Howe`s Philadelphia Campaign

Howe`s Philadelphia Campaign


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British Major General William Howe had pulled his soldiers out of New Jersey in the spring of 1777, having failed to lure George Washington into a open-field encounter. These forces were to serve as one prong in a larger three-pronged attack — the major component of the British war plan for the year. Howe’s army was to move northward from Manhattan and converge on Albany with the armies of St. Leger on the Mohawk and Burgoyne from Lake Champlain, effectively splitting New England from the other colonies.Prior to participating in that joint-venture, however, Howe did some tinkering with the war plan. He chose to interpret his orders from London as authorizing him to strike first against the American capital city, Philadelphia. He believed that the large Loyalist population in the area needed only a little encouragement to rally to the cause and that a strike against the seat of the American government would do the trick.Philadelphia, it should be noted, held little strategic importance and several negative features that should have given pause. The lifeline for supplies and reinforcements was the Delaware River, whose passage could be difficult and dangerous.In truth, Howe was largely motivated by a desire to erase the stain of the earlier losses to Washington at Trenton and Princeton, and believed that taking Philadelphia would accomplish that end. After completing his conquest in Pennsylvania, Howe planned to return to the Northern Offensive.These plans were a well-kept secret. They entered Chesapeake Bay, sailed to its northern extremity and sent the troops ashore at the head of the Elk River on August 25.Washington and his lieutenants had initially thought that Howe’s target was the Hudson and that his movement out to sea was only a feint. Washington hurried his army overland into Pennsylvania, where a short series of encounters occurred in the fall of 1777:

  • Battle of Brandywine Creek (September 11, 1777). Howe's advance toward Philadelphia was first contested by Washington's forces along Brandywine Creek. The Americans were forced to retreat after the right flank under John Sullivan broke.
  • Battle of the Clouds (September 16, 1777). Washington's recently defeated army was prepared to make a stand against the pursuing British army, but a sudden rainstorm ended hostilities. Washington retreated to Reading.
  • Paoli Massacre (September 21, 1777). A surprise attack on Anthony Wayne's forces removed the last important barrier to the British occupation of Philadelphia.

Congress fled from Philadelphia on September 19, settling first in Lancaster and at the end of the month at York. Howe entered Philadelphia on September 26, but joined the bulk of his troops stationed a few miles northwest of the city near Germantown.

  • Battle of Germantown (October 4, 1777). Washington's surprise attack on the British camp outside Philadelphia initially went well, but fog and confusion helped to turn the tide of battle, forcing another American retreat.
  • Loss of Forts Mercer and Mifflin (October-November, 1777). The unsuccessful defense of two strategically important American forts on the Delaware River ensured the British continued occupation of Philadelphia, but provided sufficient time for the Continental Army to head for its winter quarters.

Washington had failed in his effort to prevent the British from taking the American capital city, but he had succeeded in the more important task to keep his army intact. While Howe enjoyed the comforts of Philadelphia, Washington led his forces into winter quarters at Valley Forge in mid-December.


Philadelphia Campaign

PHILADELPHIA CAMPAIGN. During the last week of 1776 and the first week of 1777, a disintegrating American army closing out a disappointing campaign won two small but sharp engagements with regular British and Hessian mercenary forces at Trenton and Princeton, in New Jersey. These unexpected setbacks cost the British their hard-earned ascendancy in New Jersey, as well as the wide-spread assumption that the Revolution would soon end favorably to them in military terms. The British commander in chief, William Howe, withdrew his troops to winter quarters in New York City, leaving a small garrisoning force to secure an enclave in eastern New Jersey near Perth Amboy. Howe's American counterpart, George Washington, briefly considered attacking that remnant of British strength, but instead he prudently led his rapidly dwindling force to winter camps in the hills around Morristown, New Jersey.

The Trenton-Princeton campaign was of incalculable morale and psychological advantage to American revolutionaries, and it was politically critical to the rebel governments but it did nothing to preserve the existence of what Washington soon remembered as his "old" army. Indeed, his object in placing that force in the Morris County hills was less to protect it than to conceal its dissolution from the enemy and from Americans as well. Some scholars have argued that one dividend of the year-ending triumphs was the retention of a core group of about one thousand veterans of 1776 who agreed to remain in arms indefinitely, as a skeleton force around which Washington could build his "new" army. Surviving strength records for the Continental Army are nowhere more fragmentary than for the first three months of 1777, however, and this claim is very doubtful. From Morristown in February, March, and April, Washington presided over the almost complete departure of his veteran troops, as his terse hints to civilian leaders and military peers suggest, while waiting for their long-promised replacements to materialize.

The sobering, but gratifying, end of the 1776 campaign persuaded an ideologically and fiscally reluctant Continental Congress to heed Washington's pleas to authorize the formation of a large "standing" army of soldiers enlisted for at least three years or the duration of the war. While recruiting officers scoured the hills of New England, ports in the Middle Atlantic states, and the southern backcountry, for men willing to accept these terms, Washington could do little except fret and try to keep the formal shell of his army alive. He borrowed militia forces from the Middle Atlantic states and deployed them with the dwindling remnants of his old force, maneuvering in and out of the New Jersey hills, both to beleaguer the enemy's Raritan River enclave and to deceive his foes about his temporary weakness. Washington expressed recurrent surprise that Howe and his aides did not see through this charade, and the contempt he came to feel toward his adversaries for their carelessness in this regard may explain some aspects of his behavior during the 1777 campaign.

William Howe, meanwhile, rightly considered Washington too strongly situated to attack, whatever his strength in troops, and instead contemplated how to launch a new campaign in the spring. The overall British campaign plan had evolved since the late fall of 1776 in personal discussions in London by Howe's subordinate, General John Burgoyne—who had returned to London to promote his ideas—and in correspondence between Howe and the British secretary of state for the American colonies, George Sackville Germain. That plan involved an invasion, led by Burgoyne, down the Lake Champlain-Hudson River corridor from Canada to New York City to isolate the militant head of the rebellion in New England from what Britain hoped was the more moderate rest of the continent. Howe's specific role in supporting this operation was left at best ambiguous in these discussions. Howe wanted try to end the rebellion in the Middle Atlantic states by carrying the fight to Pennsylvania. He was encouraged in this notion by Pennsylvania Loyalists, especially by that colony's former Assembly Speaker Joseph Galloway, who claimed that Pennsylvanians were eager to return to their king's side with protection from his army. Howe believed that he could achieve this and still return to New York, if necessary, to support Burgoyne's campaign.

Washington understood that he would soon engage Howe's forces, whether in the lower Hudson Valley or elsewhere in the Middle States, and he desperately tried to organize and if possible train the new recruits who began reaching his camps near Morristown in early May. Scholars have debated the social and economic character of the "new" army and its successors later in the war. A broad but disputed consensus suggests that the American regular army after 1776 was drawn from poorer and socially less secure groups than the broad cross-section of the populace who responded eagerly to the 1775 mobilization. This social transition had important implications for the army's military temperament and for its relationship to the larger society. Washington himself, viewing the new musters, speculated that recruiting agents were now meeting their goals from among "a Lower Class of People." Whatever their origins, the belated opening of the 1777 campaign allowed Washington to give at least some conditioning exercise to the recruits, even if more formal training was impossible. In June Howe moved large numbers of troops into New Jersey. By threatening to cross the flat lowlands toward the Delaware River, he hoped to lure Washington down from the Morris hills for the decisive engagement he craved. Washington might have willingly met his adversary in the hills, but he refused to fight on Howe's chosen ground. In early July, Howe withdrew his forces to Staten Island, where he loaded about fourteen thousand of them on the oceangoing transports of his brother, Adm. Richard Howe. The fleet put to sea on 23 July, leaving about seven thousand redcoats in New York City under the command of Howe's subordinate, General Henry Clinton.

Intelligence reports about the destination of the British force varied wildly and changed frequently. Washington knew that Howe might sail north to belabor the New England coast, trapping that region between Atlantic and interior invaders. He also might head south to secure a port like Charleston, or to harass the Chesapeake and Carolina coasts as their vital staple crops of tobacco and rice neared harvest. Or, Howe might lure the Continental Army off guard and return to New York to support Burgoyne's invasion of the Hudson. Delegates to the Continental Congress understandably credited threats to their own constituents most heavily, and that weak and regionally factionalized body exerted contradictory pressures on the army's leadership.

The Howe fleet was sighted in the mouth of the Delaware Bay on 29 July, supporting the view of many that the British in fact intended to rout the American civilian government and capture Philadelphia. Washington, who had marched his men back and forth across central New Jersey for two weeks, entered Pennsylvania the next day. The sudden disappearance of the fleet into the Atlantic upset these calculations, and strategic or political debates immediately resumed. Washington camped his force of ten thousand men in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to await events, but he was prepared to march north or south as needed. Finally, on 23 August, reliable intelligence showed that the Howes were sailing up the Chesapeake Bay. General Howe still intended to campaign for Pennsylvania, if by a different route than he had initially imagined.

Howe's army began landing at the head of the Elk River in Maryland on 25 August. The men were considerably weakened by five weeks on shipboard, and the horses and other animals on which they depended for mobility were in even worse shape. It took several days for British commanders to prepare for overland campaigning. Howe's critics have complained that he used weeks of the summer campaign season bringing his army only fifty miles closer to Philadelphia than it had been in New Jersey. But until that time, the friendliness of Quaker Pennsylvanians was only an untested promise from Joseph Galloway. The disinclination for rebellion—identified at the time as "disaffection"—by inhabitants of Maryland's eastern shore and the lower counties of Delaware was well-known. Additionally, by opening the campaign near the narrow neck of the Delmarva Peninsula, Howe could threaten Washington's southern supply lines even as Burgoyne might succeed at severing the northern ones.

When it was clear that Howe would invade Pennsylvania from the south, Washington marched his army through Philadelphia, fretting about whether its members made a sufficiently "military" appearance to sustain morale among civilians and especially delegates to Congress. He brought the army to Wilmington, Delaware. Then, when the British left Head of Elk, he backtracked into Chester County, Pennsylvania, skirmishing and trying to stay between the redcoats and both Philadelphia on the one hand and, on the other, the vital American supply depots and forges in the upper Schuylkill Valley near Reading. By 10 September the Americans had formed behind Brandywine Creek, near the small village of Chads Ford. Howe's efforts the next day to force passage of that place provoked the first pitched battle of the 1777 campaign.

That engagement began in the morning with artillery fire and maneuvering in the British lines south of the Brandywine. Washington feared a direct assault across that stream, which was running low in the late summer heat, and he concentrated his forces there, detaching units to cover other fords several miles north and south of that point. Howe, who the previous year at Long Island had observed American difficulty responding to flanking attacks, left the Hessian general, Wilhelm von Knyphausen, with five thousand troops to maneuver and display noisily at Chads Ford. With his subordinate, Charles Lord Cornwallis, Howe marched nine thousand men northwest along the Brandywine to obscure fords across the two branches into which the creek divided. Washington either ignored or failed to receive warnings from soldiers and local farmers about this maneuver. Soldiers were presumed not to know the local territory well, while its inhabitants were mostly Quakers whose political reliability the army doubted. Joseph Galloway's boast that Pennsylvanians would eagerly deliver their province back to their king was about to be tested in the field.

In the late afternoon of a hot day, Howe and Cornwallis's troops fell on the army's right flank, commanded by General John Sullivan of New Hampshire. Their assault was somewhat halting, which allowed Sullivan to prepare for the blow, but the attack unraveled the American line. Washington, once he was convinced that the attack was in earnest, rushed two divisions from the center of his lines, and eventually a third, into the breach. Fighting desperately for several hours, the Americans stabilized the situation sufficiently to organize an orderly retreat. The Battle of Brandywine resulted in an unequivocal victory for the British side, but the inexperienced Americans emerged from it with a sense that they could survive on the field with their enemy. Washington had casualties of about three hundred killed, as many wounded, and perhaps three hundred prisoners of war. Howe lost ninety men killed and about five times that many wounded. The British rested on the battlefield for a day while the Americans limped away toward Philadelphia.

When Congress received formal notice of the day's result (the cacophony of battle itself was audible in Philadelphia, and confused oral reports filtered into the city that night), it made plans to relocate the seat of government if necessary. The weak and embattled state government arrested and exiled to Virginia a group of mostly Quaker men of doubtful political loyalty. The documentary records of the Independence and war efforts were dispersed. The soon-to-be-named Liberty Bell was sent to the Lehigh Valley for safekeeping. Civilians of "disaffected" sentiment began to taunt their "patriot" neighbors and to prepare for occupation.

On September 16 advance elements of both armies stumbled into each other in Chester County and another decisive battle seemed likely. A fierce rainstorm, however, washed out the encounter. The Americans retreated to the upper Schuylkill Valley in search of dry munitions. Howe led his army to an obscure iron-making settlement on the Schuylkill River called Valley Forge. They burned the industrial facilities there and crossed the river into Philadelphia County. Congress adjourned on 18 September and went to Lancaster. When the state government arrived a few days later and claimed that town, the dispirited rump of Continental delegates trooped off to York, a relatively new frontier settlement west of the Susquehanna River, to await events.

On the night of 20 September, a detachment of about fifteen hundred American troops that Washington had sent under Pennsylvania general Anthony Wayne to shadow the British was attacked in their camp at Paoli by a much larger force of redcoats. The rebels were savaged, mostly receiving bayonet wounds, and the event was spun into the Paoli "Massacre," an important propaganda issue for the Patriot side. For the second year in a row it looked like the military part of the Revolution was disintegrating. Howe adroitly maneuvered his forces in the middle Schuylkill Valley to threaten both Philadelphia and the Reading storage depots. Washington chose to protect the latter, and on 26 September Philadelphia was lost. Thousands of prorevolutionary civilians fled west with the political bodies, but thousands more remained behind. The demeanor of even the evacuees was more determined—and far less visibly panicked—than had been the case in 1776 immediately before the Trenton surprise. This little-noted fact would soon have important military consequences.

Howe at first brought only 5,000 troops into the city proper, which extended between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, and ran from modern Vine Street to South Street in the north and south. He had witnessed civil-military tensions in Boston and New York before 1777, and he needed time to prepare the town for occupation. He left nine thousand troops camped in and around Germantown, a small crafts and manufacturing village currently inside the municipal limits of Philadelphia but then a half-day's march to the northwest. In addition to political sensitivities, Howe needed to open the Delaware River and make contact with his brother's fleet. Richard Howe had left the army in the Elk River and sailed around the Delmarva Peninsula in late August to return to the Delaware Bay. Below Philadelphia, rebel authorities had blockaded the river by building fortifications on either bank and placing floating obstructions hazardous to vessels in the shipping lanes. On the New Jersey side of the river lay Fort Mercer. On an island in the channel near the mouth of the Schuylkill River, where Philadelphia's airport is today, the Americans built a facility called Mud Fort, or Fort Mifflin. Admiral Howe anchored his fleet just below this bottleneck and began cautious operations, assisted by his brother's troops, to reopen the river.

The British army, and especially the largely Loyalist or neutralist residual civilian population of Philadelphia, were dependent on the stores and provisions in the fleet's holds. William Howe's commissary general reported that the army had lived off the land during the late summer, reaching Philadelphia with slightly more provisions than it had taken from Head of Elk. Those supplies began to dwindle rapidly now. If the British could not feed civilians, they would risk the political consequences of their alienation. Suspecting that Howe's tactical attention was divided between the river and the land sides of his defensive lines, and impressed by his own army's resilience after Brandywine, Washington began planning an assault on Germantown. During the last week of September, the Continental Army moved cautiously down the northern side of the Schuylkill River. Morale at headquarters was boosted on 28 September when preliminary news arrived from the north of American general Horatio Gates's success in stopping Burgoyne's invading army in the first Battle of Freeman's Farm, near Saratoga, New York.

On 3 October Washington divided his army into four columns, one of which was largely made up of Pennsylvania militia troops. These forces marched along four parallel roads toward Germantown. Washington planned for the columns to reach the British lines simultaneously at dawn and to fall on the surprised redcoats in successive waves. The plan was too complicated for the brave but inexperienced American soldiers and officers to execute. The day began well. The American columns marched under cover of an early autumn fog, and they were successful in surprising the British sentries. The two middle columns converged on the Germantown Road running through the village and drove the enemy back. The militia column, marching along the Schuylkill River, however, became lost in the fog and never found its way up from the ravine and into the battle. The leftmost column arrived too late and fell in on the rear and flank of the third column. Those forces soon engaged each other in a "friendly fire" episode. General Howe, awakened at his billet near Philadelphia, raced north with reinforcements and rallied his troops. American units fired too freely and began to exhaust their ammunition. Gun smoke added to the fog as a disorienting force, and Continental soldiers began to panic and withdraw from the field. The retreat became general as officers were unable to calm their men. Washington's unfortunate effort to seize the large stone house of colonial Pennsylvania's former chief justice, Benjamin Chew—into which British soldiers had retreated—consumed too much of his attention and contributed to the momentum shift. Once the Americans were in full retreat they continued so for more than twenty miles, coming to an exhausted halt far into the wilds of upper Philadelphia County.

The British thus had their second successive indisputable victory over the Americans. The rebels suffered casualties of about 150 killed, 500 wounded, and over 400 captured, while Howe's total losses in all categories were about 550. The British held the field at the day's end. Continental officers, however, saw more evidence at Germantown to reinforce their impressions from Brandywine that the performance gap between their troops and the enemy was not that great. Their correspondence emphasized their misfortune in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and their firm expectation of soon having "another brush" with Howe's troops, from which many of them confidently expected to emerge victorious. The specific accuracy of this view is less important than the fact of its existence, and its implications for the army's willingness to endure. Until the Howe brothers succeeded in opening the Delaware River, many rebels doubted that the British would be able to consolidate their successes in Pennsylvania. And the enemy remained subject to news of reverses in other sectors. This recurred on 15 October, when Washington learned that Horatio Gates had followed up on his initial success against Burgoyne and defeated the British in a second battle near Saratoga. That defeat led to Burgoyne's effective surrender, and at least to the temporary removal of the northern British army from the field.

As these mixed events occurred on American battlefields, developments in parts of the military establishment ordinarily less visible than armies themselves converged to change the direction of the Philadelphia campaign. The complex logistical organizations that Congress had created in 1775 to supply and transport the army began to unravel during the early fall of 1777. Congress reformed the commissary department in the spring, replacing New England officers with merchants from the Middle Atlantic states thought better suited to the new "seat of war." The idea worked on paper but it failed disastrously in the field. The army discovered this only when food and supplies mysteriously failed to arrive in its camps in sufficient amounts in mid-October. By early November neither the ambitious dreams of the junior and middle-grade officers nor the far more cautious hopes of their headquarters-level superiors were realistic. Washington had to bring the army to rest at Whitemarsh, north of Germantown, to have any hope of feeding it, and he began to develop a more subtle plan to neutralize the British strategic and political advantages resulting from their capture of Philadelphia.

After November 1 the focus of the campaign—to the extent that it still had one—lay in the increasingly violent struggle for control of the Delaware River below Philadelphia. The Continental Army, as such, had only a modest formal role to play in that struggle. Washington brought it to the camp at Whitemarsh so that the struggling commissary functionaries would have a reliable stationary target to which to direct whatever food and supplies they obtained. The actual management of the river war fell to the commanders of the two forts, to the state militia forces in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey who supported their operations, and to a crazy-quilt collection of Continental and Pennsylvania "navy" forces who operated on the river in small row galley vessels with initiative and bravery but relatively little heed to centralized command.

From Whitemarsh, Washington developed an impromptu secondary "front" in support of the river battle, which spread around the entire perimeter of occupied Philadelphia. To relieve the ecological strain on his weak commissary, he detached small parties of troops to patrol in the countryside. These forces were especially useful in contesting British efforts to run overland night convoys to bring their own supplies from ships at anchor below the forts to Philadelphia. The extent to which the British—at the end of a 3,000-mile supply line from England and Ireland—faced material shortages before and during the winter of 1777–1778 has not been appreciated because of the folkloric concentration on the epic of the Valley Forge winter. Until the Delaware was opened—and the river was known to be vulnerable to icing over during the eighteenth century—it could not be presumed that they would be able to hold Philadelphia.

Whether by design or otherwise, detachments from camp also served to relieve strain on the morale of Continental soldiers, and to give them at least the illusion that they were doing what they had joined the army to do—engage in active military operations. The mood of the camp in mid-November began the cyclical oscillations between dejection, exhilaration, and grim determination that would characterize the army's experience at Valley Forge the next winter. The army itself became more diverse as a result of the relocation to Pennsylvania of troops from the northern army that had defeated general Burgoyne. As soon as he was confident that Burgoyne's Convention Army would remain in captivity, Washington ordered his commanders in the central Hudson Valley to send him large numbers of troops as he attempted to close the campaign season with a triumph. Thousands of these soldiers reached Whitemarsh in November. They arrived at a scene of stasis, frustration, and some real deprivation. The northern troops were mostly Yankees or New Yorkers, and they mixed uneasily with the Middle Atlantic and southern troops who dominated the "main" army. The New Englanders could boast of their success—indeed, they quickly elevated the term "burgoyne" to the status of a generic verb—and they understandably wondered aloud what their new comrades had accomplished that autumn.

Washington kept as many of his troops as possible on rotating detached duty in the countryside. Many of the New Englanders were sent to New Jersey, where they supported the efforts of local units to defend Fort Mercer. There, on 22 October, a British overland assault led by Hessian mercenaries was repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy. Other Continentals patrolled roads in the three Pennsylvania counties outside the city—Bucks, Philadelphia, and especially Chester—where they developed a taste for partisan skirmishing that would prove useful the next winter when the army struggled to pacify the occupied countryside. Regrettably, some of them also developed talents and a taste for abusing civilian "peasants," plundering the goods of supposedly "disaffected" Pennsylvanians, and similar activities that presented Washington with a constant menu of delicate public relations work with civilians. Soldiers, especially recruits from land-poor environments in northern New England and the southern backcountry, had never seen countryside as rich and prosperous as that in southeastern Pennsylvania's "best poor man's country." Their arrival there coincided exactly with the army's plunge into material misery. They were less apt to attribute their new travails to bureaucratic shortcomings than to the moral deficiencies of Pennsylvania's mixed population. The terms "Quaker" or "quaking" became handy substitutes for unfamiliar sociocultural groups.

The battle for control of the Delaware came to a crescendo during the first two weeks of November, and, perhaps inevitably—given the extent of the logistical immobility of so many Continental troops—the British finally prevailed. William Howe's forces slowly established battle platforms on the marshy ground behind Mud Island, where Fort Mifflin lay, while his brother's warships carefully maneuvered upriver toward the chevaux de frise which obstructed the channels. Placing the fort in nearly point-blank range, the British began bombarding it day and night, slowly reducing its crude structures and earthworks to a pulpy mass of earth and debris. The defenders heroically endured this bombardment and fought back as well as they could for as long as they could. Continental and state "navy" forces flitted about on the river in small row galleys and other vessels and did what they could to endanger Lord Howe's sailors and their expensive warships. In the end, access and artillery power prevailed. On 16 November, Fort Mifflin surrendered. The Americans continued to hold its companion facility, Fort Mercer, on the New Jersey side, but without the Pennsylvania installation it could not provide coverage of the wide river. Washington detached generals to consider the wisdom of holding Fort Mercer, but they could not report favorably on the plan, and that site was abandoned on 20 November.

The loss of the forts ensured that the British would be able to remain in Philadelphia. But what had they won? Admiral Howe completed the work of clearing the obstructions from the river channels and was able to bring his transports to the city's docks by early December. His brother was already receiving criticism in London and in army circles for becoming bogged down in Pennsylvania while Burgoyne's invasion was swallowed up. Discouraged, Howe offered the king his resignation in October. The battle for the river was an enormously noisy affair, and reports from civilians indicate that the roar of artillery fire and the explosion of several British ships that ran aground could be heard dozens of miles inland. This reminds us that the campaign for Pennsylvania was not fought on an empty or abstract topography, but rather that it involved the reactions and ultimately the allegiances of the members of a complex, plural, modern society. Pennsylvania never produced the caricatured Quaker and other eager subjects of the king, waiting patiently for their liberation from republican radicals, that Joseph Galloway had described to General Howe. Rather, it was the diverse and dynamic community that individuals from the generation of William Penn to that of Benjamin Franklin had struggled to understand and govern.

The same civilian diaries and letters that tell us about the noise of war also document the ability of civilians to learn about and for the most part successfully adapt to the confusion and danger of war. Pacifists and profiteers, and ordinary citizens in between those extremes, closely watched the occupation of their world, adapted to military ways, adopted military vocabularies, and otherwise taught themselves to survive. Benjamin Franklin, in Paris hoping to negotiate a treaty of alliance with France, may or may not have proclaimed that "Philadelphia has taken general Howe." But in the long run, and even in the medium, the social order of the Delaware Valley rose up, enveloped, and in a manner triumphed over the best intentions of its invaders.


Contents

William Howe was born in England, the third son of Emanuel Howe, 2nd Viscount Howe and Charlotte, the daughter of Sophia von Kielmansegg, Countess of Leinster and Darlington, an acknowledged illegitimate half-sister of King George I. [1] [2] His mother was a regular in the courts of George II and George III. [2] This connection with the crown may have improved the careers of all four sons, but all were also very capable officers. [3] His father was a politician, who served as Governor of Barbados where he died in 1735. [1] William's eldest brother, General George Howe, was killed just before the 1758 Battle of Carillon at Fort Ticonderoga. Another brother, Admiral Richard Howe, rose to become one of Britain's leading naval commanders. [4] A third brother, Thomas, commanded ships for the East India Company, Winchelsea in 1762–4 and Nottingham in 1766, and made observations on Madeira [5] and on the Comoro Islands. [6]

William entered the army when he was 17 by buying a cornet's commission in the Duke of Cumberland's Dragoons in 1746, becoming a lieutenant the following year. [7] He then served for two years in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession. After the war he was transferred to the 20th Regiment of Foot, where he became a friend of James Wolfe. [8]

During the Seven Years' War Howe's service first brought him to America, and did much to raise his reputation. Promoted to the rank of major in 1756, [7] he joined the newly formed 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot in February 1757, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in December of that year. [9] He commanded the regiment at the Siege of Louisbourg in 1758, leading an amphibious landing under heavy enemy fire. This action won the attackers a flanking position and earned Howe a commendation from Wolfe. [10]

Howe commanded a light infantry battalion under General Wolfe during the 1759 Siege of Quebec. He was in the Battle of Beaufort, and was chosen by Wolfe to lead the ascent from the Saint Lawrence River up to the Plains of Abraham that led to the British victory in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on 13 September 1759. [8] After spending the winter in the defence of Quebec City, [9] his regiment fought in the April 1760 Battle of Sainte-Foy and subsequent siege of Quebec. [7] He then led a brigade in the decisive Montreal Campaign under Jeffery Amherst before returning to England. Howe led a brigade in the 1761 Capture of Belle Île, off the French coast, and turned down the opportunity to become military governor after its capture so that he might continue in active service. [11] He served as adjutant general of the force that captured Havana in 1762, playing a part in a skirmish at Guanabacoa. [12]

In 1758, Howe was elected a member of parliament for Nottingham, succeeding to the seat vacated by his brother George's death. His election was assisted by the influence of his mother, who campaigned on behalf of her son while he was away at war, [9] and may very well have been undertaken because service in Parliament was seen as a common way to improve one's prospects for advancement in the military. [13] In 1764 he was promoted to colonel of the 46th (South Devonshire) Regiment of Foot, and in 1768 he was appointed lieutenant governor of the Isle of Wight. [9] As tensions rose between Britain and the colonies in the 1770s, Howe continued to rise through the ranks, and came to be widely regarded as one of the best officers in the army. [11] He was promoted to major general in 1772, and in 1774 introduced new training drills for light infantry companies. [9]

In Parliament he was generally sympathetic to the American colonies. He publicly opposed the collection of legislation intended to punish the Thirteen Colonies known as Intolerable Acts, and in 1774 assured his constituents that he would resist active duty against the Americans and asserted that the entire British army could not conquer America. [14] He also let government ministers know privately that he was prepared to serve in America as second in command to Thomas Gage, whom he knew was unpopular in government circles. [15] In early 1775, when King George called on him to serve, he accepted, claiming publicly that if he did not, he would suffer "the odious name of backwardness to serve my country in distress." [16] He sailed for America in March 1775, accompanied by Major Generals Henry Clinton and John Burgoyne. [17] In May 1775 his colonelcy was transferred to the 23rd Fusiliers. [18]

Howe was first sent to Boston. Privately, he did not agree with the policy of the government towards the colonists, and regretted in particular that he was sent to Boston, where the memory of his brother George was still cherished by the inhabitants, and General Gage, in whom he had no confidence, was commander-in-chief. [7] Along with fellow British Army Generals Clinton and Burgoyne, Howe arrived there aboard HMS Cerberus on 25 May 1775, having learned en route that war had broken out with the skirmishes at the marches to Lexington and Concord in April. [19] The Cerberus provided naval reinforcement at the Battle of Bunker Hill. [19] He led a force of 4,000 troops sent to reinforce the 5,000 troops under General Thomas Gage who were besieged in the city after those battles. [17] Gage, Howe, and Generals Clinton and Burgoyne discussed plans to break the siege. They formulated a plan to seize high ground around Boston and attack the besieging colonial militia forces, setting its execution for 18 June. [20] However, the colonists learned of the plan and fortified the heights of Breed's Hill and nearby Bunker Hill on the Charlestown peninsula across the Charles River from Boston on the night of 16–17 June, [21] forcing the British leadership to rethink their strategy.

Bunker Hill and Boston Edit

In a war council held early on 17 June, the generals developed a plan calling for a direct assault on the colonial fortification, and Gage gave Howe command of the operation. Despite a sense of urgency (the colonists were still working on the fortifications at the time of the council), the attack, now known as the Battle of Bunker Hill, did not begin until that afternoon. [22] With Howe personally leading the right wing of the attack, the first two assaults were firmly repulsed by the colonial defenders. Howe's third assault gained the objective, but the cost of the day's battle was appallingly heavy. [23] The British casualties, more than 1,000 killed or wounded, were the highest of any engagement in the war. [24] Howe described it as a "success . too dearly bought." [25] Although Howe exhibited courage on the battlefield, his tactics and overwhelming confidence were criticised. One subordinate wrote that Howe's "absurd and destructive confidence" played a role in the number of casualties incurred. [25]

Although Howe was not injured in the battle, it had a pronounced effect on his spirit. According to British historian George Otto Trevelyan, the battle "exercised a permanent and most potent influence" especially on Howe's behaviour, and that Howe's military skills thereafter "were apt to fail him at the very moment when they were especially wanted." [26] Despite an outward appearance of confidence and popularity with his troops, the "genial six-footer with a face some people described as 'coarse'", privately often exhibited a lack of self-confidence, and in later campaigns became somewhat dependent on his older brother Richard (the admiral in the Royal Navy, also on station in the Colonies) for advice and approval. [27]

On 11 October 1775, General Gage sailed for England, and Howe took over as Commander-in-Chief of British land forces in America. [28] British military planners in London had, with the outbreak of hostilities, begun planning a massive reinforcement of the troops in North America. Their plans, made with recommendations from Howe, called for the abandonment of Boston and the establishment of bases in New York and Newport, Rhode Island in an attempt to isolate the rebellion to New England. [29] When orders arrived in November to execute these plans, Howe opted to remain in Boston for the winter and begin the campaign in 1776. [25] As a result, the remainder of the Siege of Boston was largely a stalemate. Howe never attempted a major engagement with the Continental Army, which had come under the command of Major General George Washington. [30] He did, however, spend a fair amount of time at the gambling tables, and allegedly established a relationship with Elizabeth Lloyd Loring, the wife of Loyalist Joshua Loring, Jr. Loring apparently acquiesced to this arrangement, and was rewarded by Howe with the position of commissary of prisoners. [31] Contemporaries and historians have criticised Howe for both his gambling and the amount of time he supposedly spent with Mrs. Loring, with some going so far as to level accusations that this behaviour interfered with his military activities historian John Alden does not give these ideas credence. [32] The alleged relationship is also mentioned in The Battle of the Kegs, an American propaganda ballad written by Francis Hopkinson. In January 1776 Howe's role as commander in chief was cemented with a promotion to full general in North America. [33]

The siege was broken in March 1776 when Continental Army Colonel Henry Knox brought heavy artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston during the winter, and General Washington used them to fortify Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston and its harbour. [34] Howe at first planned an assault on this position, but a snowstorm interfered, and he eventually decided to withdraw from Boston. [35] On 17 March, British troops and Loyalists evacuated the city, and sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. [30]

New York campaign Edit

Howe and his troops began to arrive outside New York Harbour and made an uncontested landing on Staten Island to the west in early July. [36] Howe, whose orders from Lord George Germain, the Secretary of State responsible for directing the war from Westminster, were fairly clear that he should avoid conflict before the arrival of reinforcements, then waited until those reinforcements arrived in mid-August, along with the naval commander, his brother Richard. [37] [38] This delay proved to be somewhat costly, since the Americans used this time to improve fortifications on northwestern Long Island (at Brooklyn Heights along the East River shoreline) and increased the size of their Continental Army with additional militia. [38] After moving most of his army by amphibious barges across the Verazzano Narrows to southwestern Long Island without opposition, he attacked the American positions on 27 August in what became known as the Battle of Long Island. In a well-executed manoeuvre, a large column led by Howe and Clinton passed around the American left flank and through the lightly guarded Jamaica Pass far to the east (a ridge of hills running east to west bisected the island, with a series of lower entrances that were all guarded by Continentals except inexplicably to the farthest east at Jamaica), catching the Patriots off-guard and routing the Americans from their forward positions back into the entrenchments on Brooklyn Heights. Despite the urging of Clinton and others, Howe decided against an immediate assault on these fortifications, claiming "the Troops had for that day done handsomely enough." [39] He instead began siege operations, methodically advancing on the entrenched Americans. [40] This decision allowed General Washington to successfully orchestrate a nighttime strategic withdrawal across the East River on the night of 29–30 August, aided by a thick morning fog. [41] Historian George Bilias notes that had Howe attacked Brooklyn Heights, the capture of even half of Washington's army, and possibly Washington himself, might have had a significant effect on the rebellion. [39] Some officers, notably General Clinton, were critical of Howe's decision not to storm the American works. [42] Howe was knighted as a reward for his victory on Long Island. [33]

Howe and his brother Richard had, as part of their instructions, been assigned roles as peace commissioners, with limited authority to treat with the rebels. After Long Island, they pursued an attempt at reconciliation, sending the captured General John Sullivan to Philadelphia with a proposal for a peace conference. The meeting that resulted, conducted by Admiral Howe, was unsuccessful. The Howes had been given limited powers, as had the Congressional representatives, and the latter were insistent that the British recognise the recently declared colonial independence. This was not within the Howes' powers, so the conference failed, and Howe then continued the campaign. [43] He first landed troops on Manhattan on 15 September and occupied New York City (which then covered only Lower Manhattan), although his advance northward on Upper Manhattan was checked the next day at Harlem Heights. [44] He paused, spending nearly one month consolidating control of New York City and awaiting reinforcements. [45] During this time he ordered the execution of Nathan Hale for espionage and had to deal with the effects of a major fire in the city. [46] He then attempted a landing on the mainland at Throgs Neck, intending to flank Washington's position at Harlem Heights. However, the narrow causeway between the beach and the mainland was well-defended, and he ended up withdrawing the troops. [47] He made a successful landing of troops at Pell's Point in Westchester County, but Washington managed to avoid being flanked, retreating to White Plains. [48] Howe successfully forced Washington out of the New York area in the 28 October Battle of White Plains, and then turned his attention to consolidate British hold on Manhattan. [49] In November he attacked the remaining Continental Army stronghold in the Battle of Fort Washington, taking several thousand prisoners. [50]

Washington then retreated across New Jersey, followed by Howe's advance forces under Charles Cornwallis. [51] At this point, Howe prepared troops under the command of General Clinton for embarkation to occupy Newport, the other major goal of his plan. Clinton proposed that these troops instead be landed in New Jersey, either opposite Staten Island or on the Delaware River, trapping Washington or even capturing the seat of the Continental Congress, Philadelphia. [52] Howe rejected these proposals, despatching Clinton and General Hugh, Earl Percy, two vocal critics of his leadership, to take Newport. [53] In early December, Howe came to Trenton, New Jersey to arrange the disposition of his troops for the winter. Washington had retreated all the way across the Delaware, and Howe returned to New York, believing the campaign to be ended for the season. [54] When Washington attacked the Hessian quarters at Trenton on 26 December 1776, Howe sent Cornwallis to reform the army in New Jersey and chase after Washington. [55] Cornwallis was frustrated in this, with Washington gaining a second victory at Trenton and a third at Princeton. Howe recalled the army to positions much closer to New York for the winter. [56]

Howe has been criticised by contemporaries and historians for failing to decisively defeat the Continental Army during the New York campaign. Contemporaries complained that his landing in Westchester failed to trap Washington, but failed to understand that his goal in the campaign was to secure Manhattan, and not necessarily to defeat Washington. [57] However, historian George Billias observes that Howe's overly rigid adherence to his plans meant that he was unable to capitalise on the opportunities that arose during the campaign for a decisive action. [58]

Philadelphia campaign Edit

On 30 November 1776, as Washington was retreating across New Jersey, Howe had written to Germain with plans for the 1777 campaign season. He proposed to send a 10,000-man force up the Hudson River to capture Albany, New York, in conjunction with an expedition sent south from Province of Quebec. He again wrote to Germain on 20 December 1776 with more elaborate proposals for 1777. These again included operations to gain control of the Hudson River, and included expanded operations from the base at Newport, and an expedition to take Philadelphia. The latter Howe saw as attractive, since Washington was then just north of the city: Howe wrote that he was "persuaded the Principal Army should act offensively [against Philadelphia], where the enemy's chief strength lies." [59] Germain acknowledged that this plan was particularly "well digested", but it called for more men that Germain was prepared to provide. [60] After the setbacks in New Jersey, Howe in mid-January 1777 proposed operations against Philadelphia that included an overland expedition and a sea-based attack, thinking this might lead to a decisive victory over the Continental Army. [61] This plan was developed to the extent that in April, Howe's army was seen constructing pontoon bridges Washington, lodged in his winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, thought they were for eventual use on the Delaware River. [62] However, by mid-May Howe had apparently abandoned the idea of an overland expedition: "I propose to invade Pennsylvania by sea . we must probably abandon the Jersies." [63]

When the campaign season opened in May 1777, General Washington moved most of his army from its winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey to a strongly fortified position in the Watchung Mountains. [64] In June 1777, Howe began a series of odd moves in New Jersey, apparently in an attempt to draw Washington and his army out of that position onto terrain more favourable for a general engagement. [65] His motives for this are uncertain historian John Buchanan argues that Howe was determined to attempt to draw Washington into a major engagement while both were in northern New Jersey, writing that "Washington's shift in position had whetted Howe's appetite for a major action when, if everything went right, he would finally accomplish what he and his brother's policies had denied him the previous year: the destruction of the Continental Army", [66] but that Howe's underlying campaign goal for the season was Philadelphia. [67] One British major wrote that "[t]he report circulated by those in power is that it was thought necessary to march to Hilsborough [sic] to offer Washington battle." [68] Americans like Henry Knox were perplexed but also concluded that was its purpose: "It was unaccountable that [the British] should stop short when they had gone only nine miles . In the course of a day or two [we] discovered that they . had come out with an intention of drawing us into the plain." [68] Washington had intelligence that Howe had moved without taking the heavy river-crossing equipment, and was apparently not fooled at all. [69]

When Washington refused to take the bait, Howe withdrew the army to Perth Amboy, under harassment by Colonel Daniel Morgan's skirmisher unit, Morgan's Riflemen, who used their superior weapons to snipe at and harry his forces as they moved. Washington moved down to a more exposed position, assuming Howe was going to embark his army on ships. Howe then launched a lightning strike designed to cut Washington's retreat off. This attempt was foiled by the Battle of Short Hills, which gave Washington time to retreat to a more secure position. Howe then did in fact embark his army and sailed south with his brother's fleet. Howe maintained an effective secrecy surrounding the fleet's destination: not only did Washington not know where it was going, neither did many British rank and file. [70]

Howe's campaign for Philadelphia began with an amphibious landing at Head of Elk, Maryland, southwest of the city in late August. Although Howe would have preferred to make a landing on the Delaware River below Philadelphia, reports of well-prepared defences dissuaded him, and the fleet spent almost an entire extra month at sea to reach Head of Elk. [71] Howe's army left Head of Elk early on 3 September 1777 and pushed back an advance guard of American light infantry at Cooch's Bridge. On 11 September 1777, Howe's army met Washington's near Chadds Ford along the Brandywine Creek in the Battle of Brandywine. Howe established his headquarters at the Gilpin Homestead, where it stayed until the morning of 16 September. [72] In a reprise of earlier battles, Howe once again flanked the Continental Army position and forced Washington to retreat after inflicting heavy casualties. [73]

After two weeks of manoeuvre and engagements (including The Battle of the Clouds, The Battle of Paoli, and an engagement at Valley Forge where Alexander Hamilton was nearly killed in action), Howe triumphantly entered the city on 26 September. [74] The reception Howe received was not quite what he had expected, however. He had been led to believe that "Friends thicker than Woods" would greet him upon his arrival he instead was greeted by women, children, and many deserted houses. [75] Despite Howe's best attempts to minimise any misconduct by his troops (he authorised the execution of violators of his orders against it), marauding soldiers greatly impacted the public opinion of his army. [76]

One week after Howe entered Philadelphia, on 4 October, Washington made a dawn attack on the British garrison at Germantown. He came close to winning the battle before being repulsed by belated reinforcements sent from the city. [77] This forced Howe to withdraw his troops a little closer to the city, where they were also needed to help clear the American Delaware River defences, which were preventing the navy from resupplying the army. It was late November before this task was accomplished, which included a poorly executed attack on Fort Mercer by a division of Hessians commanded by Colonel von Donop and an advance fleet commanded by Admiral Francis Reynolds. [78]

Impact on Burgoyne's campaign Edit

Concomitant with Howe's campaign, General Burgoyne led his expedition south from Montreal to capture Albany. [79] Burgoyne's advance was stopped in the Battles of Saratoga in September and October, and he surrendered his army on 17 October. Burgoyne's surrender, coupled with Howe's near defeat at Germantown, dramatically altered the strategic balance of the conflict. [80] [81] Support for the Continental Congress, suffering from Howe's successful occupation of Philadelphia, was strengthened, and the victory encouraged France to enter the war against Britain. [82] Burgoyne's loss also further weakened the British government of Lord North. [83]

Burgoyne made his advance under the assumption that he would be met in Albany by Howe or troops sent by Howe. [79] Burgoyne was apparently not aware that Howe's plans had evolved as they had. Although Germain knew what Howe's plans were, whether he communicated them to Burgoyne is unclear. Some sources claim he did [84] while others state that Burgoyne was not notified of the changes until the campaign was well underway. [79] Whether Germain, Howe and Burgoyne had the same expectations about the degree to which Howe was supposed to support the invasion from Quebec is also unclear. Some historians argue that Howe failed to follow instructions and essentially abandoned Burgoyne's army, while others suggest that Burgoyne failed on his own and then tried to shift the blame to Howe and Clinton. [85]

Howe's decision to focus his own activity on an expedition to Philadelphia may have been motivated by competition with General Burgoyne, who was given command of the northern force despite lobbying by Howe for its command to be given to Clinton. [86] John Alden notes the jealousies among the British leaders, saying, "It is likely that [Howe] was as jealous of Burgoyne as Burgoyne was of him and that he was not eager to do anything which might assist his junior up the ladder of military renown." [87] Along the same lines historian Don Higginbotham concludes that in Howe's view, "It [the northern campaign] was Burgoyne's whole show, and consequently he [Howe] wanted little to do with it. With regard to Burgoyne's army, he would do only what was required of him (virtually nothing)." [88]

Howe himself wrote to Burgoyne on 17 July that he intended to stay close to Washington: "My intention is for Pennsylvania, where I expect to meet Washington, but if he goes to the northward contrary to my expectations, and you can keep him at bay, be assured I shall soon be after him to relieve you." This suggested that Howe would follow Washington if he went north to assist in the defence of the Hudson. [89] Howe, however, sailed from New York on 23 July. [90] On 30 August, shortly after his arrival at Head of Elk, Howe wrote to Germain that he would be unable to assist Burgoyne, citing a lack of Loyalist support in the Philadelphia area. [91] A small force sent north from New York by General Clinton in early October was also unable to assist Burgoyne. [92]

Resignation Edit

In October 1777 Howe sent his letter of resignation to London, complaining that he had been inadequately supported in that year's campaigns. [9] He was finally notified in April 1778 that his resignation was accepted. A grand party, known as the "Mischianza", was thrown for the departing general on 18 May. Organized by his aides John André and Oliver De Lancey Jr., the party featured a grand parade, fireworks, and dancing until dawn. [93] Washington, aware that the British were planning to evacuate Philadelphia, sent the Marquis de Lafayette out with a small force on the night of the party to determine British movements. This movement was noticed by alert British troops, and Howe ordered a column out to entrap the marquis. In the Battle of Barren Hill, Lafayette escaped the trap with minimal casualties. [94]

On 24 May, the day Howe sailed for England, General Clinton took over as commander-in-chief of British armies in America, and made preparations for an overland march to New York. [95] Howe arrived back in England on 1 July, [96] where he and his brother faced censure for their actions in North America. It is likely that the resignation of both William and his brother Richard was due to their desire to hurry home to vindicate their conduct during the campaign. [97] In 1779 Howe and his brother demanded a parliamentary inquiry into their actions. The inquiry that followed was unable to confirm any charges of impropriety or mismanagement levelled against either of them. [9] Because of the inconclusive nature of the inquiry, attacks continued to be made against Howe in pamphlets and the press, and in 1780 he published a response to accusations levelled by Loyalist Joseph Galloway, [98] who issued a reply that harshly criticized the general's conduct and accused him of deliberately undermining the war effort for the benefit of the anti-war Whig faction in Parliament. [99]

In 1780 Howe lost in his bid to be re-elected to the House of Commons. [100] In 1782 he was named lieutenant general of the ordnance and appointed to the Privy Council. His colonelcy was transferred from the 23rd Fusiliers to the 19th Light Dragoons in 1786. [101] He resumed limited active duty in 1789, when a crisis with Spain over territorial claims in northwestern North America threatened to boil over into war. He was placed in command of the forces organized for action against Spain, [7] but the crisis was resolved, and Howe did not see further action until 1793, when the French Revolutionary Wars involved Britain. He was promoted to full general in 1793, and commanded Northern District from 1793 and Eastern District from 1795. [9] In 1795 he was also appointed governor of Berwick-on-Tweed. [100]

When his brother Richard died in 1799 without surviving male issue, Howe inherited the Irish titles and became the 5th Viscount Howe and Baron Clenawly. [102] In 1803 he resigned as lieutenant general of the ordnance, citing poor health. In 1805 he was appointed governor of Plymouth, and died at Twickenham in 1814 after a long illness. [9] [103] He was married in 1765 to Frances Connolly, but the marriage was childless, and his titles died with him. [9] His wife survived him by three years both are buried in Twickenham. [104]

Howe appears as an antagonist in the supernatural TV series Sleepy Hollow, depicted in flashbacks by Nicholas Guest and described as being notorious for his brilliant tactics and ruthless cruelty. In his historical role as the main British general during the War for Independence, Howe was acquainted with Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) before Crane defected to America his first major flashback appearance sees him offer Crane a chance to return to Britain if he identifies Washington's spies in the British forces, with Crane feeling guilty that he was briefly tempted by the offer. Howe also plays a key role in the crossover episodes between Sleepy Hollow and crime drama Bones his body is discovered in a small American church in the present (characters noting that he is recorded as being buried in Twickenham), with his skull being identified as the 'murder weapon' in Bones episode "The Resurrection in the Remains", and he is resurrected as a zombie-like warrior in the following Sleepy Hollow episode "Dead Men Tell No Tales", requiring Crane to destroy him with Greek fire. [105] [106]

Howe is also featured in "Howe's Masquerade" and "Old Esther Dudley", two of the stories that make up Nathaniel Hawthorne's Legends of the Province House, a quartet of tales that first appeared in 1838–39.


General William Howe Facts: Seven Years&rsquo War

During the Seven Years&rsquo War Howe&rsquos service first brought him to America, and did much to raise his reputation. He joined the newly formed 58th Regiment of Foot in February 1757 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in December of that year. He commanded the regiment at the Siege of Louisbourg in 1758, leading an amphibious landing under heavy enemy fire. This action won the attackers a flanking position and earned Howe commendations from Wolfe.

Howe commanded a light infantry battalion under General Wolfe during the 1759 Siege of Quebec. He was in the Battle of Beaufort and was chosen by Wolfe to lead the ascent from the Saint Lawrence River up to the Plains of Abraham that led to the British victory in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on 13 September 1759.

After spending the winter in the defense of Quebec City, his regiment fought in the April 1760 Battle of Sainte-Foy and led a brigade in the capture of Montreal under Jeffery Amherst before returning to England. Howe led a brigade in the 1761 Capture of Belle Île, off the French coast, and turned down the opportunity to become military governor after its capture so that he might continue in active service. He served as adjutant-general of the force that captured Havana in 1762, playing a part in a skirmish at Guanabacoa.

In 1758, Howe was elected a Member of Parliament for Nottingham, succeeding to the seat vacated by his brother George&rsquos death. His election was assisted by the influence of his mother, who campaigned for her son while he was away at war, and may very well have been undertaken because service in Parliament was seen as a common way to improve one&rsquos prospects for advancement in the military.

In 1764 he was promoted to colonel of the 46th Regiment of Foot, and in 1768 he was appointed the lieutenant governor of the Isle of Wight. As tensions rose between Britain and the colonies in the 1770s, Howe continued to rise through the ranks and came to be widely regarded as one of the best officers in the army. He was promoted to major-general in 1772, and in 1774 introduced new training drills for light infantry companies.

In Parliament, he was generally sympathetic to the American colonies. He publicly opposed the collection of legislation intended to punish the Thirteen Colonies known as Intolerable Acts, and in 1774 assured his constituents that he would resist active duty against the Americans and asserted that the entire British army could not conquer America.

He also let government ministers know privately that he was ready to serve in America as second in command to Thomas Gage, who he knew was unpopular in government circles. In early 1775, when King George called on him to serve, he accepted, claiming publicly that if he did not, he would suffer &ldquothe odious name of backwardness to serve my country in distress.&rdquo

He sailed for America in March 1775, accompanied by Major Generals Henry Clinton and John Burgoyne. In May 1775 his colonelcy was transferred to the 23rd Fusiliers.


The Philadelphia Campaign Begins

On this day in history, August 25, 1777, the Philadelphia Campaign begins when British General William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, land 17,000 troops in an armada of 265 ships at Head of Elk, Maryland. The armada was the largest ever assembled in American waters.

George Washington’s Continental Army tracked Howe’s movements down the eastern seaboard until he lost track of them near the Delaware Capes. Washington camped at Wilmington, Delaware until he could determine where exactly Howe was going. Howe encountered rough weather at sea, taking six weeks to get from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Maryland’s Elk River at the top of the Chesapeake Bay. Howe’s men were sea sick and his horses dying after running out of forage during the long and rough voyage.

Howe landed just below the town of Elkhorn, Maryland, and began unloading supplies and thousands of soldiers, a monumental task in a shallow and muddy river. Ships got stuck in the mud. Horses were so weak after running out of food that they couldn’t walk. Some of the largest ships couldn’t even make it all the way up river and had to be unloaded further down and their cargos transported by land.

Wilmington sits between Elkton and Philadelphia and Washington himself led frequent reconnoitering missions to determine what the British were doing and what their troop strength was. Howe advanced slowly. He had to wait for his horses to eat and get their strength back. Another huge storm enveloped the area, destroying ammunition for both sides.

Eventually Howe began advancing toward Philadelphia. For weeks, the two armies maneuvered around each other, with frequent skirmishes, but no major battles. Washington finally dug in along the Brandywine Creek near Chadds Ford about 20 miles to the southwest of Philadelphia. The two armies clashed in one of the biggest battles of the Revolution at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11th, a battle that pitted 30,000 soldiers against one another and had almost 2,000 casualties.

The British were the victors at the Battle of Brandywine, the first major battle of the Philadelphia Campaign. The Continental Army was nearly wiped out, and would have been if not for the last minute maneuvers of generals Nathanael Greene and William Alexander, who held off the British until the rest of the army could escape. The American defeat forced Congress to flee Philadelphia in haste and move further inland.

For several more days the two armies maneuvered around one another, but the British were able to march into Philadelphia on September 28th unchallenged. They would continue to occupy the city until June of 1778, when the new American commander, Henry Clinton took over from Howe and abandoned Philadelphia on orders from London. Clinton took the troops back to New York and began the new Southern Campaign to take back the southern states after their attempts in the north had failed.

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of the rulers are concealed from them.”

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The Aftermath of Saratoga

The Patriot victory at Saratoga, a major turning point in the war, effectively ended the British military presence in the North.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the significance of the colonists’ victory at Saratoga

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • British power in the North was substantially weakened, and the British looked to Loyalist supporters in the South as a last hope.
  • Saratoga represented a crucial demonstration of the strength of the Continental Army, which gave France the confidence to enter the war in support of the Patriots.
  • On February 6, 1778, the Treaty of Alliance was signed in response, England declared war on France on March 17, 1778.
  • The power of French diplomatic relations with other nations, especially Spain, also assisted the Patriot cause.
  • In June 1778, Lord Frederick North, Britain’s Prime Minister, dispatched the Carlisle Peace Commission to negotiate for peace but was unwilling to acknowledge the independence of the states.
  • Congress predictably refused the British peace terms.

Key Terms

  • Treaty of Alliance: A defensive alliance between France and the United States, formed in 1778, in the midst of the American Revolutionary War. It promised military support in case of attack by British forces indefinitely into the future.
  • Lord Frederick North: Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782.
  • Carlisle Peace Commission: A group of British negotiators who were sent to North America in 1778, during the American War of Independence, with an offer of self-rule within the British Empire.

The Battle of Saratoga proved to be a major turning point in the American Revolution. On December 4, 1777, word reached Benjamin Franklin at Versailles that British General John Burgoyne had surrendered at Saratoga. Two days later, King Louis XVI agreed to enter negotiations for an alliance. The Treaty of Alliance was signed on February 6, 1778, and after learning of the treaty, England declared war on France on March 17. Hostilities began with naval skirmishes between French and British forces off of the French island of Ushant in June.

In 1779, Spain entered the war as a French ally. The strength of France’s diplomatic relations with various world powers also influenced the later entry of the Dutch Republic into the war, and declarations of neutrality on the part of other major geopolitical players, including Russia.

The victory at Saratoga also effectively eliminated the British presence in the North. The British quickly withdrew their presence from the region surrounding Saratoga and by the summer of 1778, the war was concentrated in the South.

The British government of Lord Frederick North came under sharp criticism when the news of Burgoyne’s surrender reached London. General Burgoyne returned to England on parole in May 1778, where he spent the next two years defending his actions in Parliament and to the press. Eventually, Burgoyne was formally exchanged for more than 1,000 American prisoners.

Frederick North, Second Earl of Guildford, by Nathaniel Dance, 1773–1774: Following the Patriot victory at Saratoga, Lord North’s government was heavily criticized for their management of the war effort.

This defeat prompted Lord North to issue a proposal for peace terms in Parliament. These terms were brought to the Second Continental Congress by the Carlisle Peace Commission in June 1778 and immediately rejected on the grounds that the British were unwilling to recognize the independence of the states. Though it was a failure, the Carlisle Peace Commission marked the first time the British government formally agreed to negotiate with the Second Continental Congress. In the same month, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton was ordered by the British government to abandon his position in Philadelphia and help defend New York City, which had become vulnerable to French naval power. By June 18, Clinton evacuated Philadelphia. General George Washington’s army shadowed Clinton’s, and Washington successfully forced a battle at Monmouth Court House on June 28, the last major battle to take place in the North during the Revolutionary War. By July, Clinton had advanced to New York City and Washington was positioned in White Plains, New York.

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull, 1822: Burgoyne’s surrender was a turning point in the Revolutionary War.


British abandon Philadelphia

On June 18, 1778, after almost nine months of occupation, 15,000 British troops under General Sir Henry Clinton evacuate Philadelphia, the former U.S. capital.

The British had captured Philadelphia on September 26, 1777, following General George Washington’s defeats at the Battle of Brandywine and the Battle of the Clouds. British General William Howe had made Philadelphia, the seat of the Continental Congress, the focus of his campaign, but the Patriot government had deprived him of the decisive victory he hoped for by moving its operations to the more secure site of York one week before the city was taken.

While Howe and the British officer corps spent the winter enjoying the luxury of Philadelphia’s finest homes, the Continental Army froze and suffered appalling deprivation at Valley Forge.  Fortunately for the Patriots, an infusion of capable European strategists, including the Prussian Baron von Steuben the Frenchmen Marquis de Lafayette and Johann, Baron de Kalb and Poles Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir, Count Pulaski, aided Washington in the creation of a well-drilled, professional force capable of fighting the British.


Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Eastern State Penitentiary, considered by many to be the world’s first full-scale penitentiary, opened in Philadelphia in 1829 and closed in 1971. Known for its system of total isolation of prisoners and remarkable architecture, Eastern State proved to be one of the most controversial institutions of the antebellum period. Abandoned as a prison in the 1970s, Eastern State became a popular museum of penal history and continued to serve as a stark reminder of the failure of isolation as a humane model of punishment.

[caption align="alignright"] Eastern State Penitentiary, seen here in an 1856 drawing, was built about two miles away from Center City Philadelphia on farmland known as Cherry Hill. The 10-acre institution was an architectural undertaking of massive scale and went over budget multiple times over. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Eastern State emerged from the concerns of prison reformers in Philadelphia in the late eighteenth century, when prisons held accused criminals only until their trials. If convicted, prisoners faced public and corporal punishment. Following the American Revolution, reformers including Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) argued for a more humane and systematic approach to treating criminality and began advocating for a system of incarceration as the primary form of punishment. Isolation, he argued, would provide the criminal with an appropriate environment to repent, reflect, and ultimately reform. In this spirit, in 1787 advocates for reforming Philadelphia’s prisons formed the Pennsylvania Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons under the direction of Bishop William White (1748-1836), though Rush provided the driving force. Many modern accounts attribute Eastern State’s early approach to Quaker inspiration, but considerable evidence suggests that the penitentiary’s strategies were grounded in Enlightenment thought in England that made its way across the Atlantic and took hold in the prison society.

Experiments with prisoner isolation began in the 1790s at the Walnut Street Jail, located between Fifth and Sixth Streets behind the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall). Opened in 1775, the Walnut Street Jail housed accused men, women, and children together in common rooms until they went to trial. In the aftermath of the Revolution, critics of this “den of debauchery” and “school of crime” successfully petitioned the state to eliminate harsh public punishments such as whippings, brandings, and beatings in favor of a new experiment in isolation and labor. All prisoners were sentenced to labor within the walls of the prison, thereby moving punishment from the public to the private—an important shift in penological theory.

In 1789 and 1790 Pennsylvania passed legislation to convert a portion of the Walnut Street Jail into a penitentiary house, where more serious offenders would serve their sentences in complete isolation. Advocates of isolation, who argued for the humanity of silent reflection over the barbaric punishments of the past, initially viewed the experiment positively. However, by the late 1790s the system began to break down due to severe overcrowding and mismanagement.

Total Isolation on a Large Scale

In response to prison society reformers’ agitation for a new penitentiary based on the concept of total isolation, in 1821 the Pennsylvania Legislature appropriated $250,000 for Eastern State. Reformers chose a site northwest of the city (later Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood), where they believed the high elevation would promote good air flow and contribute to healthy prisoners. In the competition to determine who would design the new penitentiary, prominent Philadelphia architect William Strickland (1788-1854) and British-trained architect John Haviland (1792-1852) both submitted plans. The state awarded Haviland the project and a $100 prize.

[caption align="alignright"] Between 1829 and 1913, prisoners at Eastern State Penitentiary spent most of their sentences in their cells, completely alone and not allowed to speak to or see any other inmates. Inmates spent 23 hours a day in their cells. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Haviland faced the formidable task of designing an institution based entirely on prisoner separation. To meet each prisoner’s needs in isolation, each cell needed to be equipped with a rudimentary toilet and central heat. Haviland chose a “hub and spoke” design or a radial plan, which would facilitate the observation of prisoners as well as properly ventilate the building. Prisoner health and the avoidance of miasmas (bad air) were among the concerns of reformers, who remembered all too well the deadly epidemics of the Walnut Street Jail. The penitentiary’s interior earned Haviland high praise, and Eastern’s imposing gothic facade made it one of the most recognizable buildings in nineteenth-century America.

Opened in 1829, Eastern State’s unique system of solitary confinement and labor became known as the “Pennsylvania System” or “separate system.” This new system effectively merged the best qualities of the Walnut Street Prison: solitary confinement and labor. To preserve isolation and anonymity at all times, prison policy required inmates to wear hoods whenever overseers moved them around the penitentiary. To help offset the cost of incarceration, the state required prisoners to do work in their cells, including shoemaking, weaving, and chair caning. They ate three meals a day in their cells and exercised one to two times daily in small exterior exercise yards. On Sundays local ministers offered sermons in the corridors. The only other visitors allowed were members of the prison society or a local minister employed by the penitentiary known as the “moral instructor.” The Philadelphia Bible Society provided prisoners with Bibles, and when the number of German prisoners began to rise in the 1840s, the German Society provided German Bibles. Reformers no doubt believed a Bible could be a source of consolation for lonely prisoners, but many prisoners struggled with illiteracy and the Bible remained inaccessible to them.

Population Reflected Immigration

Early intake records reveal a diverse prisoner population. African Americans were always disproportionately represented, and changing immigration patterns brought Irish and German inmates in the 1840s and 1850s and Italians and Eastern Europeans between the 1880s and 1920s. Until 1923, the prisoners included women. The number of women committed to Eastern State was always small compared to the number of men, but their presence prompted officials to hire a “matron” to oversee them. Women served similar sentences to men and committed the same crimes. In the nineteenth century, the vast majority of prisoners had committed property crimes including theft (predominantly horse theft), burglary, and robbery. Most served two-year sentences though many served longer terms for more serious offenses such as murder.

From the outset, prison administrators struggled to maintain control. Many prisoners refused to work, sabotaging their tools and equipment or using their tools to fashion knives to attack overseers. Prisoners (especially Irish Catholics) frequently refused visits from the Protestant moral instructor or pretended to accept religion to gain shorter sentences. Still others found ways to subvert the system of silence by sending notes through plumbing lines or tapping code on walls of adjoining cells.

[caption align="alignright"] The high, arched ceilings of the cellblocks, along with glass skylights, were meant to mimic the architecture of a church and inspire the same reverence and silence. (Photograph by Mikaela Maria for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

In 1833, just four years after Eastern State opened, a fiery public scandal erupted when prisoner Mathias Maccumsey died after prison officials subjected him to a torturous instrument known as the “iron gag” to prevent him from talking. The gag fit over the prisoner’s tongue (like the bit of a horse bridle) and attached to his arms pinned behind his back. The penitentiary physician declared the cause of death to be “apoplexy.” Although Eastern State’s administrators were exonerated in an exhaustive investigation, they tried to cover up the death and the institution’s reputation suffered a serious blow.

Despite problems with prisoner management, Eastern State’s supporters touted the Pennsylvania System as the solution to crime and punishment. Financially, however, Eastern State was less successful than the “Auburn Plan” for penitentiaries developed in New York. There, prisoners labored in large factory-like conditions by day and returned to isolation at night. The factory labor system made Auburn-style prisons largely self-sufficient. Eastern State, meanwhile, struggled with costs because the craft goods like shoes, chairs, and weaving produced by prisoners in isolation could not financially sustain the institution.

Charles Dickens Among Critics

Supporters of Eastern praised its humane approach to prisoner treatment while critics claimed that isolation led to insanity and even death. A heated pamphlet war broke out between supporters of the Pennsylvania and Auburn systems. Charles Dickens (1812-70), perhaps the Pennsylvania system’s most damning critic, visited in 1842 and in his American Notes argued that while reformer’s intentions remained humane, the system itself amounted to torture. Eastern’s physicians acknowledged instances of insanity but attributed them largely to African American prisoners, whom they viewed as predisposed to mental illness because of their “unique” nature. Officials also argued that overstimulation in the form of masturbation contributed to cases of insanity.

By the 1850s problems with prisoner management, overcrowding, and mental health led Eastern’s officials to slowly relax the rules of isolation. Overcrowding prompted construction of even more cells and, beginning in the 1860s, officials frequently housed more than one prisoner per cell. While the Auburn Plan had been adopted by many states, those who had adopted the Pennsylvania System quickly abandoned it because of problems with profitability and prisoners’ health. Nevertheless, many new penitentiaries adopted Haviland’s hub-and-spoke design as the best method for surveillance of prisoners. Examples of Haviland’s hub- and- spoke design can be found throughout the world including Japan, Russia, and Brazil.

In 1913, Eastern State officially declared the Pennsylvania System dead though it had not been closely followed for decades. In a struggle to catch up with congregate-style prisons of the day, Eastern converted many of the useless individual exercise yards into congregate workshops. Space between cellblocks became used for sports and recreation, including a baseball field and football field. Italian prisoners added bocce ball to the prison’s many activities.

During the twentieth century Eastern continued to be rocked by scandals. In 1929, while serving an eight-month sentence, Al Capone (1899-1947) enjoyed luxuries denied to other prisoners such as an oriental rug and radio. In 1933, prisoners rioted and set fire to their cells to protest overcrowding and a lack of recreation facilities. In 1945, Eastern experienced perhaps the most sensational escape in its history when notorious bank robber “Slick Willie Sutton” (1901-80) escaped with eleven other men through a tunnel under the wall. In 1961, after the largest riot in the Eastern’s history, Pennsylvania began serious discussions about closing the penitentiary. While initially isolated from the city, the prison had become surrounded by the neighborhood of Fairmount, which grew quickly from the late nineteenth century into the twentieth. Baldwin Locomotive (at Broad and Spring Garden) and many local breweries spurred the development of housing, and by the 1960s Fairmount had become a diverse working class and middle class neighborhood. Neighbors as well as state officials were increasingly nervous about public safety and the ability of the aging institution to properly manage the prison population.

[caption align="alignright"] In the twenty-first century, Eastern State is considered a stabilized ruin and revitalization projects are almost constantly underway. Visitors can explore by taking an audio tour or by speaking with a tour guide, as seen here. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Eastern State as Tourist Attraction

Eastern State finally closed its doors in 1971, and the remaining prisoners transferred to Graterford State Prison. The Philadelphia Streets Department briefly used the site for storage but performed no maintenance on the building, which quickly decayed and became the target of vandals. In 1984 the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority considered proposals to convert the site into commercial uses, including plans for a shopping center and condominiums. Concerned that a significant piece of Philadelphia’s history would be lost if development proceeded, a group of preservationists, neighbors, historians, and architects created the Eastern State Penitentiary Task Force with the goal of saving Eastern State as a historic site. Limited hard-hat tours began in the late 1980s, and in 1991 the site received its first funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts to perform necessary stabilization and preservation. Continuing as an independent nonprofit organization, Eastern State Penitentiary became committed to interpreting the institution’s complex past while raising important questions about the contemporary justice system.

By the first decades of the twenty-first century, Eastern State Penitentiary had become one of Philadelphia’s most popular tourist destinations. Audio and guided tours and other interpretative programs highlighted the significant role Eastern State played in penitentiary reform while art installations and public programs addressed contemporary issues in incarceration. While remaining the site of several very popular annual events including a Bastille Day celebration and Terror Behind the Walls, a haunted house fund-raiser, Eastern State also became actively involved with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Striving to make connections between the past and the present in order to effect social change, Eastern State added programs and exhibits such as “The Big Graph,”: a 16-foot-tall, 3,500-pound plate steel sculpture depicting current rates of incarceration around the world.

Once among the most recognized buildings in the United States, Eastern State Penitentiary encapsulated the hopes and anxieties of a generation of reformers. Its formula of isolation and labor seemed to provide the logical solution to crime and punishment, yet the crumbling cells and cavernous cellblocks became vivid reminders of failure. As a historic site, Eastern State became a site for exploring this complex history while inviting the public to engage in discussion of the future of incarceration.

Jennifer Lawrence Janofsky, Ph.D., is the Giordano Fellow in Public History at Rowan University and curator of the Whitall House at Red Bank Battlefield. She has served as a historical consultant for Eastern State Penitentiary, which was the subject of her doctoral dissertation at Temple University.

Philadelphia Campaign

[caption align="alignright"] Sir William Howe proposed the Philadelphia Campaign during his tenure as commander in chief of the British Army in America. Though he was successful in individual skirmishes, overall the campaign highlighted Howe's weaknesses as a commander and he ultimately resigned from his position in May 1778. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

During the War for Independence, in 1777, the British moved to seize Philadelphia in a series of battles that contributed to a turning point in the war. While the Philadelphia campaign strained British resources and exposed serious leadership issues with General Sir William Howe (1729-1814), the effectiveness of American forces led by General George Washington (1732-99) helped to bring France into the war as an American ally.

The summer of 1777 saw the British deeply entrenched in New York City with plans to seize Philadelphia, the revolutionary capital, and destroy Washington’s army. In a stalemate in New Jersey with Washington’s forces, Howe received approval to begin a campaign against Philadelphia as long as his forces remained available to assist an invasion from Canada of General John Burgoyne (1722-92).

After receiving permission for his campaign against Philadelphia, in August 1777 Howe sailed up the Chesapeake Bay with a force of 13,000 troops, disembarking at the Head of Elk, Maryland. As Howe began his march to Philadelphia, Washington scrambled to respond. On September 11, 1777, British forces engaged with the Americans at the Brandywine River, an engagement that saw strategic reconnaissance errors by the Americans. Washington hoped to force an attack on the high ground of Chadd’s Ford but a heavy fog provided protection for the British as they moved to outflank the Americans. With Washington’s right flank completely exposed, the American troops could do little more than fight for time as they retreated to Chester.

[caption align="alignright"] The British approached the camp of General "Mad" Anthony Wayne (above) at Paoli silently on the night of September 20, 1777, taking the Americans by surprise. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Washington, alarmed at Howe’s pace, sent the division of Brigadier General “Mad” Anthony Wayne (1745-96) to harass the British as they continued toward Philadelphia. Wayne set up camp in Paoli close to the British, who learned of Wayne’s presence and attacked on the night of September 20, 1777. Wayne’s men, caught completely by surprise, saw the loss of 53 men and 71 prisoners taken. The battle was considered a complete disaster with Wayne facing charges of misconduct. Outraged at the charges, Wayne demanded a full court martial and investigation. The investigation determined that while Wayne had made tactical mistakes, he had not engaged in misconduct. The battle became a rallying cry for American soldiers who labeled the event the “Paoli massacre.”

Continental Congress Flees

Howe’s men continued toward Philadelphia as the Continental Congress abandoned the city and evacuated to Lancaster and then York, Pennsylvania. The British entered Philadelphia unopposed on September 26. Those with American sympathies had departed the city, leaving a relatively small group of Loyalists and those who were too poor to move. The British immediately set about identifying housing for troops and officers though space remained limited and plundering by British soldiers did not endear them to Philadelphia residents.

Howe positioned troops in both Philadelphia and the outlying community of Germantown. Washington, seeing a divided force and hoping to retake the capital, attacked the British at Germantown on October 4, 1777. Washington launched a complicated four-pronged attack but a heavy fog complicated communication. Cliveden, home to the prominent lawyer Benjamin Chew (1722-1810), became the site of intense fighting as entrenched British troops fired heavily upon the advancing American army. Ultimately, confusion and a lack of organization contributed to Washington’s defeat. Nevertheless, the bold attack impressed European observers who began to believe a disciplined army could pose a serious threat to the crown. The American army continued to improve and demonstrate its proficiency on the battlefield. In addition, the dramatic American victory at Saratoga, New York, in October 1777 suggested the patriots could win the war. Howe’s inability or refusal to support Burgoyne’s troops at Saratoga further compromised the crown’s ability to subdue the colonies and encouraged the French to ally with the American cause.

As Howe settled into Philadelphia he faced the pressing problem of supplying his troops. Food was scarce and provisions, limited. Washington’s army largely prevented the British from seeking supplies outside the city and the main point of entry into the city--the Delaware River--remained closed through strategic fortifications constructed the previous spring. Fort Billingsport, Fort Mercer, and Fort Mifflin buttressed the Philadelphia and New Jersey sides of the river. A complicated system of weighted spears known as “chevaux de frise” lined the bottom of the river, ready to pierce the hulls of unsuspecting British ships approaching the city. The fort system and chevaux successfully kept Howe from receiving supplies and, with winter looming, Howe recognized action needed to be taken.

Assault on Fort Mercer

[caption align="alignright"] Many fortifications were built on the Delaware River in the months leading up to the Philadelphia Campaign. This 1777 map shows the city to the north, with Fort Mercer and Fort Mifflin inset in the lower part. The forts blocked the Royal Navy from resupplying the city in the weeks after the British captured Philadelphia.(Library of Congress)[/caption]

In late October, Howe turned his attention to Fort Mercer, located at Red Bank on the New Jersey side of the Delaware. Situated on a high bluff overlooking the river, Mercer provided a strategic defensive location opposite Fort Mifflin on Mud Island, south of Philadelphia. On October 22, 1777, Hessian forces under the leadership of Colonel Carl von Donop (1732-77) left Haddonfield, New Jersey, with orders to take Fort Mercer. Von Donop, defeated at Trenton by Washington’s forces, eagerly seized the opportunity to avenge his name. He commanded a Hessian force of approximately 1,200 men who arrived at Red Bank late in the afternoon. Mercer’s high walls as well as a series of sharpened logs known as abatis made the fort extremely difficult to scale. Complicating the Hessian assault was the arrival of the Pennsylvania Navy under the leadership of John Hazelwood (1726-1800), who began a series of barrages from the river. Unable to scale the walls and without artillery pieces to breach the fort, many Hessians died and were buried in a mass grave near the fort. The following day either by British design or as the result of enemy fire, the British ships <i>Augusta</i> and <i>Merlin</i> took fire and exploded, an event so loud it was heard miles away.

Failing to take Mercer, the British turned their attention to Fort Mifflin, which had been constructed in 1771 under the direction of British officer and engineer Captain John Montresor (1736-99) who, ironically, was now charged with destroying the fort. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith (1752-1839) of the Maryland militia commanded the fort with a force of 200 men. Fort Mifflin saw the heaviest bombardment of the Revolutionary War. Beginning November 10, British forces shelled Mifflin by land and by water, inflicting heavy casualties. By November 15, the fort had been virtually destroyed with few men left to defend it. The Americans evacuated the fort and headed across the river to Fort Mercer. Within days of Mifflin’s fall, the Americans abandoned Fort Mercer, restoring British access to the river.

[caption align="alignright"] The Meschianza was an elaborate celebration held for the departing Sir William Howe in 1778 in recognition of his service to the Crown. These ornately engraved tickets were used by over 400 Loyalist and British members of society to attend the lavish affair, which included jousting and a regatta on the Delaware. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The river cleared, Howe’s troops finally received necessary provisions and settled in for winter. With the British now deeply established in Philadelphia, Washington’s forces set up camp for the long winter at Valley Forge. In October 1777, however, Howe had submitted his resignation, complaining he had not received the support he needed to effectively perform his position. The British relieved Howe of his duty in the spring of 1778 and replaced him with General Sir Henry Clinton (1730-95). Howe’s exit from Philadelphia is remembered for the elaborate party known as the “Meschianza,” which included over 400 guests, a 17-gun salute by British warships, and fireworks.

Along with the American victory at Saratoga, the Philadelphia campaign convinced France that the Americans were worthy allies. After the French entered the war on the side of the Americans in February 1778, the British abandoned Philadelphia in June and returned to New York for fear of an imminent French attack. Howe’s missteps in the campaign exposed the weakness in British military leadership and allowed Washington’s troops time to rest, train, and reorganize.


The Philadelphia Campaign begins

On this day in history, August 25, 1777, the Philadelphia Campaign begins when British General William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, land 17,000 troops in an armada of 265 ships at Head of Elk, Maryland. The armada was the largest ever assembled in American waters.

George Washington’s Continental Army tracked Howe’s movements down the eastern seaboard until he lost track of them near the Delaware Capes. Washington camped at Wilmington, Delaware until he could determine where exactly Howe was going. Howe encountered rough weather at sea, taking six weeks to get from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Maryland’s Elk River at the top of the Chesapeake Bay. Howe’s men were sea sick and his horses dying after running out of forage during the long and rough voyage.

Howe landed just below the town of Elkhorn, Maryland, and began unloading supplies and thousands of soldiers, a monumental task in a shallow and muddy river. Ships got stuck in the mud. Horses were so weak after running out of food that they couldn’t walk. Some of the largest ships couldn’t even make it all the way up river and had to be unloaded further down and their cargos transported by land.

Wilmington sits between Elkton and Philadelphia and Washington himself led frequent reconnoitering missions to determine what the British were doing and what their troop strength was. Howe advanced slowly. He had to wait for his horses to eat and get their strength back. Another huge storm enveloped the area, destroying ammunition for both sides.

Eventually Howe began advancing toward Philadelphia. For weeks, the two armies maneuvered around each other, with frequent skirmishes, but no major battles. Washington finally dug in along the Brandywine Creek near Chadds Ford about 20 miles to the southwest of Philadelphia. The two armies clashed in one of the biggest battles of the Revolution at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11th, a battle that pitted 30,000 soldiers against one another and had almost 2,000 casualties.

The British were the victors at the Battle of Brandywine, the first major battle of the Philadelphia Campaign. The Continental Army was nearly wiped out, and would have been if not for the last minute maneuvers of generals Nathanael Greene and William Alexander, who held off the British until the rest of the army could escape. The American defeat forced Congress to flee Philadelphia in haste and move further inland.

For several more days the two armies maneuvered around one another, but the British were able to march into Philadelphia on September 28th unchallenged. They would continue to occupy the city until June of 1778, when the new American commander, Henry Clinton took over from Howe and abandoned Philadelphia on orders from London. Clinton took the troops back to New York and began the new Southern Campaign to take back the southern states after their attempts in the north had failed.

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree."

James Madison – Speech at the Constitutional Convention, July 11, 1787


Brandywine: A Military History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphia but Saved America, September 11, 1777

Brandywine Creek calmly meanders through the Pennsylvania countryside today, but on September 11, 1777, it served as the scenic backdrop for the largest battle of the American Revolution, one that encompassed more troops over more land than any combat fought on American soil until the Civil War. Long overshadowed by the stunning American victory at Saratoga, the complex British campaign that defeated George Washington&rsquos colonial army and led to the capture of the capital city of Philadelphia was one of the most important military events of the war. Michael C. Harris&rsquos impressive Brandywine: A Military History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphia but Saved America, September 11, 1777, is the first full-length study of this pivotal engagement in many years.

General Sir William Howe launched his campaign in late July 1777, when he loaded his army of 16,500 British and Hessian soldiers aboard a 265-ship armada in New York and set sail. Six difficult weeks later Howe&rsquos expedition landed near Elkton, Maryland, and moved north into Pennsylvania. Washington&rsquos rebel army harassed Howe&rsquos men at several locations including a minor but violent skirmish at Cooch&rsquos Bridge in Delaware on September 3. Another week of hit-and-run tactics followed until Howe was within three miles of Chads&rsquos Ford on Brandywine Creek, behind which Washington had posted his army in strategic blocking positions along a six-mile front. The young colonial capital of Philadelphia was just 25 miles farther east.

Obscured by darkness and a heavy morning fog, General Howe initiated his plan of attack at 5:00 a.m. on September 11, pushing against the American center at Chads&rsquos Ford with part of his army while the bulk of his command swung around Washington&rsquos exposed right flank to deliver his coup de main, destroy the colonials, and march on Philadelphia. Warned of Howe&rsquos flanking attack just in time, American generals turned their divisions to face the threat. The bitter fighting on Birmingham Hill drove the Americans from the field, but their heroic defensive stand saved Washington&rsquos army from destruction and proved that the nascent Continental foot soldiers could stand toe-to-toe with their foe. Although fighting would follow, Philadelphia fell to Howe&rsquos legions on September 26.

Harris&rsquos Brandywine is the first complete study to merge the strategic, political, and tactical history of this complex operation and important set-piece battle into a single compelling account. More than a decade in the making, his sweeping prose relies almost exclusively upon original archival research and his personal knowledge of the terrain. Enhanced with original maps, illustrations, and modern photos, and told largely through the words of those who fought there, Brandywine will take its place as one of the most important military studies of the American Revolution ever written.

&ldquoThe Battle of Brandywine was a pivotal episode in the Revolutionary War. However, despite its importance, little has been written about this complex campaign. Michael Harris has filled the void with an impressive interpretation of the battle. His Brandywine: A Military History is a significant addition to the literature of the American Revolution.&rdquo (Arthur S. Lefkowitz, author of Benedict Arnold&rsquos Army)

&ldquoWith the publication of this book, we finally have a thorough, accurate, and well-balanced study of Brandywine, including the early stages of the campaign and the battle itself. The use of original sources and narratives puts readers in the heart of the action, right along with the leaders, the common soldiers, and the local civilians. With this carefully researched and engagingly written chronicle, Harris contributes much to our knowledge of the critical Philadelphia Campaign.&rdquo (Bill Welsch, President of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond and Co-Founder of the Congress of American Revolution Round Tables)

&ldquoThis is a great read. Having worked for years at Brandywine, the author&rsquos credentials make this book the definitive source of the battle.&rdquo (Rich Rosenthal, secretary and one of the founders of the North Jersey American Revolution Round Table)

"Besides a thorough account of the fighting, Harris does a brilliant job busting myths associated with the battle and refereeing disagreements between other authors" (Journal of America's Military Past)

Michael C. Harris is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington and the American Military University. He has worked for the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Fort Mott State Park in New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at Brandywine Battlefield. He has conducted tours and staff rides of many east coast battlefields. Michael is certified in secondary education and currently teaches in the Philadelphia region. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Michelle and son, Nathanael.


Watch the video: Battle for Philadelphia: Washington Defends the British Assault on the Capital at Brandywine