Hero of Stony Point - James Barnes

The Campaign of '77

The day of Anthony Wayne's deliverance came at last. On April 12, 1777, he was directed by Washington to report for duty with the main body of the American army, then located at Morristown, New Jersey. He was succeeded in the command of Ticonderoga by General Arthur St. Clair, and on his arrival at Washington's camp was assigned to the command of a division of eight regiments of the newly organized Pennsylvania Line. It consisted of about 1,700 men, many of whom had been members of the original troops from Pennsylvania, and had reenlisted. He had, therefore, as nearly as possible, the realization of his lone expressed desire to command his Pennsylvania veterans in real warfare. Washington's total command at this time consisted of only five divisions, or forty-three regiments, representing a total of about 7,300 men. So Wayne was given command of about one-fourth of the effective force in men, a distinct tribute to his reputation as a capable commander.

As a matter of fact, the assignment of Wayne to this command, composed in part of seasoned troops, was no accident, nor yet even a compliment to his character and abilities. He was deliberately chosen as the best available officer to handle effective forces in an army subjected to unusual and trying conditions. A large part of Washington's command at this time was composed of fresh recruits, whose training _necessarily occupied much of the time and attention of his officers. Until these men, who had been sent from several states south of the Hudson, to take the places of those whose times of enlistment had expired, it was manifestly impossible to give battle to the enemy in open field. Washington retired, therefore, to the high lands around Morristown, carefully entrenching and fortifying his positions, and maintained a "Fabian policy" of awaiting the enemy's movements until his raw recruits had been "whipped into shape." By his masterly movements in the battles of Trenton and Princeton he had compelled the enemy to retreat, and now he held the position of advantage, threatening to cut off Howe's forces in any attempt to advance on Philadelphia; also serving to protect the entrance to the country west of the Hudson River, including the way to West Point, Albany and the hill country to the south. Howe was thus subjected to the constant danger of a flank attack in any movement be might have attempted, either to attack Philadelphia, or to form a junction with General Burgoyne.

Although Washington was in a state of constant anxiety lest his position should be assaulted by a large and well-trained force of the enemy, being afraid that the comparatively unprepared condition of his own troops should be known to them, it is interesting to learn that Howe and his men were by no means as confident, nor as well informed, as might have been suspected. A small detachment under General James Grant had, to be sure, been advanced as far as Brunswick, with the apparent object in view of attempting to cut off the expected advance of General Sullivan, then at Princeton. But, instead of making any demonstration against the Americans, he carefully fortified his camp, and waited. As one historian has remarked, General Wayne seems to have "entertained a most sovereign contempt for the enemy," commenting on the fact that "they dared not face us without the cover of an entrenchment." In a letter to Sharp Delany in June, 1777, he writes

"The enemy are all at work in fortifying their camp. We have fairly turned the tables on them, for whilst we are usefully employed in maneuvering they are at hard labor. Our people are daily gaining health, spirits and discipline—the spade and the pickaxe are thrown aside for the British rebels to take up. They, notwithstanding, affect to hold us cheap, and threaten to beat up our quarters, if we don't beat up theirs first, which is in contemplation; but of this in time."

In the repulse of the British detachment at Brunswick and its retreat to Amboy, General Wayne played a conspicuous part. Washington had determined to dislodge them, and dispatched the Pennsylvania troops under Wayne to attack them. The result was so successful that the British withdrew hurriedly from their fortified camp "with circumstances of shame and disgrace," as Wayne expresses it. An amusing account of this affair is found in one of Wayne's letters. He writes:

"We offered General Grant battle six times the other day. He as often formed, but always on our approach his people broke and ran, after firing a few volleys, which we never returned, being determined to let them feel the force of our fire, and to give them the bayonet under cover of the smoke. This Howe, who was to march through America at the head of 5,000 men, had his coat much dirtied, his horse's head taken off, and himself badly bruised for having the presumption at the bead of 700 British troops to face 500 Pennsylvanians."

The "deadlock" could not endure much longer, however. So able a general as Howe most inevitably find some means of circumventing the plans of his opponent and gaining his ends, without endangering his own safety in a flank attack, such as he must have suspected Washington was planning to deliver to a force advancing in any direction, Accordingly, Howe solved the difficulty by determining to transport by sea a force sufficient to attack Philadelphia, and toward the end of July, 1777, withdrew his troops from New Jersey, and embarked them at Staten Island. About the same time that the news of this movement was received at the American camp, the unbelievable disaster of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga was also communicated to them. This fort, so carefully fortified by Wayne, at the expense of time, labor and human lives—for many men contracted disease in the prosecution of the work—had one absurdly weak point. The fortifications were commanded by the heights of Mount Defiance to the rear, a fact pointed out by both Wayne and Trumbull some months before, but without success in persuading the authorities to provide for the occupation of this position. The British, however, were not slow to seize the advantage so invitingly afforded them, and when their guns and men were perceived there, General St. Clair immediately capitulated, without firing a shot, or attempting any resistance. They were well prepared for a long siege, also to repel assaults on their works, but not to suffer from the galling fire of a battery mounted on the heights to their rear.

Astounding as the new complication of affairs must have seemed, Washington was equal to the emergency. He was convinced that he had nothing to fear from the forces of Burgoyne in the north. Consequently his attention was devoted to providing to prevent the capture of Philadelphia. With this object in view, he issued these orders to General Wayne:

"The fleet having gone out of the Hook, and as Delaware appears to be its most probable destination, I desire that you will leave your brigade under the next in command, and proceed to Chester County, in Pennsylvania, where your presence will be necessary to arrange the militia who are to rendezvous there."

In obedience to this order, Wayne at once returned to his home county, and plunged into the midst of the heavy work of organizing the militia. So quickly was the final work accomplished that on August 23, about one month after Howe's departure from New York, the forces were sent to the front, marching through Philadelphia on the way to Wilmington. Even though so near to his home at this time, Wayne could not even visit his family, and saw them but once, apparently, during the entire period. This may be judged from a letter written to his wife on August 26:

"I am peremptorily forbid by His Excellency to leave the army. My case is hard. I am obliged to do the work of three general officers. But if it was not the case, as a general officer, I could not obtain a leave of absence. I must, therefore, in the most pressing manner, request you to meet me tomorrow evening at Naaman's Creek. Pray bring Mr. Robinson, with my little son and daughter."

About three days after the writing of this letter to his wife, Wayne had arrived with his division, which had followed him from Washington's camp, at the American position near Wilmington. There preparations were immediately begun to meet the enemy's forces, which were reported advancing from the landing place on Chesapeake Bay. The eastern shore of the Brandywine River was selected as the most advantageous position to meet the expected attack, or, at least, to prevent the British forces from crossing the river, as was expected, at a place known as Chad's Ford. Wayne evidently examined the ground thoroughly, and made a strong recommendation to Washington, in a letter dated September 2, that a strong detachment of the American army be detailed to make a flank attack on the British as they were attempting to advance. This opinion he fortified by copious references to the strategies of Caesar and other great commanders of the past, who by sudden flank movements had succeeded in routing and demoralizing an already all-but victorious enemy. The plan did not seem to have appealed to Washington's judgment, since he directed the plan of battle on an entirely different theory. The American forces drew up near Chad's Ford, and attempted to prevent the enemy from reaching it, but, in spite of exceptional bravery and a most determined defense, were finally compelled to retreat.

In this fight, as was quite to his liking, undoubtedly, Wayne bore the brunt of the severest fighting, his force being directly fronted by the seven thousand Hessians under Baron Wilhelm von Kuypenhausen, who vainly attempted until sunset to pass by and gain the ford. Then, however, he was compelled to retire, even though in good order, because of the fact that his supports had been driven from the field, when the two divisions under Generals Sullivan and Greene, forming the right wing of the American line, had been turned back by the fierceness of Cornwallis' assaults. Wayne was then compelled to retire, Kuypenhausen being in front and Cornwallis in the rear.

Undoubtedly, had it not been for the tenacity and courage of the British regulars, the outcome would bare been different, perhaps even a complete American victory. Despite the fear and hatred of them felt by their contemporary enemies, these "Hessians" of Kuypenhausen's were a poor lot of people. They were not the trained German soldiers of the present clay, but miserable creatures, recruited, for the most part, from workhouses and by press gangs, according to the custom of the Eighteenth Century in all European countries. They were frequently compelled to fight for the cause in which they had no earthly interest, by threats and compulsion, and large numbers of them seized any available opportunities to desert. Wayne's men deserved high credit, undoubtedly, for successfully withstanding for so long a time the fierce assaults of an overwhelmingly superior force, but, apart from the fact that, in those days, at least, it would have taken a long time to kill and disable a force of seven thousand men, or even to drive them off, they might easily have withstood them indefinitely. From the standpoint of our knowledge of operations in recent wars, with the terrible engines of destruction now in use, it seems difficult, indeed, to understand the conditions of military fighting at the period of the Revolution. Usually, in musketry fighting, at least, the two opposing forces would line up opposite one another and continue firing until an opportunity appeared to adopt other tactics. That such affrays were not more bloody than they were can be ascribed only to the inefficiency at long range of the muskets of the period, combined with general poor marksmanship. Thus, as records show, one regiment engaged at Brandywine—the Thirteenth Pennsylvania, commanded by Colonel Walter Stewart—lost but sixteen men in this battle and in the later affray at Germantown. The nature of the fighting done by this corps may be judged from the following account left by one of its lieutenants, James MacMichael:

"We attacked the enemy at 5:30 p. m., and we were first obliged to retreat a few yards, and formed in an open field, when we fought without giving way on either side until dark. Our ammunition almost expended, firing ceased on both sides, when we received orders to proceed to Chester. This day for a severe and excessive engagement exceeded all I ever saw. Our regiment fought at one stand about an hour under an incessant fire, and yet the loss was less than at Long Island, neither were we so near to each other as at Princeton, our common distance being fifty yards."

Undoubtedly, the greatest danger to such a, force would have been its envelopment by the enemy, with close-quarters fighting, in which bayonets would be used and the sheer physical force of a massed weight of men would have been the greatest factor on either side. It was to avoid this very disaster—the speedy crushing out of its life by the superior numbers of the enemy on both sides—that the right wing retired before Cornwallis, and later, also, the center, under Wayne himself, before the hordes of Kuypenhausen. Wayne's retreat did cover the rear of Sullivan and Greene, discouraging any attempt to follow by the British regulars. Thus the American forces were able to retire in good order, even retrieving several pieces of artillery which had been deserted on the field. A spirited account of the rescue of the guns is left for us by one of the American officers (Colonel William Chambers), who writes:

Anthony Wayne


"The general sent orders for our artillery to retreat, and ordered me to cover it with a part of my regiment. It was done, but, to my surprise, the artillerymen had run and left the howitzer behind. The two pieces went up the road protected by about sixty of my men, who had very warm work, but brought them safe. I then ordered another party to fly to the howitzer and bring it off. Captain Buchanan, Lieutenant Simpson, and Lieutenant Douglass went immediately to the gun, and the men following their example, I covered them with the few I had remaining [Wayne aimed and fired one of the field pieces himself]; but before this could be clone the main body of the foe came within thirty yards and kept up the most terrible fire ever heard in America, though with very little loss on our side. I brought all the brigade artillery safely off, and I hope to see them again fired at the scoundrels. Yet we retreated to the next height in good order in the midst of a very heavy fire of cannon and small-arms. Not thirty yards distant we formed to receive them, but they did not choose to follow."