Siege of Fort Mifflin - Siege - Preparations


Colonel Lewis Nicola held Fort Mifflin with a party of Pennsylvania militia, mostly men unfit for field service. Among the approximately 60 militiamen present for duty, not a single one knew how to operate the cannons. On 23 September with Philadelphia about to be captured, Washington sent Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith of the 4th Maryland Regiment with a detachment of Continentals into the fort on Mud Island. Smith's force numbered 200 soldiers plus Major Robert Ballard of Virginia, Major Simeon Thayer of Rhode Island, and Captain Samuel Treat of the Continental Artillery. However, another account stated that Thayer did not reach Fort Mifflin until October 19. With the British army closing in on Philadelphia, the small force had to reach Fort Mifflin by a circuitous route. On the last leg of their journey, reinforcements for Mud Island had to be ferried across the Delaware from Red Bank, New Jersey under the protection of the Pennsylvania Navy river flotilla commanded by John Hazelwood. Washington ordered Colonel the Baron Henry Leonard d'Arendt, a six-foot tall Prussian to take charge of Fort Mifflin. Since the baron was too sick to assume his post, Smith became the effective commander. To further complicate matters, Lieutenant Colonel John Green of the 7th Virginia Regiment, who outranked Smith, arrived with reinforcements on October 18. Smith developed an uneasy relationship with Hazelwood and their differences soon became obvious. On October 4, Washington marched against Howe's army at the Battle of Germantown but was defeated.

To deny the British the use of Province and Carpenter's Islands, the Americans broke the riverside dikes. This act forced their enemies to build their batteries on top of the dikes and to labor in knee-deep water. As an example of the difficulties involved, the British lost an 8-inch howitzer and a soldier drowned when the craft carrying the gun sank in the Schuylkill. On the night of October 10, Captain John Montresor had his crews begin work on a battery on Carpenter's Island, opposite the fort. At this time, the British already had constructed a two gun battery near the mouth of the Schuylkill River. On the 11th, Hazelwood and Smith launched a joint attack by row galleys on the working parties. After losing one man killed and one wounded, a total of two officers and 56 enlisted men from the 1st Grenadier Battalion waved the white flag. The prisoners were quickly herded into the Americans' boats before engineer Captain James Moncrieffe could arrive with a rescue party of Hessians. The British court martialed two officers for this setback.

On October 14, French engineer Major François-Louis Teissèdre de Fleury came to the fort and proved a great help to Smith. Fleury, who had come to America with Du Coudray, set about improving the defenses. He built a firing step for the soldiers to fire over the palisades, a redan to support the main battery, constructed a last-stand redoubt at the fort's center, and corrected some of the fort's shortcomings. Thomas Paine visited the fort on the 15th and observed that 30 enemy shells fell into the fort that day. On October 20, a British red-hot shot set off a minor explosion in the northwest blockhouse. Baron d'Arendt finally came to assume command on the 21st. While taking the Prussian on a tour of the fort, Smith and Fleury watched with shock and contempt as the terrified man ran away from the damaged blockhouse. D'Arendt announced that the fort was indefensible and left Mud Island for good on October 27, pleading "illness".

Read more about this topic:  Siege Of Fort Mifflin, Siege

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