American Revolutionary War Battles

The Battle of the Clouds

September 16, 1777 near present-day Malvern, Pennsylvania

Battle Summary

The Battle of the Clouds (also known as the Battle of Warren, Battle of Whitehorse Tavern, or the Battle of Goshen) was an aborted engagement of the Philadelphia campaign of the Revolutionary War in the area surrounding present day Malvern, Pennsylvania. After the American defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, the British Army remained encamped near Chadds Ford.

When British commander General William Howe was informed that the weakened American force was less than 10 miles away, he decided to press for another decisive victory.

General George Washington learned of Howe's plans, and prepared for battle. Before the two armies could fully engage, a torrential downpour ensued. Significantly outnumbered, and with tens of thousands of cartridges ruined by the rain, Washington opted to retreat. Bogged down by rain and mud, the British allowed Washington and his army to withdraw.

Facts about the Battle of the Clouds

  • Armies - American Forces was commanded by Gen. George Washington and consisted of about 10,000 Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Gen. William Howe and consisted of about 18,000 Soldiers.
  • Casualties - American casualties were about 100 killed/wounded. British casualties were about 100 killed/missing.
  • Outcome - The result of the battle was Inconclusive. The battle was part of the Philadelphia Campaign 1777-78.
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Prelude

After Washington's defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, he was intent on accomplishing two tasks. He wanted to protect Philadelphia from British forces under the command of Howe, and he needed to replenish the rapidly dwindling supplies and munitions which were stored in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Washington withdrew across the Schuylkill River, marched through Philadelphia, and headed northwest. Since the Schuylkill River was fordable only far upstream starting at Matson's Ford (present-day Conshohocken), Washington could protect both the capital and the vital supply areas to the west from behind the river barrier. Yet he reconsidered, and recrossed the river to face the British, who had moved little since Brandywine, owing to a shortage of wagons to carry both their wounded and their baggage.

Battle Begins

On September 15, Howe was alerted that Washington had recrossed the Schuylkill River in the afternoon. By midnight, his troops were on the march toward the major road junction where the White Horse Tavern stood. The going was difficult because the weather had been rainy and windy, and the troops and wagons turned the roads into muddy quagmires.

On September 16, in the morning, Washington's 10,000 man army was moving west through the Great Valley, bound by the North and South Valley Hills on either side. He learned from his cavalry, led by Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, that the British were advancing on him from the south just a few miles away.

Although moving to the North Valley Hills would have given Washington more time to deploy and possibly fortify, he ordered the army south directly toward the British to take up a defensive position on the South Valley Hills. The position was three miles long and was strong, especially in the center.

Washington sent an advance force under Brigadier General Anthony Wayne to slow the British progress. At about 2:00 PM, his men encountered the advance jäger units of the Hessian column on one road. These forces began skirmishing, and the Americans very nearly captured Colonel Carl von Donop when he became separated from his main column with a small company of jägers. The main British column, led by Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis, met with Wayne's Pennsylvania militia on another road at around 3:00 PM, who gave way in a panicked retreat.

While this went on, Washington, who was trying to organize the line of battle, had a change of heart about the position, and ended up withdrawing the army north of the tavern. This withdrawal was just getting underway when it began pouring rain. Hessian jäger captain Johann Ewald described it as "an extraordinary thunderstorm, [...] combined with the heaviest downpour in this world."

The British army halted its advance, although Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen ordered the jägers to engage the enemy. Ewald and his men rushed forward, swords drawn since their muskets were inoperable due to wet powder, and captured 34 men.

The storm, which historian Thomas McGuire describes as "a classic nor'easter", raged well into the next day. The British were forced to construct a makeshift camp (having left their tents behind that day), and Washington managed to form a battle line, but a great deal of his ammunition was spoiled by the rain and poorly constructed cartridge boxes.

Aftermath

On September 19, Washington once again withdrew beyond the Schuylkill River to cover both the capital and his supply area, but he left behind Wayne's Pennsylvania division of 1,500 men and four guns with orders to harass the British rear. Howe's army found it nearly impossible to follow Washington over the rutted, muddy roads. The decision was made to wait out the storm, then move toward their objective.

Wayne was to be joined by militia, and together they were to strike at the enemy baggage train as the British advanced on Washington's main army. However, his force was surprised at the Battle of Paoli, and the British were free to occupy Philadelphia.