From Joseph Reed
Merion Meeting House [Pa.] Oct. 23d 1777
You will before this reaches you be informed that the Enemy quitted their Post last Evening. of Consequence the Attempt failed. the best Account I can get of it, is that Genl Howe with his principal officers came over yesterday reconnoitred the Ground which they were busily fortifying—they immediately ceased working began to embark & continued it till Sunset when the last went over. They then broke the Bridge & sent one Part one Way & another the other Way1—The Officers attending him said that Red bank was taken—a Sailor Prisoner also reports something of the same Nature—Ther[e] was a very heavy Fire of Cannon & Musquetry which held from Sun an Hour high till quite dark & was generally believed to be at Redbank. From the Time of the Report corresponding so ill with that of the Attack I hope it has not succeeded & am the more inclined to think so as the Fire of the Musqu[e]try from being very hot gradually decreased to a small scatt[er]ing Fire. However the Event is not yet so well ascertained as to form a true Judgment of it. There was a great Explosion about 1 oClock it is reported to be Man of War but this also wants Confirmation.2
Upon conversing with General Potter I find he entertains a different Opinion of the Islands from Genl Wayne founded on the Reports of a Number of Persons who are acquaintd with the Subject. Genl Cadwallader & myself are both of Opinion that considering the Advancement of the Season no Time is to be lost in determining the Plan of Operations: And as there is a different State of Facts we have concluded to satisfy ourselves fully in the Point before we return. If the Advance of the Army on this Side Schuylkill will give Support to the Fort & afford a Prospect of raising the Seige we are much inclined to think the Troops cannot be more usefully and efficaciously employed. Genl Potter seems confident that with 2000 Men he could interrupt the Communication between the Town & Shipping. In order to effect this Business we have detained Lieut. Watts of Col. Blands Reg. (by Permission of Genl McDougal) with 6 Dragoons,3 but we doubt whether that number will be sufficient to afford a sufficient number of Vedettes on the many cross Roads. In a Letter Genl McDougal received from your Excelly this Afternoon you mention sending Capt. Lee on this Side in order to reconnoitre & gain Intelligence4 if it was consistent with your other Views to direct him to remain with us for a Day or two we think it would facilitate our Design—In this Case you will please to direct him to come to Genl Potters at or near the Fox Chace where he will hear of us.5 We shall do what we can without waiting for him & in the mean Time collect all Intelligence of the Enemy Progress & Movements which we will communicate as early as possible. I am with great Truth & Regard Dr Sir Your affect. & Obed. Hbble Serv⟨an⟩t
1. For the decision to send General McDougall’s detachment to attack the British outpost at Gray’s Ferry on the Schuylkill River, see GW to James Potter, 21 Oct., n.2. Reed says in his letter to Thomas Wharton, Jr., of 24 Oct. that he marched with McDougall on the evening of 22 Oct.: “We cross’d the River about 10 Miles from Philada. The whole Detachment when joined by Genl Potter made about 4000 Men; tho’ they had march’d all the Night before, & cross’d the River twice, they went back with great Spirits. We reached the Ground about Sunrise [on 23 Oct.], & to our great Surprise found the Post had been evacuated the preceding Evening, & their Bridge broken to Pieces. The Detachment, after destroying their Huts, Works, &c., returned to Camp” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 5:701–2).
British engineer Capt. John Montresor says in his journal entry for 21 Oct.: “I began on the Téte de Pont [bridgehead] on the West Side of Schuylkill with the Detachment left there 71st and 1 Battalion Hessians and 27th Regiment. . . . Accounts in the night that Genl. Weeden and 4000 rebels had crossed South Side of Schuylkill.” In his entry for 22 Oct., Montresor wrote: “Accounts that the rebels had passed a considerable body from their camp across the Schuylkill, the 10th and 28th ordered as a working party, and I began on Hamilton’s House opposite Gray’s Ferry. . . . At 3 o’clock P.M. the works for the tete de pont at Gray’s Ferry ordered to be stopt and the Detacht. to return and the bridge to be taken up and carried to Middle Ferry” (Scull, Montresor Journals description begins G. D. Scull, ed. The Montresor Journals. New York, 1882. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 14. description ends , 469–70; see also Ewald, Diary, description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends 96–97). For the subsequent British construction of a floating bridge at the middle ferry about two miles up the Schuylkill River from Gray’s Ferry, see Reed to GW, 24 Oct., and note 1.
2. For accounts of the unsuccessful Hessian attack on Fort Mercer at Red Bank, N.J., on 22 Oct., see Samuel Ward, Jr., to GW, this date, and note 2. For an account of the burning of the British warships Augusta and Merlin on this date, see Robert Ballard to GW, this date, n.2.
3. This officer is either William Watts of Maryland or John Watts (1752–1830) of Virginia, both of whom were lieutenants at this time in Col. Theodorick Bland’s 1st Continental Light Dragoon Regiment.
4. This letter has not been found.
5. Reed probably is referring to the Fox Chase Inn, which was located near Cobb’s Creek a few miles north of Darby, Pennsylvania.