Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers The Battle of Germantown - 1777 - Jan. 14th, 2003
Posted on 01/14/2003 5:35:29 AM PST by SAMWolf
are acknowledged, affirmed and commemorated.
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Germantown is located about five miles northwest of Philadelphia. At the time, Philadelphia was the capital of the Rebel Colonies. This was very important, as occupation of the enemies' capitol most often meant the end of a conflict was due in short order, if not immediately. The capture of the capital was a great source of concern for the leaders of the Revolution, since it directly effected the morale of the confederation of Colonies.
After the Battle of Brandywine, Washington and his British counterpart, General Howe, maneuvered around the capital for about two weeks. Washington had hoped to catch Howe's troops while crossing the Schuylkill River, but Washington followed a British feint, missing the river crossing. Howe marched unopposed into Philadelphia on September 26. Most of the citizens of the city, and all of the Continental Congress had left the city about a week previous to the occupation. Howe kept 3,000 of his men in Philadelphia, proper, and stationed the remaining 8,000 at Germantown. Another 3,000 of Howe's forces were deployed along the Delaware River to assist the British Fleet in their blockade of the forts held by the Americans along that river.
Wahsington was in command of approximately 11,000 men, including 3,000 militamen. Seeing that Howe had not prepared defenses and that the British forces were split, General Washington decided to attempt to strike a decisive blow.
Washington and his staff planned a very complicated plan of attack that involved splitting the American command into four distinct colums that were to move into position for the attack under cover of darkness.
On the right flank, BG John Armstron's PA militia was to turn the British left flank and hold them agains the Schuylkill River. On the left of Armstron, along the main north-south rouad in the area, General Sullivan, along with Anthony Wayne's brigade, was to join the attack. General Washington was to accompany this column.
Left of Sullivan and Washington, the main attack was to be spearheaded by Generals Greene, Stephen, and McDougall. This column was to turn the British right and complete enveloping Howe's troops against the Schuylkill River.
On the extreme left, BGs William Smallwood and David Foreman, along with their Maryland and New Jersey militias, were to attempt to facilitate the envelopment by harassing the British rear. They were to move along the old York Road. General Sterling was to hold his troops in reserve on Chestnut Hill and be prepared to support either General Greene's or Sterling's columns.
All troops were to gbe in place by 0400, with a two hour period of rest prior to the planned attack at 0600. Stealth was imparative, as troops were to silently strike, bayonets attached, just one hour before dawn on October 4. Unfortunately, all troops were late getting into position. General Greene's column got lost and was even later than the rest of the troops in staging. He was a full hour behind Genral Sullivan's column. The morning found mist coming on, further complicating the battlefield. British forces were familiar with the area, while the American troops were not. And, British outposts had detected the Americans deploying at around 0300. But, the British mistakenly though that it was only a small raid taking place.
Sullivan approached Mt. Airy around 0600 and was met with a volley fired from advanced British outposts. The British then staged an orderly withdrawl, falling back to the position held by a British Light Infantry unit. At the conclusion of the consolidation of the British units, one final volley was fired and the British counter-attacked. At the s;ame time, the 40th Foot was added to the British line to shore it up.
Although surprised, the attackers made use of their superior numbers and pushed through to the northern edge of Germantown. Howe attempted to rally his troops, castigating them for fleeing from "a few rebels," when American grapeshot dropped parts of trees on him. This convinced Howe that this was a full fledged attack, and he hastily withdrew to prepare to meet the American forces.
Mist had turned into fog, confusing both sides. Wahsington was concerned that he didn't hear any firing where General Greene's column should have been. In fact, Greene had not yet made the field of battle, as his guide got lost on the dark roads. Whashing decided to commit his reserves whree Greene should have been, and moved some of General Sullivan's troops to help fill the hole. This blunted Sullivan's attack and slowed progress along that line.
General Sullivan continued to drive back the British in considerable disorder until they reached the home of Judge Chew, located in the middle of Germantown. Lt. Col. Musgrave, commanding the British 40th Foot, put 120 of his troops into the house, making it a small fortress. He laid sniper fire from the house and halted the advance of the American column.
Washington was faced with the choice of going around Judge Chew's house and mopping it up later, or concentrating the attack on the house to remove it totally. General Henry Knox persuaded Washington to attempt to remove the house, but the artillery sent against the house merely bounced off the thick stone walls. Aiming at the doorways and windows was impossible, due to the heavy fog. After half an hour, Washington decided that the time he was being delayed was too costly, and he elected to move on.
As Washington was making this move, Green began to engage the first outposts of the British main encampment and sounded to those around him that he may have, indeed, already be in possession of the camp. Thinking that victory was at hand, Washington rode forward. However, the source of the noise was from a British counterattack, as well as renewed fighting around the Chew house. Anthony Wayne had sent some of his men back to investigate the sounds of firing at his rear, and the men in the column mistakenly thought that they were being attacked from the rear. Around 9 am, Wayne's men began to panic as the fog on the battlefield began to lift. Due to the delays at the Chew house, the British had organized and were fully engaged in a counterattack. Brithish General Grant had found the hole in the lines caused by the Chew house and were expoiting it. Wayne's men, who had spent much of the morning firing at trees and fence posts, ran out of ammunition and began to break. This panic spread through the ranks of Generals Greene and Sullivan, who also experienced their men breaking and running.
With panic spreading, General Cornwallis brought up British reinforcements and committed them against General Greene's column. With this movement, and General Grant threatening his right flank, Green reluctantly ordered a withdrawl to reorganize the troops. He was able, however, to save his guns. Washington saw that Greene was in retreat and had no option other than to order Sullivan and Wayne to do the same. Armstrong, Foreman, and Smallwood also failed in their encircling attacks, primarily due to delay and excessive caution. Washington also ordered them to withdraw.
This ended the Battle of Germantown. The complicated plan had failed with the British losses at 70 killed, 450 wounded, and 14 missing. The Americans lost 152 killed, 521 wounded, and almost 400 missing. American morale was largely unaffected by the loss in that they mistakenly believed that more British were lost than American forces. Howe was impressed that the skill of the Americans had increased so much since the defeat at Brandywine. So, rather than risk a pursuit, Howe retreated to Philadelphia and fortified the city.
I grew up in (Mad Anthony) Wayne, PA, a few minutes drive from Valley Forge. We used to go there frequently when I was a kid. As young boys are wont to do we used to play "army" in the park. Back then you could still go into the "star fort" earthen embankments and run around the periphery - up and down, up and down - great fun. We would crawl up on the cannons and "fire" them. We were even allowed to play in the little log huts that the men quartered in!
It was some years later that we visited the park in the dead of winter when the horror of the place struck me. The abject misery that those men endured is unimaginable. Countless died and thousands were damaged for life. To think that the Americans not only survived the ordeal but then mounted a full assault across the river is astounding!
"Naked and starving as they are we cannot enough admire incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery"
Washington at Valley Forge February 16, 1778
Count on the blue zone.
Still, it was the murder/scalping of Jane McCrea, a beautiful blonde who was to marry a Tory, that kept the Tory home and brought out the Patriot.
Alas it was Burgoyne who was known to have "too much" pride. But hey, I loved the movie.
I'll be back in a little while. Be good now.