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Wayne’s Affair

Joseph Hancock happened to find himself at this point far from the frontier fighting Indians, the reason for which he joined the army, and now a veteran of many big and small confrontations with the British. His reputation was that of elite American soldier led by the audacious General Wayne. However, Wayne was plagued by a need for vindication of the events at Paoli even though Washington had displayed confidence in Wayne’s ability as demonstrated by the prominent assignment given him for the battle of Germantown. Joseph would have been a weatherbeaten, hardened soldier watching from the sidelines, but he was involved in one of the biggest controversies of the war. Wayne would insist Washington grant a military inquiry of his conduct at Paoli.

Joseph and the army rested at Pennibackers Mill until October 9, 1777 when Washington moved, making camp at Skippack Creek. Washington lost a general officer, Brigadier General Francis Nash of North Carolina, who was critically wounded by a cannon ball at Germantown. He was buried with full military honors on the 10th of October. A deserter and enemy collaborator was convicted and hanged until sunset on the same day. Washington had his priorities.

On the 11th, Wayne’s request was granted. The court convened on October 13 and 14, 1777. A total of 16 Pennsylvania Line officers testified at the inquiry. Of the officers Humpton, Hay, Ross, Huffnagle made censuring statements. The actual decision of the court of inquiry has never been found but it was obvious that Wayne was not satisfied with the result. He wrote several letters to Washington explaining himself and ultimately requested a formal court martial. Washington had lost five Generals for various reasons and could ill afford to lose another, particularly one so able. Nonetheless a full court martial convened with five generals, five colonels, and three lieutenant colonels on the court with General John Sullivan as president. The court was held October 25, 26, 27, and 30, 1777 in weather that was appropriate to the season. Cold temperatures, wind, and rain provided the ambiance for the occasion. Again, documents concerning the details of the court martial are not available, but it is known that Wayne went over his actions in detail. The outcome of the court martial was unambiguous. General Wayne was not guilty of the charge exhibited against him. Thus on November 1, 1777 the military record closed on “Wayne’s Affair.” What Joseph thought about General Wayne will never be known however the commander of his regiment, Colonel Brodhead, as quoted by McGuire, said the following in a letter to major general Benjamin Lincoln:

‘I have long wished to write you… Yet through the Alternate want of Pen, ink, Paper & Convenience, I confess this is the first Letter I wrote you … Since you left us your Division has suffered greatly and that chiefly by the conduct of Gl. – W. Most of the officers are unhappy under his Command and as to my own part I have had very little satisfaction since the Command devolved on him.’

This would not be the last time Colonel Brodhead would be critical of superior officers. However, the private feelings of the officers had to be put aside. They were highly professional honorable men and much larger problems of maintaining the war effort required their attention. Yet the question is to what affect these attitudes were imparted to the rank and file. Were they able to detect the rancor among the officers? Did it affect their morale? Did they have a belief in the cause? Their true commitment was demonstrated by their loyalty to stay together, preserve the army and endure, the winter of 1777 – 1778.