Battle of Germantown

 

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Germantown Battle MapGermantown, BATTLE OF. There were formidable obstructions in the Delaware River below Philadelphia, placed there by the Americans, and also two forts and a redoubt that commanded the stream. The British fleet was in Delaware Bay, September 25, 1777, but could not reach Philadelphia before these obstructions were removed. General Howe prepared to assist his brother in removing these obstructions, and sent strong detachments from his army to occupy the shores of the Delaware below Philadelphia, which the Americans still held. Perceiving the weakening of Howe's army, and feeling the necessity of speedily striking a blow that should revive the spirits of the Americans, it was resolved to attack the British army at Germantown. George Washington had been reinforced by Maryland and New Jersey troops. His army moved in four columns during the night of October 3, the divisions of Sullivan and Wayne, flanked by General Conway's brigade on the right, moving by way of Chestnut Hill, while Armstrong, with Pennsylvania militia, made a circuit to gain the left and rear of the enemy. The divisions of Greene and Stephen, flanked by McDougall's brigade (two-thirds of the whole army), moved on a circuitous route to attack the front of the British right wing, while the Maryland and New Jersey militia, under Smallwood and Forman, marched to fall upon the rear of that wing. Lord Stirling, with the brigades of Nash and Maxwell, formed the reserve. Howe's force stretched across the country from Germantown. with a battalion of light infantry and Simcoe's Queen's Rangers (American loyalists) in the front. In advance of the left wing were other light infantry, to support pickets on Mount Airy, and the extreme left was guarded by Hessian yagers (riflemen). Near the large stone mansion of Chief-Justice Chew (see illustration), at the head of the village, was a strong regiment under Colonel Musgrave.

Chew's HouseWashington's army, moving stealthily, tried to reach Chestnut Hill before the dawn (October 4), but failed. It was near sunrise when they emerged from the woods on that eminence. The whole country was enveloped in a thick fog. The British were surprised. The troops of Wayne and Sullivan fell, unexpectedly and with heavy force, upon the British infantry in front, and they were hurled back upon their main line in confusion by a storm of grape-shot. This cannonade awakened Cornwallis, who was sleeping soundly in Philadelphia, unconscious of danger near. Howe, too, nearer the army, was aroused from slumber, and arrived near the scene of conflict to meet his flying battalions. Then he hastened to his camp, to prepare his troops for action. Musgrave sent a part of his regiment to support the fugitives, and, with six companies, took refuge in Chew's strong dwelling. He barricaded the doors and lower windows, and made it a castle. From its upper windows he poured such a volley of bullets upon Woodford's pursuing brigade that their march was checked. The fire of the American small-arms upon the building was ineffectual. Finally Maxwell's artillerists brought cannon to bear upon the house, but its strong walls resisted the heavy, round shot. Then an attempt was made to set fire to the mansion. This check in the pursuit brought back Wayne's division, leaving Sullivan's flank uncovered. This event, and the failure of Greene to attack at the time ordered, disconcerted Washington's plans. Greene's troops had fallen into confusion in the fog, as they traversed the broken country, but they soon smote the British right with force. The failure of the other troops to cooperate with them by turning the British left caused Greene to fail, and the golden opportunity to strike a crushing blow had passed.

In the fog that still prevailed, parties of Americans attacked each other on the field; and it was afterwards ascertained that, while the assault on Chew's house was in progress, the whole British army were preparing to fly across the Schuylkill, and rendezvous at Chester. At that moment of panic General Grey observed that his flanks were secure, and Knyphausen marched with his whole force to assist the beleaguered garrison and the contending regiments in the village. Then a short and severe battle occurred in the heart of Germantown. The Americans could not discern the number of their assailants in the confusing mist, when suddenly the cry of a trooper, "We are surrounded!" produced a panic, and the patriots retreated in great confusion. The struggle lasted about three hours. The Americans lost about 600 killed, wounded, and missing; the British about S00. Washington fell back to his encampment on Skippack Creek. General Nash, while covering the retreat with his brigade, was mortally wounded.

 

 

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