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CHAPTER XIV: The Campaign of 1777, in the Middle States. - David Ramsay, The History of the American Revolution, vol. 2 
The History of the American Revolution, Foreword by Lester H. Cohen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1990). Vol. 2.
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The Campaign of 1777, in the Middle States.
1777Soon after the Declaration of Independence, the authority of Congress was obtained for raising an army, that would be more permanent than the temporary levies, which they had previously brought into the field. It was at first proposed to recruit, for the indefinite term of the war, but it being found on experiment that the habits of the people were averse to engagements, for such an uncertain period of service, the recruiting officers were instructed to offer the alternative of, either enlisting for the war, or for three years. Those who engaged on the first conditions were promised a hundred acres of land, in addition to their pay and bounty. The troops raised by Congress for the service of the United States, were called, continentals. Though in September 1776, it had been resolved, to raise 88 battalions, and in December following, authority was given to general Washington to raise 16 more, yet very little progress had been made in the recruiting business, till after the battles of Trenton and Princeton. Even after that period, so much time was necessarily consumed before these new recruits joined the commander in chief, that his whole force at Morris-town, and the several out-posts, for some time, did not exceed 1500 men.1777 Yet, what is almost incredible, these 1500 kept as many thousands of the British closely pent up in  Brunswick. Almost every party that was sent out by the latter, was successfully opposed by the former, and the adjacent country preserved in a great degree of tranquility.
It was matter of astonishment, that the British suffered the dangerous interval between the disbanding of one army, and the raising of another, to pass away without attempting something of consequence against the remaining shadow of an armed force. Hitherto there had been a deficiency of arms and ammunition, as well as of men, but in the spring of 1777, a vessel of 24 guns arrived from France at Portsmouth in New-Hampshire, with upwards of 11,000 stand of arms, and 1000 barrels of powder. Ten thousand stand of arms arrived about the same time, in another part of the United States.
Before the royal army took the field, in prosecution of the main business of the campaign, two enterprizes for the destruction of American stores were undertaken, in an opposite direction to what proved eventually to be the theatre of the operations of Sir William Howe.March 23 The first was conducted by colonel Bird, the second by major general Tryon. The former landed with about 500 men at Peek’s-kill, near 50 miles from New-York. General Washington had repeatedly cautioned the commissaries not to suffer large quantities of provisions to be near the water, in such places as were accessible to shipping, but his prudent advice had not been regarded. The few Americans, who were stationed as a guard at Peek’s-kill, on the approach of colonel Bird, fired the principal storehouses, and retired to a good position, about two or three miles distant. The loss of provisions, forage, and other valuable articles, was considerable.
Major general Tryon, with a detachment of 2000 men, embarked at New-York, and passing through the Sound, landed between Fairfield and Norwalk.April 26 They advanced through the country without interruption, and arrived in about 20 hours at Danbury. On their approach the few continentals who were in the town withdrew from it.1777 The British began to burn and destroy, but abstained from injuring the property of such as were reputed tories—18 houses, 800 barrels of pork and beef, 800 barrels of  flour, 2000 bushels of grain, 1700 tents, and some other articles were lost to the Americans. Generals Wooster, Arnold and Silliman, having hastily collected a few hundred of the inhabitants, made arrangements for interrupting the march of the royal detachment, but the arms of those who came forward on this emergency, were injured by excessive rains, and the men were worn down with a march of 30 miles in the course of a day. Such dispositions were nevertheless made, and such advantageous posts were taken, as enabled them greatly to annoy the invaders when returning to their ships. General Arnold, with about 500 men, by a rapid movement, reached Ridgefield in their front—barricadoed the road, kept up a brisk fire upon them, and sustained their attack, till they had made a lodgement on a ledge of rocks on his left. After the British had gained this eminence, a whole platoon levelled at general Arnold, not more than 30 yards distant. His horse was killed, but he escaped. While he was extricating himself from his horse, a soldier advanced to run him through with a bayonet, but he shot him dead with his pistol, and afterwards got off safe. The Americans, in several detached parties, harrassed the rear of the British, and from various stands kept up a scattering fire upon them, till they reached their shipping.
The British accomplished the object of the expedition, but it cost them dear. They had by computation 2 or 300 men killed, wounded, or taken. The loss of the Americans was about 20 killed, and 40 wounded. Among the former was Dr. Atwater, a gentleman of respectable character, and considerable influence. Colonel Lamb was among the latter: General Wooster, though seventy years old, behaved with the vigour and spirit of youth. While gloriously defending the liberties of his country, he received a mortal wound. Congress resolved, that a monument should be erected to his memory, as an acknowledgment of his merit and services. They also resolved, that a horse, properly caparisoned, should be presented to general Arnold, in their name, as a token of their approbation of his gallant conduct.
1777Not long after the excursion to Danbury, colonel  Meigs, an enterprising American officer, transported a detachment of about 170 Americans, in whale boats, over the Sound, which separates Long-Island from Connecticut,May 24 and burned twelve brigs and sloops, belonging to the British, and destroyed a large quantity of forage and other articles, collected for their use in Sagg-Harbour on that island—killed six of their soldiers, and brought off 90 prisoners, without having a single man either killed or wounded. The colonel and his party returned to Guilford in 25 hours from the time of their departure, having in that short space not only completed the object of their expedition, but traversed by land and water, a space not less than 90 miles. Congress ordered an elegant sword to be presented to colonel Meigs, for his good conduct in this expedition.
June 9As the season advanced, the American army in New-Jersey, was reinforced by the successive arrival of recruits, but nevertheless at the opening of the campaign, it amounted only to 7272 men.
Great pains had been taken to recruit the British army with American levies. A commission of brigadier general had been conferred on Mr. Oliver Delancey, a loyalist of great influence in New-York, and he was authorised to raise three battalions. Every effort had been made, to raise the men, both within and without the British lines, and also from among the American prisoners, but with all these exertions, only 597 were procured. Mr. Courtland Skinner, a loyalist well known in Jersey, was also appointed a brigadier, and authorised to raise five battalions. Great efforts were also made to procure recruits for his command, but their whole number amounted only to 517.
Towards the latter end of May, general Washington quitted his winter encampment at Morristown, and took a strong position at Middlebrook. Soon after this movement was effected, the British marched from Brunswick, and extended their van as far as Somerset court-house, but in a few days returned to their former station. This sudden change was probably owing to the unexpected opposition which seemed to be collecting from all quarters,  for the Jersey militia, turned out in a very spirited manner, to oppose them. Six months before that same army marched through New-Jersey, without being fired upon, and even small parties of them had safely patrolled the country, at a distance from their camp; but experience having proved that British protections were no security for property, the inhabitants generally resolved to try the effects of resistance, in preference to a second submission. A fortunate mistake gave them an opportunity of assembling in great force on this emergency. Signals had been agreed on, and beacons erected on high places, with the view of communicating over the country, instantaneous intelligence of the approach of the British. A few hours before the royal army began their march, the signal of alarm, on the foundation of a false report, had been hoisted. The farmers, with arms in their hands, ran to the place of rendezvous from considerable distances. They had set out at least twelve hours before the British, and on their appearance were collected in formidable numbers. Whether Sir William Howe intended to force his way through the country to the Delaware, and afterwards to Philadelphia, or to attack the American army, is uncertain, but whatever was his design, he thought proper, suddenly to relinquish it, and fell back to Brunswick. The British army, on their retreat, burned and destroyed the farm houses on the road, nor did they spare those buildings which were dedicated to the service of the Deity.
Sir William Howe, after his retreat to Brunswick, endeavoured to provoke general Washington to an engagement, and left no manoeuvre untried, that was calculated to induce him to quit his position. At one time he appeared as if he intended to push on without regarding the army opposed to him. At another he accurately examined the situation of the American encampment, hoping that some unguarded part might be found, on which an attack might be made that would open the way to a general engagement. All these hopes were frustrated. General Washington knew the full value of his situation.1777 He had too much penetration to lose it from the circumvention of military manoeuvres, and too much temper  to be provoked to a dereliction of it. He was well apprized it was not the interest of his country, to commit its fortune to a single action.
Sir William Howe suddenly relinquished his position in front of the Americans, and retired with his whole force to Amboy. The apparently retreating British, were pursued by a considerable detachment of the American army, and general Washington advanced from Middlebrook to Quibbletown, to be near at hand for the support of his advanced parties.June 24 The British general immediately marched his army back from Amboy, with great expedition, hoping to bring on a general action on equal ground, but he was disappointed. General Washington fell back, and posted his army in such an advantageous position, as compensated for the inferiority of his numbers. Sir William Howe was now fully convinced of the impossibility of compelling a general engagement on equal terms, and also satisfied that it would be too hazardous to attempt passing the Delaware, while the country was in arms, and the main American army in full force in his rear. He therefore returned to Amboy, and thence passed over to Staten-Island, resolving to prosecute the objects of the campaign by another route. During the period of these movements, the real designs of general Howe were involved in great obscurity. Though the season for military operations was advanced as far as the month of July, yet his determinate object could not be ascertained. Nothing on his part had hitherto taken place, but alternately advancing and retreating. General Washington’s embarrassment on this account, was increased by intelligence which arrived, that Burgoyne was coming in great force towards New-York, from Canada. Apprehending that Sir William Howe would ultimately move up the North-River, and that his movements, which looked southwardly were calculated to deceive, the American general, detached a brigade to reinforce the northern division of his army. Successive advices of the advance of Burgoyne, favoured the idea, that a junction of the two royal armies near Albany, was intended.1777 Some movements were therefore made by general Washington,  towards Peek’s-kill, and on the other side towards Trenton, while the main army was encamped near the Clove, in readiness to march either to the north or south, as the movements of Sir William Howe might require. At length, the main body of the royal army, consisting of thirty-six British and Hessian battalions, with a regiment of light horse, and a loyal provincial corps, called the Queen’s rangers, and a powerful artillery, amounting in the whole to about 16,000 men, departed from Sandy-hook and were reported to steer southwardly. About the time of this embarkation, a letter from Sir William Howe to general Burgoyne was intercepted. This contained intelligence, that the British troops were destined to New-Hampshire. The intended deception was so superficially veiled, that in conjunction with the intelligence of the British embarkation, it produced a contrary effect. Within one hour after the reception of this intercepted letter, general Washington gave orders to his army to move to the southward, but he was nevertheless so much impressed with a conviction, that it was the true interest of Howe to move towards Burgoyne, that he ordered the American army to halt for some time, at the river Delaware, suspecting that the apparent movement of the royal army to the southward, was a feint calculated to draw him farther from the North-river. The British fleet having sailed from Sandy-hook, were a week at sea, before they reached cape Henlopen. At this time and place, for reasons that do not obviously occur, general Howe gave up the idea of approaching Philadelphia, by ascending the Delaware, and resolved on a circuitous route by the way of the Chesapeak. Perhaps he counted, on being joined by large reinforcements from the numerous tories in Maryland or Delaware, or perhaps he feared the obstructions which the Pennsylvanians had planted in the Delaware. If these were his reasons, he was mistaken in both. From the tories he received no advantage, and from the obstructions in the river, his ships could have received no detriment, if he had landed his troops at New-Castle, which was 14 miles nearer Philadelphia than the head of Chesapeak bay.
1777 The British fleet, after they had left the capes of the Delaware had a tedious and uncomfortable passage, being twenty days before they entered the capes of Virginia.Aug. 25 They ascended the bay, with a favourable wind, and landed at Turkey-point. The circumstance of the British fleet putting out to sea, after they had looked into the Delaware, added to the apprehension before entertained, that the whole was a feint calculated to draw the American army farther from the North-river, so as to prevent their being at hand to oppose a junction between Howe and Burgoyne. Washington therefore fell back to such a middle station, as would enable him, either speedily to return to the North-river, or advance to the relief of Philadelphia. The British fleet, after leaving the capes of Delaware, were not heard of for near three weeks, except that they had once or twice been seen near the coast steering southwardly.Aug. 21 A council of officers convened at Neshaminy, near Philadelphia, unanimously gave it as their opinion, that Charlestown, in South-Carolina, was most probably their object, and that it would be impossible for the army to march in season for its relief. It was therefore concluded to try, to repair the loss of Charleston, which was considered as unavoidable, either by attempting something on New-York island, or by uniting with the northern army, to give more effectual opposition to Burgoyne. A small change of position, conformably to this new system, took place. The day before the above resolution was adopted, the British fleet entered the Chesapeake. Intelligence thereof, in a few days, reached the American army, and dispelled that mist of uncertainty, in which general Howe’s movements had been heretofore enveloped. The American troops were put in motion to meet the British army. Their numbers on paper amounted to 14,000, but their real effective force on which dependence might be placed in the day of battle, did not much exceed 8000 men. Every appearance of confidence was assumed by them as they passed through Philadelphia, that the citizens might be intimidated from joining the British.1777 About the same time a number of the principal inhabitants of that city,  being suspected of disaffection to the American cause, were taken into custody, and sent to Virginia.
Soon after Sir William Howe had landed his troops in Maryland, he put forth a declaration, in which he informed the inhabitants, that he had issued the strictest orders to the troops “for the preservation of regularity and good discipline, and that the most exemplary punishment should be inflicted upon those who should dare to plunder the property, or molest the persons of any of his majesty’s well-disposed subjects.” It seemed as though fully apprized of the consequences, which had resulted from the indiscriminate plunderings of his army in New-Jersey, he was determined to adopt a more politic line of conduct. Whatever his lordship’s intentions might be, they were by no means seconded by his troops.
Sept. 3The royal army set out from the eastern heads of the Chesapeak, with a spirit which promised to compensate for the various delays, which had hitherto wasted the campaign. Their tents and baggage were left behind, and they trusted their future accommodation to such quarters as their arms might procure. They advanced with boldness, till they were within two miles of the American army, which was then posted near New-port. General Washington soon changed his position, and took post on the high ground near Chadd’s Ford, on the Brandywine creek, with an intention of disputing the passage. It was the wish, but by no means the interest of the Americans, to try their strength in an engagement. Their regular troops were not only greatly inferior in discipline, but in numbers, to the royal army. The opinion of the inhabitants, though founded on no circumstances more substantial than their wishes, imposed a species of necessity on the American general to keep his army in front of the enemy, and to risque an action for the security of Philadelphia. Instead of this, had he taken the ridge of high mountains on his right, the British must have respected his numbers, and probably would have followed him up the country.1777 In this manner the campaign might have been wasted away in a manner fatal to the invaders, but the bulk of the American people were so impatient  of delays, and had such an overweening conceit of the numbers and prowess of their army, that they could not comprehend the wisdom and policy of manoeuvres to shun a general engagement.
On this occasion necessity dictated, that a sacrifice should be made on the altar of public opinion. A general action was therefore hazarded.Sep. 11 This took place at Chadd’s Ford, on the Brandywine, a small stream which empties itself into Christiana creek, near its conflux with the river Delaware.
The royal army advanced at day break in two columns, commanded by lieutenant general Kniphausen, and by lord Cornwallis. The first took the direct road to Chadd’s Ford, and made a shew of passing it, in front of the main body of the Americans. At the same time the other column moved up on the west side of the Brandywine to its fork, and crossed both its branches about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and then marched down on the east side thereof, with the view of turning the right wing of their adversaries.
This they effected and compelled them to retreat with great loss. General Kniphausen amused the Americans with the appearance of crossing the ford, but did not attempt it until lord Cornwallis having crossed above, and moved down on the opposite side, had commenced his attack. Kniphausen then crossed the ford, and attacked the troops posted for its defence. These, after a severe conflict, were compelled to give way. The retreat of the Americans soon became general, and was continued to Chester, under cover of general Weeden’s brigade, which came off in good order. The final issue of battles often depends on small circumstances, which human prudence cannot control—one of these occurred here, and prevented general Washington from executing a bold design, to effect which, his troops were actually in motion. This was to have crossed the Brandywine, and attacked Kniphausen, while general Sullivan and lord Stirling, should keep earl Cornwallis in check.1777 In the most critical moment, general Washington received intelligence which he was obliged to credit, that the column of lord Cornwallis  had been only making a feint, and was returning to join Kniphausen. This prevented the execution of a plan, which, if carried into effect, would probably have given a different turn to the events of the day. The killed and wounded in the royal army, were near six hundred. The loss of the Americans was twice that number. In the list of their wounded, were two of their general officers—the marquis de la Fayette, and general Woodford. The former was a French nobleman of high rank, who, animated with the love of liberty, had left his native country, and offered his service to Congress. While in France, and only nineteen years of age, he espoused the cause of the Americans, with the most disinterested and generous ardour. Having determined to join them, he communicated his intentions to the American commissioners, at Paris. They justly conceived, that a patron of so much importance would be of service to their cause, and encouraged his design. Before he had embarked from France, intelligence arrived in Europe, that the American insurgents, reduced to 2000 men, were fleeing through Jersey before a British force of 30,000. Under these circumstances, the American commissioners at Paris thought it but honest to dissuade him from the present prosecution of his perilous enterprise. It was in vain that they acted so candid a part. His zeal to serve a distressed country, was not abated by her misfortunes. Having embarked in a vessel, which he purchased for the purpose, he arrived in Charleston, early in 1777, and soon after joined the American army. Congress resolved, that “in consideration of his zeal, illustrious family and connexions, he should have the rank of major general in their army.” Independent of the risque he ran as an American officer, he hazarded his large fortune in consequence of the laws of France, and also the confinement of his person, in case of capture, when on his way to the United States, without the chance of being acknowledged by any nation, for his court had forbidden his proceeding to America, and had dispatched orders to have him confined in the West-Indies, if found in that quarter.1777 This gallant nobleman, who under all these disadvantages  had demonstrated his good will to the United States, received a wound in his leg, at the battle of Brandywine, but he nevertheless continued in the field, and exerted himself both by word and example in rallying the Americans. Other foreigners of distinction also shared in the engagement. Count Pulaski, a Polish nobleman, the same who a few years before had carried off king Stanislaus from his capital, though surrounded with a numerous body of guards, and a Russian army, fought with the Americans at Brandywine. He was a thunderbolt of war, and always sought for the post of danger as the post of honour. Soon after this engagement Congress appointed him commander of horse, with the rank of brigadier. Monsieur du Coudray, a French officer of high rank, and great abilities, while on his way from Philadelphia to join the American army, about this time was drowned in the river Schuylkill. He rode into the flat-bottomed boat on a spirited mare, whose career he was not able to stop, and she went out at the farther end into the river, with her rider on her back.
The evening after the battle of Brandywine, a party of the British went to Wilmington, and took president M‘Kinley prisoner. They also took possession of a shallop, loaded with the most valuable effects of the inhabitants.
Howe persevered in his scheme of gaining the right flank of the Americans. This was no less steadily pursued on the one side, than avoided on the other. Washington came forward in a few days with a resolution of risquing another action. He accordingly advanced as far as the Warren tavern on the Lancaster road. Near that place both armies were on the point of engaging with their whole force, but were prevented by a most violent storm of rain,Sep. 18 which continued for a whole day and night. When the rain ceased, the Americans found that their ammunition was entirely ruined. They therefore withdrew to a place of safety. Before a proper supply was procured, the British marched from their position near the White Horse tavern, down towards the Swedes Ford.1777 The Americans again took post in their front; but the British, instead of urging an action, began to  march up towards Reading. To save the stores which had been deposited in that place, Washington took a new position, and left the British in undisturbed possession of the roads which lead to Philadelphia. His troops were worn down with a succession of severe duties. There were in his army above a thousand men who were barefooted, and who had performed all their late movements in that condition.Sep. 20 About this time the Americans sustained a considerable loss by a night attack, conducted by general Grey on a detachment of their troops, which was encamped near the Paoli tavern. The outposts and pickets were forced without noise, about one o’clock in the morning. The men had scarcely time to turn out, and when they turned out they unfortunately paraded in the light of their fires. This directed the British how, and where to proceed. They rushed in upon them and put about 300 to death in a silent manner by a free and exclusive use of the bayonet. The enterprise was conducted with so much address, that the loss of the assailants did not exceed eight.
Congress, which after a short residence at Baltimore had returned to Philadelphia, were obliged a second time to consult their safety by flight. They retired at first to Lancaster, and afterwards to Yorktown.
The bulk of the British army being left in Germantown, Sir William Howe, with a small part, made his triumphal entry into Philadelphia, and was received with the hearty welcome of numerous citizens,Sep. 26 who either from conscience, cowardice, interest, or principle, had hitherto separated themselves from the class of active whigs.
The possession of the largest city in the United States, together with the dispersion of that grand council which had heretofore conducted their public affairs, were reckoned by the short sighted as decisive of their fate. The submission of countries, after the conquest of their capital, had often been a thing of course, but in the great contest for the sovereignty of the United States, the question did not rest with a ruler, or a body of rulers, nor was it to be determined by the possession or loss of any particular place.1777 It was the public mind, the sentiments and opinions  of the yeomanry of the country which were to decide. Though Philadelphia had become the residence of the British army, yet as long as the bulk of the people of the United States were opposed to their government, the country was unsubdued. Indeed it was presumed by the more discerning politicians, that the luxuries of a great city would so far enervate the British troops as to indispose them for those active exertions to which they were prompted, while inconveniently encamped in the open country.
To take off the impression the British successes, might make in France to the prejudice of America, Doctor Franklin gave them an ingenious turn, by observing, “that instead of saying Sir William Howe had taken Philadelphia, it would be more proper to say, Philadelphia had taken Sir William Howe.”
One of the first objects of the British, after they had got possession, was to erect batteries to command the river, and to protect the city from any insult by water. The British shipping were prevented from ascending the Delaware, by obstructions hereafter to be described which were fixed near Mud-Island. Philadelphia, though possessed by the British army, was exposed to danger from the American vessels in the river. The American frigate Delaware, of 32 guns, anchored within 500 yards of the unfinished batteries, and being seconded by some smaller vessels, commenced a heavy cannonade upon the batteries and town, but upon the falling of the tide she ran aground. Being briskly fired upon from the town, while in this condition she was soon compelled to surrender. The other American vessels, not able to resist the fire from the batteries after losing one of their number, retired.
General Washington, having been reinforced by 2500 men from Peeks-kill and Virginia; and having been informed, that general Howe had detached a confiderable part of his force, for reducing the forts on the Delaware, conceived a design of attacking the British post at Germantown. Their line of encampment, crossed the town at right angles near its centre. The left wing  extended to the Schuylkill, and was covered in front by the mounted and dismounted chasseurs. The queen’s American rangers and a battalion of light infantry were in front of the right. The 40th regiment with another battalion of light infantry were posted on the Chesnut-hill road, three quarters of a mile in advance. Lord Cornwallis lay at Philadelphia, with four battalions of grenadiers. A few of the general officers of the American army, whose advice was requested on the occasion unanimously recommended an attack; and it was agreed that it should be made in different places to produce the greater confusion, and to prevent the several parts of the British forces, from affording support to each other. From an apprehension, that the Americans from the want of discipline would not persevere in a long attack, it was resolved that it should be sudden and vigorous, and if unsuccessful to make an expeditious retreat. The divisions of Sullivan and Wayne flanked by Conway’s brigade, were to enter the town by the way of Chesnut-hill, while general Armstrong with the Pennsylvania militia should fall down the Manatawny road, and gain the left and rear of the British. The divisions of Greene and Stephen’s flanked by M’Dougal’s brigade were to enter by the lime kiln road. The militia of Maryland and Jersey under generals Smallwood and Furman, were to march by the old York road, and to fall upon the rear of their right.
Oct. 4Lord Stirling with Nathe’s and Maxwell’s brigade were to form a corps de reserve. The Americans began their attack about sunrise on the 40th regiment, and a battalion of light infantry. These two corps being obliged to retreat, were pursued into the village. On their retreat lieutenant colonel Musgrove with six companies took post in Mr. Chew’s strong stone house, which lay in front of the Americans. From an adherence to the military maxim of never leaving a fort possessed by an enemy in the rear, it was resolved to attack the party in the house.
In the mean time general Greene got up with his column and attacked the right wing.1777 Colonel Mathews routed a party of the British opposed to him, killed several,  and took 110 prisoners, but from the darkness of the day lost sight of the brigade to which he belonged, and having separated from it, was taken prisoner with his whole regiment, and the prisoners which he had previously taken, were released. A number of the troops in Greene’s division, were stopped by the halt of the party before Chew’s house. Near one half of the American army remained for some time at that place inactive. In the mean time general Grey led on three battalions of the third brigade, and attacked with vigour. A sharp contest followed. Two British regiments attacked at the same time on the opposite side of the town. General Grant moved up the 49th regiment to the aid of those who were engaged with Greene’s column.
The morning was extremely foggy. This, by concealing the true situation of the parties occasioned mistakes, and made so much caution necessary as to give the British time to recover from the effects of their first surprize. From these causes the early promising appearances on the part of the assailants were speedily reversed. The Americans left the field hastily, and all efforts to rally them were ineffectual. Lord Cornwallis arrived with a party of light horse, and joined in the pursuit. This was continued for some miles. The loss of the royal army, including the wounded and prisoners, was about 500. Among their slain were brigadier general Agnew, and lieutenant colonel Bird. The loss of the Americans, including 400 prisoners, was about 1000. Among their slain were general Nash and his aid de camp major Witherspoon.
Soon after this battle the British left Germantown, and turned their principal attention towards opening a free communication between their army and their shipping.
Much industry and ingenuity had been exerted for the security of Philadelphia on the water side. Thirteen gallies, two floating batteries, two zebeques, one brig, one ship, besides a number of armed boats, fire ships and rafts, were constructed or employed for this purpose.1777 The Americans had also built a fort on Mud-Island, to which  they gave the name of fort Mifflin, and erected thereon a considerable battery. This island is admirably situated for the erection of works to annoy shipping on their way up the Delaware. It lies near the middle of the river, about 7 miles below Philadelphia. No vessels of burden can come up but by the main ship channel, which passes close to Mud-Island, and is very narrow for more than a mile below. Opposite to fort Mifflin there is a height, called Red-Bank. This overlooks not only the river, but the neighbouring country. On this eminence, a respectable battery was erected. Between these two fortresses, which are half a mile distant from each other, the American naval armament for the defence of the river Delaware, made their harbour of retreat. Two ranges of chevaux de frise were also sunk into the channel. These consisted of large pieces of timber, strongly framed together, in the manner usual for making the foundation of wharfs in deep water. Several large points of bearded iron projecting down the river were annexed to the upper parts of these chevaux de frise, and the whole was sunk with stones, so as to be about four feet under the water at low tide. Their prodigious weight and strength could not fail to effect the destruction of any vessel which came upon them. Thirty of these machines were sunk about 300 yards below fort Mifflin, so as to stretch in a diagonal line across the channel. The only open passage left was between two piers lying close to the fort, and that was secured by a strong boom, and could not be approached but in a direct line to the battery. Another fortification was erected on a high bank on the Jersey shore, called Billingsport. And opposite to this, another range of chevaux de frise was deposited, leaving only a narrow and shoal channel on the one side. There was also a temporary battery of two heavy cannon, at the mouth of Mantua creek, about half way from Red-Bank to Billingsport. The British were well apprized, that without the command of the Delaware, their possession of Philadelphia would be of no advantage.1777 They therefore strained every nerve, to open the navigation of that river—to this end lord Howe had early taken the most effectual measures  for conducting the fleet and transports round from the Chesapeak to the Delaware, and drew them up on the Pennsylvania shore, from Reedy-Island to New-Castle. Early in October, a detachment from the British army crossed the Delaware, with a view of dislodging the Americans from Billingsport. On their approach, the place was evacuated. As the season advanced, more vigorous measures for removing the obstructions were concerted between the general and the admiral. Batteries were erected on the Pennsylvania shore to assist in dislodging the Americans from Mud-Island. At the same time Count Donop with 2000 men, having crossed into New-Jersey, opposite to Philadelphia, marched down on the eastern side of the Delaware, to attack the redoubt at Red-Bank. This was defended by about 400 men under the command of colonel Greene. The attack immediately commenced by a smart cannonade, under cover of which the Count advanced to the redoubt. This place was intended for a much larger garrison than was then in it. It had therefore become necessary to run a line in the middle thereof, and one part of it was evacuated. That part was easily carried by the assailants, on which they indulged in loud huzzas for their supposed victory. The garrison kept up a severe well directed fire on the assailants by which they were compelled to retire. They suffered not only in the assault, but in the approach to, and retreat from the fort. Their whole loss in killed and wounded was about 400. Count Donop was mortally wounded and taken prisoner. Congress resolved, to present colonel Greene with a sword for his good conduct on this occasion. An attack made about the same time on fort Mifflin by men of war and frigates, was not more successful than the assault on Red-Bank. The Augusta man of war of 64 guns, and the Merlin, two of the vessels which were engaged in it, got aground. The former was fired and blew up. The latter was evacuated.
Though the first attempts of the British, for opening the navigation of the Delaware, were unsuccessful, they carried their point in another way that was unexpected.1777 The chevaux de frise, having been sunk some considerable  time, the current of the water was diverted by this great bulk into new channels. In consequence thereof the passage between the islands and the Pennsylvania shore was so deepened as to admit vessels of some considerable draught of water. Through this passage, the Vigilant, a large ship, cut down so as to draw but little water, mounted with 24 pounders, made her way to a position from which she might enfilade the works on Mud-Island. This gave the British such an advantage, that the post was no longer tenable. Colonel Smith, who had with great gallantry defended the fort from the latter end of September, to the 11th of November, being wounded, was removed to the main. Within five days after his removal, major Thayer, who as a volunteer had nobly offered to take charge of this dangerous post, was obliged to evacuate it.
This event did not take place till the works were entirely beat down—every piece of cannon dismounted, and one of the British ships so near that she threw granadoes into the fort, and killed the men uncovered in the platform. The troops who had so bravely defended fort Mifflin, made a safe retreat to Red-Bank. Congress voted swords to be given to lieutenant colonel Smith and commodore Hazelwood, for their gallant defence of the Delaware. Within three days after Mud-Island was evacuated, the garrison was also withdrawn from Red-Bank, on the approach of lord Cornwallis, at the head of a large force prepared to assault it. Some of the American gallies and armed vessels escaped by keeping close in with the Jersey shore, to places of security above Philadelphia, but 17 of them were abandoned by their crews, and fired. Thus the British gained a free communication between their army and shipping. This event was to them very desirable. They had been previously obliged to draw their provisions from Chester, a distance of sixteen miles, at some risque, and a certain great expence. The long protracted defence of the Delaware, deranged the plans of the British, for the remainder of the campaign, and consequently saved the adjacent country.
1777About this time the chair of Congress became vacant,  by the departure of Mr. Hancock, after he had discharged the duties of that office to great acceptance, two years and five months.Nov. 1 Henry Laurens, of South-Carolina, was unanimously elected his successor. He had been in England for some years, antecedent to the hostile determinations of parliament against the colonies, but finding the dispute growing serious, he conceived that honour and duty called him to take part with his native country. He had been warmly solicited to stay in England, and offers were made him not only to secure, but to double his American estate, in case of his continuing to reside there—but these were refused. To a particular friend in London, dissuading him from coming out to America, he replied on the 9th of Nov. 1774, when at Falmouth, on the point of embarking,
I shall never forget your friendly attention to my interest, but I dare not return. Your ministers are deaf to information, and seem bent on provoking unnecessary contest. I think I have acted the part of a faithful subject, I now go resolved still to labour for peace; at the same time determined in the last event to stand or fall with my country.
Immediately on his arrival in Charleston, he was elected a member, and soon after the president of the provincial congress—the president of the council of safety—the vice-president of the state—and a member of congress.
While Sir William Howe was succeeding in every enterprize in Pennsylvania intelligence arrived, as shall be related in the next chapter, that general Burgoyne and his whole army had surrendered prisoners of war to the Americans.
General Washington soon after received a considerable reinforcement from the northern army, which had accomplished this great event. With this increased force he took a position at and near Whitemarsh.Dec. 4 The royal army having succeeded in removing the obstructions in the river Delaware, were ready for new enterprizes. Sir William Howe, marched out of Philadelphia with almost his whole force, expecting to bring on a general engagement. The next morning he appeared on Chesnut-hill in front of, and about three miles distant from  the right wing of the Americans. On the day following the British changed their ground, and moved to the right. Two days after they moved still farther to the right, and made every appearance of an intention to attack the American encampment. Some skirmishes took place, and a general action was hourly expected: but instead thereof on the morning of the next day, after various marches and countermarches, the British filed off from their right, by two or three different routes,Dec. 9 in full march for Philadelphia.
The position of general Washington in a military point of view was admirable. He was so sensible of the advantages of it, that the manoeuvres of Sir William Howe for some days, could not allure him from it. In consequence of the reinforcement lately received, he had not in any preceding period of the campaign been in an equal condition for a general engagement. Though he ardently wished to be attacked, yet he would not relinquish a position, from which he hoped for reparation for the adversities of the campaign. He could not believe that general Howe with a victorious army, and that lately reinforced with four thousand men from New-York, should come out of Philadelphia only to return thither again. He therefore presumed that to avoid the disgrace of such a movement, the British commander would, from a sense of military honour, be compelled to attack him, though under great disadvantages. When he found him cautious of engaging and inclining to his left, a daring design was formed which would have been executed, had the British either continued in their position, or moved a little farther to the left of the American army. This was to have attempted in the night to surprise Philadelphia. The necessary preparations for this purpose were made, but the retreat of the British prevented its execution. Soon after these events general Smallwood with a considerable force, was posted at Wilmington on the banks of the Delaware, and general Washington, with the main army retired to winter quarters at Valley Forge, 16 miles distant from Philadelphia.1777 This position was preferred to distant and more comfortable villages, as being  calculated to give the most extensive security to the country adjacent to Philadelphia. The American army might have been tracked, by the blood of their feet, in marching without shoes or stockings over the hard frozen ground, between Whitemarsh and Valley Forge. Some hundreds of them were without blankets. Under these circumstances they had to sit down in a wood, in the latter end of December, and to build huts for their accommodation. This mode of procuring winter quarters, if not entirely novel, has been rarely if ever practiced in modern war. The cheerfulness with which the general and his army submitted to spend a severe winter, in such circumstances, rather than leave the country exposed, by retiring farther, demonstrated as well their patriotism as their fixed resolution to suffer every inconvenience, in preference to submission. Thus ended the campaign of 1777. Though Sir William Howe’s army had been crowned with the most brilliant success, having gained two considerable victories, and been equally triumphant in many smaller actions, yet the whole amount of this tide of good fortune was no more than a good winter lodging for his troops in Philadelphia, whilst the men under his command possessed no more of the adjacent country than what they immediately commanded with their arms. The Congress, it is true, was compelled to leave the first seat of their deliberations, and the greatest city in the United States changed a number of its whig inhabitants for a numerous royal army; but it is as true that the minds of the Americans were, if possible, more hostile to the claims of Great-Britain than ever, and their army had gained as much by discipline and experience, as compensated for its diminution by defeats.
The events of this campaign were adverse to the sangine hopes which had been entertained of a speedy conquest of the revolted colonies. Repeated proofs had been given, that, though general Washington was very forward to engage when he thought it to his advantage, yet it was impossible for the royal commander to bring him to action against his consent.1777 By this mode of conducting the defence of the new formed states, two campaigns  had been wafted away, and the work which was originally allotted for one, was still unfinished.
An account of some miscellaneous transactions will close this chapter.July 9 Lieutenant colonel Barton, of a militia regiment of the state of Rhode-Island, accompanied by about forty volunteers, passed by night from Warwick neck to Rhode-Island, and surprised general Prescot in his quarters, and brought him and one of his aids safe off to the continent. Though they had a passage of ten miles by water, they eluded the ships of war and guard boats, which lay all round the island. The enterprize was conducted with so much silence and address, that there was no alarm among the British till the colonel and his party had nearly reached the continent with their prize. Congress soon after resolved, that an elegant sword should be presented to lieutenant colonel Barton, as a testimonial of their sense of his gallant behaviour.
It has already been mentioned, that Congress in the latter end of November 1775, authorised the capture of vessels, laden with stores or reinforcements for their enemies. On the 23rd of March 1776, they extended this permission so far as to authorise their inhabitants to fit out armed vessels to cruise on the enemies of the united colonies. The Americans henceforth devoted themselves to privateering, and were very successful. In the course of the year they made many valuable captures, particularly of homeward bound West-India men. The particulars cannot be enumerated, but good judges have calculated, that within nine months after Congress authorised privateering, the British loss in captures, exclusive of transports and government store ships, exceeded a million sterling. They found no difficulty in selling their prizes. The ports of France were open to them, both in Europe and in the West-Indies. In the latter they were sold without any disguise, but in the former a greater regard was paid to appearances. Open sales were not permitted in the harbours of France at particular times, but even then they were made at the entrance or offing.
1777In the French West-India islands the inhabitants not only purchased prizes, brought in by American cruisers,  but fitted out privateers under American colours and commissions, and made captures of British vessels. William Bingham, of Philadelphia, was stationed as the agent of Congress, at Martinico, and he took an early and active part in arming privateers in St. Pierre, to annoy and cruise against British property. The favourable disposition of the inhabitants furnished him with an opportunity, which he successfully improved, not only to distress the British commerce, but to sow the seeds of discord between the French and English. The American privateers also found countenance in some of the ports of Spain, but not so readily nor so universally as in those of France. The British took many of the American vessels, but they were often of inferior value. Such of them as were laden with provisions, proved a seasonable relief to their West-India islands, which otherwise would have suffered from the want of those supplies, which before the war had been usually procured from the neighbouring continent.
The American privateers in the year 1777, increased in numbers and boldness. They insulted the coasts of Great-Britain and Ireland, in a manner that had never before been attempted. Such was their spirit of adventure, that it became necessary to appoint a convoy for the protection of the linen ships from Dublin and Newry. The general Mifflin privateer, after making repeated captures, arrived at Brest, and saluted the French admiral. This was returned in form as to the vessel of an independent power. Lord Stormont, the British ambassador, at the court of Versailles, irritated at the countenance given to the Americans, threatened to return immediately to London, unless satisfaction was given, and different measures were adopted by France. An order was issued in consequences of his application, requiring all American vessels to leave the ports of His Most Christian Majesty, but though the order was positive, so many evasions were practiced, and the execution of it was so relaxed, that it produced no permanent discouragement of the beneficial intercourse.