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American Revolution: Battle of Germantown, October 4, 1777

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    Lt. Matthias John "Matt" Hollenback (1752 - 1829)
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The Battle of Germantown, a battle in the Philadelphia campaign of the American Revolutionary War, was fought on October 4, 1777, at Germantown, Pennsylvania between the British Army led by Sir William Howe and the American army under George Washington. The British victory in this battle ensured that Philadelphia, the capital of the self-proclaimed United States of America, would remain in British hands throughout the winter of 1777–1778. Now part of the city of Philadelphia, Germantown was an outlying community in 1777.

After defeating the Continental Army at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11 and the Battle of Paoli on September 20, Howe outmaneuvered Washington and seized Philadelphia, which was the capital of the rebellious colonies. Howe then split his army, keeping the bulk of it near Germantown while occupying Philadelphia with over 3,000 troops. Learning of the division of the British army, Washington was determined to attack it. The American plan called for four columns to converge on the British position at Germantown. The right and left flank columns were composed of 3,000 militia, while John Sullivan's center-right column, Nathanael Greene's center-left column, and William Alexander, Lord Stirling's reserve were made up of American continentals (regulars). Howe spread out his light infantry and the 40th Foot as pickets. In the main camp, Wilhelm von Knyphausen led the British left wing while Howe personally commanded the right wing.

A heavy morning fog caused much confusion. After a sharp fight, Sullivan's right-center column routed the British light infantry opposed to him. Unseen in the fog, about 100 men of the 40th Foot took refuge in the Chew mansion. When the American reserve appeared before the Chew house, Washington made the erroneous decision to launch attacks on the position, all of which failed with serious losses. Penetrating a few hundred yards beyond the Chew mansion, the men of Sullivan's wing became demoralized when they ran low on ammunition and heard cannon fire behind them. As they pulled back, Anthony Wayne's division collided with part of Greene's late-arriving wing in the fog and, after firing on each other in the gloom, both units retreated. Meanwhile, Greene's left-center column pressed back the British right flank. With Sullivan's column out of the fight, units of the British left wing joined the fight against Greene and defeated his column also. The two militia columns succeeded in diverting the attention of the British flanking units, but made no progress before they withdrew.

Despite the defeat, the Americans were encouraged by their initial successes. France, impressed by the American victory at Saratoga and the attack at Germantown, decided to lend more assistance to the rebellion. Having repelled the American attack, Howe turned his attention to clearing the Delaware River of obstacles at Red Bank and Fort Mifflin. After an unsuccessful attempt to draw Washington into battle at White Marsh and Edge Hill, Howe withdrew into Philadelphia while the American army wintered at Valley Forge.