historic researcher Sean Moir
Battle of Germantown – October 4, 1777
On the foggy morning of October 4th, 1777, General George Washington’s Continental Army arrived on the outskirts of Germantown after a nighttime march of almost 20 miles through Montgomery County. By this time General William Howe had been in occupation of Philadelphia for about a week, and placed a division along Schoolhouse Road in Germantown to guard against any attacks from the west.
Bolstered by the recent good news from Saratoga, and with the hope of driving the British out of Philadelphia, this was to be Washington’s first major offensive of the war. His army approached in four columns, planning to converge upon an un-expecting foe. On Washington’s right was Armstrong’s Pennsylvania militia who would approach through Roxborough and Manyunk. On the left Greene was to advance down the Limekiln Road, while Smallwood on the far left took a militia force down Old York Road. The main force under Sullivan would approach straight down Germantown Pike.
At dawn Sullivan’s column met with pickets from the British Light Infantry in Mount Airy and formed a line with Wayne on the left, driving the pickets back to the Chew House (Cliveden) – where the rest of the Light Infantry Battalion was waiting. As the overwhelming American force approached, most of the Battalion withdrew back to the main British line, while about 200 men took cover inside the stone house. Most of Sullivan’s force moved toward the awaiting British, but a number of men stayed behind to support Knox and his artillery barrage against the Light Infantry holed up in the Chew House.
By about 7AM Greene’s Division was approaching from Wayne’s left to join the main assault, but the two forces were unable to coordinate their locations resulting in an exchange of friendly fire. The combination of the friendly fire incident and the assault on the Chew House made almost half of Washington’s forces unavailable to resist the oncoming counter attack by the British which began around 8AM as Cornwallis was coming up from Philadelphia with Grenadier reinforcements.
Some of Greene’s Division managed to approach the British right, but were repulsed by Grant leaving the 9th Virginia Regiment behind to be taken prisoner. With all hope lost of dislodging Howe from Philadelphia, Washington called off the assault on the Chew House and ordered a general retreat, with Cornwallis and Grant in close pursuit. By mid-morning Washington’s entire army was back in the vicinity of Fort Washington as they continued to withdraw back into Montgomery County.