When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
October 4, 1777 Battle of Germantown
After taking the American capital, British General Sir William Howe positioned two brigades and a contingent of Hessians troops in Germantown. Much like at Trenton, George Washington decided to attack and destroy the enemy detachment at Germantown using a double envelopment on the night of October 3.
General John Sullivan’s column was the first to make contact, driving back the British pickets on Mount Airy. The British were so shocked to find a large force of American soldiers that some were cut off from the main body; 120 men under British Colonel Musgrave took shelter in the large stone house of Chief Justice Benjamin Chew, known as Cliveden. Ironically, this fortified refuge position would ultimately decide the course of the battle.
On the left, one of Sullivan’s divisions, commanded by General Anthony Wayne, became separated in the fog. To make matters worse, Sullivan’s men were also beginning to run low on ammunition, causing their fire to slacken. The separation, combined with the lack of fire from their comrades and the commotion of the attack on Cliveden behind them, convinced Wayne’s men that they were cut off, causing them to withdraw.
Luckily, General Nathanael Greene’s column arrived in time to engage the British before they could rout Wayne. Unfortunately, one of Greene’s brigades, under General Adam Stephen, also became lost in the fog, mistook Wayne’s men for the British, and opened fire. Wayne’s men returned fire. The resulting firefight caused both units to break and flee the field.
Only the steadfastness of Greene’s and Wayne’s men and the American artillery prevented a disaster. The American retreat was also aided by the onset of darkness. Washington’s Army lost roughly 700 men killed and wounded. Another 400 Americans were captured. The British suffered more than 500 casualties of their own. Despite the British victory, many Europeans, especially the French, were impressed by the continued determination of the Continental Army.
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