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On Land Washington Shadows Howe’s Moves by Sea

British General Burgoyne was in the North and threatening the colonies. Although Howe was to meet up with Burgoyne and split the colonies, Howe, put out for Sea from Sandy Hook, his destination unknown by Washington. This presented Washington with two fronts as Marshall stated:

“While the British Troops were embarking at New York, the utmost exertions were made by General Washington to strengthen the army of the north, which was retreating before Burgoyne. He not only pressed the Governors of the eastern states to reinforce it with all their militia, and hastened the march of those generals who were designed to act in that department, but made large detachments of choice troops from his own army, thus weakening himself in order to reinforce other generals, whose strength would be more useful.

“On receiving intelligence that the British fleet had sailed, the American army, under his command, commenced its march southward. On the 30th of July, the fleet appeared off the capes of Delaware, and orders were given for assembling all the several detachments in the neighborhood of Philadelphia. Scarcely were these orders given, when they were countermanded. An express brought the information that the fleet had sailed out of Delaware Bay, and was steering eastward. On the 7th of August, it was again seen a few leagues south of the capes of Delaware; after which it disappeared, and was not again seen until late in that month, when it appeared in the Chesapeake.

“The original design had been to proceed up the Delaware; but on entering that bay, its obstructions were found to be so considerable, that this design was abandoned, and the resolution taken to transport the army up the Chesapeake. The fleet sailed up that bay, and proceeded up Elk river as high as it was safely navigable. On the 25th of August, the troops, estimated at eighteen thousand effectives, were landed at the ferry.”

Howe’s long sea route had taken its toll on the men and horses. Three hundred horses were sick and thrown overboard during the journey. The men fought extreme heat exhaustion from the hot summer aboard ship. While in a weakened state, unfortunately, Washington was unable to interdict the British and by August 28, 1777 Howe had regained sufficient strength to began moving out.

Meanwhile, Washington’s officers easily persuaded him to parade his confident army, buoyed by recent victories, through the streets of Philadelphia on the way to meet Howe, according to Rankin:

“Clothes were washed, arms burnished, and to offset the shabbiness of his uniform, each man was ordered to wear in his hat a ‘green sprig, emblem of hope.’ General Orders insisted that all men ‘carry their arms well,’ and that ‘none should leave ranks on the march. Drums and fifes were to play a quick step, ‘but with such moderation that the men may step to it with ease and without dancing along, or totally disregarding the music.’ The Commander-in-Chief already, on the fourth of August, had issued an order planned to spare the respectable citizens of Philadelphia embarrassment: that day he ‘earnestly’ had recommended the officers ‘use every reasonable method in their power to get rid of all such as are not absolutely necessary’ of “the multitude of women in particular, especially those who are pregnant and have children.”

There were a large number of women who stayed with the army to be with their husbands and lovers. They washed clothes and cooked for the men. Some were there to practice the oldest profession known to mankind.

The parade began outside the city at 3:00 a.m. and reached the city at 7:00 a.m. on the August 24, 1777. John Adams was present and reported by letter, as often was his custom, to his wife Abigail, at their home in Braintree Massachusetts.

“The rain ceased, and the army marched through the town between seven & ten o’clock. The wagons went another road. Four regiments of the light horse, Bland’s, Baylor’s, Sheldon’s and Moylan’s. Four grand divisions of the army and the artillery ….marched twelve deep and yet took up above two hours in passing by. General Washington and the other general officers with their aides on horseback. The colonels and other field officers on horseback.

“We have now an army well appointed between us and Mr. Howe, and this army will be immediately joined by ten thousand militia, so that I feel as secure as if I were at Braintree, but not so happy. My happiness is nowhere to be found but there.

“The army … I find to be extremely well armed, pretty well clothed, and tolerably disciplined… There is such a mixture of the sublime and the beautiful, in military discipline that I wonder every officer we have is not charmed with it. Much remains to be done. Our soldiers have not yet quite the air of soldiers. They don’t keep step exactly on time. They don’t hold up their heads quite erect, nor turn out their toes so exactly as they ought. They don’t all of them cock their hats; and such that do, don’t all wear them the same way.

The Continental Army marched up Chestnut, turning to the Common, and then over Middle Ferry to the Heights of Derby according to Ranking. Rankin states:

“The next morning two divisions moved toward Wilmington, and the horse was ordered there. Washington rode ahead and at Wilmington learned that the enemy had begun landing that morning six miles below the Head of Elk. The next day, after breakfast, Washington, accompanied by Green and Lafayette and his aides, personally reconnoitered the country within two miles of Howe’s camp.”

“As the American army gathered at Wilmington, Washington was in the saddle constantly, personally reconnoitering toward White Clay Creek, where his advance parties lay and occasionally skirmished with enemy patrols. Advance American pickets were out as far as Christina Bridge, and on the seventh the whole army moved up to the village of Newport, eight to ten miles from Iron Hill, to which Howe had advanced seven miles since landing.

“At three A.M. on the eighth, the general alarm sounded; tents were struck, and the regiments paraded and kept under arms until nine. A line of battle was then established on the east of Red Clay Creek, and Washington waited all day for an enemy attack he felt sure would come. In the evening, the enemy halted two miles from the American position. Washington scouted them warily and supposed that their intention was to amuse him in front, while turning his right flank and getting between him and Philadelphia. To prevent this, he set his army in motion at two in the morning of the ninth, put Brandywine Creek between his men and Howe’s and took a position on the high grounds behind one of the principal crossings, Chad’s Ford.”

Wayne & the Pennsylvania line were given a position at Chad’s Ford where the main attack was expected to take place. Wayne’s troops were on the right, Greene’s in the middle, Armstrong to the left with Maxwell in front and Stephen’s in reserve. These positions were within a mile of Washington’s headquarters.