Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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liminary Skirmish. The Enemy driven back. Musgrave in Chew s House. General Knox on Tactics. Panic of the
Americans. Their Retreat. Almost a Victory. Pursuit by the British. The Losses on Both Sides.


Sept. 13.

WASHINGTON, after the battle of
the Brandywine, collected his scat
tered troops at Chester, and then contin
ued his retreat, marching through Derby,
crossing the Schuylkill, and finally halt
ing to refresh his army at Ger
mantown, within six miles of
Philadelphia. Sir William Howe, as usu
al, was dilatory, and for several days con
tented himself with merely sending for
ward detachments to take possession of
Concord, Chester, and Wilmington.

While in camp at Germantown, Wash
ington detached a part of the militia, un
der General Armstrong, with the aid of
General Joseph Reed (who had volun
teered his services, as he was familiar with
the country), to throw up redoubts on
the banks of the Schuylkill, and occupy
the eastern or Philadelphia side of the
river, while he himself should cross with
his main body, to oppose the advance of
the enemy. The cominander-in-chief re
mained but twenty-four hours in German-
town ; and then, having ordered General
Putnam to send him a detachment of fif
teen hundred continental troops from his
post on the Hudson, he returned across

the Schuylkill river, and, taking the Lan
caster road, determined to offer battle to
General Howe.

The British commander, however, had
suddenly become unusually alert, and by a
quick movement had reached the Schuyl
kill, and crossed it, on his way to Phila
delphia, after Washington had advanced
to give him battle on the opposite side.
The two armies were, in fact, upon the
point of coming to an engagement pre
vious to Howe s crossing the river, but
were prevented by a most violent storm
of rain, which continued a whole day and
niii ht. When the weather cleared, it was


discovered that all the muskets were un
fitted for service, and that the ammuni
tion, of which each man had been supplied
with forty rounds, was entirely ruined!
Nothing now was to be done but to saek
out a strong piece of ground where the
troops might be secure, while the arms
were being put in order, and a fresh sup
ply of ammunition obtained. Washing
ton had encamped for this purpose near
Warwick, on French creek, when General
Howe succeeded in his manoeuvre of cros
sing the Schuylkill; not, however, without


an attempt to harass his rear. General
Wayne, with fifteen hundred men, was
sent off in the night., in order to take the
enemy by surprise. But his purpose hav
ing been detected, Howe detached a large
force under General Grey, who, coming
suddenly upon the Americans, and charg
ing them with the bayonet, drove them
from their covert in the woods, with the
loss of two or three hundred men.

" They had so far got the start," wrote
Washington, " before I received certain
intelligence that any considerable num
ber had crossed, that I found it in vain to
think of overtaking their rear with troops
harassed as ours had been with constant
marching since the battle of Brandy wine."
The men were so destitute of clothing,
and particularly of shoes, that the want
of this last essential article was a very se
rious obstruction to the progress of the
army. No less than one thousand of the
American soldiers were barefooted, and
forced to march in that condition ! Shoes
and blankets were now the great deside
rata, and to obtain them Washington was
(painful though he confesses it to have
been) obliged to extort a forced contri
bution from the inhabitants of Philadel
phia. His young aid-de-camp, Colonel
Alexander Hamilton, was sent forward as
the agent in this unpleasant business; but
the commander-in-chief took care to en
join upon him the utmost delicacy and
discretion in its execution.

General Howe was now sure of Phila
delphia, toward which city he immediate
ly marched; but Washington strove to
make his situation there as little "agree
able" as possible. He hoped to cut oil

Howe s supplies by land and by water,
and was disposed to think that the acqui
sition of Philadelphia might prove his
ruin instead of his good fortune. The
American army now crossed the Schuyl-
kill at Parker s ford, and encamped near
Pottsgrove, to refresh and await the rein
forcements expected from General Put
nam at Peekskill. In the hope of check
ing the advance to Philadelphia of the
British fleet, at that time anchored in the
Delaware, and of preventing the co-oper
ation of Admiral Lord Howe with his
brother the general, Washington was very
solicitous about the fortifications and ob
structions which had been constructed in
the river.

Benjamin Franklin, before proceeding
to Paris in his diplomatic capacity, had
already exercised his manifold ingenuity
in planning works to be raised on tho
Delaware, to protect his adopted city.
Subsequently, rows ofckevaux-de-frise, con
structed of immense beams of timber,
bolted together and stuck full of iron
spikes, were sunk in the channel of the
Delaware, near where it forms its junc
tion with the Schuylkill. Above these,
and about seven miles from Philadelphia,
was a battery, with heavy cannon, called
Fort Mifflin, situated upon the flat and
marshy ground of Mud or Fort island ;
while opposite, at Red bank, on the New-
Jersey shore, was a strong redoubt, with
intrenchments, called Fort Mercer, pro
tected in front by another fortified island.
Below, there was a further series of clicv-
aux-de-frisc in the channel of the Delaware
between Billing s island and Billingsport,
at which latter point, on the New-Jersey

i. .




side, there was also a strong redoubt,
There were, moreover, several American
armed vessels, a number of row-galleys,
some fire-ships, and floating batteries, an
chored to defend the chevaux-de-frise, and
pi-event the approach to Philadelphia by

General Sir William Howe had in the
meanwhile encamped at Gerniantown,
whence he sent a large body of troops,
under Earl Cornwallis, to take possession
of Philadelphia. Their entry into the city
was impressive. The inhabitants, natu
rally in expectation of violence and rap
ine, were greatly relieved by the orderly
conduct of the enemy. Their houses and
shops were closed, but the people, dressed
in their best apparel, did not fear to show
themselves in the streets. The British
grenadiers, of "tranquil look and digni
fied appearance," led the van, Lord Corn
wallis at their head, who, with his some
what short and thick-set person, his ami
able face, and affable manners, had no very
formidable look. The grenadiers, howev
er, were followed by some of the dreaded
Hessians, and in the eyes of the citizens
they appeared terrific. Their " brass caps,
their mustachios, their countenances, by
nature rnorose,and their music, that sound
ed better English than they themselves
could speak, Plunder! plunder! plunder /
gave," says an eye-witness of the scene,
a desponding, heart-breaking effect, as I
thought, to all." The meager, erect, and
sharp-featured Hessian general, Knyphau-
sen (a stiff formalist and military marti
net, though courtly in his way), was not
calculated to relieve the inhabitants from
their excited apprehensions of his merce

nary troops. Some of the more thought
ful of the citizens appeared sad, and the
timid frightened ; but to the great mass
the entry of the British troops, with their
gay accoutrements and lively music, was
a show upon which they looked, if not
with pleasure, certainly with a cheerful

Congress had, on the advance of the
British, adjourned to Lancaster, and sub
sequently to Yorktown, beyond the Sus-
quehannah river, where its members as
sembled, and continued to hold

Sept, 30,

their sessions as long as Phila
delphia remained in possession of the

Sir William Howe, desirous of a co-op
eration with the fleet, in order to secure
supplies for his army, first directed his
attention toward the attainment of that
object. His army was, therefore, no soon
er encamped, than he began to erect bat
teries on the Delaware, near Philadelphia.
At the same time, he sent out a detach
ment of troops, with orders to cross the
river and make an attempt upon the
American works at Billingsport, on the
New-Jersey side, which commanded the
chevaux-de-frise, and interfered with the
advance of the British fleet to Philadel

Washington, discovering this move
ment of the enemy, and being reinforced
by fifteen hundred men detached by Gen
eral Putnam, determined to at-

Sept, 27.
tack them m their encampment

at Gerniantown, as, in consequence of
their force being weakened by the detach
ment sent out against Billingsport, it was
thought a favorable opportunity offered.



The commander-in-chief was now at Pen-
nibacker s mill, on the Skippack road,
within fourteen miles of Germantown ;
and he proposed to march that distance
in the night, and if possible take General
Howe by surprise.

To understand Washington s plan of
attack, it is necessary to call to mind the
position of Germantown. This place, now
as it were a suburb of Philadelphia, was
then a small town or village, about six
miles northwest from that city. It was
chiefly composed of two rows of small
houses, extending over a mile in distance,
one on each side of the Skippack road,
which ran (forming one street, bordered
with peach-trees) directly through Ger
mantown from north to south, and, before
reaching the village, passing over the two
eminences of Chestnut hill and Mount
Airy. On the outskirts of Germantown,
to the north, and situated on the Skip-
pack road, was a large stone-house, be
longing to Chief-Justice Chew, a distin
guished Pennsylvania^, inclined to be
whiggish, but rather vacillating in his po
litical principles. Wissahickon creek, that
empties into the Schuylkill, was, together
with that river, at that time a rather re
mote western boundary of the village.
In addition to the Skippack road, which
ran directly through the centre of Ger
mantown, there were three other roads
which approached it from the north : the
Limekiln and Old York roads were on
the east of the central or Skippack road,
and the Manatawny or Ridge road to the
west, which, leading between Wissahickon
creek and Schuylkill river, crossed the
former at the southern border of the town.

Howe s encampment stretched diago
nally across the lower part of German-
town, being thus divided as it were by
the main street, or the Skippack road ;
to the west of which lay the left wing,
under General Knyphausen, extend ing to
the banks of the Schuylkill ; while to the
east stretched the right, commanded by
General Grant. The British centre occu
pied the houses in the main street or the
Skippack road the village itself, in fact.
To the north, there was posted on this
road an advanced guard, consisting of a
battalion of light-infantry and the fortieth
regiment of the line. The left wing was
covered by the German chasseurs, horse
and foot, who were stationed at " Van
Deering s mill," on the Schuylkill ; and the
right was guarded by the Queen s Rangers,
posted on the Old York road, and by the
light-infantry on the Limekiln.

Washington s plan of attack, as de
scribed by himself, was, to march a divis
ion of his army by each of the four roads
which, as we have seen, led to German-
town. The divisions of Generals Sullivan
and Wayne, supported by Conway s bri
gade, were to enter the town by the Skip-
pack road from the north, to attack the
British centre. The divisions of Greene
and Stephen were to take the Limekiln
road, and attack their right wing in front ;
while Generals Small wood and Forman,
with the Maryland and New-Jersey mili
tia, were to march by the Old York road,
and fall upon their rear. The enemy s
left, on the Schuylkill, was reserved for
General Armstrong and the Pennsylvania
militia, who were to proceed by the Man
atawny road. Lord Stirling, with Nash s




Oct. 3,

and Maxwell s brigades, was to form a
corps de reserve.

The inarch began at seven
o clock in the evening, Washing
ton accompanying Sullivan s division in
person. The distance was long, the night
dark, and the road rough ; and it was con
sequently daybreak before Sullivan s ad
vanced guard emerged from the woods
on Chestnut hill. Here it was expected
to find an advanced picket of the enemy,
but none made its appearance. A detach
ment was now sent forward under Cap
tain M Lane, who led his men on cautious
ly, as the morning was foggy, and noth
ing could be seen in the distance until he
reached "Allen s house," on Mount Airy,
where he fell in with an advanced picket
of the enemy posted there with two six-
pounders. M Lane attacked it, and drove
it down the hill arid back to the body of
light-infantry stationed in its rear, and
about two miles on the road in advance
of General Howe s centre in the town.
This preliminary skirmish soon aroused
the enemy, and the whole British encamp
ment was immediately astir, with the
drums beating to arms.

General Wayne hastened for
ward to sustain M Lane, as the
British light-infantry presented itself, in
full force, to dispute the passage of the
road. Wayne s troops came on so impet
uously, that the enemy broke before the
encounter. Their officers, however, re
formed them, and a fierce firing ensued.
They were nevertheless forced from their
ground ; but, being supported by the
grenadiers, they came up once more, and
renewed the struggle with great spirit.

Get, 4,

Sullivan s division and Conway s brigade
now arrived to the aid of Wayne, when
the British were unable to hold their po
sition, and were forced back, struggling
awhile as they retired ; but Wayne s men
charged them so fiercely with the bayo
net, that they finally fled for their lives,
hard pushed by the Americans, and beg
ging for mercy, but receiving none. At
this juncture, however, Colonel Musgrave,
with six companies of the fortieth regi
ment, succeeded as he retreated in get
ting possession of Chew s large stone

While Wayne, with the advanced body,
continued to pursue the retreating British
into Germantown, the remainder of the
Americans were brought to a halt by Colo
nel Musgrave,. This officer had barricaded
the doors of Chew s house, and from the
windows his light-infantry kept up a mur
derous fire upon their pursuers. A dis
cussion now took place among the Ameri
can officers. Some were in favor of storm
ing the house, and others were opposed to
the consequent delay. General Reed was
for pushing on ; General Knox, of the ar
tillery, however, contended that it was
contrary to fill military precedent to leave
" a fort," possessed by the enemy, in the
rear. " What !" exclaimed Heed, " call that
<a fort, and lose the happy moment?"
Kuox s opinion, nevertheless, prevailed ;
and, that everything might be done ac
cording to the " rules of war," it was de
termined to send a summons to the com
mander of " the fort" to surrender. A
youth was therefore sent with a flag in
due form ; but he had no sooner reached
within musket-range, than he was shot




dead. The artillery was now brought up,
but even cannon-balls proved ineffectual.
Attempts were at last made to set fire to
the house. Some with bundles of straw,
and others with firebrands of pine-wood,
made their way amid a shower of bullets
to the lower part of the building, where
they strove to effect their purpose ; but
Musgvave s men were on the alert, and,
getting into the cellar of the house, shot
down each man before he could accom
plish his object. A half-hour was thus
lost in these vain and absurd efforts to
carry out Knox s formal tactics, and the
rear of Sullivan s division was prevented
from giving that aid to General Wayne
which might have proved of effective

General Sullivan, however, in spite of
this delay of a part of his troops, being
reinforced by Nash s and Conway s bri
gades, succeeded, by leaving the Skip-
pack road, crossing a field, and marching
rapidly for a mile, in coming up with the
left of the enemy, and by a vigorous at
tack forcing it to retire.

The divisions of Generals Greene and
Stephen had, in accordance with Wash
ington s plan, gained the Limekiln road ;
but the latter having diverged, to assist
in the attack on Chew s house, Greene
was left to march against the enemy s
right with none but his own troops, con
sisting of Scott s and Muhlenberg s bri
gades. He succeeded, however, in dri
ving an advanced guard of light-infantry
before him, and in making his way to the
market-house in the town, where the Brit
ish right wing, under General Grant, was
posted. Greene began the attack with

spirit; and, as Forman and Smallwood,
with the militia of New Jersey and Ma
ryland, were rapidly getting by the Old
York road to the rear of the British right,
there was every prospect of success. At
this moment, however, whether from the
complicated nature of the plan, the thick
fog, or the mere nervous excitement of
the troops, a general panic seized upon
the Americans. A great confusion now
prevailed, and friend was mistaken for
foe. General Wayne s division, in the
heat of pursuit, was suddenly turned and
put to flight by the approach on its flank
of some American troops which were be
lieved to be those of the enemy. Ste
phen s division, too, was thrown into dis
order by making the same mistake in re
gard to Wayne s corps. Sullivan s men,
having shot their last round of ammuni
tion, had also been panic-struck by the
cry that the enemy were surrounding
them. " In the midst," said Washington,
"of the most promising appearances, when
everything gave the most flattering hopes
of victory, the troops began suddenly to
retreat, and entirely left the field, in spite
of every effort that could be made to rally

It was not known until afterward how
near the Americans were of gaining a com
plete victory. The action had lasted two
hours and forty minutes, and the enemy
had been so hard pressed, that they were
about retreating to Chester. Washington
succeeded in bringing off all his artillery,
but lost, in killed, wounded, and missing,
nearly a thousand men ; while the ene
my, according to their own account, lost
but about five hundred. General Nash



[PART n.

of North Carolina was killed, and Colonel
Mathews of Virginia taken captive, to
gether with a large number of prisoners
which he had obtained in the beginning
of the engagement. The British general
Agnew was mortally wounded, together
with other officers.

It was during the retreat, after the sin
gular panic which seized upon the army,
when the loss of the Americans was the
greatest. As soon as the British discov
ered how strangely the advantage of the
day was turning in their favor, they pur

sued it with great promptitude. Their
left wing was brought up by General
Grey, and, being joined on the road by
Lord Cornwallis with a detachment of
light-horse from Philadelphia, the fugi
tives were followed in hot pursuit. Gen
erals Greene and Wayne, however, cov
ered the retreat with great skill, and ofLen
brought their pursuers to a stand. Wash
ington continued to retire until the close
of the day, when he reached Perkimen
creek, some twenty miles distant from


General Howe s Works on the Delaware. Destruction of the American Ships. Success of the British at Billingsport.
Gups in the Chevaux-de-Frise. A Clear Run. Attack on Fort Mercer. Its Gallant Defence. Repulse of the Hes
sians. Death of Count Donop. A Victim of Ambition arid Avarice. Attack on Fort MiiHin. Repulse of the Brit
ish. Burning of a Ship-of-War. Effect of the American Triumph. Another Effort for the Command of the Dela
ware. A Second Attack upon Fort Mifflin. Irs Heroic Defence. Desperate Straits of the Garrison. Showers of
Bombs and Balls. Fall of Fort Mifflin. Washington in want of Reinforcements. Dilatoriness of Generals Gates
und Putnam. Effect of Age upon Putnam.


sooner reached Germantown, and
took possession of Philadelphia, than he
strove to obtain the command of the Del
aware, in order to secure the co-operation
of the fleet commanded by his brother,
Admiral Lord Howe. For this purpose,
as we have seen, he had begun to con
struct three batteries near the city, and
prepared to attack the American forts on
the river.

Philadelphia, being a seaport, and at
that time the largest town in the United
States, presented the greatest facilities
for constructing and fitting out naval

vessels. The few armed cruisers, both
public and private, then employed, had
accordingly been for the most part built
and prepared for sea on the Delaware,
where they remained until ordered lot-
service. Although, on the approach of
the British fleet off the mouth of that
river, some of the vessels had succeeded
in making their escape to sea, there were
others which had been left, and had now
sought refuge above the forts and obstruc
tions in the stream. Some of these were
at this time above and others below the
city; and when General Howe began to
erect his three batteries, it was obvious



that the communication between them
would be cut off. The Delaware, a twen
ty-four, and the Doria, a fourteen-gun ves
sel, together with several smaller armed
craft, accordingly moved in front of the
British works and opened a cannonade.
The Delaware, however, was so unfortu
nately placed, that she took the ground
on the ebb of the tide ; and her guns be
coming unmanageable, she was obliged to
strike to the enemy, who had brought
some fieldpieces to bear upon her. Her
consorts then retired, and General Howe
was allowed to continue the construction
of his batteries without interference.

The detachment of British troops, un
der Colonel Stirling, that had crossed the
Delaware to attack the American works
at Billingsport, on the New-Jersey side
of the river, had succeeded in carrying
them. The works having been disman
tled, the British frigate Roebuck broke
through the chevaux-de-frise which crossed
the channel of the Delaware at that point,
and made a gap sufficiently wide to ad
mit the largest man-of-war. The enemy s
next attempt was upon the forts and che-
vaux-de-frisc above. Great preparations
were made for their defence, as they were
deemed of the utmost importance by the
Americans. Washington himself declared
that the enemy s hopes of keeping Phila
delphia, and " finally succeeding in the
present campaign," depended upon them.
Efforts to cany them were made by the
British corresponding with those which
were put forth in their defence.

After the redoubt at Billingsport was
taken and the chevaux-de-frise broken by
the enemy, the defence of the Delaware

depended upon the works above Fort
Mercer, at Red bank, on the eastern or
New-Jersey side; and FortMifflin,on Mud
island, on the western or Pennsylvania
side. The fortifications of both were fair
ly constructed, and consisted of redoubts
and outworks. Two Maryland regiments,
commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Sam
uel Smith, garrisoned Fort Mifflin ; and
two of Rhode Island, under Colonel Chris
topher Greene, occupied Fort Mercer.
With Greene was a young Frenchman,
Captain Manduit Duplessis, who was serv
ing in the American army, and who, in
consequence of his skill as an engineer,
had been sent down to superintend the
construction of the additional fortifica
tions supposed to be necessary. The clic-
vaux-de-fnse in the channel below the isl
ands, which were his work, having been
finished, he was now busy in strengthen
ing the defences at Fort Mercer.

While a party of men, under the super
intendence of Duplessis, was engaged, on
the morning of the 22d of October, at
work on the outer defences, which were
still incomplete, a large force of Hessians
was seen suddenly to come through the
woods, and form almost within cannon-
shot. The garrison amounted to only four
hundred men. The enemy were twenty-
five hundred strong. The outworks of
the fort, as before remarked, were unfin
ished, and the redoubt within the enclo
sure was mounted with only fourteen
guns. Colonel Greene, however, deter
mined upon defending his post to the

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 75 of 126)