Hero of Stony Point - James Barnes

From Whitehorse Tavern to Germantown

The American forces retired in good order, and that same night encamped at Chester, eleven mules from the field of battle. On the following day they marched sixteen miles to Schuylkill Falls, with the intention of forming a junction with Washington's army and barring the road to Philadelphia. In the operations preceding the occupation of that city by the British there seem to have been a long series of unfortunate circumstances. Letters containing important commands were lost, or captured by the enemy, and Wayne, Greene, and other commanders were left to follow former orders, to the disarrangement of Washington's astutely conceived plans to oppose the advance. But for such unfortunate occurrences, coupled with the information given to the enemy by Tory spies, it is more than probable that the British could, even then, have been held off. This opinion seems to have been shared by contemporary writers, among them Wayne himself, who records in one of his numerous letters of the action near Pawling Mill that, but for several unfortunate causes of confusion, they might have achieved a "victory that in all human probability would have put an end to the American war."

Such explanations of conditions are necessary, in order to explain the apparent dereliction of General Wayne, which led to his trial by court-martial on serious charges specifying neglect of duty, These charges grew out of a most unfortunate affair: the attempted surprise of his camp, known to history as the "Paoli Massacre." Wayne, according to orders from General Washington, had encamped his division at a point on the old Lancaster road, midway between the Paoli and Warren taverns, in order to be in position to attack the British rear guard on the following morning, it being his intention to capture its baggage train. He had advanced with the greatest secrecy, as was necessary in any such undertaking, but missed the golden opportunity to lead a brilliant and, perhaps, successful action through the treachery of some Tory spies, who betrayed the location of his encampment. Consequently, the British rear guard commander determined in his turn upon a surprise attack, which was partially successful, although, as Wayne claims, and his superiors were convinced on his representation, he had been previously informed of the intended attack and posted his guards with his usual care. The enemy came on in such numbers, however, that they were able to "rush" the guards, and were upon the camp before the formation of troops had been completed. Indeed, as one historian remarks, they had "a force so large that two of the British regiments of which it was composed were not engaged in the horrible work in which the rest were so conspicuous, their services not being required." Wayne's report of the affair is as follows:

"About 11 o'clock last evening (September 20, 1777) we were alarmed by a firing from one of our out guards. The division was immediately formed, which was no sooner done than a firing began on our right flank. I thought proper to order the division to file off by the left, except the infantry and two or three regiments nearest to where the attack began, in order to favor our retreat. By this time the enemy and we were not more than ten yards distant. A well-directed fire mutually took place, followed by a charge of bayonet. Numbers fell on each side. We then drew off a little distance, and formed a front to oppose to theirs. They did not think prudent to push matters further. Part of the division are a little scattered, but are collecting fast, We have saved all our artillery, ammunition and stores, except one or two wagons belonging to the commissary's department."

With the curious reluctance, so often noted by contemporary writers, the British troops neglected to follow up the advantage already gained, although, with their superior force, they might have inflicted even further damage upon the American lines. As at Brandywine, and at other engagements still to be recorded, the probabilities are that a determined advance upon the retreating foe would have transformed defeat into a rout, and made future progress far easier. We must not forget, however, that any such pushing on after an advantage meant precisely one thing, "cold steel"—and man-to-man fighting is distinctly repugnant to the modern soldier. It is one of the results following the use of firearms as the principal element in battle. Nothing could better illustrate this contention than the fact that this affair has been always known as a "massacre." Sixty-one Americans were killed, mostly by the bayonet, and the "atrocity" of the thing long oppressed patriotic minds and imaginations. The same popular "horror" was also visited, in part, upon Wayne himself', who was roundly blamed, first, for pitching his camp so near to the enemy, and second, for providing insufficient guards to prevent the disorder following an attack. A court of inquiry found against him on both these charges, and he immediately demanded a court martial, by which he was thoroughly acquitted. His defense was that his camp was at least two miles from that of the enemy, and that it could not have been otherwise located, in obedience to Washington's commands, and in view of the fact that he was expecting to make a junction with the force under General William Smallwood. He was also vindicated on the matter of properly placed guards. The entire affair consisted in the confusion due to loss of letters from Washington, directing changes of plans outlined in previous orders. These letters probably fell into the bands of the enemy; and enabled them to circumvent all movements made by Wayne.

Thus, three times within a week Washington had changed his orders, on account of the changing conditions in the situation. On September 15 Wayne had arrived at the White Horse Tavern on the Lancaster Road, with the intention of carrying out his orders to make a flank movement against the British army as it attempted to ford the river. Here a small skirmish occurred on the following day. On the seventeenth the orders were again changed, so that, as already stated, Wayne should be able to take a position from which he could attack the enemy's rear while the main army under Washington should resist its passage of the fords. Finally, both orders were rescinded, and Wayne was ordered to join Washington at Potts' Grove. Owing, perhaps, in part to the confusion following the non-delivery of these letters of command, the original plans miscarried, and Howe forced his way to Philadelphia. Before attempting to occupy the city, however, the British commander dispatched large detachments of his troops to reduce the American fortifications at Billingsport, Mud Island and Red Bank on the Delaware River, in order to gain free access for the fleet in bringing up supplies. Thus, with an apparent lack of good judgment, he left himself in a weakened condition in his camp within a few miles of the city. Washington, acting on his own opinion, and against the strongly urged judgments of ten out of his thirteen general officers—only Generals Wayne, Smallwood and Scott favored it—determined to attack the British before their detached columns could return to camp, and without waiting for the re-enforcements expected from the north.

In the arrangement of the line of battle the right wing was assigned to the command of General Sullivan, to whose division that of Wayne was also added. The left wing was under the command of General Greene, but, most unfortunately, did not succeed in reaching the field in time to join in the battle. Several other corps failed to make a good showing in the fight, with the result that, as seems to have been his fate on numerous occasions, Wayne's men bore the brunt of nearly the hardest fighting of the day. Indeed, had all the troops been of the same mettle, and ender as good discipline as those under Wayne, it is not improbable that the British army would have been utterly crushed.

The most interesting part of the whole affair, for the present, at least, is the experience of Wayne and his men. Here, again, as in many other instances, he has left ns a clear account of the day's doings in his familiar and graphic style. In a letter to his wife, written two days after the fight, he writes:

"On the 4th instant at the dawn of day we attacked General Howe's army at the upper end of Germantown. The action soon became general. When we advanced on the enemy with charged bayonets, they broke at first without waiting to receive ns, but soon formed again, when a heavy and well-directed fire took place on each side. The enemy again gave way, but, being supported by the grenadiers, returned to the charge. General Sullivan's division and Conway's brigade were at this time engaged to the right or west of Germantown, whilst my division had the whole right wing of the enemy's army to encounter, on the left or east of the town, two-thirds of our army being then too far to the east to afford ns any assistance. However, the unparalleled bravery of the troops surmounted every difficulty, and the enemy retreated in the utmost confusion. Our people, remembering the action of the night of the 20th of September, near the Warren, pushed on with their bayonets, and took ample vengeance for that night's work. Our officers exerted themselves to save many of the poor wretches who were crying for mercy, but to little purpose; the rage and fury of the soldiers were not to be restrained for some time, at least not until great numbers of the enemy fell by our bayonets. The fog, together with the smoke occasioned by our cannon and musketry, made it almost as dark as night. Our people, mistaking one another for the enemy, frequently exchanged several shots before they discovered their error. We had now pushed the enemy near three miles, and were in possession of their whole encampment, when a large body of troops were discovered advancing on our left flank, which being taken for the enemy, we retreated. After retreating for about two miles, we found it was our own people, who were originally designed to attack the right wing of the enemy's army. The fog and this mistake prevented ns from following a victory that in all human probability would have put an end to the American war. General $owe for a long time could not persuade himself that we had ran from victory, but the fog clearing up he ventured to follow us with all his infantry, grenadiers and light horse, with some field pieces. I, at this time, was in the rear, and, finding Mr. Howe determined to push us hard, drew up in order of battle, and waited his approach. When be advanced near we gave him a few cannon shot with some musketry, which caused him to run with the utmost confusion. This ended the action of the day, which continued without intermission from daylight until near twelve o'clock."

Wayne's account is graphically supplemented by another from the pen of General Hunter of the British army. He writes:

"The first that General Howe knew of Washington's marching against us was by his attacking us at daybreak. General Wayne commanded the advance and fully expected to be avenged for the surprise we had given him. When the first shots were fired at our pickets, so much had we all Wayne's affair in remembrance that the battalion were out under arms in a minute . . . Just as the battalion formed, the pickets came in and said the enemy were advancing in force. They had barely joined the battalion when we heard a loud cry, 'Have at the bloodhounds, revenge Wayne's, affair!' and they immediately fired a volley . . . .We charged them twice till the battalion was so reduced by killed and wounded that the bugle was sounded to retreat; indeed, had we not retreated at the time we did we should all have been taken or killed, as two columns of the enemy had nearly got round our flank. But this was the first time we had ever retreated from the Americans, and it was with great difficulty we could get the men to obey our orders.

"The enemy were kept so long in check that two brigades had advanced to the entrance of Beggarstown, when they met our battalion retreating. By this time General Howe had come up, and seeing the battalion retreating, all broken, he got into a passion, and exclaimed, 'For shame, Light Infantry, I never saw you retreat before. Form! Form! It is only a scooting party.' However, he was quickly convinced that it was more than a scouting party as the heads of the enemy's columns soon appeared. One coming through Beggarstown with three pieces of cannon in their front immediately fired with grape at the crowd that was standing with General Howe under a large chestnut tree. I think I never saw people enjoy a discharge of grape before, but we really felt pleased to see the enemy make such an appearance, and to hear the grape rattle about the Commander-in-Chief's ears, after he had accused the battalion of having rut away from a scouting party."