Paoli Massacre, 20-21 September 1777

Massacre during the American War of Independence, and one of the less glorious moments in the career of Anthony Wayne. On 23 July 1777 The British under General Howe had sailed from New York to attempt the capture of Philadelphia, then the American capital. On 25 August they had landed at Head of Elk, at the head of Chesapeake Bay, putting them within fifty miles of Philadelphia. Washington with the main Continental army moved to defend the city, determined not to suffer a repeat of the debacle before New York in the previous year. He first attempted to defend the Brandywine Creek, but on 11 September Howe forced his way across the river (battle of Brandywine). Another attempt at battle five days later (battle of the Clouds) was aborted by heavy rain. In the aftermath of this second battle, Washington was forced to temporarily pull back to reequip his army. General Anthony Wayne was left with a force of Continentals to harass the British left.

Howe reacted by sending three battalions under Major-General Charles 'No Flint' Grey to remove the threat. He earned his nickname at this battle, by ordering his troops to remove the flints from their muskets, to remove the danger that any of his men might fire and give away their position. Wayne's force was in camp on the night of 20-21 September, possibly with an early morning march in mind themselves, but just after midnight the British were able to inflict their own surprise. Wayne had failed to post an adequate guard, and the surprise was near-total. The British troops stormed into the sleeping American camp, causing absolute chaos. The musket was a slow weapon to load and fire, and the bayonet-armed British troops were able to inflict very heavy losses on the Americans while themselves suffering very little. Over four hundred Americans were killed, wounded or captured, while the British suffered only eight killed out of a total of twenty casualties. This was a major British victory - the Americans suffered half as many casualties as at Brandywine, a full-scale battle, and at Paoli all of their losses came from the precious Continentals. Wayne himself escaped carrying with him a profound respect for the bayonet. Concerned by the massacre, Washington's manoeuvres became more cautious, and Howe was able to cross the Schuylkill on 22 September. On 26 September 1777, the British captured Philadelphia

War for America Black, Jeremy, War For America: The Fight for Independence 1775-1783. Provides a clear narrative of the war, taken year by year, with good chapters on some of the later years that are often skipped over. Also contains a good selection of quotes from participents in the conflict.
cover cover cover

The Glorious Cause Middlekauff, Robert, The Glorious Cause, The American Revolution 1763-1789. A very well researched book that is especially strong on the events that led up to the Revolution, which take up the first third of the book. Unlike many similar books it also covers the years immediately after the war and up to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
cover cover cover

See Also
Books on the American War of Independence
Subject Index: American War of Independence

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (13 October 2003), Paoli Massacre, 20-21 September 1777,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy