December 8, 1777

George Washington and his men at Battle of White Marxhg

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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December 7, 1777

At around 1:00 am, Howe marched his army back through Germantown and then to Jenkintown, where they remained until noon.  These British movements were concealed by a ridge on Chestnut Hill, and Washington did not become aware of them until around 8:00 am.  He then moved Morgan’s Rifle Corps and Colonel Mordecai Gist’s Maryland militia eastward to cover his left flank.  A mile to the right, Brigadier General James Potter’s brigade of Pennsylvania militia and Webb’s 2nd Connecticut Regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Sherman, went down Limekiln Road toward Edge Hill.  The movement of the British rear guar was being hindered by the burning of the villages at Cresheim and Beggarstown by troops in front.  Howe’s right flank was now situated nearAbington Presbyterian Meeting.  His mainforce moved to Edge Hill, on a ridge that ran parallel to, and a mile in frontof, the American lines.  Grey’s column proceeded up Whitemarsh Church Road toward the center of the American forces.

General Grey had been instructed not to attack until he heard the sound of firing fromHowe’s column,  but after several hours, he became impatient and decided to proceed on his own. He formed his column intothree divisions, with the Queen’s Rangers on the left, the Jägers on each sideof the road, and the light infantry of the Guards on the right,  and headed in the direction of Tyson’s Tavern on Limekiln Road.  As Grey advanced toward the American center,his troops took fire from American militia on Edge Hill.   The militia were quickly routed, with between twenty and thirty killed, and fifteen of them taken as prisoners.   Generals John Cadwalader and Joseph Reed out reconnoitering on horse near Twickenham, thecountry estate of Thomas Wharton Jr. attempted to rally Potter’s fleeing Pennsylvania militia.  Lieutenant Colonel Sherman, the officer incharge of the 2nd Connecticut Continentals, resented Reed’s assumption ofcommand, and later complained to Washington that it put “…Officers and Men into such confusion that it rendered it impossible to keep that necessary when going into Action.” The British soon had them surrounded and outnumbered, and the Pennsylvania militia again panicked and fled. The 2nd Connecticut Continentals made a stand, firing between two and five rounds perman; Sherman only gave the order to retreat when the Jägers were within 15–20yards of his position.  At some point, Cadwalader and Reed became separated from the militia, and Reed’s horse was shot out from under him.  A bodyof Hessians charged at the two officers with bayonets, but Captain McLane rode upwith a few dragoons and ordered a charge that scattered the Hessians.  McLane then took the two officers to safety.

The Pennsylvania militia fled in panic down Edge Hill, across Sandy Run, and toward the main American camp. Right behind them were men of the 2ndConnecticut, also in disorderly retreat. They were pursued to within yards oftheir encampment by the Queen’s Rangers and Jägers, who then fell back and tooka position on Edge Hill, between Grey’s troops and Howe’s main column.  Morgan’s Rifle Corps and Gist’s Marylandmilitia had taken position on Edge Hill, about a mile to the east of Grey’stroops, and higher up on the ridge.  A small group of Americans moved down to attack Col. Twistleton’s Light Infantry of theGuards, but were quickly repulsed by the British. William Augustus West, who was stationed with the light infantry,noted that the4th and 23rd Regiments engaged the Americans with 9 men killed and 19wounded.  British Major John Andre reported that one American was killed.

Meanwhile, the main body of Morgan’s and Gist’s troops engaged Howe’s main column in dense woods, where they fought “Indian style”, from tree to tree. The Maryland militiaattacked Abercromby’s 1st Light Infantry Battalion with unusual vigor: Britishofficers, who were used to encountering militia who would flee at the firstsign of battle, would later express admiration at the skill of Morgan’s andGist’s men.  Morgan’s troops were not reinforced,and wereforced to retreat back to the main camp.

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December 5, 1777

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

January 23, 1777


American forces under Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Parker skirmish with British regulars.

British General Howe sends a response, after many entreaties from General Washington, regarding prisoner exchange and the cruel treatment of some of the American prisoners:  “Your several Letters of the 1st 6th 12th 17th and 29th December have been received: I have not troubled you with Answers to them as the Exchanges to which they relate so far as the military Line is concerned, have been regularly made.  The Conditions respecting the Exchange of Prisoners not being complied with on your Part in the Manner I had a Right to expect from the Agreement subsisting between us, and from your repeated Declarations in Answer to my Letters on that Subject, I propose to send an Officer of Rank to you to confer upon the future Mode of Exchange, Subsistance &ca, if it meets with your Approbation; this Expedient appearing to me effectual for settling all Differences, will, I hope, be the Means of preventing a Repetition of the improper Terms in which your Letter of the 13th Instant is expressed, & founded upon the grossest Misrepresentations: I shall not make any further Comment upon it than to assure you, that your Threats of retaliating upon the innocent such Punishment, as may be de[c]reed in the Circumstances of Mr Lee by the Laws of his Country, will not divert me from my Duty in any Respect, at the same Time you may rest satisfied that the Proceedings against him will not be precipitated; and I trust that in this, or in any other Event during the Course of my Command, you will not have just Cause to accuse me of Inhumanity, Prejudice, or Passion.  Altho’ I cannot contradict the Account you have been pleased to transmit of the cruel Treatment of Lieutenant Yeates I can aver my Abhorrence of the Barbarity therein set forth, and am satisfied that the Officers under my Command are equally inclined to discourage such Behaviour, and to prevent it in every possible Degree; but the Heat of Action will sometimes produce Instances that are only to be lamented.  Lieutenant Colonel Walcot is the Officer I have appointed to negotiate respecting the Prisoners; he will accordingly wait your Answer to this at Brunswick, which you will be pleased to address to Lord Cornwallis commanding at that Place.”

Meanwhile, Jonathon Trumball writes to Washington bemoaning the state of affairs regarding prisoner exchange, and asserts that the British are treating the northern prisoners with more cruelty than those from the south:  “The Friends of the Officers and Soldiers now prisoners of war from this State, especially those confined in New-York are impatient for their Release, & with good Reason, as their sufferings there from Cold, Hunger, nakedness, Sickness, the want of every Necessary, & accumulated Insult beggar all Description, many incapable to support this Load of Suffering, have fell sacrifice to the rigour and Inhumanity of our polished Enemies, after having endured Hardships and Tortures incomparably more severe and excruciating than the wildest Savage would inflict upon his barbarous Foe, others by force of a Strong Constitution yet endure their Misery, they can endure but little longer, I hope your Humanity will relieve them before they fall Victims to the accursed policy of our inhuman Enemies. I am unable to mention all the Officers from this State now prisoners, I entreat your Excellency to effect their Exchange as soon as possible—Major Meigs & Capt. Hanchet were taken at Quebec, and are here on their parole, General Waterbury was taken on Lake Champlain Major Wells, Lieuts. Fitch Fanning & Cleaveland & Hopkins on Long-Island, Lieut. Colo. Heart, & Brigade Major Wyllys on York-Island. I beg leave to recommend these Gentlemen in particular to your Excellencys Care to have them exchanged, and generally all Officers and Soldiers from this State now prisoners of war; This Letter will be delivered to you by Brigade Major Wyllys who is out upon his parole for Thirty Days to procure his Exchange, I wish your Excellency to take Measures to prevent his return—Lt Hopkins is likewise out upon his parole for the like Purpose. I beg leave to propose he may [be] exchanged for a Lieut. McDermot of the 16th Regiment of british Troops now a prisoner in this State, if agreable, his parole admits of his release upon sending in a prisoner of equal Rank.I am Sensible your Excellency needs no Arguments or Motives to induce you to effect the Exchange of our Prisoners in the speediest manner, yet I must intreat your pardon for just mentioning a Jealousy our Enemies endeavour to instill into our prisoners that the prisoners from the Southern States are taken better Care of than ours; and indeed, I fear, we in this State, inadvertently have failed in some Degree of doing all we ought to or might have done to procure their Discharge, which makes me more earnest, & perhaps too importunate to have it soon effected.”

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