Sunday, 15 November 2015

Battle of Whitemarsh, an AWI scenario

This weeks battle comes from the 1777 campaign during the AWI.  The British forces, under General Howe, had occupied Philadelphia but still needed to bring the American army to battle.  Scouts had reported to Howe that the Americans had taken up a position at Whitemarsh which covered their supply bases.  Having reorganised his forces Howe advanced on the Whitemarsh position in early December.  Three days of skirmishing convinced Howe that there was no way round the by now entrenched position and it was too strong to attack frontally, so he withdrew to Philadelphia.

American position from the left flank
Steve's scenario had Howe moving against the American forces before the entrenchments were completed, thus making an attack feasible.  The British forces consisted of three brigades, each containing four infantry units and a light gun.  On the left was Grey, whose command included a battalion of grenadiers.  In the centre, Grant with a unit of combined light companies and three line battalions and on the right, Cornwallis with  a unit of Hessian jaegers and three line battalions. Howe's plan was for Grey and Cornwallis to attack the American flanks, whilst Grant advanced against the centre, attempting to prevent Washington sending reinforcements to the flanks.

Sullivan's militia brigade
Washington had two brigades of Continental infantry; Greene on the left and Stirling in the centre, with Sullivan's brigade of militia on the right.  He had reinforced the militia by sending them the elite light infantry battalion.  His plan was to hold his position and protect his supply base.

The British attack on the left made good progress.  The first British volley sent the American skirmishers back in disorder.  This was followed up by two volleys which forced the light infantry battalion to fall back to reform.  In no time at all the forward slope of the ridge was empty of American troops.  On the other flank Cornwallis was advancing more steadily, but the jaegers were beginning to fire to some effect against the flanking battalion of Green's command.  It was in the centre that the British were having problems.  Grant's units were hampered by the wooded terrain and took time to form up.  However, they were far enough away from the American lines to be out of musketry range.

Grey's brigade ready to advance
Once Cornwallis organised his line battalions their fire, added to that of the jaegers forced Greene to pull his exposed unit back to reform.  However, he had managed to move one of the units from his second line to plug the gap.  This unit was welcomed by two rounds from Cornwallis's artillery and then a couple of rounds from the British line.  Wavering, they were forced to fall back and reform, once again exposing the American flank.  As the British advanced to exploit the gap, Greene's artillery came to his rescue and forced one of the British battalions to fall back and then turned their attention to the jaegers and forced them to fall back also.

Greene reforms his flank
On the opposite flank, Grey was advancing with some confidence following his initial success.  However, the American militia proved to be of stern stuff.  Trading volleys with the British battalions, they forced one to fall back.  However, this brought the grenadiers forward and their fire broke the resolve of two militia battalions.  As Sullivan rushed to rally them, the reformed elite light infantry moved forward.  They too began to trade volleys with the grenadiers.  To their left two militia battalions attempted to stop a second British line battalion establishing itself on the ridge.

Grey's men attack the militia
Whilst the flank attacks were doing well, Grant's battalions were suffering losses from the units of Stirling's command.  Two line battalions were forced to fall back to the tree line by the American artillery.  However, the light infantry managed to keep advancing and soon engaged the American infantry.

The crisis of the battle approached.  Sullivan's command was nearing the end of it's tether.  All the units had suffered losses and further casualties may well break the brigade.  Grey increased the pressure by advancing his units up the slope of the ridge and fired volleys at closed range.  Greene on the American left  was also struggling due to heavy losses.  Would Cornwallis prevail?

The militia save the day
The action started with Grey, whose grenadiers prepared to fire volleys against the light companies.  However, the American troops managed to fire first.  Their volley struck home and forced the grenadiers to fall back.  Inspired, a unit of militia also 'got the drop' on their opponents and drove them back.  Suddenly, the ridge was empty of British troops.  Cornwallis's men fired their volleys, but the Americans stood their ground, and in their turn reinforcements arrived from the centre.

With the December light fading and hope of a breakthrough receding, Howe called off the attack and ordered a withdrawal to Philadelphia.  For his part, Washington breathed a huge sigh of relief; he had been within a whisker of losing both his flank brigades and with it the battle.  


  1. Great and wonderful information.I like the way of writing and presenting the information.Waiting for new stuff and i enjoyed a essays

  2. Thanks very much for your comments John, much appreciated

  3. You write like a historian sir. Love your posts. Keep up the good work - and an exciting game too by the looks of things..

  4. Better luck next time Mr. Cornwallis.