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63 General Washington conceived that the present moment furnished a fair opportunity for enterprise. He therefore resolved to attack the British in Germantown. Their line of encampment crossed that village at right angles, the left wing extending on the west of the Schuylkill. That wing was covered in front and flanks by the German chasseurs. A battalion of light infantry, and the queen's American rangers, were in front of the right. The 40th regiment, with another battalion of infantry, was posted at the head of the village.The Americans moved from their encampment on the Skippack road in the evening of the 3d of October, with the intention of surprising their adversaries early next morning, and of attacking both wings, in front and rear, at the same time, so as to prevent the several parts from supporting each other. The divisions of Greene and Stevens, flanked by M.Dougal's brigade, were to enter by the Limekiln road. The militia of Maryland and New Jersey, under generals Smallwood and Furman, were to march by the Old York road, and to fall upon the rear of their right. Lord Stirling, with Nashe's and Maxwell's brigade were to form a corps de seserve.
The Americans began their attack about sunrise, on the 40th regiment, and a battalion of light infantry. These 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 arrived with his column, and attacked the right wing. Colonel Matthews routed a party of the British opposed to him, killed several, and took one hundred and ten prisoners; but, from the darkness of the day, he 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 Mr. Chew's house. Nearly one half of the American army remained for some time at that place, inactive. Meanwhile, 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 59th regiment to the aid of those who were engaged with Greene's column.
The morning was 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 surprise. From these causes, the early promising appearances on the part of the assailants, were speedily reversed. The Americans left the field has. tily, and all efforts to rally them were ineffectual. Washington was compelled to relinquish the victory which he had thought within his grasp, and to turn his whole attention to the security of his army. A retreat, about twenty miles, to Perkioming, was made, with the loss of only one piece of artillery. In the engagement, the loss of the Americans, including the wounded and four hundred prisoners, was about eleven hundred. A considerable part of this was occasioned by the 40th regiment, which, from the doors and windows of Mr. Chew's large stone house, kept up a constant fire on their uncovered adversaries.
The plan of the battle of Germantown was judicious, and its commencement well conducted; but, to ensure its successful execution, a steady co-operation of the several divisions of the assailants was necessary.
The numerous enclosures to be passed, and the thickness of the fog, rendered this impossible ; especially by troops who were imperfectly disciplined, and without the advantage of experience.
Congress voted their unanimous thanks to General Washington "for his wise and well concerted attack,” and to the officers and soldiers of the army, 6 for their brave exertions on that occasion," and added, "they were well satisfied, that the best designs, and boldest efforts, may sometimes fail by unforeseen incidents.”
In the latter part of the campaign of 1777, in proportion as the loss of Philadelphia had become more probable, Washington had used every precaution eventually to diminish its value to the enemy. Orders were given for moving the military stores, and the vessels at the wharves of that city, higher up the Delaware, From the time that the British got possession, every aid, consistent with greater objects, was given to the forts constructed on the Delaware, for opposing the British in their attempts to open the navigation
of that river. 'Troops were stationed on both sides of the Delaware, to prevent the inhabitants from going with their provisions to the market of Philadelphia, and to destroy small foraging parties sent out to obtain supplies for the royal army:--These arrangements being made, Washington advanced towards Philadelphia. His objects were to enfeeble the royal army in their operations against the forts on the Delaware; to attack them, if circumstances favoured, and prevent their receiving supplies from the country. The British shortly after evacuated Germantown; concentrated their force at Philadelphia, and directed their principal attention to open the navigation of the Delaware. This employed them for more than six weeks; and, after a great display of gallantry on both sides, was finally accomplished.
In this discouraging state of public affairs, a long letter was addressed, by the reverend Jacob Duche, late chaplain of congress, and a clergyman of the first rank, for character, piety, and eloquence, to General Washington; the purport of which was, to persuade him that further resistance to Great Britain was hopeless, and would only increase the calamities of their common country; and, under this im. pression, to urge him to make the best terms he could with the British com mmander, and to give up the contest.-Such a letter, at such a time, in unison with the known sentiments of many desponding citizens, from a person whose character and connexions placed him above all suspicion of treachery, and whose attachment to his native country, America, was unquestionable, could not have failed to make an impression on minds of a feeble texture; but from Washington, who never despaired of his country, the laboured epistle of the honest, but timid divine, received no further notice than a verbal message to the writer, “ That, if the contents of his letter had been known, it should have been returned unopened.”
While sir William Howe was succeeding in every enterprise in Pennsylvania, intelligence arrived that general Burgoyne and his whole army had surrendered prisoners of war to the Americans. Washington soon afterwards received a considerable reinforcement from the northern army, which had accomplished this great event. With this increased force, he took a position at Whitemarsh. The royal army, having succeeded in removing the obstructions in the river Delaware
were ready for new enterprises. 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 the right wing of the Americans, and about three miles distant. On the day following, the British changed their ground, and moved to the right. Two days afterwards, they moved still further to the right, and made every appearance of an intention to attack the American encampment. Some skirmishes occurred, and a general action was hourly expected; but, 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, in full march for Philadelphia.
While the two armies were maneuvring, in constant expectation of an immediate engagement, Washington rode through every brigade of his army, and, with a firm, steady countenance, gave orders, in person, how to receive the enemy, and particularly urged on his troops to place their chief dependence on the bayonet. His position, in a military point of view, was admirable. He was so sensible of its advantages, that the maneuvres 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 a reparation for the adversities of the campaign. He could not believe that general Howe, with a victorious army, lately reinforced with four thousand men from New York, should come out of Philadelphia only to return. 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.
Three days after the retreat of the British, Washington communicated, in general orders, his intention of retiring into winter-quarters. He expressed to his army high appro
bation of their past conduct; gave an encouraging statement of the prospects of their country ; exhorted them to bear the hardships inseparable from their situation, and endeavoured to convince their judgments that these were necessary for the public good, and unavoidable from the distressed situation of the newly formed states.
The same care to cut off all communication between the enemy and the country, was continued, and the same means employed to secure that object. General Smallwood was detached to Wilmington, to guard the Delaware. Colonel Morgan, who had lately returned from the victorious northern army, was placed on the lines on the west side of the Schuylkill, and general Armstrong near the old camp at the Whitemarsh, with a respectable force under the command of each, to prevent the country people from carrying provisions to the market in Philadelphia.
Valley Forge, about twenty-five miles distant from Philadelphia, was fixed upon for the winter-quarters of the Americans. This position was preferred to distant and more comfortable villages, as being calculated to give the most extensive security to the country. 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 the Valley Forge. Under these circumstances, they had to sit down in a wood, in the latter end of December, and to build huts for their accommodation. To a want of clothing, was added a want of provisions.For some days, there was little less than a famine in the camp. Washington was compelled to make seizures for the support of his army. Congress had authorized him so to do, but he wished the civil authority to manage the delicate business of impressment, and regretted the measure as subversive of discipline, and calculated to raise in the soldiers a disposition to licentiousness and plunder.--To suffer his army to starve or disband, or to feed them by force, were the only alternatives offered to his choice. Though he exercised these extraordinary powers with equal reluctance and discretion, his lenity was virtually censured by congress, “ as proceeding from a delicacy in exerting military authority on the citizens, which, in their opinion, might prove prejudicial to the general liberties of America ;" at the same time, his rigour was condemned by those from whom provisions were