History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent - Vol. 5

By George Bancroft | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
THE WINTER AT VALLEY FORGE. BRITAIN IN WANT OF TROOPS
NOVEMBER 1777–APRIL 1778.

WHEN at last Washington was joined by troops from the northern army, a clamor arose for the capture of Philadelphia. Protected by the Schuylkill and the Delaware, the city could be approached only from the north, and on that side a chain of fourteen redoubts extended from river to river. Moreover, the army by which it was occupied, having been reinforced from New York by more than three thousand men, exceeded nineteen thousand. Four American officers voted in council for an assault upon the lines of this greatly superior force; but the general, sustained by eleven, disregarded the murmurs of congress and rejected “the mad enterprise.”

With quickness of eye he selected in the woods of Whitemarsh strong ground for an encampment, and there, within fourteen miles of Philadelphia, awaited the enemy, of whose movements he received exact and timely intelligence. On the severely cold night of the fourth of December the British, fourteen thousand strong, marched out to attack the American lines. Before daybreak on the fifth their advance party halted on a ridge beyond Chestnut Hill, eleven miles from Philadelphia, and at seven their main body formed in one line, with a few regiments as reserves. The Americans occupied thickly wooded hills, with a morass and a brook in their front. Opposite the British left wing a breastwork defended the only point where the brook could be easily forded. At night the British force rested on their arms. Washington passed the hours in strengthening his position; and though, according

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