The Contest For Philadelphia
Howe moves on Philadelphia.—While the northern army was struggling with Burgoyne, another great contest was taking place in Pennsylvania. Germaine had not given Howe definite orders to coöperate with Burgoyne and, in fact, had approved the proposed expedition against Philadelphia. After the retirement from before Middlebrook, Howe's movements were a mystery to Washington. In July he learned that the British fleet was being prepared for a voyage, but whether the enemy would sail up the Hudson, or strike at Boston, Philadelphia, or Charleston, he could not tell. To forestall an advance northward Washington moved his army toward the New York highlands. On July 31 he heard that the British fleet had appeared in Delaware Bay. Immediately the American army was started for Philadelphia, but before the city was reached the astonishing news came that the fleet had disappeared. Washington immediately went into camp twenty miles north of Philadelphia to await developments. Two weeks later the British fleet sailed into Chesapeake Bay and on August 25 the army, which numbered seventeen thousand, began to disembark at the Head of Elk at the northern end of the bay.
Battle of the Brandywine.—As soon as Washington heard of the British landing, he started his army southward. On August 24 eleven thousand men paraded through the spacious streets of Philadelphia and on September 9 the army was posted on the north bank of the Brandywine. The main road to Philadelphia crossed the stream at Chad's Ford and here Wayne's division was stationed. Below the ford the steep banks were defended by a small force of militia. Above Wayne were Greene's well-drilled brigades, and the right was held by Sullivan. On September 10 Howe concentrated his army at the Kennet Square meeting house, where he divided it into two columns. At four the next morning Cornwallis in command of one column started for the upper fords of the Brandywine; by making this wide detour it was hoped that he could get in the rear of the American right wing. An hour later General von Knyphausen in command of the other column advanced toward Chad's Ford. He drove a small group of skirmishers across the stream, arranged his army as if for an assault, and opened with his artillery. Washington spent the morning in uncertainty, but at length Sullivan sent word that Cornwallis's troops were getting in his rear. Washington immediately ordered him to throw his entire force across the path of the enemy, but the movement was not carried out with precision and soon the wings of Sullivan's force were routed. Stirling, who held the center, made a gallant defence, but with both flanks exposed, he was forced to retire. When Von Knyphausen heard the firing, he advanced across Chad's Ford, and carried Wayne's intrenchments. Washington had ordered Greene to go to Sullivan's assistance. His men covered four miles in about forty minutes and then came into action against Cornwallis's victorious troops. For an hour the battle raged with great intensity, and as darkness set in, Greene drew off his men. His stubborn fight had saved the army, which was brought together at Chester.
Paoli.—Washington moved his army thirty-five miles up the Schuylkill and the British encamped south of the river near Valley Forge. To harass the rear of Howe's army Washington sent Wayne's division across the Schuylkill. At 1 A.M. on September 21 this force was surprised near the Paoli Tavern. The British fell upon the American camp with sword and bayonet, and before the grim work was over Wayne had lost more than three hundred men.
The British in Philadelphia.—On September 23 the British army crossed the Schuylkill and began to advance toward Philadelphia. When the news reached the city a Whig exodus began, probably a third of the population taking their departure. Congress removed the prisoners, archives, and most of the stores; upon Washington it conferred dictatorial powers for sixty days in the vicinity, and then adjourned to Lancaster and later to York. On September 25 Howe entered the capital.
Morristown, New Jersey, to Head of Elk, Maryland (1777) (Based on map in G.O. Trevelyan, The American Revolution, Part. III, op. p. 492).
Germantown.—Within a week Washington was ready to try to retake the city. The approach from the northwest lay through Germantown. In the outskirts Howe had stationed a strong force of infantry. Near the center of the village the fine brick mansion of Benjamin Chew, the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, formed the pivot of the second line of defence which was commanded by Colonel Musgrave. A mile to the rear lay the bulk of the British army. Washington planned to advance in four columns. Armstrong with the Pennsylvania militia on the right was to get in the rear of the British left. Sullivan commanded the next column to the east and was followed by the reserve under Stirling. A third column was commanded by Greene, and the Maryland and New Jersey militia, forming the fourth column, were to strike the British right. Save for a few shots fired by Armstrong's men, the militia failed to get into the fighting.
The dawn of October 4 broke in a dense fog, which destroyed the possibility of coöperation and led to much confusion. Sullivan's men arrived first and soon drove the British from their advanced position. Then followed an attack which centered at Chew's house where Musgrave and his men had taken refuge. The sound of the firing attracted some of Greene's men who joined in the attack. The brick walls proved too strong for the American three-pounders, and most of the forces of Sullivan and Greene passed on to attack the next line where five brigades of royal troops were drawn up along a narrow lane. The American units became separated, Greene having advanced a considerable distance ahead of Sullivan's troops. Suddenly Sullivan's force broke and fled in an unaccountable panic. This placed Greene in great jeopardy, for his flank was exposed and British reinforcements were approaching, but he coolly saved his men and guns. So heavy were the British losses that no serious attempt was made to follow the retreating army which was able to get away with all its artillery.
Opening the Delaware.—Philadelphia was firmly held by the British but the Delaware was still closed. At Billingsport a fort had been built and an obstruction had been thrown across the river. Another obstruction blocked the passage below Mud Island, on which stood Fort Mifflin and opposite on the Jersey shore was Ft. Mercer. A flotilla of small craft patrolled the Delaware. On October 4 part of Lord Howe's fleet anchored in the river and two days later the obstruction at Billingsport was removed. On October 22 Colonel von Donop attempted to capture Ft. Mercer but he met with a bloody repulse. After this defeat the British proceeded with more caution in the reduction of Ft. Mifflin. Shore batteries were constructed which bombarded Mud Island for days. On November 15 two battleships navigated the difficult channel and soon battered the walls of the fort to pieces. At nightfall the garrison abandoned the fortress. Four days later Ft. Mercer was evacuated when an overwhelming force advanced against it, and on November 21 most of the American vessels were set on fire by their crews. Communication with New York was thus opened and Howe prepared to settle down in Philadelphia for the winter.
Valley Forge.—In marked contrast to the comfort of the British camp was the condition of the American army. Washington had chosen Valley Forge for his winter quarters and there a fortified camp was constructed and rude cabins erected to house the men. The camp soon became a charnel house, for Congress failed to supply the necessary food and clothing, and sickness inevitably resulted. For days the men were without meat and existed on dough baked in the embers. "Fire-cake" and water became the ration for breakfast, dinner, and supper. Blankets were lacking and the men were soon barefooted and in tatters. On Christmas day the winter broke with great severity and soon the hospitals, which were mere hovels unsupplied with beds, were crowded with the dying.
The Conway Cabal.—The anguish of Washington was intensified by an intrigue which threatened to deprive him of his command. This centered about Gates and an Irish soldier of fortune named Conway who had been sent over from France by Silas Deane. In November, 1777, Congress had vested the management of military affairs in a Board of War. Gates was made president of the board and Conway was appointed inspector general of the army. They were supported by the New England delegates in Congress and by those who opposed the Fabian policy of Washington. Fortunately the intrigues of Conway and Gates to displace Washington became known to the public and so great was the popularity of the commander-in-chief that Congress dared not remove him.
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