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The Battle of Paoli – September 20, 1777

On September 20, 1777, following the Battle of Brandywine, the British army under Gen William Howe camped in the Great Valley at Tredyffrin, an area short of the Swede’s Ford and south of Valley Forge.

Washington’s army fell back towards Philadelphia, crossing to the east bank of the Schuylkill River while leaving 2 forces to harass the rear of the British army, Smallwood’s Maryland Militia and Gen. Anthony Wayne’s Division of Pennsylvania Continentals.

The British were in a dangerous position, as these two American forces could drive them against the rain swollen Schuylkill River by Valley Forge. Howe ordered Gen Charles Grey, his most experienced Light Infantry commander, to pick the best troops and end the threat by attacking the Pennsylvanians. The midnight raid, by design, would be hand-to-hand combat using bayonets, swords and knives.

Grey’s plan was to sneak behind Wayne’s troops to the west and drive them to the east, where 500 British mounted Dragoons waited to block their escape by the Paoli Tavern, a mile to the east. Grey only knew generally where Wayne was camped so he forced a local blacksmith to guide his troops up the steep hill.

Wayne, not completely surprised, started moving his artillery and supply wagons to the west. Grey released his 1500 troops to attack the rear of the Americans. The first wave of 500 bayonet-wielding Redcoats charged through the woods. The frontiersmen broke allowing the British to continue their attack. A dozen mounted dragoons, sabers slashing, wreaked havoc as their war horses galloped through fleeing Continentals. They led the second wave of 350 men of the 44th Regiment of Foote charging toward the American troops. Grey’s third wave was over 500 of the most feared warriors - the dreaded Scottish Black Watch!

Smallwood’s force approached from the West as the attack was coming to an end and came under attack as it passed the White Horse Tavern. The inexperienced and badly organized Maryland Militia dissolved in confusion.

Surprise, speed and ferocity gave Grey the victory. However, Wayne successfully led most of his men to safety, including his valuable artillery.