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 22, 1777 Attack on Red Bank
In late fall of 1776 James Whithall is approached by delegates of the Continental Congress with a request to erect a Fort north of his home to help defend the city of Philadelphia. James refuses their request and the Congress proceeds to confiscate James’s apple orchard north of his home and orders the Continental Army to build the Fort. Work begins in April of 1777 to construct a Fort that is designed to hold up to 2,000 Continental soldiers.
Fort Mercer was part of a series of defenses created to keep the British from sailing up the Delaware River to reach the national capital at Philadelphia. These defenses included two other forts in the area, Fort Billingsport about ten miles downriver from here on the New Jersey side, and Fort Mifflin on the other side of the Delaware River. In addition to these forts, a system of obstructions called cheaveaux de frise were placed in the Delaware River. These were large boxes with long wooden spikes stuck out of them, to impale any British ships which might try to sail up the Delaware River. One row of these, known as the lower cheaveaux de frise, stretched from Fort Billingsport to a group of American ships on the other side of the river. If the British attempted to remove the cheaveaux de frise, it would require a great deal of time and effort using two ships. Having Fort Mercer on the shore alongside meant that in the time it would take the British to attempt to remove the cheaveaux de frise, cannon fire from Fort Mercer could sink their ships.
These river defenses prevented the British from attacking Philadelphia directly via the Delaware and when the British finally occupied Philadelphia, they deprived them of supply ships causing huge hardships in the city during the occupation. Denied supplies, British General William Howe quickly took action against the American forts on the Delaware River. Just two days after the British occupied Philadelphia, Howe sent troops to attack Fort Billingsport, and the American troops there evacuated that fort.
On October 22, British General William Howe sent 1207 Hessians under the Colonel Von Donop from Philadelphia to attack Fort Mercer. The Hessians crossed the Delaware River from Philadelphia into New Jersey, landing in Cooper’s Ferry (now Camden). They marched to Haddonfield, where they camped for the night. The following morning, they marched southwest towards Fort Mercer. In order to reach Fort Mercer, the Hessians needed cross the Big Timber Creek, but many of the key bridges had been dismantled by American forces. This caused the Hessians to march an additional eight to ten miles and cross the Big Timber Creek at the Clement’s Road Bridge.
The Hessians made their attack on Fort Mercer around 4 p.m. in what became known as the Battle of Red Bank. The 1207 Hessian troops greatly outnumbered the 614 American soldiers within Fort Mercer, who were under the command of Colonel Christopher Greene. However, Green had received advance warning about the attack. The battle lasted only forty minutes. Despite their superior numbers, the Hessians were decisively defeated, suffering over 514 casualties. Among the Hessian casualties was their commanding officer Colonel Von Donop. Donop was treated for his wounds in the house of James and Ann Whitall, where he would soon die.
The defeated Hessians made their retreat to Haddonfield, where they again camped for the night. The following morning they marched back to Cooper’s Ferry, from where they crossed the Delaware River back into Philadelphia.
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