The James McMichael Journal, September 12, 1777–December 23, 1777

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March 15, 2018
by Joseph Lee Boyle Also by this Author

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Editor’s Note: This is part four of a five-part series. Part one. Part two. Part three.

This portion of the James McMichael journal begins on September 12, 1777, with McMichael thanking “Kind providence” for saving him at Brandywine, and ends on December 23, 1777, with him being reunited with his wife in New Jersey after having left Valley Forge the day before. He says nothing of the “Paoli Massacre” but gives an interesting account of the Battle of Germantown, blaming the 13th Virginia Regiment in particular and Virginians generally for the loss of the battle. The “friendly fire” exchanges between the troops of Anthony Wayne in addition to Adam Stephen’s subsequent dismissal from the army lend credence to McMichael’s criticism. Though, to be sure, the capture of the hard charging 9th Virginia refutes this blanket condemnation. McMichael then marched into New Jersey with Nathanael Greene in an attempt to save Fort Mercer and returned to Pennsylvania in time to participate in the standoff at the Battle of White Marsh.


12th. At 4 oClock A.M. we proceeded thro’ Chester near to which we made a halt—at 5 oClock P.M. we marched from near Chester and proceeding thro’ Derby we Encamp’d near Schuylkill Bridge at 9 oClock.—

13th. Just when Phoebus appeared at the Horrizon we marched over Schuylkill Bridge and turning to the left we avoided the City of Philada. then Steering W. N. W. we pass’d the falls of Schuylkill and at 11 oClock A.M. we arived at our former Encampment near German Town where we Encamp’d and got our Tents which we had for a Week been without when the following Lines were revolved in my mind. Viz

Kind providence was lately to me good
By preserving me in Battle near the Wood
Where numbers fell on every hand of me
Whilst I their Corps with some conscern did see
Which made me say mans life hath a set time
As well the Soldier as the most Sublime
Who live at ease whilst they on earth abide
But when Death comes they cannot it avoid

Septr. 14 At 9 A.M. we marched from Camp near German Town and Steering our Course N. N. W. we proceeded a few miles up the great road leading from Philad. to reading then turning W. S. W. we cross’d the Schuylkill in the Center between Philada. & Swede’s Ford 8 miles from each and steering the same Course we came to the great road leading from Philada. to Lancaster at Merryen Meetinghouse, then turning W.N.W. we proceeded up the great road until we Encamp’d 10 miles from Philada. here we took to rest in an open field being denied every desirable refreshment—

15th. At 6 oClock A.M. we march’d and proceeding up the road we pass’d the Sorrel Horse, the Spread Eagle, and the Paola and Encamp’d 22 miles from Philada—

16th. At 1 oClock P.M. intelligence arrived at Camp that the Enemy were on their march for the Swedes ford we immediately decamp’d and proceeding a mile up the great road, then turning E B S we march’d a small distance to an emmenence where we took post, at which time an attack Commenced between our Scouting party and the Enemy, but the day being excessive wet the Enemy declined comming on at 3 oClock we recd. marching orders and Steering S. E we marched till 2 oClock thro’ the heaviest rain I ever felt, and when halted we had to remain under arms till Dawn of aurora—This for excessive fatigue Surpassed all I ever underwent. The small brooks were so large by the excessive rain (which lasted 18 hours) that we had repeatedly to waid to the middle in Crossing them—here I had innumerable reflexions, with regard to my Difficulties; Yet fired with a Patriotic Zeal I at the Sequel bore it with a Considerable degree of Patience—[1]

Sep 17h. At Noon we recd. marching orders and turming our heads N. E. B. N. we marched to the Yellow Springs and Encamp’d in the Wood.

I then thought were I but at Maidenhead
I wou’d be treated with a warm bed—
But whilst in Camp the Woods must be my shade
And ready be to any alarm thats made—
Whilst I my sword must guirt upon my thigh
And fight Courageous when the Enemy’s nigh
Leaving to Providence to Consummate
What is recorded in the book of fate—

18th. At 4 oClock A.M. we marched from the Yellow Springs and Steering W. B. N. we marched past Warwick furnace and Steering the Same Course we Encamp’d at Reading furnace.

19th. At Dawn of aurora we Decamped and proceeding E N E we we [sic] cross’d the Schuylkill at 2 oClock P. M. at Parker’s ford where we had to Strip and wade to the middle and by the same Course we came to the great road from Philada. to Reading then turning S. E. we proceeded past the trap, over Perkoymen Creek on the Eastern Bank of Which we Encamp’d, but thro’ false alarms we got no rest tho’ after such fatigue rest wou’d have been very agreeable—

Septr. 20th. At 4 oClock we marched from Perkyomen and proceeding down the great road we Cross’d Skippack near to which we turned S. B. W. and proceeded near to Paulin ford where we encamped in Providence Township Philada. County we this day had a fair view of the Enemy’s Encampment being only separated by the Schuylkill & a small hill

21st. At 3 oClock P.M. we marched from Providence and Steering S. E. B. S. we proceeded to the Ridge road, here we remained till 9 when we marched up the road & Cross’d Perkyomen and Skippack Creeks, and proceeding past the trape we Encamped near Potsgrove—

Septr. 23rd. The Sun having this morning entered the first point of and Consequently the day and night equal all the World over our weather became moderate this was suitable to us who had long remained Destitute of Tents. Yet Difficulties seemed trivial when in Defence of Liberty—here we recd. the Intelligence that the Enemy were at or near Philada.

Then being in a melancholy musing vain
My roving fancy Did me greatly entertain
With thoughts of War which did the time beguile
And being quite uneasy fill’d my head the While
But driving Mars away I venus entertaind
And for some happy minutes love had me firmly chain’d
To his most pleasing passion, I esteemed much
And in my former hours have thought there was non such
But since that I caught Hymen, Gallantry was gone
And Conjugal affection, had my heart alone
Then thinking of the pleasure I hop’d to Enjoy
With my own Dear Creature when nought can us annoy
I from my fingers laid my pen, with which my thoughts I wrote
And giving way to Morphus, I pulled off my Coat—
Then driving studies quite away, wc. on my mind hung Deep
I laid my head upon a stone, and so I fell asleep.

Septr. 26th. At 9 oClock A.M. we marched from Camp near Potsgrove and Steering E N. E we Cross’d Perkyomen and Encamp’d in Skippack Township Philad County at Pennybeckers Mill—

Just when we came unto our Camp, an army did appear
They were on an adjacent hill, which was to us quite near
They travers’d all the hill about, as tho we were their foes
And seemed quite uneasy the Secret to Disclose
But we wt. mirth & Jolitry did seat ourselves to rest
Upon the hill right opposite tho’ they seem’d quite distress[ed]
Then taking Carnagherns Cantien which had in it some rum
We took to us a little draught my rhyme to End did come.

28th. In Consequence of good News from our Northern Army we were all paraded when a discharge of 13 field pieces from the park of Artilery with three huzzas from each individual was performed to shew our peculiar pleasure at the Defeat of the Enemy.—[2]

29th. At 10 oClock we marched from Pennybeckers Mill and directing our Course S. E. B. E. we marched to the Methodist meetinhouse where we remained for some days, nothing happening worthy of record—

Octr. 3rd. Early in the morning orders were issued for the troops to be furnish’d with two days provision & have it readay Cooked, each man to be served with 40 rounds of Ammunition. At Noon the sick were sent to Bethlehem, these things Indicated that a Sudden attack was intended—At 6 oClock P.M. the whole Army march’d with Genl. Greens Division in front. we proceeded past White Marsh Meetinghouse, when Major J. Murray Captn. Nice and I were ordered at the head of 80 men to view their advanced Picquet and if we conveniently cou’d we were to attack it but after traversing the whole night we cou’d not succeed as the picquet lay within a mile of their main body, and holding a Council of war it pass’d N. C. D. that we shoud return to the Reg. which we did and Joined them next morning at Dawn of Aurora.

Saturday 4th. At 5 after 5 oClock, the attack commenced from right to left, we drove the Enemy for near 3 miles with the utmost precipitation but the Maryland Militia under the Command of Genl. Smalwood not comming to flank us in proper time, together with the Pusillanimity of the 13th. Virga. regt. gave the Enemy an opportunity of comming round our left flank when their main body attacked our left, we advanced into a field and put every party to the retreat that attacked us in front, but by this time we sustained fires from front, left, and part of the rear—at which time Genl. Stephen Ordered Colo. Stewart to evacuate the ground from the right of Sub-Divisions by files here we had disagreeably to leave the field when we had nearly made a Conquest had the virginians stood to our aid—

Agreeable to orders we retreated regularly a small Distance but the Enemy taking a Different rout we were obliged to march the road from whence we came in order to head them, but did not fall in with any part of them afterwards, we then marchd up the Skippack road to Pennybeckers Mill where we betook ourselves to rest—by this time it was 9 oClock at night. And thus happend the memorable Event of the battle of German Town in which was great numbers killed on both sides—that of Brandywine was not in any means such a Genl. attack, neither was the loss at that place any way equivalent thereunto—I had previously underwent many fatigues but never any that so much overdone me as this. Had it not been for fear of being taken I shou’d have remaind on the road all night for when considering my march when on Picquet I had in 24 hours marchd 45 miles and in that time fought 4 hours during which we advanced so furiously thro’ buckwheat fields that it was an almost unspeakable fatigue.

I then said I had seen another battle o’er
And it exceeded all I ever saw before
Yet thro’ the danger I escap’d without receiving harm
And providentially got safe thro’ firing that was warm
But to my grief tho’ I fought sore, yet we had to retreat
Because the cowardice of those, on our left hand was great.

Octr. 5th. We this day changed our Encampment to the Western Bank of Perkoymen.

6th. In the evening the allarm Guns were discharg’d with the offrs. properly posted in Battn when Intelligence came that the allarm was false when we returned to our Tents—

8th. At 8 oClock A. M. we march’d from Camp on the W. bank of Perkyomen and Steering S. E. we pass’d Pennybeckers Mill and proceeded some Distance on the Skippack road then turning N. N. E. we Cross’d the N. Wales road, and proceeded to the road leading from Philad. to Bethlehem on Which we Encamp’d 26 miles from Philada. in the Township of Towamensing where we remained for some Days but our Common occurences were not worthy of record—

Octr. 16 At 7 oClock A.M. we marched from Towamensing & Steering S. E. B. S. we proceeded to the intersection of the roads to N. Wales and Bethlehem, then turning S. S. W. we proceeded to our former Encampment near the Methodist meetinghouse, adjacent to which we formed an Encampment.—

17 At 11 oClock A.M. the 13th. Penna. the 2nd. & 5th. Virga. Regiments recd. marching orders, we proceeded to Whitemarsh Church where we errected large fires and returned to our Encampment.

18 This day the agreeable intelligence from the Northward arived at Camp, that Our Army there under the Command of Major Genl. Gates, had obliged Lieut. Genl. Burgoyne with his whole Army to Surrender as prisoners of War, upon which his Excellency Genl. Washington order the whole Army to be paraded at 3 oClock P.M. when a fudejoy with blank Cartridges followed with three huzza’s was performed by the whole army Superintended by the Major Genl. and Brigr. of the Day—[3]

Octr. 20 At 4 oClock A.M. we marched from Camp near the Methodist Meetinghouse and Steering our Course S. E. B. E. we proceeded to upper Dublin and there recd. orders to pitch Tents here we remained till evening when we recd. marching Orders. we proceeded past the broadax, thence past Plymouth & Barn hill meetinghouses, but the night growing excessive wet, a Cousil of War thought it expedient for us to return to our Encampment where we arived at Dawn of Aurora having marched 30 miles in the night—

22nd. At 9 oClock at night we marched and proceeding past Whitemarsh Church, thro’ flouer Town, Beggar Town & German Town we halted at the rising Sun it then being next morning at Dawn of Aurora—

23rd. We remained betwen the rising Sun and 3 mile run till 9 oClock waiting till Genl. McDougall woud attack the Enemy at Schuylkill, but they having evacuated their post, we had to return to our Encampment,—

During our tarry at the rising Sun the Enemy’s fleet attacked fort Mifflin but on their return the Ship Augusta of 64 guns and the Danbury frigate of 32 were got fast on the Chavexdefreez and were set on fire, whilst we heard their Explosion—[4]

Novr. 2nd. We marched from upper Dublin and took post in White Marsh where we errected abbetees in front of our Encampment.

By Tories we were now surrounded
Either marching or rebounding
But Tories still are Pusillanimous
And can’t encounter men Magnanimous
We made us merry at their Expence
Whilst they wish’d we were all gone hence
These were the people called Quakers
And in War wou’d not be partakers
To Liberty’s Sons this seem’d but light
We still allowed that we cou’d fight
And tho’ we had to halt sometime
Yet I shou’d rather have wrote some rhyme
Concerning fighting near the City
Of Philadelphia, like a Dithy
But orders we had to obey
Or we wou’d march without Delay
Waiting for orders I conclude
Because my pen now is not Good—

Novr. 11th.

The weather now began to cover with Snow
The Earth; likewise the Wind N. W. did blow
Whilst our abode was only in our Tents
Where we remain’d during what Events
Might here occur, whether of Joy or grief
And to attack the Enemy was our sole relief
But here we sometime did remain and had not much to do
Because to force Intrenchments was not right to go through
I had the Picquets to turn out, sometimes at 12 at Night
And take them to the grand parade, to see all things was right
This made me wish I had my own, Dear creature in my Arms
And satisfy myself at home, with her alluring charms
Yet still I hoped soon to see myself come to that place
And view her charms as they are, seen in her lovely face
Then Joy at meeting I hope to see,
Superior to what before cou’d be
This made me difficulties undergo
With less regret that sooner I did know
Then I did rest that this might come to pass
In a short time as possible it was
Were my Tent crouded was I cou’d not write
Nor cou’d my pen with any sence indite
Then on my chest my pen & Ink I laid
I quit my study, and to myself I said
I cou’d not now write any more at Rhyme
And so I bid adieu until some other time—

Novr. 20 At 8 oClock A.M. we marched from Whitemarsh and proceeding past Abbington we Cross’d Shammeny at Cuckles Town on the heights of which we Encamped—

21st. At 8 oClock A.M. we marched from Cuckles Town, and proceeded past a small town calld 4 lanes End, thence to Bristol, where we Cross’d the Delaware to Burlington where we arived at 2 oClock P.M.—[5]

We now had landed on the Jersey shore
A Town which I was never in before
But to me the inhabitants were very kind
And left no hospitable act behind—
They pilated me unto a good feather bed
When I soon strip’d and my self on it laid
I slept with major Murray till the break of Day
We then arose prepared to march away

Novr. 22nd. At 10 oClock A.M. we marched from Burlington and Steering S E B S we proceeded to the heights of Mount Holly where we took post—This is a pretty little town Situate on a beautiful plain bounded on the West by a large Creek called Ancocus, which Empties itself into Delaware below Burlington after Running N W. B. N for many miles through the County of Burlington

Here I had the pleasure of Confabulation with many of my acquaintances from Gloucester and Morris Countys—

26 Having recd. Intelligence that Genl. Cornwallis with 4000 men were ravaging the County of Gloucester we recd. marching Orders. we marched at 1 oClock A.M. and Steering W B S. we proceeded thro’ Mount Holly over Ancocus thro’ Moors Town and when we were near Haddon Field we halted, where we were informed the Enemy had retreated to Philada. after taking a large Quantity of live Stock along with them, in consequence of which we returned by the same road and at Midnight we reach’d our Encampment after a very fatiguing march

Novr. 27th. At 10 oClock A.M. we marched from the Heights of Mount Holly and proceeding thro’ Burlington, we Cross’d the Delaware to Bristol, near to which we Encamp’d in the Wood whilst our Tents were not arived so that we remain’d very uncomfortable—

28th Just when Aurora had gave way to Phoebus we marched from near Bristol, and proceeding thro’ four lanes End, over Shemmeny Bridge, past South Ampton Meetinghouse And Abbington, we arived at White marsh at 8 oClock P.M.

Here we had orders, for to march, Just at the break of Day
But thro’ Inclement weather we did not get away
Here in the Wood we had to stay during a violent Storm
Whilst others our former Camp werein at houses very Warm
But difficulties must be born, whilst we are in the Wars
And troubles quite innumerable whilst we’re attached to Ma[rs]
These Unto us did not seem strange the being Customary
In Jersey we had Suffered much, in the month of January
When at Trenton, Princeton and Elsewhere we made our foes retreat
This in like manner we yet may do, to give us Joy great
In hopes of this we March with Courage on
Not being desirous of any battle to Shun
Wishing how soon we may have orders for to fight
I’ll end My Rhyme and bid the reader good night—

Decr 5 At 2 oClock A.M. the allarm Guns were fired when we paraded marched to and man’d the lines the Enemy Consisting of 12000 marched thro’ German Town Beggar Town, flower Town and took posts on Chesnuthill, at 8 oClock a Detachment of Militia under the Command of Genl. Potter were ordered to Skirmish with them in which both sides had considerable loss; the Enemy Encamped whilst our Grand Army remained at the lines Our Baggage, (including Tents) were all sent to the Trap the weather Excessive Cold.[6]

The plan of the American fortified encampment at White Marsh. (Library of Congress)

6th We man’d the lines at 5 oClock A.M. and remain’d under Arms all day.

7th We man’d the lines at 5 oClock, at 8 the allarm Guns fired when we discovered the Enemy advancing the riflemen under the Command of Colo. Morgan were Detach’d to Skirmish with them their intention seem’d to Come round our left flank but cou’d not effect their design in Consequence of which they Encamped the Centries kept a Continual firing this night Every thing seemed to pressage a Genl. attack next morning, for my part I got no rest but turning out Picquets were my Employ the most of the night—

8th. We stood to Arms at 8 oClock A.M. expecting a Genl. Engagement, but Contrary to our Expectation we past the Day at the lines undisturbed till 11 oClock at night when A Regt. from each Brigade were ordered to attack the Enemy at Day break—

We marched to Chesnut hill but hearing the Enemy had returned to Philada. we returned to Our Encampment for sometime past our Situation were extremely uncomfortable but as our Difficulties arose from a Circumstance which wou’d not be an Embellishment to my Journal I shall therein maintain the most profound Taciturnity.

Dec 11 At 3 oClock A.M. we struck Tents and Steering W S W we proceeded past Whitemarsh Church and proceeded near the upper Bridge on the Schuylkill when the Enemy having Crossed at the Middle Ferry, had attacked a party of Militia under the Command of Genl. Potter but the loss were Inconsiderable on either sides We then turned W N W and proceeded thro’ Hickery Town, and Encamped near Swedesford

12th. At 6 oClock P. M. we marched to the Bridge which we past in Indian file and at 8 oClock in the morning we Encamped at the Gulph where we remained Without Tents or Blankets whilst An incessant Snow continued till Dawn of Aurora—

Here we remained for some few days of Time
And little happened which could make good Rhyme
The weather was not good, Our living very bad
This on my mind sundry cogetations had
I often wished I cou’d but get away
And with Susanna some few Days might stay
Which I concluded wou’d Medicinal prove
To all my hardships by the sweets of love
But wait, I must till we could Quarters take
And for sometime such sudden moves forsake
I then was promised to get from the Camp
And drive that from my mind which gave a Damp
To all my Joys, yet still I had Some heart
To Hope a meeting, we shou’d not part
I kept close in Camp, and paid no heed to stories
Of Politics because Environed by Tories
My mind did bend, but few traversing roads
Because in one My hopes always forboads
Some sweet repose where, where Mars does quit his rage
And happiness when at a future Age
This made the Wars Seem very light to me
Because I hoped my true love then to See.

Decr. 19th. At 10 oClock A.M. we marched from the Gulf and took post near the Valley forge where our ground was laid out for Cantoonments here the Weather grew Excessive Cold tho’ we lived very unhappy for any antidote against it.

22nd. Having obtained leave of absence for a few Days I Departed from Camp at the Valley Forge at 8 oClock A.M. and proceeding over Swedes ford, past North Wales Meetinghouse, Bartholomews Tavern and Doils Town, I arived at Bennet’s Tavern where I took Quarters—

23rd. Just when Phoebus had guilded the Horizon I Departed from Bennets Tavern, and proceeding over Corryell’s ferry, thro’ Amwell Hopewell I arived at Stony-Brook at 3 oClock P.M. where I was gladly recd. and passed sometime extremely agreeable with My relatives in general but with My Dear, Susanna in particular as; she of all [those] was fondest to see Me—

 


[1] This was the so-called “Battle of the Clouds.” An excessive rain, which overtook both armies upon their march and which continued without intermission for twenty-four hours, rendered both parties equally and totally incapable of action. David H. Murdoch, ed. Rebellion in America: A Contemporary British Viewpoint, 1765-1783, The Annual Register – 1777 (Santa Barbara, CA & Oxford, England: Clio Books, 1979), 464.

[2] This was for the American success over Burgoyne’s army in New York during the battle of Freeman’s Farm (also known as the first Battle of Saratoga). Washington ordered a gill of rum to be issued which doubtless helped cheer his men.

[3] The second and decisive battle of Saratoga, or Bemis Height’s, took place on October 7, 1777. In his General Orders for October 18, Washington announced that “Genl Burgoyne and his whole Army Surrender’d themselves Prisoners of War” on October 14, though Burgoyne’s formal surrender did not take place until October 17.

[4] On the evening of October 22, 1777, the sixty-four gun Augusta, the sixteen gun Merlin, and several other warships had sailed up the Delaware River in order to fire at Fort Mercer the following day. As the tide fell, both ships were run aground. Efforts to free them failed. On October 23, a general action started with other Royal Navy vessels involved in the bombardment. The ships were engaged by Fort Mifflin and the Pennsylvania Navy, which deployed four fire ships. At about 2:00 PM, the Augusta caught fire, which spread rapidly, and soon the entire vessel was wrapped in flames. After about an hour the fire reached the magazine and the ship exploded. Soon after, the crew of Merlin abandoned ship and set it on fire. It exploded later in the day. Thomas J. McGuire, The Philadelphia Campaign, vol. 2 (Mechanicsburg, Penn.: Stackpole Books, 2007), 171–174.

[5] Fort Mifflin on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware had been evacuated on the night of November 15. On November 18, Lord Cornwallis crossed into New Jersey and assumed command of the troops at Billingsport, which amounted to about 5,000 men. Washington sent Huntington’s Brigade with Nathanael Greene’s division to join the troops in New Jersey in order to defend Fort Mercer, only to find Cornwallis had taken the abandoned fort on November 20. On November 25, Cornwallis and Greene skirmished. Greene wrote to Washington from Haddonfield the next day to report, “I am sorry our march will prove a fruitless one—the enemy have drawn themselves down upon the Peninsula of Gloucester—the Ships are drawn up to cover the Troops….the Shipping being so posted as to cover the Troops and this country is so intersected with creeks, that approaches are rendered extremely difficult, and retreats very dangerous. I should not have halted the troops, but all the Genl Officers were against making an attack the enemy being so securely situated—and so effectually covered by their Shipping.” Eventually, Greene’s column rejoined Washington in Pennsylvania. founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-12-02-0404 .

[6] The Whitemarsh area was home to Washington’s army from November 2, to December 11, 1777, so abundant time was available to fortify the place. On December 4, William Howe marched out of Philadelphia with around 12,000 men. 1st. Lt. Henry Sewall of the 12th Massachusetts Regiment summed up the next five days:

Friday, 5. Were alarm’d about 4 o’Clock in the morning by the discharge of 3 Cannons. Struck Tents,      loaded Baggage, & took our Alarm post, where we continued all day.—The Enemy had advanc’d from   Philadelphia, & took an Eminence in front of our Right Wing—some smart Skirmishing, & prisoners taken,         during the day.—The whole Army form’d in two Lines of Battle, with a Reserve. The Baggage being drove off, oblig’d us to lodge without our Tents, though very Cold.

Saturday, 6. The Enemy in sight,—which oblig’d us to keep under Arms all day, and ly by without our Tents         at night. Moderate Weather—

Sunday, 7. The Enemy shifted towards our Left. some skirmishing,—under Arms all day—

Monday, 8. Towards night, discover’d the Enemy to be on the move—Kept under Arms all day—

Tuesday, 9. Found that the Enemy had retreated into Philadelphia. Our Tents came in,—but not our Baggage.

Henry Sewall Diary, Massachusetts Historical Society. See John W. Jackson, Whitemarsh 1777: Impregnable Stronghold (Fort Washington, PA: Historical Society of Fort Washington, 1984), and Thomas J. McGuire, The Philadelphia Campaign, vol. 2.

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