Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

Related Topics

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.

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.

Revolution in New Jersey
Early, brief but significant.

Philadelphia's Two Years Under Attack: A Chronology

June 1776 to June 1777 Although Virginia and New England were rebellious, the Quaker states regarded the British with sympathy until Benjamin Franklin was humiliated at Whitehall and returned to America as an ardent rebel. Either the English did not perceive or were unable to exploit this divisiveness, and made the mistake of dispatching an enormous fleet with 40,000 soldiers in a sign they meant to subjugate all of America. In a second mistake, this expeditionary force was headquartered on Staten Island, an ideal place to dominate the surrounding six colonies rather than the more fractious colonies of Massachusetts and Virginia. With this military force on its doorstep, the middle colonies finally joined the rest on July 2, 1776, and asked Thomas Jefferson to write a proclamation about it. The British soon advanced on land from Perth Amboy to Trenton, left a detachment of Hessians and went into winter quarters in New Brunswick. Washington attacked the Hessians, and when Cornwallis came storming to the rescue, circled around him and went after the unprotected supplies in New Brunswick. Cornwallis gave chase and lost the battle of Princeton. Washington went into winter quarters in Morristown, waiting for General Howe to react in the spring. Howe feigned embarkation and nearly trapped Washington, but soon went back to his lady friend in New York for the winter.

July 25, 1777 Admiral Lord Richard Howe and his brother General Sir Willliam Howe set sail from Staten Island for destination unknown. Washington watches helplessly from across the inlet at Perth Amboy, then falls back toward Philadelphia to protect his options.

July 31, 1777 British fleet sighted at the mouth of Delaware Bay. Washington moves to the Germantown encampment (now Fox and Queen Lane), prepared to defend the capital at Philadelphia.

August 10, 1777 When Howe, feeling he must destroy Washington before attacking the Delaware fortifications, does not enter the Delaware River, Washington orders the troops to go back up Old York Road to the Neshaminy encampment, midway between the head of the Chesapeake Bay and New York Harbor, because Howe's intentions are still unclear. Headquarters at Moland House in Bucks County.

August 23,1777 Howe's fleet is sighted off Patuxent, Maryland, then at Elkton, Maryland. Washington orders troops to defend along the Brandywine Creek. Howe lands Aug 25, in a driving rainstorm, possibly an Atlantic hurricane.

September 11, 1777 Washington is outflanked by Cornwallis' forced march around Dilworthtown, while Howe attacks the Brandywine in the largest military engagement of the Revolutionary War. Washington withdraws to Chester.

September 13, 1777 Washington stays only briefly at Chester, and returns his troops to the Germantown encampment they used a month earlier. From there he destroys all bridges and boats on the Schuylkill, then redeploys around Norristown, the first ford available to the British.

September 16, 1777, Both sides maneuver over a large area in Chester County for a second stage of the Battle of Brandywine, but a second torrential rainstorm ruins everyone's gunpowder ("The Battle of the Clouds") and fighting ceases. A contingent of 1500 Americans under General Wayne is surprised and butchered at night by a bayonet attack ("The Paoli Massacre"), and Howe crosses the Schuylkill on September 23 while Washington is forced to watch helplessly from the Whitemarsh area.

September 26, 1777. Howe marches triumphantly into Philadelphia but immediately splits his army into three groups, one directed at Fort Mifflin, one sent to New Jersey to forage, and the third but main body of troops deployed in Germantown. Washington sees an opportunity and organizes an attack on the Germantown contingent.

October 4, 1777. Battle of Germantown. The British successfully defend their position around the massive stone Cliveden (Chew) Mansion, and Washington is forced to fall back to Whitemarsh.

October 19 - November 16, 1777. Siege of Fort Mifflin, which eventually falls to the British, but not before their stunning defeat at Ft. Mercer on the New Jersey side of the river. The British fleet can now bring supplies up the river to a British army which was running low of them.

December, 1777 - June, 1778. The British enjoy winter quarters in Philadelphia, while Washington's troops suffer at Valley Forge.

June, 1778. The British defeats at Trenton and Saratoga persuaded the French to ally with the Revolutionaries. A hundred miles from blue water, concern about a French fleet prompts the British to withdraw from Philadelphia, crossing Delaware and marching up King's Highway in New Jersey to rejoin the British fleet at Perth Amboy/New Brunswick.

July 3, 1778. The Iroquois, urged on by the British, massacre 600 settlers in the Wyoming Valley, around present-day Wilkes Barre. General Sullivan is dispatched to annihilate the Iroquois. Hostilities in the war now shift to the Southern part of the country for the next six years.

Originally published: Friday, June 23, 2006; most-recently modified: Friday, May 31, 2019

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