In the early stages of the Revolutionary War with Great Britain, many battles did not go well for General George Washington and the Continental Army. The British appeared to be better trained and better equipped. Many among the American militias and Continental Army were farmers, store clerks and merchants that had no previous military training, but they volunteered to go up against a well trained professional military.
On August 29, 1776, the Revolutionary War nearly came to an end, leaving us singing God save the Queen. At the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, also known as the Battle of Long Island, British General William Howe nearly captured George Washington and the Continental Army. However, Washington and his army managed to retreat across the East River and escaped being captured.
In early September 1777, British General Howe and his forces captured Philadelphia.
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On September 11, 1777, Washington tried to stop Howe near Brandywine Creek, outside Philadelphia. However, again, things did not go well for Washington as he and the Continental Army were forced to retreat to Germantown, a mere several miles north of Philadelphia. Over the next several weeks, the British slowly made their way north until it was them who were camped at Germantown.
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 this day, 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.
Greene’s troops were an hour late and the British were ready by then. One of Greene’s brigades, led by General Alexander McDougall, never advanced into the battle. This resulted in the troops led by American Generals Peter Muhlenberg and George Weeden to have to retreat since they didn’t have the backup support of McDougall’s brigade. The militia units led by Formann and Smallwood never appeared at the battle.
Greene’s fourth brigade showed up even later, led by General Adam Stephen, who was very drunk. His men were disorganized and ended firing into the back of the troops led by American General Anthony Wayne, causing them to retreat as they thought they were surrounded.
To add to some of the confusion on the battlefield, the morning was shrouded with a fog and then the British burned fields, filling the battlefield with smoke that just hung in the foggy air. Nearly every aspect of Washington’s plan went wrong and Washington and the American forces were eventually forced to retreat.
After the battle, General Stephen was court-martialed and driven out of the service. In Washington’s report to Congress, he placed the blame on the heavy fog and the delay he incurred at the Chew House.
Even though the British won the battle, in some aspects, the Americans proved that they could stand up to the British army. This boosted their low morale and also helped the French to eventually make the decision to help the Americans in the battle against the British.
Sources for the above include: Battle of Germantown; The Battle of Germantown; The Battle of Germantown 1777; The Battle of Germantown; Battle of Germantown; American Revolution: Battle of Germantown; The Battle of Germantown; Today, August 27, 1776: Washington Almost Lost Revolutionary War; Today, September 11, 1777: Battle of Brandywine Creek