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British Capture of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

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The American Revolutionary War in the Middle Atlantic States:
Battle of New York City | Washington's Retreat from New York City | Washington's Crossing of the Delaware River
Battles of Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey | British Capture of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania
The Paoli Massacre | Battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania | Battle of the Barrels | The Winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey | Battle of Stony Point, New York | Battle of Springfield, New Jersey | General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne
Molly Pitcher | General Lord Charles Cornwallis

Pennsylvania was one of the most important colonies during the Revolutionary War. In addition to its agricultural and industrial resources, the colony was home to Philadelphia, the cultural and political capital of the States.

In late July 1777, the British decided to invade and occupy Philadelphia. To that end, close to 16,500 troops boarded more than 250 ships and left New York City in route to a seaborn invasion of the rebel capital. The force was led by Admiral Lord Richard Howe, commander of the British navies in American waters, and his brother, General Sir William Howe, commander of the invading ground forces.

General George Washington and his troops were camped near New York City in Morristown, New Jersey. Upon hearing that the British had sailed from New York, Washington guessed that the Redcoats were heading for Philadelphia and marched off to protect the capital. However, on 1 August, 1777, Washington received word that the British had been sighted in Delaware Bay, but had then turned around.

What turned the British around were 56 rows of spikes set in the river bottom to impale and tear the bottoms out of ships attempting to sail to north Philadelphia1. The Americans also fortified several islands in the river, making a seaborn invasion of the capital impossible.

Fearing this to be a feint, Washington marched his troops back toward New York. Then, on hearing that the British were heading south, he marched back toward Philadelphia again. Finally, Washington set up camp at Neshaminy, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Landing at Elk Beach-Head

Thwarted by the underwater obstacles in the Delaware River, the British fleet was next spotted on the Chesapeake Bay on 22 August, 1777. Sure that the enemy was planning to attack Philadelphia, Washington again moved his army south.

After five weeks at sea, the British landed near Elkton, Maryland and established a camp. Suffering from malnutrition and the loss of their horses from the unexpectedly long voyage, heavy rains contributed to halting the British advance in its tracks. Instead of attacking and destroying this weakened foe, Washington made defensive preparations in Delaware, less than 20 miles from the British encampment.

The British quickly procured horses and food from the local populace and soon became an effective fighting force again.

One week after their landing, the British and their Hessian mercenaries were on the march northward to Philadelphia. Washington observed their movement from a place called Iron Hill, near present-day Newark, Delaware, and planned an ambush.

The Colonials stationed 450 men at Cooch's Bridge in a good defensive position. However the Americans were soon outflanked by Hessians and with their ammunition running low, they were forced to retreat. Soon all of Washington's army was on the run, and they refused to stop and meet the enemy in a major battle.

Between September 8 and 10, the two armies continued to jockey for position as they headed north toward Philadelphia. Finally, Washington set up camp in a strong defensive position on the east side of Brandywine Creek at Chadd's Ford. This is the last natural obstacle between the British and Philadelphia and Washington was committed to stand his ground.

Battle of Brandywine

On 10 September the British held a council of war and decided to feint to the center of the American line while sending the bulk of their troops around to strike the American's right flank.

The Battle of Brandywine got underway the next day in thick fog. The British forces struck in the center of the American line of attack across Chadd's Ford and ran into General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne's Pennsylvania Division. The Pennsylvanians inflicted heavy causalities upon the advancing British and slowed their advance to a standstill.

Meanwhile, Washington had been receiving reports all day that there was a large British force moving around his right and he finally sent reinforcements in the afternoon, taking away the reserves for the center of his line.

But it was too little too late and the Colonial right flank collapsed, forcing the reinforcements to perform a fighting retreat. Count Casimir Pulaski's cavalry charge helped stall the British attempt to cut off the American's retreat route, saving the bulk of the army to fight another day.

The Battle of the Clouds

In the five days following their retreat from Brandywine, the Americans made a loop ending just north of West Chester. Howe sent three columns north to attack the rebels on 16 September. At 2pm, a heavy rain turned the battlefield into a muddy quagmire. With the British halted because of the elements, Washington retreated again, slipping and sliding to nearby Chester Springs.

The Paoli Massacre

On 20 September, Washington decided to harass the British supply lines. But instead of following conventional military wisdom and sending his cavalry, he sent in General Wayne with about 1,200 men. The British ambushed Wayne's men and before the Yanks could escape, 300 were dead, woth onlu ten British casualties. This fiasco became known as the Paoli Massacre.

The Fall of Philadelphia

On 21 September, Howe crossed the Schuylkill River and feinted toward the interior of Pennsylvania, including the rich farmlands and the vital supply depot of Reading. Forced with deciding to protect the interior or abandoning it in favor of a continued defence of Philadelphia, Washington headed west, leaving the rebel capital unprotected.

That night, Howe shifted backwards and marched into Germantown on the northwest outskirts of Philadelphia. On 26 September, Cornwallis led a British detachment into Philadelphia and the rebel capital fell without a shot being fired.

1The last of the timbers and iron-tipped points were finally removed from the river in 1936.

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