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The Battle of the Clouds

Spring 2016 has been wet. Already, May is the 12th wettest on record (since 1880), with Virginians getting 6.5 inches of rain in the first 19 days.  This has often left the Crown Forces soggy on the field, and in a rare case, much of His Majesty's Forces dissolved under the onslaught of day long downpours at this year's Mount Vernon event.

Yet, in the Philadelphia campaign of 1777, the Crown Forces faced a similar - or even more extreme - weather during the little-known "Battle of the Clouds".  For the following overview, we are deeply indebted to the 2013 research carried out by Chester County, PA - in particular Robert Selig, Thomas J. McGuire, and Wade Catts.  For anyone who cares to learn more about the "non-battle", please visit Western Heritage Mapping for a wealth of knowledge on the event and beautifully recreated animated maps.

Following the British victory at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Crown Forces remained on the field for the next five days.  The Guards had been part of Cornwallis' flanking column during the battle, but had suffered relatively light casualties: one rank and file killed, five wounded, and one missing.

Washington's Army, meanwhile, retreated to camp near Germantown.  Shortly thereafter, he re-crossed the Schuylkill River and on September 15th the Continental Army (11,000 strong at that point) marched into the Great Valley of Chester County.  General Sir William Howe, having learned of this movement, directed his army of 15,000 to march north on September 16th and meet Washington.  Crown Forces were dived into two columns: Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis would depart at midnight and march up the eastern road while Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen's column would head north along the western route beginning at daybreak.

Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen of Hesse-Kassel, commander of the column in which the Brigade of Guards marched northward from Brandywine.

Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen of Hesse-Kassel, commander of the column in which the Brigade of Guards marched northward from Brandywine.

The line of march for Knyphausen's division, as directed by Howe on the evening of the 15th, was for "the troops to be in readiness to march by the Right, in half Companies, to-morrow morning at 5 o'clock" according to the following order:

  1. Yager Infantry with an Officer and 12 Mounted.
  2. Mounted Yager.
  3. Hessian Grenadiers.
  4. Regiment Du Corps.
  5. Brigade of Guards.
  6. 4th Brigade (33rd, 37th, 46th, and 64th Regiments of Foot) under General James Agnew and 3rd Brigade (15th, 17th, 42nd, and 44th Regiments of Foot) under General Charles Grey

One Squadron of Queen's Light Dragoons was positioned at the head of 4th Brigade, and one at the head of the 3rd.  In addition, the Artillery was to march out in three brigades in front of the Guards, 4th., and 3rd., Brigades British, respectively.  The baggage was to follow their respective brigades, while the wagons of the Commander in Chief, staff, hospital, and paymaster would follow to the rear of the Guards.

The Brigade of Guards advances northward in Knyphausen's column (bottom left).  Map courtesy of Western Heritage Mapping.

The Brigade of Guards advances northward in Knyphausen's column (bottom left).  Map courtesy of Western Heritage Mapping.

Midmorning, an American scouting party encountered Knyphausen's column near Turk's Head Tavern in modern-day West Chester.  As Captain John Andre, aid to General Charles Grey in the 3rd Brigade wrote in his journal:

The Army marched from Brandywine to Goshen...some shots were fired on the Column at the Turk's Head five miles from Brandywine, where a soldier of the 33rd Regiment was killed and another wounded, an Officer was likewise slightly wounded.

It was at this point that Knyphausen's column continued its march northeastward to rendezvous with Cornwallis - while the Guards (under the command of Brigadier General Edward Mathew) were detached and ordered to pursue the scouting party up Pottstown Pike (modern Route 100).

The Brigade detaches and pursues the rebel skirmishers up Pottstown Pike (modern Route 100) toward Dunwoody Farm.  Map courtesy of Western Heritage Mapping.

The Brigade detaches and pursues the rebel skirmishers up Pottstown Pike (modern Route 100) toward Dunwoody Farm.  Map courtesy of Western Heritage Mapping.

Skirmishes between the advancing Crown Forces and American advance parties occurred in both the Cornwallis columns (near the Thomas Lewis House) and the Jaegers commanded by Colonel Carl von Donop (near Boot Tavern).  Donop found himself surrounded but was able to break through back to the British lines as rain began fall more steadily.

The Brigade continues to pursue as a larger skirmish occurs to the East at Boot Tavern.  Map courtesy of Western Heritage Mapping.

The Brigade continues to pursue as a larger skirmish occurs to the East at Boot Tavern.  Map courtesy of Western Heritage Mapping.

It was at this point that Washington decided not to complete his order of battle - but rather due to the inclement weather (both a missed opportunity for battle but a real one to withdraw) to use the opportunity of the soaking storm to withdraw.  The storm itself was no ordinary shower - it was nor'easter that quickly flooded the muddy roadways, rendering them impassable.  As Hessian Jaeger Captain Johann Ewald recalled, it was an "extraordinary thunderstorm...combined with the heaviest downpour in this world."

More importantly, it soaked countless cartridges.  For the Jaegers who engaged Potter's Militia Brigade behind Boot Tavern, they found themselves literally awash with misfires.  Washington would later write in a letter of the deficient cartridge boxes used by the Continental Army at the time:

With respect to Cartouch Boxes, without which is impossible to act,...each Box should have a small inner flap for the greater security of the Cartridges against rain and moist weather.  The Flaps, in general, are too small, and do not project sufficiently over the ends or sides of the Boxes...For we know from unhappy experience in the severe rain, on the 16th [of September] the few Boxes we had of this construction preserved the ammunition without injury, whilst it was almost wholly destroyed in those of the Common form, with a single flap. (Letter to Congress, 13 October 1777)

Continental forces withdraw under heavy rain while Crown Forces camp in place from September 16-18.  Map courtesy of Western Heritage Mapping.

Continental forces withdraw under heavy rain while Crown Forces camp in place from September 16-18.  Map courtesy of Western Heritage Mapping.

By 5 o'clock that night, Howe called off the British attack and Washington headed northward.  This left the Crown Forces to camp where they halted.  Perhaps most interesting, the Guards position on the night of September 16 is among the most clearly identified.  Unfortunately, the circumstances of this certainty are a regrettable.  A 1782 depredation claim from James Dunwoody lists the items taken by General Matthew for the Brigade, with a sum total value of over 361 pounds sterling:

  • To 10 Bushels of Barley
  • 135 d. of Oats...
  • 100 d. of Indian Corn
  • 25 d. of Buckwheat
  • 1 1/2 Bushel Sowing of Flax...
  • Damage done to Sown Wheat & Rye by Encamping on it
  • 5 Turns of Good Hay
  • 5/8 of an Acre of Potatoes...
  • a Quantity of Apples...
  • 1 pair of velvet Breeches...
  • 2 Fine Shorts worth
  • 3 d....
  • Silver Stook Buckle & Stock
  • 1 Mans Saddle
  • To 1 Mare 4 Years old...
  • 1 Horse 6 Years old...
  • 15 Sheep...
  • 1 Large Sow Worth...
  • 8 Shoats or Pigs...
  • 8500 Rails & Fencing...
  • Timber Cut & Burned
  • Destruction on Buildings
  • Butter Cheese & Kitchen Furniture
  • A Quantity of apples...
  • 1 Beaver Hatt & Surlowl Coat
  • 1 Coat Jacket & Breeches...
  • 6 Fine Shorts Worth
  • 5 Flax d.

Of course, these items may not have offered much comfort, as the Guards and the rest of the Crown Forces suffered through two days of of torrential rains.  Worse yet, they had left their tents behind before advancing into intended battle. The upside, of course, was that the road to Philadelphia was open.  The British entered the capital ten days later on September 26, 1777.

References

Battle of the Clouds Technical Report (2013), County of Chester, Pennsylvania, ABPP Grant Number GA-2255-12-005

McGuire, Thomas J. (2000), Battle of Paoli (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books)

Selig, Robert, Thomas J. McGuire, and Wade Catts (2013), "Detailed Historical Research in Support of the Battle of the Clouds Project", American Battlefield Protection Program Grant GA-225-12-005 (West Chester: John Milner Associates, Inc.)

Western Heritage Mapping, Appendix B: Battle Maps

Western Heritage Mapping, Appendix D: Depredations Report

Wikipedia, Battle of the Clouds

 

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Registration Open for Battle of Meadow Mills

4th Company will be hosting a regional event this June 4-5, 2016 in Middletown, VA - The Battle of Meadow Mills.  This promises to be a beautiful weekend in the Shenandoah Valley, as we bring some lesser known history (well, compared to the Civil War) to Western Virginia.  

While no particular battle of the American War of Independence was fought within the Valley, there were deep sentiments on both sides. After Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, British prisoners were marched up the Valley, with brief stays in what are now Front Royal and Winchester before proceeding to prison camps in Pennsylvania. Many among the Crown troops were Germans who remained in Winchester after building many of the stone buildings that still stand in the historic downtown.

Please register your unit for what promises to be a highlight of the calendar year.

Information on the event is available on the official website. The schedule is as follows:

Saturday – June 4

10:00 - Gates open to the public

11:00 - Opening skirmish, an initial probe by British 

12:30 - School for soldiers (conducted by 7th VA)

1:30 - 1st Battle of Meadow Mills

3:00 - Artillery demonstration

4:00 - Battle continues-skirmish

4:30 - Cavalry demonstration 

5:30 - Gates close to the public

Sunday-June 5

10:00 - Gates open to the public

10:30 - Cavalry demonstration

11:00 - Artillery demonstration

12:30 - School for soldiers (conducted by 7th VA)

1:30 - Battle- “Clearing the Valley"

2:30 - Return to Camps

3:00 - Gates close to the public.

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The Battle of Mount Vernon

On April 30th, the Crown Forces arrived at the estate of General George Washington and soon brought his Continental and allied forces to battle as the clouds gathered on an ominous spring day.  The Guards comprised the Third Platoon of the First Battalion, led by Colonel Eric Schnitzer of the 62nd Regiment of Foot.  Others joined under the Colonel's command included:

First Battalion assembles to the southeast of Washington's Lower Garden.

First Battalion assembles to the southeast of Washington's Lower Garden.

The Coldstream, veterans of many prior engagements, show no concern for the enemy rabble on the far side of the estate.

The Coldstream, veterans of many prior engagements, show no concern for the enemy rabble on the far side of the estate.

The battalion first engaged Rebel skirmishers along the fence line of the Lower Garden.  Advancing step by step with several guns of the Royal Artillery, the enemy was beaten back volley by volley.  Yet, we were not without our own casualties, as several of the honoured dead fell among Washington's fruit trees.

After pushing through the Lower Garden, First Battalion advances beyond the Royal Artillery guns to engage the enemy on open ground.

After pushing through the Lower Garden, First Battalion advances beyond the Royal Artillery guns to engage the enemy on open ground.

Emerging from the garden and onto flat ground, First Battalion linked up with Second Battalion to squeeze the remaining Rebel forces.  With the enemy surrounded and pressed on two sides, Colonel Schnitzer ordered the First Battalion to fix bayonets and drive them from the field.  The Continentals shortly withdrew into the woodline, giving the day's victory to the Crown Forces.

4th Company retired to camp for a delicious "victory meal", hoping the weather would hold off for the evening.

4th Company retired to camp for a delicious "victory meal", hoping the weather would hold off for the evening.

As night fell, Serjeant Theis ordered a small raiding party depart to obtain some of Washington's finest ale (generously provided by Mount Vernon staff). A good time was had by all, as said party returned to camp (careful to offer the parole when challenged by the pickets) with quite the cast of characters: a Continental prisoner, a Hessian ally, but most shockingly - Private Sean Wallis, formerly of the 4th Company.  Having deserted the British Army nearly ten years ago, Private Wallis had turned privateer and joined up with the North Carolina militia to fight for the Rebel Army! Luckily, all was soon forgiven as the Company discovered the Captain's secret stash of rum - to be joined by several troublemakers of the 42nd Highlanders.

Sadly by the morning, as many of us were nursing the effects of the night's ribaldry, the weather turned for the worse.  Rather than risk destruction of valuable powder in what surely would rival the Battle of the Clouds of several years prior, much of the Crown Forces (including the 4th Company) chose to cede the grounds to the Rebel Army and beat a tactical retreat....to regroup and fight another day...

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