Those who fought in the Battle of Brandywine shared the opinion that they were not defeated outright. In fact, they wanted to engage the British at the earliest opportunity to render what they believed would be a decisive victory in favor of the patriots. Washington was beset by Congress to decisively engage the British and defend Philadelphia. It was also imperative that he kept his army intact and preserved stored military supplies in the Reading Magazine. No matter what the army thought, the general consensus of the population was that the Battle of Brandywine was a defeat for the Americans. The commitment to independence was very fragile and subject to sudden mood and morale shifts, as those who were not firmly committed to one side or the other wavered in their loyalty. Washington focused on the objectives and attempted to outmaneuver and confront Howe.
The militias, particularly of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, began to fall apart immediately after Brandywine, desirous of not being part of the losing side. Militia soldiers who had signed up for 60 days or less left to tend fields rather than risk their lives in what appeared to them to be a lost cause. Although the militias as stand-alone fighting forces were not dependable, they became much more capable when combined with regular continental forces. They were essential to establish the critical mass necessary to evoke a decisive engagement of the British. They were of little use at Brandywine.
Howe moved toward Philadelphia after Brandywine but was thwarted in his effort to cross the Schuylkill River, which was un-bridged with all boats secured on the other side. Howe would have to go up river to find fords that he could cross. In addition, Howe needed to take care of the wounded, which required the use of wagons that carried the army’s military supplies. He chose to stay around Tredyffdrin to repair and regroup. In addition, Howe was having problems securing supplies. He had sent his fleet back to sea and had to forage for food. The population in the area was largely unfriendly and was not cooperative in offering help. This provided Washington with an opportunity to maneuver into a battle formation against the British.
Washington’s first move on September 12, 1777, was to cross the Schuylkill to the Philadelphia side and guard the fords upstream in defense of the city. He deployed along the river to prevent Howe from crossing unchallenged. He camped at Germantown six miles to the north. From there he could challenge Howe’s attempt to cross at any of the fords. Washington was acutely aware his army believed that they had not been defeated at Brandywine, just outmaneuvered. Many complained they had not fired a shot. The willingness of the troops and particularly his officers to re-engage the enemy was not lost on Washington. After reconsideration of his position, he re-crossed the Schuylkill on the west bank on September 14, 1777. He waited near Malvern, about two miles west of Paoli, which then was a popular tavern. Howe and Washington moved forces such that they confronted each other on September 16, 1777 near Warren’s Tavern, twenty-three miles west of Philadelphia on the Lancaster Road. Each was determined to stage a decisive battle. During the set up of battle lines for an attack, Wayne with Maxwell and the new chief of cavalry, Count Casmir Pulaski, provoked skirmishes with Knyphausen’s Hessians, some of whom were nearly captured.
Howe’s main army approached. Washington ordered Wayne to head the attack. Wayne threw out skirmishes that were quickly engaged, as a second large battle seemed imminent. Suddenly a tremendous storm of hurricane origins rolled in providing a downpour that lasted for over 24 hours. The weather advantage was on the side of the British since their cartouche boxes were superior to the American variety, which were hastily put together, causing all the American gunpowder to be wet. The rain penetrated into the muskets used by the Americans, also not well protected from the rain, causing them to not spark. The British, on the other hand, were capable of firing some of their weapons even after the heavy downpour. Also, as fortune would have it, the rear of Washington’s position was not as well drained as Howe’s. The roads for both armies became difficult but in Washington’s rear the roads were soon so muddy that the men sank halfway to their knees in places. The deep ruts made movement of wagons and artillery nearly impossible. Washington, with the smaller army, had concern about retreat if it became necessary. Both sides had suspended operations throughout the storm but Washington was in no position to resume the battle. He abandoned all intentions of a confrontation until he could get dry powder. He had deposited his baggage train at Parker’s Ford and moved his army out of position ending what became known as the Battle of the Clouds.
On September 17, 1777 Washington dispatched Wayne to move behind enemy lines and threaten the British rear. Also ordered to join up with him was Brigadier General William Smallwood, who, prior to Brandywine, had been on the Maryland East Shore assembling a new brigade. Colonel Mordecai Gist with the Baltimore Independent Company was likewise to rendezvous with Wayne. Wayne was put in charge of the entire force. His orders from Washington were to move forward toward the enemy and attack them in the rear with reinforcements from Gist and Smallwood. Generals Maxwell and Potter were ordered to do the same. Washington expressed his desire for Wayne to make his attack formidable but not to waste too much time in delay in meeting that objective. Washington also suggested taking the enemies baggage as a prize.
Wayne, waiting for Smallwood and Gist, camped for three days, September 18 – 20, in a wood near Paoli several miles from the main road, which he regarded as secluded from the British. No one was more familiar with the area than Wayne for this was his childhood playground. He was off the road 2.5 miles from the British and about 4 miles from Waynesbourough.
With the entire Pennsylvania Line well hidden, Wayne personally reconnoitered the enemy position getting within 1/2 mile of Howe’s position. He observed Howe’s troops laundering their clothes and preparing meals. He felt that they could be caught off guard and dealt a severe blow if Washington’s main force attacked from the north, while he, with Smallwood and Gist, attacked from the west and Maxwell, with his light infantry, from the east. He wrote an enthusiastic letter to Washington on September 19, 1777 encouraging him to take his suggested course of action.
Meanwhile the British, knowing that they were close to Wayne’s residence, sent out a military party to capture him, assuming that they would find him home. They were mistaken, but very polite to Polly, Wayne’s wife and left disappointed in their mission.
Wayne never visited his home during the campaigns even though he was nearby, citing that he was too busy to take the time. Wayne knew that he had an opportunity along with Washington to deliver a decisive blow to the British and would not be distracted.
But unknown to him, Washington was moving his army north September 18, 1777, to cross at Parker’s Ford during the night and then south along the banks of the Schuylkill, which was brimming from the recent rainfall, to assume positions on the east side of the Schuylkill in defense of Philadelphia. He divided his army, leaving Wayne behind enemy lines. Howe was provided excellent intelligence and was aware and alarmed that Washington’s forces in effect surrounded him. There were a number of couriers intercepted with communications between Washington and his generals. Also, Howe had been informed that General Wayne commanded the Pennsylvania Line, which was considered the most elite of Washington’s Divisions. Howe therefore would not underestimate Wayne’s ability to fight or his reputation for taking the bold action. Howe also recognized an opportunity to deal a decisive blow to one of Washington’s elite division made more vulnerable as the American armies separated further from each other.
Wayne’s general location and mission had not only been severely compromised by interception of couriers but also by local loyalists. Joseph Galloway, a wealthy loyalist providing intelligence during Howe’s campaign since the landing at head of Elk had learned from informants of Wayne’s approximate position. He thus informed Howe.
Newspapers at the time were passionate in their words, whichever side they were on. A Philadelphia newspaper vilified Galloway with satirical verse in a typical patriotic expression of disgust:
“Galloway has fled and joined the venal Howe
To prove his baseness, see him cringe and bow.
A traitor to his country and its laws,
A friend to tyrants and their cursed cause.
Unhappy wretch! Thy interest must be sold,
For continental, not for polished gold;
To sink the money, thou thyself cried down,
And stabbed thy country, to support the Crown.
Go to and fro, like Lucifer on earth,
And curse the being that first gave thee birth…”
After the War with his substantial wealth confiscated, Galloway was found ranting in Britain against Howe whom he essentially accused of treason for not acting more decisively against the Americans during the Philadelphia campaigns.
One dispatch in particular sent from Washington to Wayne on the 19th of September passed into Howe’s hands revealing Washington’s battle plans to the British high command:
‘By the advance of the general officers, I have determined, that the army, under my immediate command, cross the Schuylkill at Parker’s ford, and endeavor to get down in time to oppose the enemy in front, whilst the corps under your command, in conjunction with gen. Smallwood and col. Gist, act to the greatest advantage in the rear.’
Joseph Hancock, with the entire Pennsylvania line, was behind enemy lines, waiting for the orders to attack the British. Colonel Daniel Brodhead was dining with Wayne over the next few days, discussing tactics. These table conversations between officers would not have been passed on to the troops. However, Brodhead’s demeanor and the instructions would alert and prepare them for offensive battle. Joseph with the other privates in his company must have had interesting discussions as they prepared to attack the most formidable army known at the time. Their experience at Brandywine may have emboldened their resolve, but none of them could have taken their circumstance lightly. As they rested and prepared for battle, General Wayne was impatiently waiting for the much-needed forces of Smallwood and Gist to arrive with their troops September 18, 19, & 20. In the waiting he moved his troops into hiding anticipating that with additional forces, they would gain sufficient strength to attack Howe’s rear in what he believed would be an all out effort to crush the British, not knowing that Washington had moved out of the line of battle Wayne had proposed.