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Battle of the Clouds

In the days following his defeat at Brandywine, George Washington was intent on accomplishing two contradictory tasks: (1) protecting Philadelphia from British forces under William Howe and (2) replenishing rapidly dwindling supplies and munitions from stockpiles in Reading, Pennsylvania. For reasons known only to General Howe, the British did not immediately pursue Washington’s retreating army after the victory of September 11, 1777. Instead, Howe remained in camp for several days along Brandywine Creek, then resumed the chase. Washington received word of the British advance and chose to make a stand at a location on a valley road between Lancaster and Philadelphia. Skirmishing began on September 16 and British forces initiated flanking movements around the American lines. Before the armies were fully engaged, however, rain began and quickly turned into a steady downpour. Powder became wet, making firearms useless. This “battle” in the clouds of rain and fog never developed. Washington withdrew his forces, led his army to Reading for supplies and left behind a small force under Anthony Wayne to harass the presumed British movement toward Philadelphia. 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 established a camp near Paoli, where he would be surprised by a British raid a few days later.

NOTE: The name of this engagement is similar to at least two other and probably better-known battles. The Battle in the Clouds was a World War I engagement in which Italian forces successfully stormed an Austro-Hungarian mountain-top position in August 1917. The Battle above the Clouds, one of the most famous of the American Civil War, saw the Union forces of Thomas Hooker win an important victory on Lookout Mountain in November 1863.