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Paoli Massacre

Following a defeat at Brandywine Creek and a later, indecisive engagement shortened by rain, George Washington led the bulk of his army to Reading Furnace in Pennsylvania for new ammunition supplies. Anthony Wayne was left behind with a regiment at Paoli to harass British forces under William Howe. The main British camp lay at Tredyffin, where preparations were underway for a final push into Philadelphia. However, word was received that Wayne was in the area and the decision was made to ambush that force before moving against the American capital. Major General Lord Charles Grey did all he could to ensure a complete surprise of the encamped Americans. He would later be remembered as “No Flint Grey” because he ordered his soldiers to remove the flints from their muskets prior to battle. That directive assured that no accidental discharge of weapons would occur, but also it presupposed the use of bayonets in the attack. Shortly after midnight on September 21, a force of 5,000 British troops descended upon 1,500 Americans, most of whom were sleeping. An advance force of the attackers had managed to pass the American sentries by uttering a secret password extracted from a local blacksmith. Wayne’s camp was quickly overrun; the tents were set on fire and many soldiers were bayoneted as they slept. Wayne was eventually able to rally his troops and form an orderly retreat, succeeding even in saving their cannon. The Americans headed for temporary safety in West Chester after suffering 53 soldiers killed and more than 100 wounded. The event quickly became known as the Paoli “Massacre” — a term clearly intended to arouse revulsion in the minds of American patriots, many of whom viewed the bayonet as barbaric. A formal review of Wayne’s actions determined that he had committed tactical errors at Paoli. The general was angered by that finding; he demanded and received a full court-martial. That body reprised the matter and acquitted Wayne with honor. Following the attack at Paoli, the door to Philadelphia was unguarded. Howe and his forces entered the American capital on September 26.