October 4, 1777: Battle of Germantown

"The Battle of Germantown" by Xavier della Gatta, 1782

The heroism and gallantry of the second Virginia regiment I cannot help particularly mentioning; they would do honour to any country in the world. It is universally believed they behaved the best of any troops in the field.”

— Virginia Gazette, October 17, 1777

Virginia Gazette, October 17, 1777

Extract of a letter from York town, Pennsylvania,
dated October 8, 1777.

Our loss is pretty well fixed to seven hundred killed, wounded, and missing; that of the enemy not certainly known, but surely very great, as you may judge by the following intelligence, brought this evening by General Green’s aid de camp, and which he says may be relied upon: General Agnew, Colonels Walcot, Abercrombie, and Thomas Byrd, from Virginia, with General De Heister’s son, killed; General Kniphausen wounded in the hand; and between two and three hundred waggons, loaded with wounded, sent to Philadelphia.  That General Howe had sent about two thousand Hessians over Schuylkill (denoting a retreat) and that he had refused to let any of the inhabitants of Philadelphia go to see the field of battle”.

“General Schuyler writes us, the twenty ninth of September, that if superior numbers, health, and spirits, can give success, our army in the Northern department will have it this campaign.

“For my part, I do not despair of success in this quarter also.  Another such battle as the last will totally unfit General Howe for pursuing farther hostilities this campaign, and again possess us of Philadelphia.”

This moment an express arrived, with a letter from Captain William Pierce, dated Skippack camp, 12 o’clock P.M. the day which the above bloodly battle was fought.  It contains sundry particulars, but the printed has only time to relate the following, viz.  Our glorious general, after animating speech to his army, directed them to hold themselves in readiness to march at 6 o’clock, with two days provision, ordered large fires to be made in the camp, and the tents to stand still nine at night, when they were to be struck, and put into the baggage waggons.  The army marched all night, arrived at Chestnut Hill about day-break, and immediately fell upon the enemy’s picket guard, with such fury and firmness, that they were instantly routed, with great slaughter.  The whole army then pushed towards Germantown, but were met by the main body of the British army consisting of about ten thousand men, when a hot and dreadful engagement ensued.  After an incessant fire of cannon and musketry, for upwards of an hour, the enemy gave way in all quarters and our men drove them, with fixed bayonets, for near two miles, when they formed again.  Our men, with steadiness and intrepidity, broke them a second time, and they retreated in great disorder to Germantown, with our whole army in close pursuit of them, till they got about half way the town,

"...when they took up in houses..."Cliveden, the home of Benjamin Chew, was used by British forces during the battle

when they took up in houses, and opened upon our men two or three field pieces with grape shot, which played with such violence that general Sullivan’s division gave way, and we, in turn, were beat back better than two miles.  Both armies, being greatly fatigued, shewed a willingness to discontinue the fight, and ours were ordered to march to Skippack creek, where they are now encamped.  The enemy contented themselves with their last advantage, and retired to their old quarters at Germantown.  They must have had 1000 killed dead on the field, and at least 1500 wounded.  A Captain, and twenty five men, fell into our hands.  Our loss does not exceed three hundred killed, and five hundred wounded.  We brought off two field pieces, and two waggons loaded with baggage.  General Nash is mortally wounded with a cannon ball.  Col. Hendricks is wounded below the left eye, but likely to recover; he behaved with such heroism, that he was the admiration of the field.  Lieut. Col. Parker, of the second Virginia regiment, a brave officer, got wounded in the leg, and it is said the bone is broke.  Col. Matthew Smith, our deputy adjutant general, got his leg broke by a grape shot.  Cornet Baylor, of light horse, had one half of his foot shot away.  Major Jameson had his horse killed under him, but he himself was unhurt.  Capt. Dickinson was slightly wounded in the knee.  Capt. Thomas Edmonds was so badly wounded, that he died in a few hours.  Capt. Eustace, of the first Virginia regiment, was killed dead on the spot.  Two Maryland colonels, of the name of Stone, were wounded, and many other officers, that I cannot recollect at present.  The heroism and gallantry of the second Virginia regiment I cannot help particularly mentioning; they would do honour to any country in the world.  It is universally believed they  behaved the best of any troops in the field.  Indeed the whole continental army is composed of a set of brave men; and if the different states would exert themselves to raise their different quotas, general WASHINGTON would put an end to the contest immediately.  The artillery I cannot overlook; it was served, in every instance, to admiration.  Col. Josiah Parker behaved like a hero. Brigade Major Scott does honour to his country, and in the action shewed himself to be one of the first military characters in our army.  Capt. Moss, of the first Virginia regiment, I must not forget; he is truly a brave man.  The Carolina troops fought like heroes. —  The Delaware Frigate fell into the enemy’s hands, it is said by the treachery of the crew; but the river is still ours, and I am convinced Philadelphia will be again in a few weeks.

Dr. James Wallace to Michael Wallace

Head Quarters Army, Oct. 12, 1777

Dear Sir: I received yours two days after the action at German Town whilst I was in the midst of fatigue and hurry with my sick wounded, among whome was our friend Col. Blackburn, who was wounded through the thigh, has been under my care ill within these few days I left him at Baltimore in care of Dr. Brown. I make no doubt but by this time you have a very ostentatious account of the drubbing we had at German Town. We most certainly were drubbed, let the account which you have received be what they will. I wish it was in my power to give you a just account of the action. I believe few know. But this much is evident that we attacked the enemy early in the morning before it was quite light, and drove them some distance, when all of a sudden we retreated in a very confused state and left many of our wounded on the field. The 9th Virg’a Reg. was all taken to a man; the manner in which they were taken does them much honour, if it be true. It is said they fought their way into the commons of Philadelphia and on the army’s retreating they were left without any support, and were surrounded and all taken.

The whole of this affair appears a mystery to me. Many of the officers have told me that when they were ordered to retreat they were then pursuing the enemy, who were flying before them; they were astonished to the last degree when they retreated from the highest expectations of success. Our army is now [in] exceedingly good spirits. We increase every day with the militia from Virginia, we have rec’d a reinforcement of about 1500 Continental troops from New England.

We lost only one officer out of our Regiment, which was Mr. Die of Capt. Willises company. Our Lieutenant Col. Parker was wounded in the leg. Since the action we have lost a fine officer from our Reg’t, viz., Col. Spotswood, who has resigned and gone home. I wrote you a day or two before the engagement at Brandy Wine which I imagine you have not rec’d. Many of my intimate acquaintances were killed; the third Virg’a Reg’t was cut to pieces.

Narrative of My Life; For My Family, Francis T. Brooke

The General was neglectful of his affairs, and was better fitted for the army than for the pursuits of civil life.  He commanded the second regiment, at the battle of Brandywine; and, it was said by a British writer, one Smith, that it was the only regiment that left the field of battle in good order.  He was again in the battle of Germantown, where his brother, Capt. Spotswood, being badly wounded, was thought to be dead; whereupon he sent his resignation to Gen. Washington, having made a contract with his brother, when they entered the army, that if either should be killed, the survivor should return home to take care of the two families.  When it was known that Capt. Spotswood was still alive, a prisoner in Philadelphia, he wished to return to his command in the army; but General Washington replied to his letter to this effect, that he could not be reinstated in his former command, because many officers had been promoted after his resignation…General Spotswood spent a great deal of his fortune in the army; and representing a claim for his land, before a committee of the Senate of Virginia, I heard General Meade, who was a member of that committee say, that he knew the fact, that while the army of the North was naked of clothing, General Spotswood had clothed his whole regiment out of his own pocket, in Philadelphia.

Recommended Reading: Battle History of the 2d Virginia Regiment

Battle of Great Bridge

Philadelphia Campaign

Paulus Hook


Guilford Courthouse (Hawes’ 2d Virginia Regiment of 1781)