A Unexpected American Loss


The Battle of Germantown was the second battle between British and Americans in and around Philadelphia. In the early fall of 1777, events did not fare well for George Washington's army in Pennsylvania. The British won the Battle of Brandywine less than a month ago. They then had taken over Philadelphia during the War of Independence. General William Howe was convinced that the American army had been scattered after the capture of the city. Not wanting to spread his troops across the city, and so he could secure his lines of communication, he had chose to split his army. Some remained in the city, some remained at Elktown to guard his current supply line, and some were sent to help clear the Delaware. The largest group of them, 9,000 strong, located themselves in Germantown, five miles north of Philadelphia on the east bank of the Schuykill River, which bordered the camp.


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Map of the Battle of Germantown


On October 4, 1777, American Commanders; Lord Charles Cornwallis, Sir William Howe, Wilhelm von Knyphausen, George Washington and Nathanael Greene took their Continental Army to a position along Perkiomen Creek between Pennypacker's Mills and Trappe, PA, approximately 30 miles northwest of the city and conceived a daring and imaginative plan to attack the city simultaneously from four different directions that would occur at night. At 34`F, cloudy, and foggy they still planned to attack. In the early hours of October 4th, the 11,000 Americans moved toward their target in four columns with the intent to strike at 5 a.m. Not all columns were in place at the appointed hour and others were spotted by British sentries who fired warning shots to awaken the camp.
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The British 40th Foot occupying the Chew House from which they resisted all efforts to dislodge them during the Battle of Germantown








The Americans were supposed to attack without firing, but shooting broke out very quickly from both sides. The air around Germantown that morning was dense with a thick fog so American troops soon began to attack each other accidently. Bad weather, bad coordination, and thick fog resulted in American defeat, heavy losses, many wounded and withdrawal to hold onto Philadelphia throughout the winter of 1777-1778. The defeat cost Washington 152(30 officers and 122 men) killed, 521(117 officers and 404 men) wounded, and 438 captured including Colonel Mathews and the entire 9th Virginia regiment. General Francis Nash, had his left leg taken off by a cannon ball, and died on October 8 at the home of Adam Gotwals. His body was placed in a grave with military honors on October 9 at the Mennonite Meetinghouse in Towamencin. Major John White, who was shot at Cliveden, died on October 10th. Lieutenant Colonel William Smith, who was wounded carrying the flag of truce to Cliveden, also died from his wounds British losses were lighter, 70(4 officers and 66 men) killed, 450(30 officers and 420 men) wounded and 0 captured. British officers killed in action included; General James Agnew, Lieutenant Colonel John Bird, and Lieutenant Colonel Walcott of the 5th Regiment of Foot was mortally wounded. While the battle was a loss, it served an important purpose. Europeans took notice of the American Army since they had put up an extremely tough fight despite a lack of training and recent defeats. This led to alliances with France and others lending credibility to the Americans.


1. What were the leading up events that caused Washington's plan to fail?
2. Where were all of Howes troops located?
3. What was the importance of this battle?