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grave, drew off some distance, and brought up CHAP. IV. a field piece which played on it without making 1777. any impression. This circumstance broke the line of the right wing; and, added to the darkness occasioned by a fog of uncommon thickness, threw it into great confusion.
In about half an hour after Sullivan had been engaged, the column led by Greene, arrived on its ground, and commenced an attack on the light infantry which was posted in front of the right wing of the enemy. It was at first successful, and after driving in the pickets, forced the battalion of light infantry also to give way.
Every thing as yet had succeeded to the utmost expectation of general Washington, and the prospect of victory was extremely flattering. The attack had been made with great spirit; several brigades had penetrated into the town; there was much reason to believe that a separation of the two wings of the British army would be effected, and that they would be entirely routed. Had his troops possessed the advantages given by experience, had every division performed precisely the part allotted to it; there is yet much reason to believe that his most sanguine hopes would have been reali. zed. But, the face of the country, and the extreme darkness of the morning, co-operating with the want of discipline in the army, blasted all the flattering appearances of the moment and defeated an enterprise which promised in
CHAP. IV. its commencement the most happy and brilliant 1777. result.
The country through which the enemy was pursued, abounded with strong and small en. closures which every where broke the line of the advancing army. The darkness of the morning rendered it difficult to distinguish objects, even at an inconsiderable distance; and it was impossible for the commander in chief to learn the situation of the whole, or to correct the confusion which was commencing. The brigades were soon thrown into disorder. Some of the regiments pursuing with vivacity while others endeavoured to proceed more circumspectly, they were entirely separated from each other, so that their weight was broken, and their effect very much weakened. The same cause which facilitated the separation of the regiments, prevented their discerning the real situation of the enemy. They consequently did not improve their first impression, nor direct their efforts to the most advantage. The right of the left wing got so out of its course as to be entangled with Chew's house, on one side of which it stopped, while a brigade of Sullivan's was engaged on the other. The attacks on the flanks and rear do not appear ever to have been made. The Pennsylvania militia came in view of the chasseurs, who flanked the left of the British line, but did not engage them closely. The Maryland and Jer. sey militia just showed themselves on the right
flank about the time Greene's column was CHAP. IV. commencing a retreat.
1777. These embarrassments, arising entirely from circumstances, which would have been overcome by experienced troops, gave the enemy time to recover from the consternation into which they had at first been thrown. General Knyphausen, who commanded their left, detached one battalion to support the chasseurs, and part of the third and fourth brigades under generals Gray and Agnew, to attack the front of the column led by Sullivan which had penetrated far into the village, while its left was detained at Chew's house.
Some corps from both their right and left attacked the regiments which had penetrated furthest into Germantown, where a part of Muhlenberg's and Scott's brigades were surrounded and made prisoners. The different The Ameri. broken parts mistook each other for the enemy, and while a part of Sullivan's division was very warmly engaged, and sanguine hopes of victory were yet entertained, the main body of the army began to retreat.
Great efforts were made to rally the American troops, when this retrograde movement first commenced, but they were ineffectual. A general confusion prevailed, and the confidence felt in the commencement of the action was entirely lost. With infinite chagrin, general Washington was compelled to relinquish the victory he had thought within his grasp, and
CHAP. IV. turn his attention to the security of his army. 1797. The enemy not having yet recovered sufficiently
to endanger his rear, otherwise than by their artillery, the retreat was made without loss.
In this battle, about two hundred Americans were killed, and near three times that number wounded. The most considerable mischief was done from Chew's house, and in Germantown, where the regiments which had separated from their brigades suffered severely before they surrendered. About four hundred were made prisoners. Among the killed was general Nash of North Carolina, who fell at the head of his brigade; and among the prisoners, was colonel Mathews of Virginia, whose regiment had penetrated into the centre of the town, and made a large number of prisoners, when they were surrounded and obliged to surrender.
The loss of the enemy as stated in the official report of general Howe, was but little more than five hundred in killed and wounded, of whom, less than one hundred were killed. Among the latter were brigadier general Agnew and colonel Bird.
The grenadiers who had been in Philadelphia, under lord Cornwallis, hastened on the first alarm to the support of their brethren. They ran the whole distance, and reached the field of battle almost breathless and exhausted, just as the action terminated.9
9 Annual Register.
The American army retreated the same day CHAP. IV. about twenty miles to Perkyomy creek, where 1777. it was permitted to take rest and refreshment, and where a small re-enforcement of fifteen hundred militia, and a state regiment from Virginia were received, after which, it again advanced a few miles towards the enemy, and encamped once more on Skippack creek.
The plan of the battle of Germantown must be admitted to have been most judiciously formed, and in its commencement to have been happily conducted. Although general Howe in his official letter states intelligence of the approach of the American army to have been received about three o'clock in the morning, yet there is reason to believe that only small* parties of observation could have been expected, and that the meditated surprise was complete. The camp, part of which was traversed by several American regiments furnished strong evidence of this fact; and it is rendered the more probable, by the circumstances attending the march of the re-enforcements from Philadelphia. But to have given the plan success, it was necessary that those intrusted with the execution of its several parts should have adhered strictly to it. It was also neces
* It is probable only the Pennsylvania militia, who were rather earlier on their ground than the other columns, were discovered.