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The United States of America: A History
Book 2: Chapter IX - The War Continues

1777 A. D.

Spring-time came "the time when Kings go out to battle—but General Howe was not ready. Washington was contented to wait, for lie gained by delay. Congress sent him word that he was to lose no time in totally subduing the enemy. Washington could now afford to smile at the vain confidence which had so quickly taken the place of despair. Recruits flowed in upon him in a steady, if not a very copious stream. The old soldiers whose terms expired were induced, by bounties and patriotic appeals, to re-enlist for the war. By the middle of June, when Howe opened the campaign, Washington had 8000 men under his command, tolerably armed and disciplined, and in good fighting spirit. The patriotic sentiment was powerfully reinforced by a thirst to avenge private wrongs. Howe's German mercenaries had behaved very brutally in New Jersey—plundering and burning without stint. Many of the Americans had witnessed outrages such as turn time coward's blood to flame.

Howe wished to take Philadelphia, then the political capital of the States. But Washington lay across his path, in a strong position, from which he could not be enticed to descend. Howe marched towards him, but shunned to attack him where he lay. Then he turned back to New York, and embarking his troops, sailed with them to Philadelphia. The army was landed on the 25th August, and Howe was at length ready to begin the summer's work.

The American army waited for him on the banks of a small river called the Brandywine. The British superiority in numbers enabled them to attack the Americans in front and in flank. The Americans say that their right wing, on which the British attack fell with crushing weight, was badly led. One of the generals of that division was a certain William Alexander-- known to himself and the country of his adoption as Lord Stirling—a warrior brave but foolish; "aged, and a little deaf." The Americans were driven from the field, but they had fought bravely, and were undismayed by their defeat.

A fortnight later a British force, with Lord Cornwallis at its head, marched into Philadelphia. The Royalists were strong in that city of Quakers—specially strong among the Quakers themselves. The city was moved to unwonted cheerfulness. On that September morning, as the loyal inhabitants looked upon the bright uniforms and flashing arms of the King's troops, and listened to the long-forbidden strains of "God save the King," they felt as if a great and final deliverance had been vouchsafed to them. The patriots estimated the fall of the city more justly. It was seen that if Howe meant to hold Philadelphia, he had not force enough to do much else. Said the sagacious Benjamin Franklin,—"It is not General Howe that has taken Philadelphia; it is Philadelphia that has taken General Howe."

The main body of the British were encamped at Germantown, guarding their new conquest. So little were the Americans daunted by their late reverses, that, within a week from the capture of Philadelphia, Washington resolved to attack the enemy. At sunrise on the 4th October the English were unexpectedly greeted by a bayonet-charge from a strong American force. It was a complete surprise, and at first the success was complete. But a dense fog, which had rendered the surprise possible, ultimately frustrated the purpose of the assailants. The onset of the eager Americans carried all before it. But as the darkness, enhanced by the firing, deepened over the combatants, confusion began to arise. Regiments got astray from their officers. Some regiments mistook each other for enemies, and acted on that belief. Confusion swelled to panic, and the Americans fled from the field.

Winter was now at hand, and the British army returned to quarters in Philadelphia. Howe would have fought again, but Washington declined to come down from the strong position to which he had retired. his army had again been suffered to fall into straits which threatened its very existence. A patriot Congress urged him to defeat the English, but could not be persuaded to supply his soldiers with shoes or blankets, or even with food. He was advised to fall back on some convenient town where his soldiers would find the comforts they needed so much. But Washington was resolute to keep near the enemy. He fixed on a position at Valley Forge, among the hills, twenty miles from Philadelphia. Thither through the snow marched his half-naked army. Log-huts were erected with a rapidity of which no soldiers are so capable as Americans. There Washington fixed himself. The enemy was within reach, and he knew that his own strength would grow. The campaign which had now closed had given much encouragement to the patriots. It is true they had been often defeated. But they had learned to place implicit confidence in their commander. They had learned also that in courage they were equal, in activity greatly superior, to their enemies. All they required was discipline and experience, which another campaign would give. There was no longer any reason to look with alarm upon the future.

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