HILLS, John (fl. 1777-1816) and William FADEN (1750-1836)
Sketch of the Surprise at German Town by the American Forces Commanded by General Washington October 4th 1777
London: William Faden, March 12th, 1784. Copper-engraved map, in full original wash color, with troop positions and movements heightened in original color. Sheet size: 22 3/8 x 27 7/8 inches.
Hills' magnificent plan of the Battle of Germantown, the only printed map of one of Washington's most daring attacks at a critical moment in the Revolutionary War.
On August 25, 1777 British forces under Sir William Howe landed at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. After sharp battles with Washington's army at Brandywine and Paoli, both British victories, Howe seized Philadelphia on September 26. While Washington's forces retreated to the north, Howe made his main encampment of nine thousand British troops and Hessian mercenaries at Germantown, a hamlet five miles north of Philadelphia. He left a further three thousand under Cornwallis to garrison the city. Washington felt that his force of eleven thousand troops could overwhelm Howe if they were able to mount a stealth attack. As depicted on this map, Germantown was spread for about two miles down a main road below where the Wissahickon Creek descended from a steep gorge to flow into the Schuylkill River. Howe made his headquarters on a small rise to the south of the town, while his troops were spread out across the main road (today's Germantown Avenue). On the morning of October 4, Washington divided his force into four columns marked by points B, C, D, and E on the map. He placed his more experienced Continental troops in the two center columns, commanded by Generals Nathaniel Greene and John Sullivan. Sullivan's force advanced into the town through a thick fog, which delayed and confused the attacking force, and bought precious time for the surprised defenders. A British force under Colonel Musgrave responded by counterattacking and then making a strategic retreat. These developments allowed the Hessian commander, the Baron von Knyphausen, to advance his forces, while further British brigades under generals Grey, Agnew, and Stern moved in to shore up the defense of the town, forcing the Americans to retreat to the north. Each of these steps in the action is marked by a letter keyed to the extensive caption in the lower corner of the map. By mid-morning Washington's element of surprise had been totally negated, and the British had succeeded in mounting an organized defense from the Americans, who seemed themselves to be surprised by this reversal of fortune. Lines under American general Adam Stephen, who was later said to be inebriated at the time, advanced but faltered badly upon being engaged by British lines under General Grant. He was also able to repel Greene's American lines. A sharper and better choreographed attack would likely have resulted in a crushing defeat for the British, and would have regained control of the capital. While the weather played a part, Washington had erred in placing his less effective militia columns on the right and left flanks. While the British were initially put on the defensive by Washington's central columns, General Stephen's lamentable effort to follow through on the planned pincer movement essentially sealed the fate of the enterprise, and effectively ended the active part of the campaign. The British were able to spend the coming months enjoying a secured Philadelphia, while Washington and his men were to endure a winter in purgatory at Valley Forge. The present map represents the only printed battle plan of this crucial engagement printed during the Revolutionary era. It is closely based on a manuscript map drafted by John Hills, one of four known manuscripts of the subject made shortly after the battle (the others being drafted by John André, John Montresor, and an anonymous sketcher). It seems that William Faden, then London's most esteemed map printer, had a great deal of difficulty in obtaining any source map for the Germantown conflict. While he was able to print maps of other aspects of the Philadelphia campaign in short order, Faden did not come out with the present map until 1784, including it in his Atlas of Battles of the American Revolution. Hills was one of the most talented and prolific British surveyors working during the Revolutionary War, and a direct eyewitness to many of the events he portrayed on his maps. Serving as an ensign in the 38th and later as a lieutenant in the 23rd regiment, Hills' abilities were greatly valued by his superiors even though his mercurial personality led him into frequent violent altercations with fellow officers and civilians alike. While serving in the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777-78 and later actions in the New Jersey theatre, Hills drafted a magnificent series of manuscript battle plans, and larger regional campaign maps. It would appear that he was apprised of the most advanced British surveys, having had access to the original maps contained in the archives of the Proprietors of East Jersey, and possibly West Jersey. He also seems to have been in contact with various local surveyors in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His greatest work was the manuscript atlas of New Jersey he made for Sir Henry Clinton, now preserved in the Library of Congress. After the war Hills settled in Philadelphia, where he produced fine maps of various locations in the Philadelphia-New York corridor. A Revolutionary War map of great rarity and importance.
Nebenzahl, Battle Plans of the American Revolution, 129. Streeter Sale 806. Phillips, American Maps, p. 129. Stevens and Tree, Comparative Cartography, 17a. Snyder, City of Independence, figure 52. Guthorn, British Maps of the American Revolution 57/7.