Historical Markers
Battle of Germantown Historical Marker
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Battle of Germantown

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
6401 Germantown Ave., Cliveden

Dedication Date:
October 5, 1996

Behind the Marker

Map of the Battle of Germantown, October 4, 1777.
George Washigton's decision to attack British positions around Philadelphia in the fall of 1777 was a bold one that reflected his inherent confidence and gambler's nature. The Americans' defeat on October 4th also illustrated his limitations and those of his army. The plan for the assault through Germantown required coordination of four separate columns. It was simply too ambitious. American soldiers were not yet trained for such intricate, disciplined maneuvers.
Depicting Chew House, Cliveden, being attacked
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"Germantown Battle," engraving, circa 1830.

A case of mistaken identity, for example, dramatically changed the course of events. When General Adam Stephen heard gunfire near the Chew mansion he directed his troops to double-back in order to provide support. In doing so, they crossed behind markerGeneral Anthony Wayne's soldiers, convincing Wayne that the British had somehow flanked him. Without realizing his mistake, Wayne ordered his troops to fire on Stephen's men. Under fire and confused by the situation around Cliveden, Stephen subsequently called for a retreat.

Washington blamed the confusion on the weather. A severe fog "served to keep our different parties in ignorance of each Others movements" he later stated. General Nathanael Greene more pointedly attributed the defeat to a lack of discipline among American soldiers. Days after the battle, he assured his troops that "they fled from Victory," blaming them for misinterpreting a "partial Retreat" as a sign for general flight.

American action in the battle, however, encouraged France to join in an alliance, because Washington demonstrated boldness in the face of adversity. What the marker text fails to acknowledge, however, is that the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, which ended on October 17th in upstate New York, not the Philadelphia Campaign, was the most vital factor in winning French support.
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