In a direct rebuff of General Washington, Congressestablishes the Inspector General Department of the Continental Army, andpromotes General Thomas Conway to Major General above other senior Generals andin a position that, from the civil side, is equal to that of Washington. This indicates a move by several in congressto replace Washington with General Horatio Gates, who has had more success oflate. Thomas Conway had been involved inwhat historians call the “Conway cabal,” which was a loose attempt by severalin the army and out of the army to replace Washington with Gates. As a younger man Washington would haveresponded to this action with an angry letter of resignation, but this olderand wiser Washington will bide his time.
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In Norristown, the Continental army, while crossing theSchuylkill River at Matson’s Ford, engages with troops under General Cornwallis. George Washington orders thebridge destroyed, and both sides face each other across the river. The battle is a draw, although Cornwallis isable to capture 2,000 sheep and cattle.
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Nathan Rice writes a congratulatory letter to John Adams for his return to Braintree, perhaps unaware that already Adams has beeninformed that he is to leave his family once again, this time to go toFrance. Rice also writes about theupcoming Massachusetts Constitution, which is being formed: “Permit me to congratulateyou on your return to your family and frends, of which I am advertised by the weekly Gazette. It must afford not less satisfaction to the state in general to have your presence and council at this critical period, on the transactions of which depend its future happiness andtranquility—than it does to your family and private connections, to imbraceafter a tedious absence, the tender companion kind parent, and generous Friend.
When I hold up to view the welfare, and prosperity of the continent in general, to those of a single state or family—I’m at a loss whether most to rejoice at your return to Massachusetts or regret your absence from Congress.
It will ever remain asingular mark of honor to you, and a convincing proof of your Patriotism and attachment to the liberty and happiness of Mankind that no sinister views orprivate concerns, could call your attention from Congress untill you had notonly effected the union of the Colonies, but formed a plan which will both confirm that union and render it indissoluble—that being now sent forth for the acceptance of the states. God grant it may meet their speedy and hearty approbation.
The public (of whose gratitude however I do not entertain the most exalted idea) must ever acknowledge the great services you have rendered them; and however you may not think convenient to contribute further to their happiness in that exalted station you have ever held since the commencment of the dispute, yet the samevirtuous principle and generous sentiments, which have heitherto stimulated you to further the cause of mankind in general will still induce you to serve that state with which you are particularly connected, and which now in an important manner calls for the exertion of your abilities.
A Constitution is now forming—a supreme Majistrate is to be appointed—a post of the greatest honorand importance to be confered on an individual. The popular manner in which this is to be done is perhaps the best which at this crisis could have been adopted: Caprices and trifleing accidents too often actuate and govern the populace. Alarmed at this truth, I felt the most sencible pleasure on the news of your arrival in Boston persuaded that your prudence and advice would prevent the many dangerous extravagancies of so popular a measure. Happy must it be for the good people of Massachusetts should they make chose of [left blank] the gentleman to whom they are so greatly indebted, and who without pomp or pageantry, superiour to the wiles of a courtier or the applause of individuals would study to promote the happiniss and gain the approbation of hiscountrymen by a steady adhearance to the principles of vir[tue and] justice.”
Meanwhile,George Washington, having suffered yet another defeat, this time at Whitemarsh,must now make plans to gather his troops and march them to winterquarters. He sends out the followingGeneral Order: “The army to march at four o’clock in the morning from the right—ASubaltern from each regiment and a Captain from each brigade, under the commandof a Field Officer from the line, are to assemble at General Knox’s quarters in the morning and remain ’till the Army moves off the ground, and then see that all stragglers in the camp, and its environs, are collected and marched after it—They are also to see that no baggage, entrenching tools or other articlesare left, or that they are, secured under proper guards taken from the Pennsylvania Militia, by application to the commanding officer thereof.”
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In the morning, British generals and engineers analyzed the American positions tosee if they could exploit any part of their defenses. To the astonishment of the British, the Americans, and historians ever since, Howe chose to withdraw and return to Philadelphia. He had been successful in thetwo major skirmishes during the previous two days, but he had not gotten as fararound the American flank as he had hoped and his provisions were running low. Also, as the now disparaged song goes, “Baby, It’s cold outside.” The troops had left their tents and gear in Philadelphia.
At 2:00 pm, the British began their withdrawal,lighting numerous campfires—as Washington had done three days earlier—toconceal their movements. An American reconnaissance party, led by Capt. McLane,discovered that Howe was marching back down Old York Road into Philadelphia and communicated this information back to Washington. Morgan’s troops harassedthe enemy’s rear, in particular Grey’s column, which was hindered by the weightof the artillery that it was transporting. A contingent of Hessians formed tooppose them with their fieldpieces and Morgan’s troops retreated. The British arrived in Philadelphia later that day. Washington would begin thinking about Winter Quarters.
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The second day of the Battle of Whitemarsh passes with thetwo armies watching each other across the Wissahickon Valley. General Howe is hoping that Washington willleave his positions to attack the British, but Washington is holding back inorder to see what move the British will make. By the end of the day, Howe decided to go forward on the 7thg with aflanking movement toward Jenkintown and Cheltenham Township, while MajorGeneral Charles Grey’s forces woud create a distraction by attacking theAmerican center. This is a familiartactic of Howe’s that Washington should be not only used to, but expecting atthis point.
Meanwhile, in Paris, France, French foreign minister Count Charles de Vergennes responds positively to the American suggestions of amilitary alliance in the wake of the American victory at Saratoga.
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After his defeat in Germantown, General Washington had led his army along the Skippack Pike to Pawling’s Mill, beyond the Perkiomen Creek wherethey temporarily encamped. From there they marched east on Skippack Pike andturned left on Forty-Fort Road, marched to Semnyetown Pike, and camped on theproperty of Frederick Wampoe near Kulpsville in Towamencin Township. After Howe’s successive battles, Washingtonwas expecting an attack.
General Howe did indeed entertain thoughts of an attack that would destroyWashington’s army before both sides took their winter pauses.
Washington marched his men to Whitemarsh, which was
approximately 13 miles east of Philadelphia.
He established headquarters at the Emlen House, and set his army to
building redoubts and defensive works.
It was just after midnight that Cornwallis’s vanguard,consisting of two British light infantry battalions, skirmished with anAmerican cavalry patrol near Three Mile Run on Skippack Road. Washington received a message alerting him tothe British movements. At the same timethe main body of British troops marched through Germantown, Beggarstown, andFlourtown. At 3:00 a.m.. the Britishhalted on Chestnut Hill, just south of the American defenses, and waited fordaybreak. Washington ordred his troopsto build additional campfires to deceive the British. According to Hessian Major Carl vonBauermeister, “[I]t looked as if fifty thousand men were encamped there. By day we could see this was merely a trick…” Expecting a battle, Washington dispatched histroops to discover the size and intent of the British. Colonial troops met up with British troops onthe north side of Chestnut Hill. ThePennsylvania militia was quickly routed by the British, and fled.
General Howe arrived and went to the church’s bell tower in
order to view Amerian positions. There
he decided that the Amerian defenses were too strong to attack with his present
force and chose to shell their defenses with artillery fire. However, the guns did not have adequate range
to reach Washington’s men.
Howe and his men encamped for the night at Chestnut Hill,
and planned for a new manner of attack the following day.
Join us at Bow Tie Tours for Philadelphia’s Best Historical Walking Tours. Our “Independence Tour Extraordinaire” includes tickets to Independence Hall, as well as numerous other sites, such as 2nd National Bank, GraffHouse, Carpenter Hall, and Christ Church. If you are interested in learning about George Washington, join us forour Valley Forge Tour. For those interested in the Civil War, come see Gettysburg.
In the opening move of the campaign of 1777, General George Washington’s army marches from Morristown, New Jersey to Middle Brook Valley.
Benjamin Franklin wrote the following letter to George Washington: “Count Pulawski of Poland, an Officer famous throughout Europe for his Bravery and Conduct in Defence of the Liberties of his Country against the three great invading Powers of Russia, Austria and Prussia, will have the Honour of delivering this into your Excellency’s Hands. The Court here have encouraged and promoted his Voyage, from an Opinion that he may be highly useful in our Service. Mr. Deane has written so fully concerning him, that I need not enlarge: and only add my Wishes that he may find in our Armies under your Excelly. Occasions of distinguishing himself.”
Of the many services Franklin gave to his country, his record of referring individuals from other countries here to help with the cause was exceptional, and included luminaries such as “The Baron” Von Steubon and Thomas Paine. His referral of Pulaski was another striking example. Pulaski would fight heroically in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, but was killed in the Seige of Savannah.
Hessian prisoners taken at Trenton are marched through the streets of Philadelphia.
General Charles Cornwallis, who had been about to leave for England, rode 50 miles from New York to take command at Princeton, NJ. The total troops there numbered 8,000; General Washington at Trenton commanded 5,000 troops.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Benjamin Franklin was appointed commissioner to Spain, in addition to his duties in France.
General Washington has given his orders for the march on this day. He writes a few letters, including one to Robert Morris, which closes, “I hope the next Christams will prove happier than the present to you Dear Sir.”
Washington and part of his army cross the Delaware River and capture the Hessian garrison at Trenton. American troops are under General Washington and suffered only 4 wounded in action. The crossing consists of 2400 soldiers, 200 horses and 18 cannon.
The Congress prepares and publishes an address to the American people. It is a plea for military support against the advancing British army. “What a pity it is then that the rich and populous city of Philadelphia should fall into the enemy’s hands.”
General Washington is uncertain whether General Charles Cornwallis will cross the Delaware above here or below from Trenton. He also writes to General Charles Lee at Chatham, New Jersey, once again requesting that he join him to save Philadelphia: “I last night received your favor by Colo. Humpton & were it not for the weak and feeble state of the force I have, I should highly approve of your hanging on the Rear of the Enemy and establishing the Post you mention; But when my situation is directly opposite to what you suppose it to be, and when Genl Howe is pressing forward with the whole of his Army except the Troops that were lately embarked & a few besides left at N. York, to possess himself of Philadelphia, I cannot but request and entreat you & this too by the advice of all the Genl Officers with me, to march and join me with your whole force with all possible expedition. The utmost exertions that can be made, will not be more than sufficient to save Philadelphia, without the aid of your force, I think there is but little if any prospect of doing it. I refer you to the Route Majr Hoops would inform you of. The Enemy are now extended along the Delaware at Several places. By a prisoner who was taken last night, I am told that at Penny Town there are two Battallions of Infantry—3 of Grenadiers, The Hessian Grenadiers, 42d of Highlanders & 2 Others—Their object doubtless is to pass the river above us or to prevent your joining me. I mention this that you may avail yourself of the information. do come on, your arrival may be happy & if it can be effected without delay may be the means of preservg a City whose loss must prove of the most fatal consequence to the Cause of America. I am &c.
pray exert your influence & bring with you All the Jersey Militia you possibly can, Let them not suppose their State is lost or in any danger because the Enemy are pushing thro it. if you think Genl Sinclair or Genl Maxwell would be of Service to command em I would send either.”