The Battle of Germantown (1777) | Things I Never Knew

The Ghost of the Battle of Germantown

[I never read enough semi-contemporaneous material about the American Revolution. This actually makes you see the people who were there.]


AND as the sun went down, on that calm day of autumn, shooting his

level beams thro the wilds of the rivulet of the Skippack, there gathered

within the woods, and along the shores of that stream, a gallant and despe

rate army, with every steed ready for the march, with the columns mar

shalled for the journey of death, every man with his knapsack on his shoul

der, and musket in his grasp, while the broad banner of the Continental

Host drooped heavily over head, its folds rent aud torn by the fight of

Brandywine, waving solemnly in the twilight.*

The tents were struck, the camp fires where had been prepared the hasty

supper of the soldier, were still burning ; the neighing of steeds, and the sup

pressed rattle of arms, rang thro the grove startling the night-bird of the

Skippack, when the uncertain light of a decaying flame, glowing around the

stump of a giant oak, revealed a scene of strange interest.

The flame-light fell upon the features of a gallant band of heroes, circling

round the fire, each with his war cloak, drooping over his shoulder, half

concealing the uniform of blue and bufF; each with sword by his side, cha-

peau in hand, ready to spring upon his war-steed neighing in the grove hard

by, at a moments warning, while every eye was fixed upon the face of the

chieftain who stood in their midst.

By the soul of Mad Anthony it was a sight that would have stirred a

man s blood to look upon that sight of the gallant chieftains of a gallant

band, clustering round the camp fire, in the last and most solemn council of

war, ere they spurred their steeds forward in the march of death.

The man with the form of majesty, and that calm, impenetrable face,

lighted by the hidden fire of soul, bursting forth ever and again in the glance

of his eye! Had you listened to the murmurs of the dying on the field of

Brandywine you would have heard the name, that ha long since become a

sound of prayer and blessing on the tongues of nations the name of WASH

INGTON. And by his side was GREENE* his fine countenance wearing a

shade of serious thought; and there listlessly thrusting his glittering sword

in the embers of the decaying fire, with his fierce eyes fixed upon the earth,

while his mustachioed lip gave a stern expression to his face, was the man

of Poland and the Patriot of Brandy wine, PULASKI, whom it were tautology

to call the brave ; there was the towering form of SULLIVAN, there was

COXWAY, with his fine face and expressive features, there was ARMSTRONG

and NASH and MAXWELL and STIRLING and STEPHENS, all brave men and

true, side by side with the gallant SMALL WOOD of Maryland, and the stalwart

FORMAN of Jersey.

And there with his muscular chest, clad in the close buttoned blue coat,

with his fatigue cloak thrown over his left shoulder, with his hand restin^

on the hilt of his sword, was the hero of Chadd s Ford, the Commander of

the Massacred of Paoli, the future avenger of Stony Point, ANTHONY WAYNE.

whom the soldiers loved in their delight to name MAD ANTHONY ; shouting

that name in the hour of the charge and in the moment of death like a watch

word of terror to the British Army.

Washington at Battle of Germantown Giclee Print

Clustered around their Chief, were the aids-de-camp of Washington, JOHN

MARSHALL, afterwards Chief Justice of the States; ALEXANDER HAMILTON,

gifted, gallant, and brave, Washington s counsellor in the hour of peril, his

bosom friend and confidant, all standing in the same circle with PICKERING

and LEE, the Captain of the Partizan Band, with his slight form and swarthy

face, who was on that eventful night detailed for duty near the Commander-


And as they stood there clustered round the person of Washington, in a

mild yet decided voice, the chieftain spoke to them of the plan of the con

templated surprise and battle.

It was his object to take the British by surprise. He intended for the

accomplishment of this object, to attack them at once on the front of the

centre ; and on the front, flank and rear of each wing. This plan of ope

ration would force the American commander to extend the continental army

over a surface of from five to seven miles.

In order to make this plan of attack effective, it would be necessary for

the American army to seperate near Skippack, and advance to Germantown

in four divisions, marching along as many roads.

General Armstrong with the Pennsylvania militia, 3000 strong, was to

march down the Manatawny road (now Ridge road,) and traversing the

shores of the Schuylkill, until the beautiful Wissahikon poured into its

bosom, he was to turn the left flank of the enemy at Vandurings (now Rob

inson s Mill,) and then advance eastward, along the bye roads, until two

miles distance between this mill and the Germantown market-house were


Meanwhile the Militia of Maryland and New Jersey, were to take up

their line of march some seven or eight miles to the eastward of Armstrong s

position, and over three miles distance from Germantown. They were to

march down the Old York Road, turn the right flank of the enemy, and

attack it in the rear, also entering the town at the market-house, which wa.

the central point of operation for all the divisions.

Battle of Germantown, October 4, 1777.

Between Germantown and Old York Road, at the distance of near iwr

miles from the village, extends a road, called Limekiln road. The division!

cf Greene and Stephens flanked by McDougal s Brigade were to take a

circuit by this road, and attack the front of the enemy s right wing. They

also were to enter the town by the market-house.

The main body, with which was Washington, Wayne, and Sullivan, were

to advance toward Germantown by the Great Northern Road, entering the

town by way of Chesnut Hill, some four miles distant from the Market-house.

A column of this body was led on by Sullivan, another by Wayne, and

Convay s Brigade flanked the entire division.

While these four divisions advanced, the division of Lord Stirling, com

bined with the brigades of Maxwell and Nash were to form a corps de


The reader, and the student of American History, has now the plan of

battle spread out before him. In order to take in the full particulars of this

magnificent plan of battle, it may be necessary to remember the exact nature

of the ground around Germantown.

In some places plain and level, in others broken by ravines, rendered in

tricate by woods, tangled by thickets, or traversed by streams, it was in its

most accessible points, and most favorable aspects, broken by enclosures,

difficult fences, massive stone walls, or other boundary marks of land, ren

dering the operation of calvary at all times hazardous, and often impassible.

In the vicinage of the town, for near a mile on either side, the land spread

greenly away, in level fields, still broken by enclosures, and then came thick

woods, steep hills and dark ravines.

The base line of operations was the country around Skippack Creek,

from which point, Washington, like a mighty giant, spread forth the four

arms of his force, clutching the enemy in front, on his wings and on the

rear, all at the same moment.

It was a magnificent plan of battle, and success already seemed to hover

round the American banner, followed by a defeat of the British, as terrible

as that of Yorktown, when the red-coat heroes of Germantown struck their

own Lion from his rock.

As Washington went over the details of battle, each brave officer and

scarred chieftain leaned forward, taking in every word, with absorbing in

terest, and then receiving the orders of his commander, with the utmost

attention and consideration.

All was now planned, everything was ready for the march, each General

mounted on his war-steed, rode to the head of his division, and with a low

solemn peal of music, the night-march of Germantown commenced.

And through the solemn hours of that night, along the whole valley, on

every side, was heard the half suppressed sound of marching legions, rain,

fled with the low muttered word of command, the clank of arms and the

neighing of war-steeds all dim and indistinct, yet terrible to heai. The

farmer sleeping on his humble couch, rushed to the window of his rustic

mansion at the sound, and while his wife stood beside him, all tremor and

affright, and his little ones clung to his knees, he saw with a mingled look

of surprise and fear, the forms of an armed band, some on horse and some

on foot, sweeping through his green fields, as the dim moonbeams gleaming

through the gathering mist and gloom, shone over glittering arms, and dusky

banners, all gliding past, like phantoms of the Spectre Land.

(Edited out most of the battle)

LET us survey Chew s house in the midst of the fight.

It is the centre of a whirpool of flame.

Above is the mist, spreading its death shroud over the field. Now it in

darkened into a pall by the battle smoke, and now a vivid cannon flash lays

bare the awful theatre.

Still in the centre you may see Chew s house, still from every window

flashes the blaze of musquetry, and all around it columns of jet black smoke

curl slowly upward, their forms clearly defined against the shroud of white


It is a terrible thing to stand in the shadows of the daybreak hour, by the

bedside of a dying father, and watch that ashy face, rendered more ghastly

by the rays of a lurid taper it is a terrible thing to clasp the hand of a sis

ter, and feel it grow cold, and colder, until it stiffens to ice in your grasp

a fearful thing to gather the wife, dearest and most beloved of all, to your

breast, and learn the fatal truth, that the heart is pulseless, the bosom clay,

the eyes fixed and glassy.

Yes, Peath in any shape, in the times of Peace by the fireside, and in

ihe Home, is a fearful thing, talk of it as you will.

And in the hour when Riot howls through the streets of a wide city, its

*en thousand faces crimsoned by the glare of a burning church, Death looks

not only horrible but grotesque. For those dead men laid stiffly along the

streets, their cold faces turned to scarlet by the same glare that reveals the

cross of the tottering temple, have been murdered by their brother*

Like wild beasts, hunted and torn by the hounds, they have yielded up their

lives, the warm blood of their hearts mingling with the filth of the gutter.

This indeed is horrible, but Death in the Battle, who shall dare paint its

pictures ?

What pencil snatched from the hands of a Devil, shall delineate its colors

of blood ?

Look upon Chew s house and behold it !

There under the cover of the mist, thirty thousand men are hurrying to

and fro, shooting and stabbing and murdering as they go ! Look ! The

lawn is canopied by one vast undulating sheet of flame !

Hark ! To the terrible tramp of the horses hoofs, as they crash on over

heaps of dead.

Here, you behold long columns of blue uniformed soldiers ; there dense

masses of scarlet. Hark ! Yes, listen and hear the horrid howl of

slaughter, the bubbling groan of death, the low toned pitiful note of pain.

Pain ? What manner of pain? Why, the pain of arms torn off at the

shoulder, limbs hacked into pieces by chain shot, eyes darkened forever.

Not much poetry in this, you say. No. Nothing but truth truth that

rises from the depths of a bloody well.

From those heaps of dying and dead, I beseech you select only one corse,

and gaze upon it in silence Is he dead ? The young man yonder with the

pale face, the curling black hair, the dark eyes wide open, glaring upon that

shroud above is he dead ?

Even if he is dead, stay, O, stay yon wild horse that comes rushing on

without a rider ; do not let him trample that young face, with his red hoofs.

For it may be that the swimming eyes of a sister have looked upon that

face perchance some fair girl, beloved of the heart, has kissed those red

lips do not let the riderless steed come on ; do not let him trample into

the sod that face, which has been wet with a Mother s tears !

And yet this face is only one among a thousand, which now pave the bat

tle field, crushed by the footsteps of the hurrying soldiers, trampled by the

horses hoofs.

And while the battle swelled fiercest, while the armies traversed that

green lawn in the hurry of contest, along the blood stained sward, with

calm manner and even step, strode an unknown form, passing over the

field, amid smoke and mist and gloom, while the wounded fell shrieking at

his feet, and the faces of the dead met his gaze on every side.

It was the form of an aged man, with grey hairs streaming over hi,*

shoulders, an aged man with a mild yet fearless countenance, with a tall

and muscular figure, clad neither in the glaring dress of the Britisher, or the

hunting shirt of the Continental, but in the plain attire of drab cloth, the

simple coat, vest with wide appels, small clothes and stockings, that mark

the believers of the Quaker faith.

He was a Friend. Who he was, or what was his name, whence he

came, or whither he went, no one could tell, and tradition still remains


But along that field, he was seen gliding amid the heat and glare of bat-

tle. Did the wounded soldier shriek for a cup of water ? It was his hand

that brought it from the well, on the verge of Chew s wall. Extended

along the sward, with their ghastly faces quivering with the spasmodic throe

of insupportable pain, the dying raised themselves piteously on their tremb

ling hands, and in broken tones asked for relief, or in the wildness of de

lirium spoke of their far oft* homes, whispered a message to their wives or

little ones, or besought the blessing of their grey haired sires.

It was the Quaker, the unknown and mysterious Friend, who was seen

unarmed save with the Faith of God, undefended save by the Armour of

Heaven, kneeling on the sod, whispering words of comfort to the dying, and

pointing with his uplifted hand to a home beyond the skies, where battle

nor wrong nor death ever came.

Around Chew s house and over the lawn he sped on his message of

mercy. There was fear ami terror around him, the earth beneath his mea

sured footsteps quivered, and the air was heavy with death, but he trembled

not, nor quailed, nor turned back from his errand of mercy.

Now seen in the thickest of the fight, the soldiers rushing on their paths

of blood, started back as they beheld his mild and peaceful figure. Some

deemed him a thing of air, some thought they beheld a spirit, not one offered

to molest or harm the Messenger of Peace.

It was a sight worth all the ages of controversial Divinity to see this

plain Quaker going forth with the faith of that Saviour, whose name has

ever been most foully blasphemed by those who called themselves his

friends, going forth with the faith of Jesus in his heart, speaking comfort to

the dying, binding up the gashes of the wounded, or yet again striding

boldly into the fight and rescuing with his own unarmed hands the prostrate

soldier from the attack of his maddened foe.

Blessings on his name, the humble Quaker, for this deed which sanctifies

humanity, and makes us dream of men of mortal mould raised to the majesty

of Gods. His name is not written down, his history is all unknown, but

when the books of the unknown world are bared to the eyes of a

congregated universe, then will that name shine brighter and lighter with a

holier gleam, than the name of any Controversial Divine or loud-mouthed

nirelingr, that ever disgraced Christianity or blasphemed the name of Jesus.

Ah, methinks, even amid the carnage of Germantown, I see the face of

the Redeemer, bending from the battle-mist, and smiling upon the peaceful

Quaker, as he never smiled upon learned priest or mitred prelate.


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