The Paoli "Massacre"

September 20-21, 1777

    After Brandywine, Washington withdrew behind the Schuylkill, marched through Philadelphia, then headed north in order to protect both the capital and the vital supply areas to the west from behind the river.  But he soon decided to re-cross the river and face the British.  After skirmishing at "The Battle of the Clouds", Washington once again withdrew behind the Schuylkill on September 19th to cover both the capital and his supply area, but on the 18th he had left behind Anthony Wayne's Pennsylvania division of around 2,200 men and four guns with orders to harass the British rear.  Wayne was to be joined with militia, and together they would strike the enemy baggage train as the British advanced on Washington's main army.  If successful, they could do great harm to the British cause.  Instead, they would be attacked themselves.

    On the afternoon of the 19th, Wayne evacuated his camp at Paoli Tavern and moved to the ridge south of Warren Tavern, the area now preserved as the Paoli battlefield.  That night Howe dispatched a force to attack Wayne, but it was discovered and Wayne escaped.  Instead of finding another campsite, Wayne returned for the night of the 20th and 21st, possibly to better facilitate meeting up with the militia.  A civilian reported to Wayne that the British intended to attack again, so Wayne sent out six picket posts to protect the camp.   

    Howe didn't know Wayne's exact location, but he was, in fact, once again planning an attack on Wayne's camp.  On the night of September 20th, two columns of British troops, one under Col. Musgrave with about 500 men in the east, and another under Maj. Gen. Charles Grey with 1,200 to 1,500 men in the west were sent to attack the camp.  Grey would earn his nickname "No Flint" Grey when he ordered his men to remove the flints from their muskets.  Under cover of night, the British were ordered to be silent under penalty of death.

    For a better understanding of the area and its terrain, please see the map page.

1) Warren Tavern

    Although he was encamped on a sizeable ridge, Wayne knew he was in a dangerous situation, and he posted a number of pickets around his camp.  Picket #5 here near the General Warren Tavern, specifically up the road on the left of the picture.  The embankment in the center of the photo is for a railroad, and the driveway into the modern General Warren Inne leads to a filled-in underpass below the tracks.  Presumably this is the location of the Moore Hall or Longford Road on which the British approached the tavern.  Continental cavalry pickets along this road exchanged fire with the advancing British, and one cavalryman rode past the tavern up the Sugartown Road on the left of the picture and up the ridge to inform Wayne.  The Americans were now alerted.

    Grey had rounded up all civilians along his route to protect the secrecy of his attack, and he kept them near the tavern, but upon reaching the intersection, none of them could tell him which direction to take.  He didn't know that each way led to a flank of Wayne's camp.  As it tuned out, his choice would be decisive.  A blacksmith up the road on the right of the picture, the Lancaster Road, was coerced into revealing that Wayne's camp, preceded by an American picket post, was ahead.  So Grey sent his column up the road, silenced Picket #4, which fired a volley, and continued to the camp.  Had he instead advanced up the Sugartown Road, Musgrave would have been well positioned to cut off Wayne's escape.  As it was, only Grey's column would be engaged, and Wayne escaped total destruction.

2) Picket #3 to Encampment

    Present Day Warren Avenue is on the left of the picture, and the tavern is behind the cameraman down the ridge about a mile distant.  Off the picture to the left is Channing Avenue, parallel to Warren Ave.  Grey's column took one of these modern-day roads up the ridge.  Nearing Wayne's camp, the British encountered yet another picket, Picket #3 behind a fence to their left near the modern Baptist Church.  (behind the cameraman to the left)

    Having been warned, the Pennsylvania division was now forming in the field visible here through a gap in the woods on the right quarter of the picture.  The American line was perpendicular to Warren Avenue and was therefore vulnerable to attack in the flank, which is exactly what the British would do.  Wayne's artillery was on his right near the British, and he ordered it, then the baggage, to withdraw to the left behind his line.  The infantry would then wheel from line into column and withdraw.  Meanwhile Wayne joined the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment as it pivoted right and advanced into the woods to join Picket #3 and meet the British attack.  The picket was overwhelmed, and the Americans began to fire on each other, exposing their position to the British.  The regiment had too many rifles and not enough bayonets and was unable to stop a bayonet attack by the British Light Infantry. 

    Incidentally, the Bowen house was to the right of Warren Avenue, probably down the slope visible here, and a swamp was just beyond the house.  As the attack progressed, over 50 American troops took shelter in the swamp. 

   Back to Revolutionary War Virtual Battlefield Tours

Continue to Part 2