PHMC Website Banner
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
 
Gold Curve
People Places Events Things


The Battle of Germantown
page 3



 

Battle of Germantown mapMeanwhile, Armstrong's column had appeared in front of the Jaeger picket at the river. Although this force limited itself to firing a few rounds of light-caliber cannon shot, it did preoccupy the Hessians on Howe's left flank. Toward the center, the British moved into the stone houses along Germantown Road and opened a steady fire on the long line of Sullivan's, Conway's and Wayne's men. However, the American line pushed on, sweeping resistance before it. Howe saw his defense about to disintegrate, and was beginning to think of ordering his whole army, including the troops in Philadelphia, to retreat to Chester, where he could count on the naval gunfire support of the British fleet in the Delaware.

While this was going on, Washington and his staff had reached the Chew house, where Colonel Musgrave still held out. British sniping from the upstairs windows attracted American attention. After some argument, General Henry Knox convinced Washington that such a threatening strongpoint should no longer be by-passed, and General William Maxwell's brigade was ordered out of reserve to surround the building.

Lieutenant William Smith went forward toward the house with a surrender demand, but was shot down mortally wounded, despite the flag of truce he carried. Then field-pieces were brought up to lay a barrage to cover an infantry assault. But the stone walls of the house were proof against the three-pound cannon balls, and the assaulting infantrymen were scythed away by the British fire. Those few who reached the house were bayoneted as they tried to force their way through the doors and windows. Finally, volunteers went forward to try to set fire to the house with bundles of flaming straw, but none survived to reach his goal.

During all this, Greene's column to the north had finally gotten back on the right road and had made contact with the British picket at Lukens' Mill. Deploying with Stephen's division on the right, Greene's in the center, and McDougall's brigade on the left, it drove in the picket and started rolling up the British right flank. Perhaps because of the fog, and certainly because of the confusing orders Stephen gave (a court-martial later cashiered him for having been drunk), his division veered right from its assigned line of advance and followed Meeting House Lane instead of converging with the rest of Greene's force on Market Square and making contact with Wayne's left flank. Suddenly, dimly through the fog, Stephen's men caught sight of the rear of a deployed line to their left front and fired into it. The troops they attacked returned their fire, but began to show signs of confusion.Battle of Germantown map

And well they might, for these men were not British troops, but Wayne's Continentals. Already running low on ammunition, hearing the outbreak of heavy firing from the Chew house, and being suddenly attacked from the rear, they believed they were about to be cut off. Their assault, which was on the verge of smashing the British center, came to an abrupt halt, and despite their commander's frantic efforts they began to fall back. Their withdrawal left Conway's left flank unsupported, and his men, pressed by the British opposing them, also began to withdraw, soon followed by Sullivan's division. At this juncture, General Francis Nash, commanding a North Carolina brigade which had been detached from the reserve to reinforce Sullivan, was mortally wounded.

On the north, McDougall's brigade had also gone astray, leaving Greene's left flank exposed to an attack by the Queen's Rangers and the Guards of the British reserve. But Greene's division continued its drive down Church Lane. The 9th Virginia, leading the division, burst into Market Square and the men began cheering in triumph. Until this noise gave their presence away, they had been hidden by the fog, but now the British nearby closed in and opened fire. There was a desperate fight for a few minutes. The Virginians suffered heavy casualties; finally, when they were completely surrounded and every officer from the colonel down had been wounded, they surrendered.

The British assault on the 9th Virginia developed into a general counterattack as the two British brigades on the left of Market Square were ordered into the fight and Cornwallis arrived with reinforcements who had double-timed from Philadelphia. The advance was slowed but not halted when General James Agnew, at the head of his 4th Brigade, was killed by a civilian sniper named Hans Boyer, firing from behind the wall of the graveyard of the Mennonite Meeting House.

 

 

Previous PagePage 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Next Page