Fort Mifflin Saved America During the Revolutionary War in 1777

Fort Mifflin - a National Historic Landmark, located on the Delaware River, south of Philadelphia - holds the distinction (to paraphrase the Fort’s official slogan) of having saved America, during the Revolutionary War.

This is not an exaggerated claim.

During November 1777, the fortress withstood - over a five-week span – the greatest bombardment that North America has ever absorbed, before or since. It was attacked by the British, who were seeking to oust the American garrison, gallantly defending it.

Although the British ultimately captured Fort Mifflin, it took them two critical months, to do so.

The siege required diversion of significant British forces, that would have better spent chasing the American army. Instead of being destroyed, the Americans somehow managed to survive defeats at the Battle of Brandywine in September,the Battle of Germantown in October, hold off British forces during the Whitemarsh Encampment in November, and in December, ultimately take (albeit a very cold and unpleasant) refuge in Valley Forge for the winter.

But had the American army been destroyed, during those two months, that would have been the abrupt end of American hopes for independence. And without Fort Mifflin's contribution, that scenario might very well have taken place.

Even at the time, the British recognized the missed opportunity. A British officer, James Murray, ruefully observed in the aftermath:

“Mud Island [i.e., the site of Fort Mifflin] was a most unfortunate obstacle, and cost us two precious months of the war.”

(Fort Mifflin of Philadelphia, An Illustrated History, p. 53-54.)

At this point, we’re going to explore the logistics and details for your 21st-century visit, not the events of 1777.

However, if you’d like all of the details of Fort Mifflin’s heroic (and ultimately doomed) defense, and how it can justifiably claim to be the fort that saved America, just scroll down to the end of this page, as it is being constructed.

Saturday, December 4, 2010 - Soldiers' Christmas 2010 at Fort Mifflin - 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM; Then 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM

Upcoming, on Saturday, December 4, 2010, is Soldiers' Christmas. Initially, it will run from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, then a two-hour break, and will resume from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM (wear warm clothes, especially if you're going at night!) Your single admission covers both segments, if you'd like to attend parts of both.

Visitors will have the opportunity to encounter both American soldiers and civilians, as they celebrate Christmas, through the decades (and centuries!) of the fort's service to America. There will be first-person re-enactors, representing the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, both World Wars, and the Korean War.

Different buildings within Fort Mifflin will be portrayed with the holiday decorations from each era, and you can try some of the period foods from each. And of course, you should ask the re-enactors questions about the Ghosts of Christmas Past that reportedly inhabit the Fort.

And all of this is included with your regular admission price, that day.

Siege of Fort Mifflin Re-Enactment Schedule, November 2010

The Siege of Fort Mifflin Re-Enactment will take place on both Saturday, November 13, 2010, and Sunday, November 14, 2010. The hours will be from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, on both days.

There will be two re-enacted battles, plenty of re-enactors on both sides of the war, weapon demonstrations, examples of military drills, activities for children, "sutlers" (the 18th century outdoor merchants that followed the armies), concerts featuring 18th century music, and plenty more, that will be both educational and entertaining. You can call 215.685.4167, for more information.

Admission is $6.00 for adults, $5.00 for children, with children under 5 admitted free (i.e., it's the same as for regular admission, without a special event taking place.)

Fort Mifflin – Guide for Visitors - Hours and Admission

Visiting Fort Mifflin - 2010 Hours of Operation - From March 1, 2010 to December 20, 2010 - Wednesday Through Sunday, From 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

This year, public visiting hours are scheduled from March 1 to December 20, 2010. Between those dates, it is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

However, outside of those dates, you can still visit Fort Mifflin. From December 21, 2010, through February 28, 2011, you can schedule a tour by appointment, for a group or an individual. Moreover, it is also open for school groups by appointment during that period. It will reopen for its regular public visiting hours, for the 2011 season, on March 1, 2011.

Special annual events include the previously mentioned Soldiers' Christmas in December, the Siege of Fort Mifflin and Veterans' Day Remembrance in November, and the Freedom Blast!, during the Welcome America! festival each July.

Traveling to Fort Mifflin – It Is Easily Accessible Via Interstate 95, South of Philadelphia

It is located about nine miles south of Center City Philadelphia. The distance can be easily and speedily covered, via Interstate 95 (There's no SEPTA service.)

So How Exactly Did Fort Mifflin Save America, During the Revolutionary War?

The British had marched into Philadelphia, the American capital, without firing a shot, in late September, 1777.

British General Sir William Howe, was the commander of these Crown forces of King George III – the British Royal Army, plus a substantial number of German mercenaries commonly known as “Hessians”.

Howe’s army had decisively defeated the American forces– the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington at the Battle of Brandywine (in modern, suburban Delaware County) on September 11.

Washington needed to preserve his army at all costs, and so he retreated into the countryside, after the defeat. Accordingly, Howe’s army marched into the capital and occupied it, as the Continental Congress fled to York, and the Liberty Bell was spirited upstate to Allentown, to prevent the British from melting it down for bullets.

Of course, Howe now had a major problem on his hands. Although he now controlled the capital, he still didn’t control the Delaware River. The Americans, anticipating the British invasion up the Delaware, had constructed an elaborate defense system of both forts and wooden obstacles, known as chevaux-de-frises. Fort Mifflin was the keystone of this defense system.

Both sides realized that the Delaware River was - by far - the easiest, safest, and most efficient method of feeding, arming, and supplying both Howe’s huge army and the remaining civilian population of Philadelphia. Of those civilians who had not fled in anticipation of the city’s capture by royal forces, many were Loyalists and grateful to see the redcoats. But the logistics facing Howe were daunting, since he now had to supply them as well as the army.

Howe recognized that until and unless he managed to gain control of the Delaware River, there was only one way of supplying Philadelphia – overland from Chester (now in modern Delaware County). This was more inefficient, more dangerous, and cumbersome than being supplied by water – and once winter arrived, it would be even more difficult, due to the snow and ice. So now that Howe had the capital, he was now anxious to sweep the Delaware River clear of the American defenses, and open up a reliable supply line.

What Did Fort Mifflin Look Like, After the British Finally Captured It?

There wasn’t much left of it, after it withstood the greatest artillery bombardment that North America had ever seen, before or since.

Even the British officers, who often dismissed the American rebels as inept and undisciplined, had to acknowledge the gallantry of the American garrison at Fort Mifflin. Ambrose Searle, Howe’s private secretary, made the following observation, after he arrived:

”They certainly defended it with a spirit that they have shewn {i.e., shown} nowhere else to an equal degree during the war. I went on shore to see this celebrated place. Nothing surely was ever so torn and riven with cannonballs. A more dismal picture of ruin can scarce be conceived.”

A second British officer agreed with Searle, when he arrived at Fort Mifflin a week after it fell:

”Took a ride to see Mud Island, which is prodigiously shattered and torn to pieces and leaves a spectacle very much to the honor of those that defended it.”

The Philadelphia Campaign, 1777-78, by Stephen R. Taafe, page 136.

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