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pable of being used. This state of things sug- CHAP. III. gested the precaution of removing to a still 1777. greater distance from the enemy, in order to refit their arm's, obtain a fresh supply of ammunition, which could not be had in camp, and to revive the spirits of the army. The general therefore determined to retire up the Schuylkill, and cross it about Warwick furnace, at Parker's ferry, where a fresh supply of ammunition and a few muskets might be obtained in time to dispute the passage of the Schuylkill, and make yet another effort to save Philadelphia. As this movement rendered the situation of general Smallwood more dangerous, by putting it in the power of the enemy to direct a larger force against him, he was ordered to join the army at Warwick furnace, on French creek. These arrangements being made, Washington crossed the Schuylkill at Parker's ferry, and proceeded to replace, as far as was in his power, the arms which had been rendered unfit for use.
The extreme severity of the weather entirely stopped the British army and prevented any pursuit. They secured themselves against it as well as was in their power, and made no other movement than merely to unite their columns, until the 18th, when they took post at Tryduffin, from whence a party was detached to Valley forge, in order to seize a ma
CHAP. III. gazine of flour, and other stores, which had 1777. been there deposited.
From French creek, to which the American army had retreated in consequence of the damage sustained by their arms and ammuni. tion from the rain of the 16th, general Wayne with his division, was detached to the rear of the enemy, with orders to join general Smallwood; and carefully concealing himself and his movements, to seize every occasion which their march might offer, of engaging them to advantage. Mean-while, general Washington crossed the Schuylkill at Parker's ferry, and encamped on the eastern banks of that river, on both sides of Perkyomy creek. Detachments from his army were posted at the various fords over which it was presumed an attempt might be made to force a passage.
General Wayne lay in the woods near the entrance of the road from Darby into that leading to Lancaster, about three miles in the rear of the left wing of the British troops encamped at Tryduffin, where he believed himself, in consequence of the precautions he had taken, to be perfectly secure.
But the country was so generally disaffected, that sir William Howe received accurate accounts of his position, and of his force, and detached major general Grey to surprise him. This was effectually accom
1 General Howe's letter.
plished. The fire of his picket guard, about CHAP. III. eleven o'clock in the night of the 20th, who 1777. were driven in with charged bayonets, gave the General first intelligence of the approach of the enemy. Efter a sharp Wayne instantly formed his division, and while pelled to his right was very fiercely assailed, directed a retreat by the left, under cover of a few regi. ments, who for a very short time withstood the violence of the shock. He says, that they gave the assailants some very close, and well directed fires, which must have done considerable execution; and that after retreating from the ground on which the engagement commenced, they formed again at a small distance from the scene of action ; but that both parties drew off without renewing the conflict. He states his own loss at about one hundred and fifty* killed and wounded. That of the enemy, from their own accounts, was only seven.
When the attack commenced, general Smallwood who was coming up to join Wayne, a circumstance entirely unexpected by general Grey, was within less than a mile of him; and, had he commanded troops who were to be relied on, might have given a very different turn to the night. But his militia, who were excessively alarmed, thought only of their own
* The British accounts represent the American loss to have been much more considerable. It probably amounted to at least three hundred men.
CHAP. III. safety; and having fallen in with a party of the 1777. enemy returning from the pursuit of Wayne
they fled in confusion with the loss of only one man.
Some severe animadversions on this unfortunate affair having been made in the army, general Wayne demanded a court martial, which, after investigating his conduct, was unanimously of opinion that he had done every thing to be expected from an active, brave, and vigilant officer; and acquitted him with honour.
Having thus secured his rear, by compelling Wayne to take a greater distance, sir William
Howe marched along the Valley road to the Sept. 21. Schuylkill, and encamped on the banks of that
river, extending from the Fatland ford, up to French creek along the front of the American army. Rendered apprehensive by this move. ment that Howe designed to cross above him where the river was shallow, and, after turning his right flank, to get between him and Rea
ding, where stores to a large amount were deWashington posited, general Washington again changed his Pottsgtove. position, and marched up the river towards
Pottsgrove, where he encamped with his left near, but somewhat above, the right of the enemy.
Relinquishing his plan, if he had formed one, of bringing Washington to another battle, and perhaps of opinion that it would be more advantageous to transfer the seat of war to the CHAP. IIL neighbourhood of his ships until he should have 1777. more completely broken the force opposed to Sept. 22. him, general Howe now determined to cross the Schuylkill and take possession of Philadel. phia. In the afternoon, he ordered a detachment to cross at Fatland ford, which was on his right, and some time afterwards, another detachment to cross at Gordon's ford, which was on his left, and to take possession of the heights commanding them. These orders were executed without much difficulty, and the American troops placed to defend those fords were easily dispersed.
This service being effected, the whole army marched by the right about midnight, andcrossing over at Fatland without opposition, pro. ceeded a considerable distance towards Philadelphia, and encamped with its left near Sweed's ford, and its right on the Manatawny road, having Stony run in its front.
It was now apparent that only an immediate victory could rescue Philadelphia from the grasp of the British general, whose present situation gave him the option of either taking possession of that place, or endeavouring to bring on another general engagement in the country at present occupied by the two armies. If therefore a battle must certainly be risked to save the capital, it would be necessary to attack the enemy.