Good Night, Peace. Philadelphia, 1777

In July 1777, more than 15,000 British and German troops along with officers, staff and servants, boarded transports at Staten Island that would take them to Philadelphia. They were under the command of General Howe. In August, the fleet landed in Maryland, and from there the army made its way north toward Philadelphia, seemingly unstoppable. On September 26, they marched into the city.

Roughly one third of the troops were German. They included 600 Hessian and Ansbach Jäger under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ludwig von Wurmb, around 1,300 Hessian grenadiers, and four Hessian regiments, for a total of around 4,450 men. Although the records are silent about their number, it is evident that the German troops were also accompanied by a significant number of women and children. One of the men that was part of this corps was the Ansbach Jäger Heinrich Carl Philipp von Feilitzsch (1751-1827). He belonged to a company of Jäger under the command of Captain Christoph von Cramon that was eventually incorporated into the Hessian Jäger Corps.

Germans belonging to Howe’s army frequently criticized British leaders for what they saw as overly lenient treatment of civilians. Indeed, Howe and later Clinton embraced a moderate and conciliatory stance in their treatment of the civilian population, in the hope that it would bring them over to the British side. However, the Germans tended to believe that this mild approach only served to make the inhabitants more defiant, if not openly hostile. Everywhere the Germans went, the majority of the people seemed to be sympathetic to the rebels.

Feilitzsch’s diary entries from late October and early November 1777 reflect these perceptions. Several weeks into the occupation of Philadelphia, he describes the condition of the troops as miserable. The weather was (mostly) bad, provisions lacking, and sickness common. The locals – “the worst nation one can imagine”– refused to supply the army with food. Claims by deserters that the Americans were in bad shape themselves was of little consolation. And things got worse. The devastating defeat of a German corps under Colonel Carl von Donop at the Battle of Red Bank constituted a major blow to morale. Then, within days of this terrible event, news of the British defeat at Saratoga arrived in Philadelphia. “Good night, peace,” Feilitzsch noted in his diary. Any hope for an imminent end to the war had vanished. October 1777 turned out to be an especially bad month for the German troops in the American war.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

[October] 27th: strong rain and wind; nasty weather for someone lying in the open under a tent, as I am. On the 28th, the weather remained the same. It was raining more and more heavily, the wind grew stronger, and it did not pause during the entire day. The weather is thus very different from our fatherland. On the 29th, the weather was still the same. We thought that the Jäger and we would all die. On the 30th at 4 o’clock in the morning, I went on picket duty and thank God the rain stopped. However, for the entire day there was a strong wind. We were lacking provisions and also food. The inhabitants are not bringing us anything even for money. They are the worst nation one can imagine. Their malice and hatred toward us is painted on their faces. We are not allowed to take anything at all from the province [28] or place anything in their way. This only makes their spite more animated, and we have to be more wary of the farmers in their houses than our known enemies. On October 31, the weather was pleasant. It was said here today that Colonel [Carl] von Donop has died while in the hands of the rebels. However, his adjutant Captain Wagner was taken to Philadelphia severely wounded. The total loss at the fort is 377 men, including 23 officers that were killed or wounded. On November 1, the weather was pleasant but very cold. The captain and the same company were almost all sick. We still did not have any provisions. Once we control the Delaware this will all change. In addition, we learned from deserters that the rebels were in very bad circumstances. On the 2nd, the weather was pleasant, but nothing else had changed. On the 3rd, the weather was pleasant. Today, we celebrated Lieutenant Heinrich’s birthday. The captain was better again and returned to the company. The very sad news was confirmed that the commanding general Bourgoyne was captured by the rebels in Canada along with 4000 men, most of whom are troops from Braunschweig. Good night, peace. Once again, we were not able without God’s help to flatter ourselves with this sweet hope.

John Montrésor, A survey of the city of Philadelphia … [1777?], Library of Congress. Accessed at https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3824p.ar302200/

TRANSCRIPTION

Den 27ten, starker Regen u. Wind ein garstiges Wetter hier auf dem Freyen unter einem Zelt zu liegen wie ich d. 28 war noch das ersenliche Wetter, es regnete immer stärcker, der Wind vermehrte sich, und dabey setzte es den gantzen Tag nicht aus, es ist also ganz anders als in unsern Vaterland, d 29ten Noch immer das selbige Wetter, wir glaubten, die Jäger u. wir mussten alle umkommen, d 30ten frühe 4 Uhr kam ich auf das Piquet u. Gott sey Dank es hörte auf zu regnen, war aber den Tag über ein starcker Wind. Es fehlte uns anietzo an Provision u. auch an Lebensmittels vor das Geld die Einwohner bringen uns nichts, und ist die schlimmste Nation die man sich vorstellen kann, auf ihren Gesichtern ist ihre Malice u. Hass gegen uns abgemahlt, wir dürffen der ganzen Provinz [28] hier, nicht das mindeste nehmen, und nichts in dem Weg legen, alleine dieses macht ihre Bosheit immer mehr aufleben, und dabey müssen wir uns vor denen Bauern in den Häussern mehr denn vor unseren öffentl. Feinden in Acht nehmen. d. 31ten Oct.: schön Wetter, heute sagt man hier das Obrist von Donopp in der Rebellen Hände gestorben seyn, seyn Adjudant aber Captitain Wagner wurde nach Phyladelphia als sehr stark blessiert gebracht. Der ganze Verlust vor dem Fort ist 377 Mann worunter 23 Officiers todt u. blessiert sind. d. 1ten Nov.: schön Wetter aber sehr kalt, der Capitain u. die selbe Comapgnie waren fast beide krank wir hatten noch immer keine Provision, hätten wir doch einmal dem Delawar dann würde sich alles ändern. Auch hatten wir durch Deserders die Nachricht, dass die Rebellen in gar sehr schlechten Umständen waren. d 2ten schön Wetter, aber sonst nichts veränderliches d 3ten schön Wetter heute wurde des Lieut. Heinrichs Geburtsfest celebriert. Der Captitain war wieder besser, und kam zur Compagnie zurück. Die sehr betrübte Nachricht besträrckte sich, dass der commandierente General Bourgogne in Canada mit 4000 Mann meist Braunschweigischen Truppen von den Rebellen gefangen ward. Gute Nacht Friede, abermahls durften wir uns ohne Gottes Hilfe dieses Jahr mit dieser süssen Hoffnung nicht schmeicheln.

Citation: Tagebuch des markgräfl. bayreuthischen Lieutenants, späteren Capitains Heinrich Karl Philipp von Feilitzsch aus dem Hause Weinslitz Bez.amts Hof, März 1777-Juni 1780, ff. 28-29 (October 27 to November 3, 1777), Universitätsbibliothek Bayreuth, 47/Ms. 100. Accessed at http://digital.bib-bvb.de/webclient/DeliveryManager?custom_att_2=simple_viewer&pid=14698516

Image: Archibald Robertson, “View of Philadelphia. 28 Nov. 1777,” Spencer Collection, New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed at https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/8ad122b6-93ff-b5ba-e040-e00a1806388a

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