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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from John Penn and Cornelius Harnett to Richard Caswell
Penn, John, 1740 or 1-1788; Harnett, Cornelius, 1723-1781
October 20, 1777 - October 25, 1777
Volume 11, Pages 659-660

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[From Executive Letter Book.]

Pennsylvania York Oct. 20th 1777.


Genl Washington attacked Genl Howe's army the 4th Instant near German Town. The Enemy were surprised and gave way in every quarter, we drove them for three hours, and should undoubtedly have obtained a complete victory, had not two divisions of our Troops mistaken each other for enemies and retreated. Disorder soon took place and it was impossible to rally the men again. Genl Howe was so alarmed that it is confidently asserted he had given directions to retreat to Chester, had we not saved him the trouble.

This misfortune was owing to a great Fog, and no air to carry off the smoke, which prevented a man's seeing fifty yards. Our Soldiers behaved with great resolution (and some pushed Bayonettes) until the mistake happened.

General Nash was wounded by a cannon ball early in the engagement, and died two days after, his death is greatly to be lamented, he was highly esteemed by all that knew him. Cols. Buncomb and Irwin were taken prisoners. We have the pleasure to inform you that those of our Countrymen, that were engaged behaved well.

The Enemy's loss must have been very considerable as there were it is said, near 300 wagon loads of wounded carried to the Hospitals in Philadelphia. Genl Howe refused to suffer any of the Inhabitants to walk on the field, until the dead were taken care of. Genl Agnew was killed in the action. Genl Grant we are told died soon after. Kniphausen and Sir Wm. Erskine were wounded. the reports differ whether they are dead or not. Genl Washington has been very busy in preparing every necessary for another attack—which by letters from some of the officers in his army, we expect will be here every hour, and as the spirits of our Soldiers are great in consequence of their having discovered that they can make their enemies run, we hope for great things. Should Genl Howe meet with a defeat, he will be ruined, as we are still in possession of the river Delaware.

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We congratulate your Excellency on the great and important success of the army under the command of Genl Gates. The account we had from Col Trumble several days ago differed a little from Genl Gates' letter, that with others from him, and Genl Burgoyne's we enclose for your amusement.

Yesterday we were informed by a letter from the Chairman of the Committee at Albany directed to a friend of his in New York, that Burgoyne and his whole army had surrendered themselves prisoners of war. It is generally believed here, indeed it is nothing more than what we expected, as that army had very little provision, and were few in number, compared to ours.

The Rev. Mr Drake has acted such a part as will ever disgrace him, in short he may be said to be the first of villains, we cannot help suspecting that the letter he wrote to our worthy Genl. must have been dictated by a Howe, the design of the letter was to prevail on the Genl to negotiate Terms for himself and army. You know Administration have tried bribery and corruption, nothing is too dirty or mean for the British Court, and those that are employed against us, however we trust that the day is not far off when we shall all be free & happy. The confusion the different Clerks have been in for some time, with regard to their books &c. has prevented our getting a copy of the amount of such sums of money as has been received by direction of our State, we will enclosed it, as soon as we can possibly get it, to your Excellency.

Doctor Burke left us last week when he set out for North Carolina. We are with due respect, Sir, your obdt Servts.


P. S. Mr Drake remained in Philadelphia, and of course fell into the Enemy's hands.

25th. Burgoyne and his whole army are prisoners, I have seen Gov'r Clinton's letter this morning giving an account of the matter. Genl Howe has run away, and recrossed Schuylkill. Our army is in pursuit of the runaways. Our little fleet has kept the river against Lord Howe, and all he could do. The Roe-Buck and another large ship are rendered unfit for service. The day is ours.