Date: September 21, 1777.
- British: Major General Charles Grey;
- American: Brigadier General Anthony Wayne.
- British: 5,000;
- American: 1,500
British Perspective: After the “Battle of the Clouds” (September 16, 1777) ended prematurely due to heavy rain, the British went into camp at Tredyffrin.
From this position, General Howe could move his army across the Schuykill River and attack Philadelphia to the east or the Patriot supply depot at Reading to the west.
While in camp, local Tory spies reported that although the main army under General Washington had crossed over the Schuykill, a strong force of Americans had remained behind near Paoli Tavern to assault the flank of any British pursuit.
In addition, the Americans left valuable supplies at Valley Forge.
Howe, who rarely acted quickly, moved with commendable celerity by dispatching a veteran force under a capable leader to destroy the detached Patriots and retrieve the supplies.
The officer in charge of the operation was Maj. Gen. Charles Grey, a distinguished officer with a string of accomplishments to his credit.
Grey sifted through the intelligence and settled upon a stealth march within striking range of the Americans, followed by a daring night attack with only bayonets, musket butts, and swords.
In order to achieve maximum stealth, Grey ordered his men to remove their flints lest an accidental rifle shot to warn the enemy of their approach (hence his nickname “No Flint”).
He moved out on September 20 about 10:00 p.m. with the 2nd Light Infantry Battalion and the 42nd and 44th Regiments of Foot. Although another pair of regiments followed a few hours later, neither played a role in the fighting.
American Perspective: After losing at Brandywine (September 11, 1777) and escaping a potential disaster at the aptly named “Battle of the Clouds” five days later, General Washington withdrew his army west across the Schuykill River toward Reading to refit and resupply his men.
Wayne acted as a quasi-rearguard to harass and delay any British attempt at pursuit. He took up a position two miles southwest of Paoli Tavern.
Because he grew up in the area, he knew its roads and fields well. Despite the advantage afforded by operating in familiar terrain in an area filled with kith and kin, Tories also lived there.
Anxious to see their rebellious neighbors stopped by their British allies, the Loyalists had no problems with sharing intelligence on Wayne’s placement.
By the time the sunset on September 20, General Anthony Wayne and his men had set up their tents.
Guards were placed throughout the camp and protected the roads leading to it. Everything seemed to be calm.
General Grey marched his men quickly and was in the position to strike about 1:00 a.m. He arranged his men accordingly and advanced east towards the sleeping bivouac, knowing a night attack was difficult to execute and even more difficult to control.
A few American sentries posted on the outskirts of the rebel camp opened fire on the advancing British before turning to flee and raise the alarm.
An alarmed Anthony Wayne ordered his men into battle formation, but he could not get his soldiers ready to fight before the British had closed in on them.
The British followed General Grey’s orders and only used the bayonet and the sword. This kept their attack somewhat quieter than if they were to fire a volley.
The Americans retreated and managed to spare 4 pieces of artillery from capture.
British: 4 killed, 7 wounded
Americans: 53 killed, 100 wounded, and 71 captured
Result: General Anthony Wayne joined back with General Washington’s army and did not receive punishment for negligence. Most of his army escaped to safety and rallied at various taverns.
General Grey led his men back to the main British Army in Philadelphia.
The unintended consequence that the Battle of Paoli had was to raise American Morale. Despite the loss, there were many negative rumors that began to circulate that branded the British as mongrels.
It was said that they massacred the Americans and did not offer quarter to those that surrendered. This resulted in a boost to American morale and those that died became martyrs for the cause.
The British feared that the Americans were going to try and get even.