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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.


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




The Journal of Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe

John Graves Simcoe, famous to modern audiences as the "moustache-twirling" villain of AMC's Turn, is a particularly fascinating character of the American Revolution - thanks in part to the writings he left behind.  Simcoe entered the British Army in 1770 as an ensign in the 35th Regiment of Foot, and was later dispatched to the Siege of Boston in 1775.  It was here that he purchased a captaincy in the grenadier company of the 40th Regiment of Foot, where he saw action in the New York and New Jersey campaign and the Philadelphia Campaign.

 Simcoe as an ensign in the 35th Regiment of Foot, painted in 1770 by William Pars.

Simcoe as an ensign in the 35th Regiment of Foot, painted in 1770 by William Pars.

He was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine (where he apparently ordered his men not to fire upon three fleeing rebels, one of which was George Washington).  In 1777, he was offered the command of the Queens Rangers, a well-trained light infantry unit that saw extensive action during the Philadelphia campaign and the Battle of Monmouth.

 Queens Rangers Light Infantry and Hussar, as they appeared in the 1780s.

Queens Rangers Light Infantry and Hussar, as they appeared in the 1780s.

Simcoe, like Major Ferguson and LtCol Tarleton, was part of a new guard of young and ambitious military officers who sought an alternative means to rise through the British military establishment.  They came from middle/upper-middle class backgrounds, and were able to purchase the first and maybe second commissions as company grade officers.  But they realized that the traditional means to advance was slow, financially intensive and laced with nepotism.  So they sought provincial commands as a way to break out of the establishment, gain near-regimental command, be left to their own devices, and seek professional recognition in the process.

Guardsmen and other interested parties will find "Simcoe's Military Journal: A History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps Called the Queen's Rangers Commanded by Lieut. Col J. G. Simcoe during the War of the American Revolution", published in 1844, particularly enlightening.

Once you get past the complicated English prose common to the period and get used to the vernacular, it offers phenomenal insight into the mind, command philosophy and military tactics of a professional and progressive British officer.  Of note to the 4th Company, Simcoe worked hand in glove with the Guard’s Light Company during the winter of 1777-8 while outside of Philadelphia, and some reference to the Guards and their actions is given.  One example includes details of a particular action:

The General marched all night, and on approaching the enemy's outpost, he formed his column into three divisions; the advanced guard of the centre consisted of the Hessian Yagers, who marched with their cannon up the road that led through the wood, in which the enemy's light troops were posted; the light infantry of the guards advanced upon the right; and the Queen's Rangers on the left; the enemy were outflanked on each wing, and were turned in attempting to escape by the unparalleled swiftness of the light infantry of the guards, and driven across the fire of the Yagers, and the Queen's Rangers. (p. 31)

Ultimately, Simcoe would go on to become the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791 until 1796, and would be play an integral role in introducing institutions like courts of law, trial by jury, English common law, freehold land tenure, and the abolition of slavery.  A far cry from the murderous psychopath modern America now knows him as....but hey, we all need a good villain, right?

Additional Reading:

"Turn to a Historian", an excellent blog by Rachel Smith

Wikipedia, as always...



On English Accents

How many times have we as British reenactors been asked "where's your British accent"?  Paired with our habit for 20th century anachronistic phrasings, the lack of an obvious accent surely takes tourists "out of the moment" of living history. Orders shouted within British units, using our distinct American accents, surely can't be historically correct….

or could they?….

To explore the issue a little deeper, let's first consider what we Americans consider to be the proper British accent. It's actually called "Received Pronunciation" (RP), with received meaning in this case, "accepted". It can also be referred to as "BBC English" for its standard use in the mid 20th century broadcasting, or the "Queen's English" (even though this is technically a reference to dialect and grammar and not pronunciation).

The truth is that only about 2-3% of modern British people speak RP. So aside from our standard mustache-twirling villains of shows like Turn, it's very rare outside of refined circles. 

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an accent expert, and won't pretend to guess if the British officers in Turn are speaking with a pure RP accent or with a mixed accent that incorporates their own local backgrounds. But it's certainly easy to tell the difference between Turn's RP and an American accent. One key aspect, the pronunciation of the "r". Rhotic accents (ex: modern American) pronounce it, and non-rhotic (ex: most modern English, especially from the south of England) do not.

Here's the problem, though. Most scholars believe that the standard English accent of the 18th century (if a "standard" accent for the language existed at the time) was rhotic. This means that 18th century English may have had more in common with the modern American standard accent than with the modern English accent!

So what did English used to sound like? Let's take a little trip back in time - a bit further back than the Brigade of Guards - all the way back to early 17th century. The following clip from Open University is a great example of what experts think a rhotic English accent of roughly four hundred years ago would have sounded like.

So it's fairly obvious that when speaking English in 17th century London, the "r" was most definitely pronounced. But what of the late 18th century, the time period portrayed by the Brigade of Guards?

Well, that's where things start getting interesting. Even in 1757, RP wasn't around when Dr. Johnson wrote his A Dictionary of the English Language (although he did acknowledge there was a wide range of existing accents at the time). In 1780, English writer Thomas Sheridan remarked that the /r/ "always has the same sound, but is never silent." It wasn't until the 1790s that things really seemed to have changed. In fact, Americans returning to England after the War for Independence were reportedly surprised by the changes in fashionable pronunciation. By the early 1800s, John Walker, in his Principles of English Pronunciation noted how the times were changing when he commented that:

[R] is never silent…In England [R] is never silent … In England, and particularly in London, the r in lard, bard, card, regard, etc. is pronounced so much in the throat as to be little more than the middle or Italian a, lengthened into laad, baad, caad, regaad … if this letter is too forcibly pronounced in Ireland, it is often too feebly sounded in England, and particularly in London, where it is sometimes entirely sunk …

Sheridan's remarks seemed to imply that non-rhoticity was undesirable at the time, but nonetheless it soon became the norm. This might make sense because linguists believe it may have originated from the East Midlands before traveling down to London and gaining traction there. At some point, this burgeoning trend to drop the "r" became the fashion rather than the faux-pas. Therefore, linguistically, one could say that RP developed from a changing London accent that incorporated elements from the East Midlands, Middlesex, and Essex.

RP then really came into its own in the 19th century as a socially exclusive accent being taught in elite boarding schools and at Oxford and Cambridge. The actual term for RP was coined in 1869, and it received wide recognition in 1924 when Daniel Jones adopted it in his second edition of the English Pronouncing Dictionary. Two years previously, though, the BBC adopted it as their broadcasting standard.

Indeed, one school of thought holds that the accents of America, Australia, and Canada are "snapshots" in time for an evolving English dialect. Sure, each went on to develop their own regional accents and dialects, but their overall nature is a reflection of the point in time they left the "mothership" of jolly old England. For Americans, we retained the generally rhotic accent of pre-Revolution, while Australians (who were colonized after the accent shift to non-rhotic) generally do not. And Canadians, well, they're somewhere in the middle of it all.

As for us in the 4th Coy - we like the put on a show as much as the next King's man, but let's not sweat our R's too much...



Fisher, John Hurt (2001). "British and American, Continuity and Divergence". In Algeo, John. The Cambridge History of the English Language, Volume VI: English in North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 59–85.

Crystal, David (2005), The Stories of English, Penguin