Battle of Germantown History – A Visitors Guide to Cliveden

The Battle of Germantown History - A Timeline of Key Events in 1777

The Battle of Germantown History - Events in the Days Leading Up to the Battle on Saturday, October 4

Thursday, September 11 - Howe Defeats Washington at the Battle of Brandywine; Washington Retreats To Now-Montgomery County To Preserve His Army

Thursday, September 25 - General Howe's 14,000 British and Hessian Troops Occupy Germantown

Friday, September 26 - Lord Cornwallis's British Troops Peacefully Occupy the City of Philadelphia

Thursday, October 2 - Washington Learns That Howe Has Divided His Army

Friday, October 3, 6:00 PM - The First Column of American Troops Begins March To Germantown

Friday, October 3, into Saturday, October 4 - All Four American Columns Travel to Germantown, But All Arrive Behind Schedule

Battle of Germantown History - Key Events of Saturday, October 4, 1777

The Weather - the Decisive Factor in the Outcome - Was Foggy, Rendering Visibility Almost Impossible

From Surprise at Germantown, p. 40, by Thomas J. McGuire:

"Dawn broke just as the pickets were attacked. The sun came out for several minutes but was soon covered again by clouds. The damp, cool ground combined with the warmer air to create a ground fog that became impenetrable in some places, unnoticeable in other places. These conditions caused the thick white gunpowder smoke to hang in the air, reducing visibility to near zero. Field stubble ignited by the muzzle flashes of cannon and muskets smoldered, adding to the acrid battle smog. The confusion of the subsequent battle and some of the odd occurrences of the day resulted directly from a lack of visibility."

5:30 AM - American Soldiers Under Conway Surprise British Outpost At Mount Pleasant, Near the House of Mount Airy

5:30 - 6:45 AM - Americans Under Wayne Reinforce Conway, and Rout British Troops At Mount Pleasant, Who Retreat Down Germantown Pike

6:15 AM - The British 40th Regiment, Under Colonel Musgrave, Help Cover the Retreat From Mount Pleasant, and 100-120 Soldiers Occupy the House at Cliveden

6:30 - 6:45 AM - Americans Under Wayne and Sullivan - After Firing a Few Shots At Cliveden -Bypass It and Continue Toward Germantown and the Main British Force

6:45 AM - 7:00 AM

American Colonel Pickering Sees Cannon Firing At Bad Angle At Cliveden, And Orders Them Shifted To the Front of the House

Washington Calls A Council of War To Discuss Options - Knox Persuades Washington, Over Pickering's Objections, To Launch a Full-Scale Assault on Cliveden, To Avoid "Leaving A Fortified Castle in Our Rear"

Americans Are Unable To Take the House, By Cannon, By Storming It, Or By Surrounding It

American Columns Under Wayne And Sullivan Mistakenly Fire At Each Other, Due To Fog

8:00 AM - 8:30 AM - After Three Hours Of Intense Attacking, the Americans Collapse and Begin Retreating Back Up Germantown Pike, As British Cautiously Counterattack

After the Smoke And Fog Had Cleared - The Post-1777 Events in Battle of Germantown History

Cliveden was sufficiently well-constructed, that even the power of American cannon couldn't reduce its walls, although the interior had been wrecked completely during the battle.

In the following year - 1778, with the Revolutionary War still raging - Chew - somehow managed to rent Cliveden out to a tenant. In 1779, Chew sold it to a privateer owner, Blair McClenachan.

Less than two decades later - in 1797 - Chew repurchased Cliveden from McClenachan. Chew and his descendants remained as residents of Cliveden, for nearly two centuries. In 1972, the family moved out permanently, and Cliveden became the property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who has owned it, ever since.

Around The Turn of the 20th Century - Discovery of Buried Soldiers From Battle of Germantown, Over a Century Earlier, During Construction Work

Around the turn of the 20th century (i.e., around 1900), construction workers who were paving nearby Johnson Street found a group of buried soldiers, who were subsequently reinterred at the corner of Johnson and Morton Streets.

The Remarkable Story of British Army Private John Waites, Spanning Over The Centuries - 1777 - 1986

In 1985208 years after the Battle of Germantown, and just two years prior to the Bicentennial of the adoption of the United States Constitution – the U.S. Post Office, in the adjoining Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Mount Airy, was undergoing renovations. It was a mundane work project, with no advance indication of a remarkable archaeological find.

While doing the renovation work, The workers were horrifically surprised, when they unearthed a human skeleton. They immediately contacted Philadelphia police, to investigate a potential homicide.

However, the police homicide unit turned the matter over to its forensic experts, who determined that the skeleton uncovered, was not the result of a recent (i.e., 20th-century) death. Accordingly, they referred to experts at the University of Pennsylvania, from the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on its University City Campus (which is highly worth visiting, by the way).

The archaeological experts took custody of the remains, and administered archaeological tests to them. Their conclusions – it was the remains of a man, 30 to 40 years old, and about 5 - 6 to 5 – 8 inches tall (this is slightly below average today, but it was a slightly above average male height in the 18th century, primarily due to less nutritious food and less enlightened medical care).

Most tellingly, they indicated that the man was one who had lived “a rugged existence”. Such a description perfectly fits the profile of a British light infantryman, during the 18th century. Light infantrymen served in the most grueling units of the Royal Army, and it took its toll over the years.

Armed with this information, researchers analyzed the complete records of the four British Royal Army light infantry companies that had served in America during the Revolutionary War. 48% of them were between the ages of 30 and 40.

The archaeologists also looked for clues among what was found. Artifacts strongly supported the conclusion that it was a British soldier – with the overwhelmingly likely scenario being that he had been killed, directly or indirectly, during the Battle of Germantown, over two centuries earlier.

The next step to unraveling the mystery, was an attempt to determine the identity of the British soldier. The British Royal Army has maintained remarkably complete records on its members, ever since the 17th century, well over a century before the Battle of Germantown.

Thanks to the clues in the artifacts – most notably, two metal buttons with “52” printed on them– a theory was put forward that this man was a member of the Light Company of the 52nd Regiment, 2nd Battalion of British Light Infantry. Subsequent research on this unit indicated that it had been initially created, shortly prior to departing Britain in 1775, to quell the nascent American rebellion, but it returned to Britain in 1778. For that reason, perhaps the records were easier to research.

(Note: This return was most likely due to the French alliance with America, announced in early 1778. After the French entered the war, Britain had no choice but to pull out some troops from North America, in order to defend the British Isles and other British colonial possessions, worldwide. This alliance, ironically, was partially due to the Americans' performance at the Battle of Germantown.)

And as it turns out, there was a detailed British Royal Army record of the members of this company. According to the records, the only soldier of that Light Company, killed in action at the Battle of Germantown, was Private John Waites.

Having conclusively identified the skeleton, as that of Waites, the next step was to give Waites a proper burial, over two centuries later. Nearby Northwood Cemetery already had a section for British soldiers and nationals, lauding those “who served their King and Country and now rest here.”

And so, on November 2, 1986, Private John Waites received a former, proper burial, with full military honors, and conducted by an Episcopalian priest, just over 209 years, after his death in battle.

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