effectually.”[4]

Waldo’s Diary
The Connecticut surgeon’s diary entries are thoughtful, lively, engaging, and in many cases quite caustic—understandably so given the prevailing circumstances. His observations bespeak, among other things, a determination to cope with the challenging circumstances facing him and his army brethren, a frustration with a lack of appreciation for the troops’ plight among the civilian population, an enduring love of family, a deep admiration for Gen. George Washington and for his fellow soldiers in general, and a recognition of the long-standing mistreatment accorded Indians by the colonists.

Here is a representative sample excerpted from his journal:

December 12. — A Bridge of Waggons made across the Schuylkill last Night consisting of 36 waggons, with a bridge of Rails between each. Some skirmishing over the River. Militia and dragoons brought into Camp several Prisoners. Sun Set-We were order’d to march over the River—It snows—I’m Sick-eat nothing—No Whiskey—No Forage—Lord-Lord-Lord. The Army were ‘till Sun Rise crossing the River-some at the Waggon Bridge & some at the Raft Bridge below. Cold & uncomfortable.[5]

December 13. — The army march’d three miles from the West side the River and encamp’d near a place call’d the Gulph [a place known locally by that name on Gulf Creek three miles west of the Schuylkill River] and not an improper name neither, for this Gulph seems well adapted by its situation to keep us from the pleasures & enjoyments of this World, or being conversant with anybody in it. It is an excellent place to raise the Ideas of a Philosopher beyond the glutted thoughts and Reflexions of an Epicurian. His Reflexions will be as different from the Common Reflexions of Mankind as if he were unconnected with the world, and only conversant with immaterial beings.[6]

December 14.— Prisoners & Deserters are continually coming in. The Army which has been surprisingly healthy hitherto, now begins to grow sickly from the continued fatigues they have suffered this Campaign. Yet they still show a spirit of Alacrity & Contentment not to be expected from so young Troops. I am Sick—discontented—and out of humour. Poor food—hard lodging—Cold Weather—fatigue—Nasty Cloaths—nasty Cookery—Vomit half my time—smoak’d out of my senses—the Devil’s in’t—I can’t Endure it—Why are we sent here to starve and Freeze—What sweet Felicities have I left at home; A charming Wife—pretty Children—Good Beds—good food—good Cookery—all agreeable—all harmonious. Here all Confusion-smoke & Cold-hunger & filthyness—A pox on my bad luck. There comes a bowl of beef soup—full of burnt leaves and dirt, sickish enough to make a Hector spue—away with it Boys—I’ll live like the Chameleon upon Air.[7]

December 15. — Mankind are never truly thankfull for the Benefits of life, until they have experience’d the want of them. The Man who has seen misery knows best how to enjoy good. He who is always at ease & has enough of the Blessings of common life is an Impotent Judge of the feelings of the unfortunate.[8]

December 21. (after the army’s arrival at Valley Forge on the 18th) — Preparations made for hutts. Provisions Scarce . . . sent a Letter to my Wife. Heartily wish myself at home, my Skin & eyes are almost spoil’d with continual smoke. A general cry thro’ the Camp this Evening among the Soldiers, “No Meat! No Meat!”—the Distant vales Echo’d back the melancholly sound—“No Meat! No Meat!” Immitating the noise of Crows & Owls, also, made a part of the confused Musick. What have you for your Dinners Boys? “Nothing but Fire Cake & Water, Sir.” At night, “Gentlemen the Supper is ready.” What is your Supper Lads? “Fire Cake & Water, Sir.” Very poor beef has been drawn in our Camp the greater part of this season.[9]

December 22. — Lay excessive Cold & uncomfortable last Night—my eyes are started out from their Orbits like a Rabbit’s eyes, occasion’d by a great Cold & Smoke. What have you got for Breakfast, Lads? “Fire Cake & Water, Sir.” The Lord send that our Commissary of Purchases may live [on] Fire Cake & Water, ‘till their glutted Gutts are turned to Pasteboard. Our Division are under Marching Orders this morning. I am ashamed to say it, but I am tempted to steal Fowls if I could find them, or even a whole Hog, for I feel as if I could eat one. But the Impoverish’d Country about us, affords but little matter to employ a Thief, or keep a Clever Fellow in good humour. But why do I talk of hunger & hard usage, when so many in the World have not even fire Cake & Water to eat.[10]

December 24. — Hutts go on Slowly—Cold & Smoke make us fret. But mankind are always fretting, even if they have more than their proportion of the Blessings of Life. We are never Easy, allways repining at the Providence of an Allwise & Benevolent Being, Blaming Our Country or faulting our Friends. But I don’t know of anything that vexes a man’s Soul more than hot smoke continually blowing into his Eyes, & when he attempts to avoid it, is met by a cold and piercing Wind.[11]

December 25, Christmas. — We are still in Tents—when we ought to be in huts-the poor Sick, suffer much in Tents this cold Weather.[12]

December 26. — Many Country Gentlemen in the interior parts of the States who get wrong information of the Affairs & state of our Camp, are very much Surprized at G Washington’s delay to drive off the Enemy, being falsely inform’d that his Army consists of double the Number of the Enemy’s—such wrong information serves not to keep up the spirit of the People, as they must be by and by undeceiv’d to their no small disappointment;—it brings blame on his Excellency, who is deserving of the greatest encomiums; it brings disgrace on the Continental Troops, who have never evidenced the least backwardness in doing their duty, but on the contrary, have cheerfully endur’d a long and very fatigueing Campaign.[13]

December 28. — Yesterday upwards of fifty Officers in Gen. Greene’s Division resigned their Commissions—Six or Seven of our Regiment are doing the like to-day. All this is occasion’d by Officers Families being so much neglected at home on account of Provisions.[14]

December 28. — Building our Hutts.[15]

December 29. — Continued the Work. Snow’d all day pretty briskly.[16]

December 30. — Eleven deserters came in to-day—some Hessians and some English—one of the Hessians took an Ax in his hand & cut away the Ice of the Schuylkill which was 1 inches thick & 40 Rod wide and waded through to our Camp-he was an hour in the Water. They had a promise when they engag’d that the war would be ended in one year—they were now tired of the Service.[17]

December 31. — We got some Spirits and finish’d the Year with a good Drink & thankfull hearts in our new Hutt, which stands on an Eminence that overlooks the Brigade, & in sight of the Front Line.[18]

1778, January 1. — New Year.—I am alive. Hutts go on briskly, and our Camp begins to appear like a spacious City. . . . Nothing tends to the establishment of the firmest Friendship like Mutual Sufferings which produces mutual Intentions and endeavours for mutual Relief which in such cases are equally shar’d with pleasure and satisfaction—in the course of this, each heart is laid open to full view—the similar passions in each, approximate themselves by a certain impulsive sympathy, which terminates in lasting esteem.[19]

January 3. — Our Hutt, or rather our Hermits Cell, goes on briskly, having a short allowance of Bread this morning we divided it with great precision, eat our Breakfast with thankful hearts for the little we had, took care of the Sick, according to our dayly practice, and went to Work on our little humble Cottage.[20]

Sunday, January 4. — I was called to relieve a Soldier tho’t to be dying—he expir’d before I reach’d the Hutt. He was an Indian—an excellent Soldier—and an obedient good natur’d fellow. He engaged for money doubtless as others do;—but he has serv’d his country faithfully—he has fought for those very people who disinherited his forefathers—having finished his pilgrimage, he was discharged from the War of Life & Death. His memory ought to be respected, more than those rich ones who supply the world with nothing better than Money and Vice.[21]

January 6. — If I should happen to lose this little Journal, any fool may laugh that finds it,—since I know that there is nothing in it but the natural flowings & reflections of my own heart, which is human as well as other Peoples—and if there is a great deal of folly in it—there is no intended Ill nature—and am sure there is much Sincerity, especially when I mention my family, whom I cannot help saying and am not asham’d to say that I Love. . . . We have got our Hutts to be very comfortable, and feel ourselves happy in them—I only want my family and I should be as happy here as anywhere, except in the Article of food, which is sometimes pretty scanty.[22]

January 8. — Unexpectedly got a Furlow [furlough]. Set out fur home. The very worst of Riding-Mud & Mire.

This is the last entry in his diary.

A Shared Perspective

The observations in Waldo’s diary reflect a perception of camp life that was widely shared at the time. As one can infer from the few examples that follow, there is ample commentary from others to corroborate his impressions.

Writing of the encampment at the Gulph, prior to settling into Valley Forge, Joseph Plumb Martin recalled that “starvation here rioted in its glory” and that the troops were starved and naked, with “the greatest part . . . not only shirtless and barefoot, but destitute of all other clothing, especially blankets.” Upon reaching Valley Forge, they were compelled “to go into the wild woods and build us habitations to stay (not to live) in, in such a weak, starved and naked condition.” The men had “often nothing to eat for days,” and had there been “deep snows (and it was the time of year to expect them) or even heavy and long rainstorms, the whole army must have inevitably perished.”[23]

In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, apothecary Christopher Marshall penned the following in his diary on December 28, 1777: “Our affairs wear a very gloomy aspect. Great part of our army gone into winter quarters; those in camp wanting breeches, shoes, stockings, [and] blankets, and by accounts brought yesterday, were in want of flour, yet being in the land of plenty.”[24]

Brig. Gen. James M. Varnum vented his frustration to his fellow Rhode Islander, General Greene, writing on February 12, 1778: “the situation of the Camp is such that in all human probability the Army must soon dissolve. Many of the Troops are destitute of Meat and are several days in Arrear. The Horses are dying for want of Forage. The Country in the Vicinity of the Camp is exhausted. . . . Our Desertions are astonishing great.”[25]

A New York colonel, Philip van Cortlandt, who had tried to obtain clothing for his regiment, complained bitterly to Gov. George Clinton of New York by letter of February 13: “I have upwards of Seventy men unfit for Duty, only for want of the articles of Clothing; Twenty of which have no Breeches at all, so that they are obliged to take their Blankets to Cover their Nakedness, and as many without a Single Shirt, Stocking or Shoe.” According to the colonel, only “about Thirty fit for Duty; the Rest Sick or lame, and God knows it won’t be long before they will all be laid up, as the poor Fellows are obliged to fitch wood and water on their Backs, half a mile with bare legs in Snow or mud.”[26]

Washington’s letter to Governor Clinton on February 16 bore a tone of desperation: “It is with great reluctance, I trouble you on a subject, which does not properly fall within your province; but it is a subject that occasions me more distress, than I have felt, since the commencement of the war; and which loudly demands the most zealous exertions of every person of weight and authority, who is interested in the success of our affairs.” He warned that “the present dreadful situation of the army for want of provisions and the miserable prospects before us, with respect to futurity . . . is more alarming, than you will probably conceive, for to form a just idea, it were necessary to be on the spot.” The commander-in-chief reported that “for some days past, there has been little less, than a famine in camp. A part of the army has been a week, without any kind of flesh & the rest three or four days.” Washington expressed relief that “naked and starving as they are . . . they have not been, ere this, excited by their sufferings, to a general mutiny and dispersion. Strong symptoms however of discontent have appeared in particular instances; and nothing but the most active effort everywhere, can long avert so shocking a catastrophe.” He lamented the prospect of “any adequate relief” as “all the magazines provided in the States of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware & Maryland, and all the immediate additional supplies they seem capable of affording, will not be sufficient to support the army more than a month longer, if so long.” The general assured Clinton that “I am on my part putting every engine to work, that I can possibly think of, to prevent the fatal consequences, we have so great reason to apprehend,” to which end he urged “all those, whose stations and influence enable them to contribute their aid upon so important an occasion, and from your well known zeal, I expect everything within the compass of your power, and that the abilities and resources of the state over which you preside, will admit.” Washington noted that “any assistance, however trifling in itself, will be of great moment, at so critical a juncture, and will conduce to keeping the army together, ’till the Commissary’s department can be put upon a better footing, and effectual measures concerted to secure a permanent and competent supply.” The missive ended with this plea: “if you can devise any means to procure a quantity of cattle or other kind of flesh, for the use of this army, to be at camp in the course of a month, you will render a most essential service to the common cause.”[27]

Waldo the Poet

In addition to his journal, Albigence Waldo indulged his poetic instincts while in camp, as demonstrated by a lengthy verse to his wife dated April 26, 1778. Certain portions have historical value, such as the description of the hut in which he and his fellow soldiers lived. It read in part:

My humble hut demands a right
To have its matter, birth and site
Described first! Of pondrous logs
Whose bulk disdains the winds or fogs
The sides and ends are fitly raised
And by dove-tail each corner’s brac’d;
Athwart the roof, young saplings lie
Which fire and smoke has now made dry
Next, straw wraps o’er the tender pole,
Next earth, then splints o’erlay the whole;
Although it leaks when show’rs are o’er
It did not leak two hours before.
Two chimneys plac’d at op’site angles
Keep smoke from causing oaths and wrangles . . .
Our floors of sturdy timber made,
Cleav’d from the oak and level laid;
Those cracks where zephyrs oft would play
Are tightly closed with plastic clay;
Three windows, placed all in sight,
Through oiled paper give us light;
One door, on wooden hinges hung,
Lets in the friend, or sickly throng;
By wedge and beetle’s splitting force
The oaken planks are made, though coarse,
By which is formed a strong partition
That keeps us in a snug condition;
Divides the kitchen from the hall
Though both are equal, and both small,
Yet there the cook prepares the board,
Here serves it up as to a lord,
There knives and spoons and kettles rattle
While here we talk of war and battle,
There is the chat and fun of boys
Here pensive thoughts or friendship’s joys,
There flights of fancy youths pursue
While here I set and think of YOU![28]

Waldo wrote other verse during the Valley Forge encampment, such as the following about women with the army (wives, washerwomen, and others):

What! though there are in rags, in crape,
Some beings here in female shape,
In whom may still be found some traces,
Of former beauty in their faces,
Yet now so far from being nice,
They boast of every barefaced vice.
Shame to their sex! ‘Tis not in these
One e’er beholds those charms that please.[29]

As spring emerged with its warmer weather and food finally became more available in camp, Waldo’s poetry was infused with a more optimistic spirit and presumably reflected the efforts to drill and train the army that had been spearheaded by Baron von Steuben, who arrived at Valley Forge in February 1778:

The day serene—joy sparkles round
Camp, hills and dales with mirth resound,
All with clean clothes and powder’d hair
For sport or duty now appear,
Here squads in martial exercise
There whole brigades in order rise,
With cautious steps they march and wheel.
Double—form ranks—platoons—at will
Columns on columns justly roll,
Advance, retreat, or form one whole . . . [30]

Waldo’s more upbeat rhyme celebrated the ritual of soldiers’ nighttime camaraderie:

Now Phoebus plunges in the sea
And the gray ev’ning shuts the day,
All parties to prepare for musings
Repair to huts and drink the loosings.
There loud talk soon begins
Of who plays best and who most wins.
Of politics, or frothy matter
That sudden raises general clatter.
Then of cowards, fools, rascals, rattles,
Of duels, heroes, wars, and battles,
Of fornicators, witches, scolds,
Fatigues and hardships, heats and colds,
Of beauty, women, wine, and love,
Of thundering armies and of Jove.
Huzza! The chorus loudly cry,
Responsive vales Huzza! reply.
Toasts for the Cause, for sweethearts, wives,
Long peace, long health, and happy lives.[31]


During Dr. Waldo’s service with the army, his family became economically impoverished, which he discovered while on furlough in 1779. This led him to resign his commission on October 1, 1779, and he resumed his medical practice in Pomfret. Military service enhanced Waldo’s renown as a physician, and he became an accomplished surgeon whose entire practice was devoted to that specialty. He kept a series of “daybooks” from 1782 to 1789 that recorded his surgical accomplishments. Upon reviewing these, a twentieth-century physician marveled at the range of surgical interventions undertaken by this practitioner of the late 1700s and the skill with which they were performed—including such operations as amputations at the thigh, treating fractures of the cranium, and excising goiters (all without anesthesia).[32]

Waldo’s first wife, Lydia, died on February 17, 1785; on July 6, 1787, he married Lucy Cargill, who survived him until 1830 (they would have two daughters). Waldo died on January 29, 1794, not quite forty-four years of age, and is buried in his native town. The funeral was conducted by the local Masonic Society, of which the doctor was an active member, and the address was delivered by his first commanding officer, Samuel McClelland.[33]

The following words were inscribed on the Pomfret physician’s graveside monument:

The Master Wardens and Brethren
of Moriah Lodge
In testimony of their esteem and respect
For the virtues, talents, and usefulness
Of their late worthy Brother,
Erect this Monument
To the Memory
Who, attentively studying the Works of God
In the admirable frame of Man,
Rose to eminent distinction
In the noble art of healing;
His name was Charity
His actions, Humanity;
His intercourse with men, benevolence & love.
Born in Pomfret, Feb. 27th, 1750,
Died 29th, Jan. 1794.[34]

His last lineal descendant, Charles A. Waldo, died in December 1896 in Florida.[35]

[1] “Valley Forge: ‘Why are we sent here to starve and Freeze?,’” American Battlefield Trust,

www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/valley-forge-why-are-we-sent-here-starve-and-freeze. Herbert Thoms, M.D., “Albigence Waldo, Surgeon: His Diary at Valley Forge,” in Annals of Medical History, 10:4, 1928: 486.

[2] George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin, Rebels & Redcoats: The American Revolution Through the Eyes of Those Who Fought and Lived It (New York: Da Capo Press, 1957), 289.

[3] Herbert Thoms, M.D., “Albigence Waldo, Surgeon: His Diary at Valley Forge,” in Annals of Medical History, 10:4 (1928): 486.

[4] Joseph Plumb Martin, Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier: The Narrative of Joseph Plumb Martin (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2006), 96.

[5] Albigence Waldo, “Valley Forge, 1777-1778. Diary of Surgeon Albigence Waldo, of the Connecticut Line,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1897), 21:305.

[6] Ibid., 305-306.

[7] Ibid., 306-307.

[8] Ibid., 307-308.

[9] Ibid., 309.

[10] Ibid., 309-310.

[11] Ibid., 311-312.

[12] Ibid., 312.

[13] Ibid., 312-313.

[14] Ibid., 314.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 315.

[17] Ibid., 315-316.

[18] Ibid., 317.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 318.

[21] Ibid., 319.

[22] Ibid., 321-322.

[23] Joseph Plumb Martin, Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier, 57-58.

[24] Christopher Marshall, Extracts from the Diary of Christopher Marshall, kept in Philadelphia and Lancaster, during the American Revolution, 1774-1781, ed. William Duane (Albany: Joel Munsell, 1877), 152.

[25] James M. Varnum to Nathanael Greene, February 12, 1778, in The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, ed. Richard K. Showman (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 2:280.

[26] Philip van Cortlandt to George Clinton, February 13, 1778, in Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777-1795, 1801-1804 (New York: State of New York, 1900), 2:843-844.

[27] George Washington to George Clinton, February 16, 1778. founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-13-02-0466.

[28] Thoms, “Albigence Waldo,” 492.

[29] Albigence Waldo, “Valley Forge” (poem), Historical Magazine (Boston, September 1863), 7:274.

[30] Ibid., 272.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Thoms, “Albigence Waldo,” 493-497.

[33] Ibid., 497.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Waldo, “Valley Forge, 1777-1778,” 299.


Written by David Price, Washington Crossing Historic Park Historical Interpreter. David has authored three books that relate to the “Ten Crucial Days”: John Haslet’s World, The Road to Assunpink Creek, and Rescuing the Revolution; and his next book, Winning the Ten Crucial Days: The Keys to Victory in George Washington’s Legendary Winter Campaign, is due for release by Brookline Books in early 2025. David’s other volume, The Battle of Harlem Heights, 1776, is part of the Westholme Small Battles series and was accepted into the permanent collection of the Connecticut Museum of Culture and History. He has been awarded the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution Bronze Good Citizenship Medal and Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of his work as an author, speaker, and historical interpreter at WCHP and Princeton Battlefield State Park. More information about David and his work can be found at dpauthor.com.