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1777

Both sides battered at Germantown

On this day in 1777, 11,000 Patriots under General George Washington attempt an early morning attack on British General William Howe’s 9,000 British troops at Germantown, Pennsylvania, five miles north of the British-occupied capital city of Philadelphia.

Washington’s Continental forces were poorly trained, poorly fed and poorly clothed. Nonetheless, Washington thought them ready to fight and had planned to send four columns into battle with bits of white paper tucked into their hats to help them identify each other in the darkness of early morning. Washington’s elaborate plan was thrown into disarray, however, when two columns got lost in heavy morning fog. By 10 a.m., the battle was over. Although the Americans were forced into a retreat, both sides suffered heavy losses—152 dead, 521 wounded and 400 captured for the Patriots and 71 dead, 450 wounded and 14 missing for the British–and the battle demonstrated Washington’s strategic abilities.

After Germantown, General Washington led his forces to the nearby hills of what is now Whitemarsh Township, north of Philadelphia, where they engaged in further skirmishes against General Howe’s troops on December 6-8, before continuing on to winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on December 19.

Friedrich, Freiherr von Steuben, arrived at General Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge on February 23, 1778. The Prussian military officer commenced training soldiers in close-order drill, instilling new confidence and discipline in the demoralized Continental Army. On the merit of his efforts at Valley Forge, Washington recommended that von Steuben be named inspector general of the Continental Army; Congress complied. In this new capacity, von Steuben propagated his methods throughout the Patriot forces by circulating his “Blue Book,” entitled “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.”

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