Matt is used to all the modern conveniences of the twentieth century: electric heat and light, durable clothing, television, etc. The soldiers he encounters in the eighteenth century have none of these things. By comparison, these soliders are living a nightmare. "Their uniforms, what was left of them, were threadbare. Many had no overcoats or hats." And these soldiers were crossing an icy river in December (1776). Their tattered, ragged clothing was freezing to their skin. The narrator adds that Matt felt bad for being so well and warmly dressed by comparison. Matt had always dreamed and romanticized what it would have been like to fight with soldiers like these, but the reality was a shock. What Washington’s troops had to endure was more physically and mentally difficult than Matt could have imagined.
Matt was particularly impressed with Israel Gates and formed a friendship with him. Israel is fourteen or fifteen years old and joined the army to help feed his family. His mother was dead and his father was an alcoholic. So, Israel, being the oldest, took it upon himself to provide for his family. Matt admired him for this kind and generous sacrifice, especially at such a young age. Matt also looked up to him as an older brother.
Matt was also impressed by Gustav, the Hessian who saved Katie. And he was impressed by the two Indian boys who "displayed a fierceness and a courage that Matt had never seen in boys before." Other than the soldiers who mocked Gustav, Matt had the utmost respect for all of the soldiers for being so brave and resourceful in spite of such harsh living conditions and the general threat of dying in battle. Matt compares what the soldiers endured with his much more comfortable twentieth century life. And this makes him admire them even more.