The British Attack Philadelphia
Fighting in the Revolutionary War lasted eight years; for two years (June 1776 to June 1778) Philadelphia was the main military objective of the British.
City of Rivers and Rivulets
Philadelphia has always been defined by the waters that surround it.
Land Tour Around Delaware Bay
Start in Philadelphia, take two days to tour around Delaware Bay. Down the New Jersey side to Cape May, ferry over to Lewes, tour up to Dover and New Castle, visit Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, Brandywine Battlefield and art museum, then back to Philadelphia. Try it!
Pacifist Pennsylvania, Invaded Many Times
Pennsylvania was founded as a pacifist utopia, and currently regards itself as protected by vast oceans. But Pennsylvania has been seriously invaded at least six times.
Philadelphia Reflections (6)
New topic 2017-02-06 21:23:28 description
Philadelphia had only 25,000 inhabitants during the Revolutionary War. Now, nearly that many British soldiers of Sir William Howe poured into town, victorious. Victorious, except for being cut off from their supplies on the warships in the Chesapeake. Men o'war soon sailed up the Delaware River, but found the narrow channel between Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer in New Jersey blocked by strange contraptions called chevaux-de-frise. These instruments consisted of heavy timbers sunk to the bottom of the river, containing massive iron prongs that reached almost to the surface but pointing downriver. They were effective blocks to wooden vessels, almost impossible to dislodge. The general arrangement was: Fort Mercer on the top of the New Jersey cliff called Red Bank (now National Park), overlooking the blockaded channel. On the other side of the ship channel, Fort Mifflin on an island. A second channel between Fort Mifflin's island and the Pennsylvania shore was quite shallow, allowing special American gun barges and galleys to come down and attack the larger British vessels, then to escape pursuit by fleeing upstream. The Americans had two years to perfect this defense, and it was formidable. Only one or two large sailing vessels could maneuver near it downriver, and at least the Pennsylvania side was difficult to attack across the mud flats.
When Howe was earlier considering how to attack Philadelphia as he sailed Southward past the mouth of the Delaware, he had decided it was hopeless for his fleet to attack this barrier if it was defended by an army, and the strategy evolved to defeat Washington, first. However, in the event, Washington's Army remained essentially intact after the conquest of the city, and from Valley Forge was able to interfere with supplies from the Chesapeake or lower Delaware Bay, but still send reinforcements to the river defense. The communication line on the West side was essentially what is now the Blue Route, the third side of a triangle, from Conshohocken to Fort Mifflin, containing all of the British troops. The bend in the Delaware made two sides of this triangle, and turbulence created by the river bend threw up mud islands which made the channel particularly narrow. These islands have since been filled in for the airport, the stadiums and the Naval yard, so the battleground is today unfortunately a little hard to make out, just as is also true of Bunker Hill, North Church, etc. in Boston Harbor.
Four or five hundred Americans were in each of the two forts, and eventually most of them were wiped out, at least half of them by starvation and exposure as much as cannon and musket fire. They had British on both sides of them, heavy guns bombarding them, under attack for weeks. The British kept at it, because to fail meant the loss, by starvation and snipers, of almost the entire British expeditionary force in America. A contingent of Hessians under von Donop was sent to Haddonfield and down the King's Highway to attack Fort Mercer from the rear. In a moment famous in Haddonfield, a champion runner named Jonas Cattell sneaked out of the town and ran to Fort Mercer to tell the troops to turn their guns around for an attack from the rear but lie concealed behind the guns, while meanwhile the Quakers in the little town entertained the Hessians in a very friendly way. There was more to it than that, with some heavy fighting in the open, but von Donop and most of his troops were casualties. The fort had been made smaller in the past, unexpectedly presenting the attackers with a second set of fortifications after they surmounted the outer ones. Later on, a second assault by a different contingent of Hessians did level the Fort. If not, there would have been a third or a fourth assault, because a river passage simply had to be forced to relieve starving Philadelphia. Before the repeated assaults were over, Fort Mifflin had also been bombarded into rubble. But what really carried the day for the British was the late realization that if small Americans boats could sneak down the channel on the Pennsylvania side of Mifflin; then small British boats could go the other way, as well. Although the river blockage was eventually broken, it took six weeks after the battle of Germantown, and meanwhile the heroic defense did a great deal to rally the sympathies of what had been considered maybe a loyalist city, and partly loyalist Colony of New Jersey. Before the winter was over, Howe had to go back to London to explain himself, being replaced by General Clinton, who was much less clever and much more provocative as a conqueror. The first two years had British control by a minority of hothead aristocrats. For the remaining five years of the war, the sobered British concept was no longer liberation of colonial Tories, but subjugation of fanatic Rebels. The realization gradually spread, through both England and America, that the war had been lost, since Independence was a more sustainable situation for everyone than continuing endless efforts at subjugation.
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