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Today, October 23, 1777: Americans Defeat British Royal Navy

In 1771, construction of a fort to defend Philadelphia was commissioned. John Montresor, a British Engineer was given the task of designing and building the fort. The location of the fort was on Mud Island which lies just southeast of where the Delaware River and the Schuylkill Rivers meet. The fort was named Fort Mifflin.

The purpose of the fort was to help defend Philadelphia from British invasion up the Delaware River. Today, the fort lies to the east end of the Philadelphia International Airport.

After July 4, 1776 and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the venerable Benjamin Franklin took on the responsibility of planning the defense of Philadelphia from the British.

In early 1777, British Lieutenant General Sir William Howe was the commander of all of the British forces in North America. His adversary was American General George Washington and his Continental Army. One of Howe’s primary target at the time was to march to and capture Philadelphia, the current capital of the Continental Congress. By taking Philadelphia, Howe hoped to capture many of the American leaders and force a quick surrender and end to the war.

On August 22, 1777, Howe sailed into Chesapeake Bay and landed around Turkey Point, located 8 miles south of Head of Elk, Maryland. The sea journey left many of Howe’s men ill with seasickness. A number of their horses died on the voyage. Basically, Howe’s army was in sad shape and needed time to rest, heal and re-group.

Howe’s new plan was to march north to Philadelphia and confront Washington there. On the march, he decided to split his forces into two groups, one led by Hessian Lieutenant General baron Wilhelm Knyphausen and the other led by British Major General Earl Charles Cornwallis. With the smaller force, he would attack Washington straight on and with the larger force he would march around and attack Washington’s right flank.

In the meantime, Washington learned of Howe’s movements and suspected his move and counter move.

On September 3, 1777, Washington sent Brigadier General William Maxwell toward Howe to observe, monitor and harass Howe’s advancement north. Maxwell and Howe’s forces met at Cooch’s Bridge where Howe prevailed and drove Maxwell and his men retreating back to Washington’s position.

For the next week, the American and British forces continued to maneuver to monitor and prepare to engage each other.

On September 10, 1777, Washington’s forces took positions on and near Brandywine Creek on the road to Philadelphia.

On September 11, 1777, Washington and Cornwallis met at Brandywine Creek and using a dense fog, Cornwallis managed to nearly outflank Washington’s Patriot troops. Washington ended up retreating north towards Germantown, and the British pursued him.

On September 26, 1777, the British moved in and occupied Philadelphia. Fortunately, the Continental Congress had vacated the city before the British arrived, thus avoiding capture. To help supply the British troops in Philadelphia and the war effort, the British decided to establish a supply line via the Delaware River. However, in order to reach Philadelphia, the British had to sail past Fort Mifflin which was still in the hands of the Patriots, so Howe set siege to the fort.

On October 3, 1777, Washington hoped to route Howe and the British at Germantown. He divided his forces into four groups that would make a night march and attack the British and Hessian troops head on, from the right, left and behind. It was a brilliant plan that required everything to go as planned. General John Armstrong was to take the Pennsylvania militia and attack the British on their left side. Colonels William Smallwood and David Formann were to attack the British on their right side. Washington, along with General Nathaniel Greene would use his main force to attack in the center.

On October, 4, 1777, the Battle of Germantown started early in the morning with the 4 prong surprise attack. However, unknown to Washington not all four prongs were in position per Washington’s plan. Washington was delayed in his attack due to a number of British troops holding up at the Chew House. Trying to route the British out cost Washington time and a number of good men. Nearly every aspect of Washington’s plan went wrong and Washington and the American forces were eventually forced to retreat.

To help supply the British troops in Philadelphia and the war effort, the British decided to establish a supply line via the Delaware River. However, in order to reach Philadelphia, the British had to sail past Fort Mifflin which was still in the hands of the Patriots.

On this day, October 23, 1777, a fleet of the British Royal Navy tried to sail up the Delaware River past Fort Mifflin and on to Philadelphia. Part of the British strategy was slip past the fort figuring the Patriot forces would be occupied with the siege from the land. As the British fleet began sailing past the fort, the Americans opened fire with cannons and artillery from Fort Mifflin. A total of 6 British supply and war ships were heavily damaged. The HMS Augusta, a 64-gun battleship, and the HMS Merlin, a 20-gun sloop took direct impacts from the American bombardment and force to run aground. A large number of British troops aboard the Augusta were killed but most of the crew and troops aboard the Merlin managed to escape.

The American bombardment of the British Royal Navy was a decisive victory for the Patriots in Fort Mifflin, however, it only resulted in a temporary stop the establishment of the British supply line.

The British siege of Fort Mifflin continued from September 26, 1777, through the entire month of October and ended on November 16, 1777 when the Americans inside the fort were forced to abandon the nearly destroyed fort.

 

Sources for the above includes: Today, September 11, 1777: Battle of Brandywine Creek; Today, October 4, 1777: Important Battle of Germantown; British Fleet Suffers Defeat at Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania; Fort Mifflin on the Delaware; Fort Mifflin, 1777;  British Fleet Suffers Defeat at Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania; The History of Fort Mifflin; The Siege of Fort Mifflin; Mifflin: The Fort That Saved America; American Revolution: Siege of Fort Mifflin;

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Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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