The Battle of Germantown played an important role in the outcome of the Revolutionary War. Although the British won the battle, the Continental Army had finally gone on the offensive and attacked the British. This gave the soldiers and the patriots a renewed confidence that they could win the war.
When and where did it take place?
The battle took place on October 4, 1777 at Germantown, Pennsylvania just outside Philadelphia.
Who were the commanders?
General George Washington was the overall commander of the 11,000 American soldiers. Other key officers included Nathanael Greene, John Sullivan, and William Alexander.
The British were led by General William Howe and General Charles Cornwallis. The British Army totaled 9,000 troops which included both British soldiers and Hessian mercenaries.
Before the Battle
Since being forced out of New York, the Continental Army under George Washington had suffered several defeats. They had retreated through New Jersey all the way to Pennsylvania. The British Army had continued to advance and now had control of the American capital of Philadelphia.
George Washington decided that it was time for the Americans to go on the attack. The British Army had divided their forces between Germantown and Philadelphia. He saw an opportunity to surround and capture the British forces in Germantown.
Washington's plan was to surprise the British by attacking in the early morning before sunrise. The army was divided into four columns. General Nathanael Greene would lead the main force and attack from the northwest while General Sullivan would lead a column from the northeast. At the same time, two groups of militia would attack from the sides. All the columns were to begin the attack at 5am in the morning.
Map of the Battle
(Click for larger view)
The actual battle did not happen as planned. Early morning fog caused the columns to advance slower than expected. The fog also caused a lot of confusion. Sullivan's column was delayed when a small group of around 120 British soldiers held up in a stone house called Chew House. They put up a strong defense and killed several American soldiers. As the columns came together, things got even more confusing. American soldiers began firing on each other instead of the British.
With the Continental Army in disarray, the British began to fight back. Greene's column took heavy musket fire before the two columns of militia were in place. The plan, while great on paper, wasn't working. Washington decided to pull back and retreat.
The battle was a decisive victory for the British. They held off the attack and inflicted around 1000 casualties on the Americans while only suffering around 500 themselves.
Despite losing the battle, Germantown actually helped the Americans in winning the war. The morale of the soldiers was boosted by the attack. Many felt that only bad luck prevented them from victory and that they would get the British the next time. Also, seeing that the Americans were willing to go on the offensive helped to convince the French to enter the war as U.S. allies.
Interesting Facts about the Battle of Germantown
Most historians agree that Washington's plan was too complex for the inexperienced Continental Army.
Much of the blame for the failed attack was placed on Brigadier General Adam Stephen who was drunk during the attack. He led his troops off course and then accidentally attacked his own side.
Around 3,000 of the American troops were local militiamen.
The British pursued the retreating Americans for only about 5 miles before letting them go.