October, 1777: Battle of Germantown Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Following his defeat at the Battle of Brandywine and the British occupation of Philadelphia, General George Washington ordered Continental forces to attack British redcoats encamped at Germantown.

Following his defeat at the Battle of Brandywine and the British occupation of Philadelphia, General George Washington ordered Continental forces to attack British redcoats encamped at Germantown.

Washington’s troops set out on October 3 and in four converging columns attacked the following morning. They made rapid and dramatic gains, sweeping across two to three miles of enemy ground before Sir William Howe could organize his beleaguered redcoats. With victory near, Washington prepared to order a general advance of his army to finish off its reeling foe. Then, as quickly as success had come, the momentum rapidly shifted. The rebels’ initial rapid advance and the redcoats’ desultory retreat took place in the midst of a dense fog that aided American stealth but prevented them from recognizing the extent of their success. Furthermore, British occupation of the large, stone-walled Chew House slowed the American advance as Henry Knox’s Continental artillery futilely blasted the stronghold. Additionally, two of Washington’s columns collided and exchanged fire. The resulting confusion precipitated a general collapse of the American line that reversed the movement of battle and left the Continental commander bewildered by the sudden need for retreat.

Chew House. (National Archives)

Despite the Germantown setback, morale in the Continental ranks remained high. “Our troops are in prodigious Spirits,” Knox reported after the battle. They had carried out a complex plan requiring considerable skill and almost defeated a formidable foe. Rather than demonstrating the soldiers’ incompetence and heightening their despair, the near-success reflected their increased military prowess and buoyed hopes for victory in future confrontations.

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