(WHTM) The Battle of Brandywine was over. George Washington failed to stop General William Howe’s army. Howe, in turn, failed to deliver a crushing defeat on Washington. But Howe was still intent on capturing Philadelphia, and Washington was still intent on stopping him. As Dr. Ricardo Herrera of the U.S. Army War College explains, the two armies would meet again and again over the next four months, in a massive, deadly game of chess, with Pennsylvania as the chessboard.
(This is the third of a three part series marking the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine. Part one concerned events leading up to the battle; part two was the battle itself, and this part is about what happened in the weeks and months after the battle.)
September 16, 1777: “Battle of the Clouds”
“You’ve got a series of fights, one that takes place on the campus of today’s Immaculata College, often called the Battle of the Clouds, both armies line up, and then a downpour comes from the heavens. Everyone’s ammunition is soaked, and they stand at each other staring. Well, wet powder’s not very good, bayonet charges uphill in mud, that’s not very good, let’s just call it a day.”
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September 21: the Paoli Massacre
“At Paoli Anthony Wayne gets surprised by Major General Charles Grey, and Grey earns the nickname “No-Flint Grey”. Why? Because he orders his troops in with the flints removed from their muskets so they wouldn’t fire. His intention is to go in at the Americans with cold steel. He knows the Americans will fire, it’s at night, and the muzzle flashes will give their positions away. So he goes in with infantry, with fixed bayonets, as well as troops from the 17th light dragoons. Wayne’s humiliated, he calls for a court-martial to clear his name. He does clear his name, but it still remains a stain in his mind, on his honor, his integrity, his performance as an officer.”
September 26, 1777: Howe occupies Philadelphia
British troops marched into Philadelphia, and took the city without firing a shot.
(The Continental Congress fled the city, and headed west. They spent a day in Lancaster, conducting business, before crossing the Susquehanna River and arriving in York. They continued their work in the York County courthouse, which was torn down in the 1800s. (A replica was built in 1776 for the Bicentennial.) While there they passed the Articles of Confederation, which named their new country the “United States of America”.)
October 4 1777: Battle of Germantown
“They will meet up again at Germantown where Washington will launch an attack agains the British, who have already occupied Philadelphia. But Washington, ever the aggressive commander, decides that ‘Maybe I can drive them out.’
“It’s a complex plan, fog intervenes, bad advice by Henry Knox-‘Concentrate on the Chew House, you don’t want a fortified position in your rear.” The attack falls apart, although at first Washington’s troops had driven away the British, including the elite of the British army, the Light Infantry. General Howe rides out, cries out in words something to the effect, ‘For shame, for shame, Light Bobs!’ and launches them on a counterattack.
“Now though Washington didn’t win Germantown, the army still held together.”
December 5–7, 1777: Whitemarsh
“One last engagement takes place in December at Whitemarsh. Washington’s got a lovely set of field entrenchments dug along a ridge line, north of Philadelphia, he’s hoping that Howe will attack him. Washington knows how well American troops perform in fixed fortifications, in field fortifications, and he wants Howe desperately to do this.
“Howe marches out, there’s some skirmishing off on the British left, off on the western side of the battlefield. Howe has second thoughts when he looks. ‘Americans in fortifications, not a good idea. They’ve got artillery, they’ve got infantry. This is not good for me, I’ve got to conserve my soldiers’ strength, I’ve got to conserve the strength of my army, I can’t waste my soldiers’ lives.’ So after some inconclusive skirmishing, Howe’s army retires to Philadelphia.”
December 19, 1777 Valley Forge
“It’s after that Washington decides, after many discussions with his generals, to March into Valley Forge to establish the army’s famed winter encampment.
“It’s close to the British-but not too close. It allows the Continentals to challenge the British occupation of southeastern Pennsylvania. It demonstrates that the Continental Army is still a force to be reckoned with. The army then, as today, represents the government. And so Washington understood so long as the Continentals kept the field, this time in Valley Forge, a fortified camp along the Schuylkill River, that it could challenge British pretensions to authority in Pennsylvania. So it serves very much a political aim.”