The Battle of Germantown – Reenacted In October - Is Incredible
If you're primarily interested in information on the 2010 Battle of Germantown Re-Enactment, part of the Revolutionary Germantown Festival at Cliveden-
The re-enactment will take place on Saturday, October 2, 2010 - and you can just scroll down, past the Germantown Frequently Asked Questions.
Certainly, you don't need to have knowledge of the historical details, to have a great time at the Battle of Germantown re-enactment (you just need to know that it's the British and their Hessian allies against the Americans!) It's history brought to life in a uniquely compelling and fascinating way, which puts you back in the 18th century, even just for a few hours.
But if you'd like to learn more, about the historical background of the Battle of Germantown, we'd recommend that you read the FAQ's.
If You'd Really Like An In-Depth Look At the Revolutionary War, We'd Like To Recommend This Site
- This is a very good site, which provides a thorough overview of the entire war. We particularly recommend the Battles, Timeline, and Spies pages, all of which you can reach from its left-side NavBar. And we like the choices of artwork - from portraits to battle scenes - that they used to bring the conflict to life, online.
The Historical Battle of Germantown - Fought on October 4, 1777, During the Revolutionary War - Frequently Asked Questions
What Was the Battle of Germantown?
The Battle of Germantown was fought during the Revolutionary War, on October 4, 1777.
The American army - known formally as the Continental Army - was personally commanded by General George Washington. The American army officially fought on behalf of the 13 colonies, governed by the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, the capital of the fledgling nation. They formally convened in what was then known as the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall - in Old City Philadelphia.
The British Army - known formally as the Royal Army - was personally commanded by General Sir William Howe. It fought on behalf of King George III - the king of Great Britain - and the British Parliament.
Where Was the Historical Battle of Germantown?
The Battle of Germantown was fought in the village of Germantown - a separate village within Philadelphia County, at the time. The most important stage of the battle was fought at Cliveden and Upsala, two remarkable estates that have been preserved as historic sites. They are located in Northwest Philadelphia.
However, at the time it was fought in 1777, Germantown was not part of the City of Philadelphia. The "City of Philadelphia" consisted solely of the area we know today as "Center City". At the same time, "Philadelphia County" was a much larger area, encompassing areas such as Germantown, several miles from the City of Philadelphia.
In 1854, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania decided to formally consolidate the City of Philadelphia, with surrounding Philadelphia County, due to the city's growth. The borders have not changed at all, since then. Today, the city of Philadelphia and Philadelphia County are identical. Germantown is now just one neighborhood, within it.
Why Was the Battle of Germantown Fought?
The Historical Background - Howe Had Defeated Washington At Brandywine And Occupied the City of Philadelphia
The Battle of Germantown was fought, as part of the larger struggle to control the colonial capital of Philadelphia.
Several weeks earlier, on September 11, 1777, Howe had decisively defeated Washington at the Battle of Brandywine, located in Chester County (today, part of suburban Philadelphia). After the defeat, Washington was forced to retreat, in order to preserve the Continental Army, and live to fight another day. Washington retreated into what is now central Montgomery County.
This meant, however, that Howe could now capture Philadelphia, without firing a shot. The Continental Congress fled to avoid capture, and Howe occupied the city in late September.
Howe's Strategy - Divide the Royal Army, Moving Troops To Germantown To Engage With Washington's Army
With no American army to contest the city, Howe decided to take a large part of the Royal Army to Germantown, five miles northwest of the City of Philadelphia. With Washington encamped in central Montgomery County, moving the Royal Army to Germantown placed Howe closer to Washington's army. By doing so, Howe hoped that he might be able to destroy the Continental Army, either in battle and/or capture of American troops.
Washington's Strategy - Take the British By Surprise, To Improve Patriot Morale and Impress the French
However, Washington was still optimistic, that he might have another shot at Howe and the British, before 1777 ended. Campaign season was coming to an end, soon, as most 18th-century armies did not fight in winter. (That having been said, Washington had caught a Hessian garrison by surprise the previous December, at Trenton, New Jersey- because nobody ordered attacks in winter.)
Washington also thought that a victory, even a small one, would be beneficial to Patriot morale, particularly after the loss of Philadelphia. More importantly, Benjamin Franklin was in France, in the midst of attempting to persuade King Louis XVI to enter the war on the American side. A victory would be powerful evidence to the French, that the American cause was worth supporting, in terms of money, supplies, equipment, a French fleet, and a French army.
Washington's Plan - Due to His Espionage Network, He Planned A Surprise at Germantown
In every battle of the Revolutionary War, except Yorktown, Washington was badly outnumbered by his British opponents. British troops were also far better trained and equipped. As a result, to even the odds a little bit, Washington took espionage very seriously. And due to the American spies in occupied Philadelphia, he found out that Howe had split his army between Philadelphia and Germantown.
Accordingly, with the larger British force now split, Washington believed that an attack on the British garrison at Germantown - particularly, if it came by surprise - might result in victory.
Four Separate American Columns Attacking the British From Four Different Directions Before Dawn
Washington devised a very elaborate plan of attack, with the main idea being to surround the British, by attacking from four different directions simultaneously, before dawn. He was banking on the idea that the British would not only be surprised by the attack, but the fact that it was coming from multiple directions.
There were two major problems, with that plan, unfortunately. One was that Washington was asking inexperienced American troops to pull off very complicated maneuvers. The other was that if the weather didn't cooperate, the already-complicated plan would be virtually impossible to execute.
Who Won the Battle of Germantown?
Howe and the British army won a decisive victory at Germantown. Washington's army suffered more casualties, and did not succeed in driving the British out of Germantown, or out of Philadelphia.
The official numbers diverge, and they can only be estimated. Officially, there were 152 Americans killed, including 30 officers, with 521 Americans wounded. There were also over 400 Americans missing - in summary, over a thousand casualties, in a single morning.
The British lost about 70 soldiers killed, and about 535 casualties, total.
Although we know in hindsight that Washington's battle plan at Germantown failed, with the loss of significant casualties, it was a daring, and bold idea - and one that was certainly worth attempting, although it did not succeed on the battlefield on that foggy morning, in October 1777.
Why Did the British Win the Battle of Germantown?
Major Reason #1 - The British forces outnumbered the American forces - and were better trained and equipped
As previously mentioned, the British Royal Army had an inherent advantage in nearly every Revolutionary War battle. But it wasn't just that the British Royal Army had a numerical advantage of troops.
Man for man, the typical British soldier was far better trained, better fed, better paid, and better equipped, than his American counterpart in the Continental Army. So the British would have had a decided advantage at Germantown, even if the size of the armies had been identical. And in this case, as in so many others, the British also were more numerous.
Major Reason #2 - The Weather Did Not Cooperate With Washington - The Fog Wreaked Havoc on the Continental Army, and Some Americans Fired Upon Each Other
In the 18th-century, with no reliable weather forecasts beyond almanacs, generals and armies were at the mercy of the weather. Washington's gamble would have had a better chance of success if the weather had been clear and bright (as it often is, in Philadelphia in early October).
Unfortunately for Washington's army, however, a fog rolled in and made the attack - which was already complex to begin with - very difficult for inexperienced and untrained American soldiers. Some American soldiers fired on each other, rather than the British, due to the poor visibility.
Major Reason #3 - The Americans Unwisely Tried To Take Chew House, and Suffered Many Casualties
The British had fortified Chew House - the expensive and elegant mansion located on the Cliveden estate - and had a virtually impregnable defensive position within the mansion. (Which is ironic, because it was never planned with military defense in mind.) The American officers - remembering that military orthodoxy taught "never leave a castle in your rear" - decided that military necessity required that Chew House be stormed and taken from the British, regardless of casualties.
As a result, many heroic American soldiers were killed and wounded, making futile charges upon Chew House. (Today, you can still see bullet and cannonball holes, in the stone walls of Chew House, from the action of 1777- over two and a quarter centuries, later.) But the Americans never captured Chew House, despite the casualties, and the disruption that it caused to Washington's plan, was a major reason for the British victory.
Why Are the British Dressed in Bright Red Coats, While the Americans Are Dressed in Dull Colors? Was That Because the Americans Were Smarter?
It had nothing to do with intelligence. After you attend your first Revolutionary War re-enactment, you discover quickly why it was desirable, in the 18th century, for your soldiers to be dressed in bright, vivid, conspicuous colors.
You will notice this at the re-enactment - the British troops' uniforms are of a far higher quality, than the Americans. The Royal Army's English soldiers are dressed in red coats and white pants, with elaborate hats; the Scottish soldiers are outfitted in complete Scottish regalia, including kilts. Their Hessian allies - German mercenaries rented by the British for service, as they were cheaper to hire, than recruiting more of their own troops - are also far more professional looking than the Americans.
In contrast, almost none of the American troops will have uniforms. They will be dressed in dull colors, often brown or gray.
At the time, there was no advantage to be gained, in concealing your troops. Battles were fought in open fields, generally, with two tightly, densely packed armies at close range. Each side would simply pour musket volleys (gunshots) into each other, firing in unison, until one side broke ranks and ran off the field (often due to one side charging with bayonets).
However, there were a lot of advantages to being dressed in bright colors. There was so much musket smoke billowing around the battlefield, that it's hard to see which side you're shooting at, even wearing bright red uniforms - let alone with an army dressed in dull colors, like the Americans. You'll notice this immediately, after the armies begin firing at each other.
There was also the psychological advantage of having a well-dressed army. The vivid parade-ground colors and elaborate uniforms sent the message to your enemies, that this army was a professional, well-trained and well-equipped force, representing a great power - and one that you shouldn't mess with. Then as now, style counted for a lot.
And this was an important political weapon, especially in a civil war which deeply divided Americans into Patriots (pro-independence), Loyalists (pro-British), and neutrals. When you go to the re-enactment, picture yourself as a neutral Philadelphian in 1777.
Which side would you have put your money on - the stunning British regulars with vivid, perfect, immaculate uniforms- or the ragtag group of Americans dressed in dull colors?
What Happened, After the Battle of Germantown?
The Short-Term Aftermath
The most important objective for Washington, was to permit his army - which could not be replaced - to escape without being captured. As a result, the Americans marched many miles back to the safety of central Montgomery County, before the British could do so.
Howe, relieved at his victory, made one more attempt, several weeks later, to engage Washington, who was camped at nearby Whitemarsh. Although the Americans were able to repel the attack, Washington decided that Whitemarsh was too close to Philadelphia to ensure its safety, against a British attack. Accordingly, he decided to shift his army into winter quarters at Valley Forge, today also part of Montgomery County - and one of the most resonant place names in American history.
If you'd like to learn more about the history of the Battle of Germantown - not just in the Revolutionary War, but in the some of the fascinating, unexpected episodes, up to the 21st century - we'd recommend that you take a look at our
The British, meanwhile, remained in comfortable winter quarters in Philadelphia, where the army enjoyed the many pleasures the city had to offer (then as now).
Even in Defeat, the French Were Impressed By Washington's Daring at Germantown
Washington had been hoping, naturally, for a victory at Germantown to impress the French. And although he lost the battle in tactical terms, he did, in fact, win a strategic victory by making the attack on Germantown.
The French were impressed not only by the victory of a different American army at Saratoga, New York, but by Washington's daring in risking an attack at Germantown, period. The events of Germantown helped Franklin to persuade Louis XVI to join forces with the American colonies - the alliance was signed in February 1778, just a couple of months after the news of Saratoga and Germantown had reached Europe by sailing ship.
And without the massive aid eventually received from France, the Americans could never have won independence from the British.
Battle of Germantown History Guide
- which provides a much more detailed historical background to both the Battle of Germantown, and its aftermath, centuries later.
Traveling to Cliveden For The Battle of Germantown Re-enactment
It would be great if the battle had taken place closer to Center City Philadelphia, because Cliveden is not near any of the major interstate highways. However, Germantown Avenue is a major traffic artery, and can be reached by traveling east on Germantown Pike, from Montgomery County (Germantown Pike will become Germantown Avenue, once you cross the border into Philadelphia, traveling through Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, and finally, Germantown).
If you are traveling north from central Philadelphia, your best bet is to take Lincoln Drive north, which you can do via either Kelly Drive and/or the Schuylkill Expressway - Interstate 76. Lincoln Drive will dead-end into Allen Lane, and you make a right turn onto Allen Lane. Stay on it until you reach its intersection with Germantown Avenue - at which you make a right turn onto Germantown Avenue, heading east. You will eventually get to Cliveden.
Basically, If You're Going to Attend The Battle of Germantown - You Have To Drive!!!
Unfortunately, the Battle of Germantown is very difficult to attend, via SEPTA. Cliveden is not really near any SEPTA Regional Rail stations; the two closest are the Upsal and Carpenter Stations, on the Chestnut Hill West line, but both are about a 15 minute walk to the battle site. Germantown, itself, is not a neighborhood for out-of-town visitors to be making 15 minute walks, through unfamiliar territory. The surrounding neighborhood is potentially dangerous, and you need to be particularly alert for your safety.
Germantown is not somewhere to explore if you're not familiar with the area (even if you are a native Philadelphian, either of the city or region).
However, if you drive, you should be fine.
It's certainly safe enough, that given the crowds, and common sense, you'll be able to park reasonably close to the battle, and be fine, safety-wise. It also helps that the entire festival is staged during daylight hours, and it'll be over by dusk.
Germantown Avenue is closed to traffic for the re-enactment, and you'll be able to get parking on the street. As with any urban environment, be cognizant of your surroundings, and don't leave anything (valuable or otherwise) in clear view in your car.
Battle of Germantown - Revolutionary Germantown Festival Schedule of Events - Saturday, October 2, 2010
Note: Everything takes place, rain or shine. (Just like the actual Revolutionary War.)
The Coolest Stuff - The Battle of Germantown Re-Enactments
Due to its popularity, the Battle of Germantown is actually staged twice during the Revolutionary Germantown Festival.
On Saturday, October 2, 2010, the first Battle of Germantown will take place at noon, and last until 1:00 PM.
The second Battle of Germantown will take place at 3:00 PM, and last until 4:00 PM.
It will be the same battle, both times. The Americans will lose twice. Nonetheless, we would - from frequent personal experiences at the Battle of Germantown - enthusiastically recommend that you watch both battles, if you have the time. It's a spectacle that you won't soon forget!
Some tips for enjoying the Battle(s) of Germantown:
Try to stake out a decent vantage point, a few minutes prior to the battle's start. The best place to watch, is from a position directly adjacent to the Chew House mansion, on the north side of Germantown Avenue.
The reason - the British troops have fortified Chew House, and are shooting out of the windows, as the Americans charge it repeatedly and attempt to capture it. If you're next to the house, you have the best view of the action.
(Note: There will be safety lines up, of which you must be absolutely respectful. There aren't real bullets, obviously - but they are actual replicas of 18th-century weapons, with real gunpowder, and it's still dangerous. And the bayonets attached to the muskets, are very real. Wherever you stand, make sure that you have the proper respect for the safety ropes, for your own safety and everyone else's.)
The Re-Enactors Are Happy to Answer Questions Between Battles
You might wonder if there is anything to do at Cliveden, between battles. In addition to the estates at Cliveden and Upsala, there will be 18th-century vendors, known as "sutlers", who sell period replicas, books on the 18th century and the Revolutionary War, which can be browsed by re-enactor and spectator alike.
We'd also encourage you to go into the respective armies' camps, and ask the reenactors questions. All have a passion for history, or they wouldn't be there. When they aren't busy fighting or preparing to fight, they are happy to answer questions about their uniforms, the encampment, etc. Re-enactors are meticulous when it comes to accuracy, and most are glad to have the opportunity to share what they've learned, as they've acquired their uniforms, weapons, and equipment over the years. At every event, they strive to make themselves into a 100% accurate portrayal of actual Revolutionary War soldiers.
In particular, the British troops (especially the Scottish soldiers and Hessian mercenary allies) have the most impressive and detailed uniforms, as well as the best equipment, for the reasons described in the FAQ's above.
The Battle of Germantown Is A Superb October / Halloween Event in Philadelphia
It is a pleasant coincidence, that the original 1777 Battle of Germantown took place in October. This means that the re-enactment always takes place during Halloween season. There is a great ambience to the event, with the multicolored leaves on the ground, and you can easily imagine the ghosts of the 18th-century battle reappearing for this single day, every year.
The Other Enjoyable Events at Revolutionary Germantown Festival
Battle of Germantown Events At Cliveden & Upsala (i.e., on the same adjacent property, not at other Germantown locations, that you have to drive to)
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM - Cliveden's Carriage House (i.e., the smaller house on the property, that's not being contested) will be hosting a Map and Print Show, all day.
11:00 AM - 3:00 PM - At Upsala, there will be various events for children, such as demonstrations of pumpkin painting, quill-pen writing, ink-making, etc. From 1:15 PM - 1:45 PM - Tucker's Tales Puppet Theater will be performing - appropriately - St. George and The Dragon.
Upsala is directly across the street from Cliveden, on the southern side of Germantown Avenue, and was the site of the American encampment, during the 1777 Battle of Germantown.
11:15 AM and 2:15 PM - "The Surprise at Germantown"
45 minutes prior to the start of each Battle of Germantown, author Tom McGuire - whom we believe knows more about the 1777 battle than anyone on earth, including the original participants - will discuss "The Surprise at Germantown." (We won't give it away- you'll just have to go and find out.)
After the surprise, McGuire will be narrating, providing play-by-play of the entire battle, over a loudspeaker, helping you to follow the action, and providing fascinating insights, as to what actually took place there, on October 4, 1777.
2:00 to 2:30 PM - Wreath Laying Ceremony At Real Revolutionary War Graves, at the Upper Burying Ground and Concord School House
Between the first and second Battles of Germantown, the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment - one of the Continental Army regiments - marches down the block to the Upper Burying Ground and Concord School House, and in a formal ceremony, lays a wreath on the graves of actual American soldiers who perished during the Revolutionary War.
Revolutionary Germantown Festival Events, Away From Cliveden
10 AM - 12 noon - General Howe's Dog Exchange and Paws in the Park Dog Walk - Historic RittenhouseTown
This really happened, back in 1777:
General Howe's pet dog was separated from his owner, amidst the chaos of the Battle of Germantown. The dog was captured by American forces, who led him, naturally, to General Washington. In complete accordance with the honor code of 18th-century gentlemanly warfare, Washington ensured that the dog was returned promptly to Howe, "with my compliments".
This event will be re-enacted at Historic RittenhouseTown, which is 1.5 miles away from Cliveden - if you want to go, you have to drive. (Note - although they are both named after the distinguished Philadelphian, David Rittenhouse, Historic RittenhouseTown is nowhere near Rittenhouse Square or the Rittenhouse Square District in Center City Philadelphia.)
10:30 AM - 4:00 PM - The Deshler-Morris House, also known as the Germantown White House, is open for tours. It is located at 5442 Germantown Avenue, about one mile south on Germantown Avenue, from Cliveden. Between 10:30 AM and 12:30 PM, General Howe will be holding court at the Deshler-Morris House, where he will discuss everything relating to the Battle of Germantown, including his lost dog.
Upsala is located at 6430 Germantown Avenue.
After the Hard-Fought Battle of Germantown, Drive Yourself Up Germantown Avenue to Chestnut Hill For R & R
After the Battle of Germantown is over, and all of the musket smoke has cleared - we strongly recommend that you go somewhere to unwind, after a hard day of watching 18th-century warfare.
Fortunately, you won't have to march several miles back to go home, carrying your musket and all of your gear - which is what the actual American soldiers in the Continental Army had to do, back in 1777. (After they had begun marching, prior to daybreak, just to reach Cliveden, much earlier that day.)
After you return to your car, we'd like to recommend a trip to Chestnut Hill, right up Germantown Avenue. It's only about 2.4 miles, from Cliveden - at 6401 Germantown Avenue - to the Chestnut Hill Visitors Center - at 8426 Germantown Avenue. The drive isn't particularly long, but there are some traffic lights.
Granted, it probably won't be open, but that's as good a place to start as any, for your exploration of Chestnut Hill. And if you've decided to leave Revolutionary Germantown, after the first battle, odds are that the Visitor Center will be open by the time you arrive.
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