The Battle of Germantown comes alive

On October 4, 1777, George Washington lead American soldiers against the British in the Battle of Germantown. The British had recently taken Philadelphia. Washington had learned that the British General, Sir William Howe, was splitting his troops between the capital city and Germantown. On a foggy morning, he lead a well-planned attack on the British. After making some good progress at first, the Americans lost the battle in the end. But their success in the beginning gave them hope that they could eventually win. They took this high morale with them into the winter spent training at Valley Forge. And the boldness of the attack impressed the French government, which decided to become more active in backing the rebel colonies.

In honor of this historic moment, our partner Historic Germantown stages a yearly reenactment on the battle’s anniversary. On October 3, the grounds of Cliveden were transformed by over a hundred Revolutionary War re-enaction actors in full uniform.

For the second year in a row, Historic Fair Hill was in attendance with a “field hospital” for wounded soldiers. We splinted arms, wrapped up heads, and sent the junior troops back out to play!

It was a very cold day, but even so a crowd turned out to watch the “fight”. As actors came by, they’d explain their costumes. Some were very specific: they’d researched and designed their costume carefully to represent one individual from the Revolutionary War. Others were more general, but all had taken extreme care with choosing the right fabrics and cuts for everything they wore.

As people who work for the ideal of peace, what can we learn from war?

For children and adults alike, these events help us remember that history is the story of living people like you and I. A reenactment might thrill you or give you shivers — I felt a bit of both watching the actors and imagining this happening exactly where I stood.

The group from Grumblethorpe, a local historic farm, had coffee and hot chocolate for sale. People came and warmed up and chatted with each other. Pedestrians who’d been just walking by came over asking what on earth was going on. The neighborhood gathered and watched the actors together; it was a connection between the past and the present.

The way to learn from history is to remember that its participants were people with choices, just like us. When we remember this, we can think about those choices and decide which ones to emulate. At the Battle of Germantown, the Rebels literally lost the battle but won the war. That’s a lesson played out in living color.

More Resources

History Channel
Historic Germantown
Cliveden
Grumblethorpe

Meredith Hutcheson

Meredith joined the Historic Fair Hill team in late 2015. She's been creating content and media since 2008. Strengthening communities both online and off is her passion.

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