Officer at the the camp, dated December 10 1777
It is probable that by this time you expected to be informed of a third general
battle between the royal army and that of the United States --- The former
marched from its lines in the night of Thursday the 5th, leaving only its sick,
and a small necessary guard --- passing through Germantown, driving before it
our patrols of horse, and exchanging fire with our pickets and advanced parties
of infantry. The British soldiers, as they advanced through the village, forced
the doors of the inhabitants with the butts of their muskets, uttering
execrations against the rebels and all their abettors.
On the morning of the 6th we received intelligence that the enemy had
encamped on Chestnut hill and from the enormous smoke, too large for the purpose
of a camp, which appeared at different times and in different directions, we
suspected that they were venting their spleen in wanton conflagrations; but we
found afterwards that there was no house of consequence destroyed in this
quarter --- two barns, and a square tower which had been built as a lookout,
were the only sacrifices they offered to tyranny in this neighborhood.
Webbregiment and the Pennsylvania militia, which in our order of battle
were destined to act in a small detachment for the purpose of galling the enemy
left flank, were ordered to advance and skirmish with their light troops --- the
militia behaved as usual, and Brigadier General Irvine was wounded and taken
prisoner, while he was making fruitless attempts to rally them.
"In the morning of the 7th, at five o, the enemy filed off by their right -
a party of them halted near Jenkintown; by their movements it appeared they were
endeavoring to turn our left - we changed our disposition in consequence, and
upon hearing they were advancing in two columns, Morgan corps and the Maryland
militia were ordered to harass their right flank; there was some very smart
firing in consequence, between Morgan and the British light infantry - the
latter having made an imprudent use of their extraordinary allowance of rum,
suffered, and every man that appeared would have been killed or taken, if the
rifle men had been armed with bayonets. We had great reason to fear a nocturnal
attack, but there was nothing more than a little bickering between our pickets.
ON the 8th the enemy remained in the same position - and, under cover of their
usual stratagem, leaving great fires on their ground, decamped in the evening.
It was doubted at first whether they meant to retreat, or whether they were only
filing off in order to prepare for an attack on our right. Count Pulaski with a
party of horse, and a few infantry which he had collected, followed them,
watching their motions. As soon as the real design of the enemy was ascertained,
light parties were ordered to pursue, and a larger body to support them; but the
enemy march was too rapid to allow of their being overtaken, by any but Count
Pulaski party, who, with his handful of men made an attack upon their rear
guard. Very early yesterday morning, after burning a tavern called the Rising
Sun, near Philadelphia, and stealing a few milch cows and horses, they harbored
themselves. Thus an expedition which raised the expectations of every body, and
from whence it was thought some great decisive stroke would arise, terminated in
degrading the whole British army to a foraging party.
The loss of Morgan rifle men was 27 killed and wounded --- among the latter is
the brave Major Morris --- what the enemy lost in the several skirmishes is not
known. Col. Morgan, who has no need of boasting to establish the reputation of
his corps, says, the British light infantry lost a great many in their skirmish
with him. While the armies were in presence we had several deserters and
prisoners from them; those taken the first day by small parties of horse in
Germantown, in the rear of the enemy, were for the most part drunk. These
parties of ours had been posted at Frankford, and as the enemy did not extend
themselves to the right of Germantown, they fell in upon the enemy rear, and
collected stragglers with impunity.
You will now probably ask, what account of the enemy conduct is to be given? My
idea of the matter is simply this --- Sir William Howe imagined that on the
first appearance of the British army, the shivering, half naked defenders of
liberty would have decamped and left him master of the country, that finding his
parade in front ineffectual, he had recourse to the more trying maneuver of
encamping on our flank, but seeing us still unmovable; he judged it more prudent
to retire to peaceful winter quarters, than attack us in a position, the
strength of which would probably have obliged him to retire with loss, and
which, even if he had gained from us by the greatest exertions, must have cost
him too great a sacrifice of his best troops; while our army, light and free of encumbrance,
even in case of this improbable disaster, would have suffered more in honor than
in any other point.
Three of our officers, who have made their escape from the harbor of New York,
by means of a boat that was carelessly left along side of their prison ship,
give such relations of the indignities offered to the American prisoners, as
would excite desperate revenge in the most slavish minds. It would be infinitely
better for us to put a stop to that intercourse and exchange of good offices
which civilized nations have established in the state of war --- and declare
that quarter would neither be granted nor accepted; this would only render war
more energetic and less durable. I think that we have hitherto discovered too
little of Republican pride --- the haughty supporters of tyranny have in every
instance almost spoken in a commanding tone and given the law --- they have
trampled the right of humanity --- and of we have forborne retaliation, it has
rather been attributed to servile habits of fear, than a generous disposition
--- indeed in some cases we have almost deserved to be compared to the Helotes,
who were reduced from being insurgents to their former state of slavery by the
sound of the Spartan lash.
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