New Jersey | Oct 22, 1777
A force of Hessian soldiers in Sir William Howe's British army were ordered to take Forts Mercer and Mifflin following the fall of Philadelphia.
How it ended
American victory. Hessians suffered nearly fifty percent casualties including Colonel Karl von Donop. The Americans recorded few casualties. The fort remained in American hands for a few weeks longer.
In the summer of 1777, British General Sir William Howe sailed south from New York City to capture the rebel capital of Philadelphia. General George Washington prepared to meet Howe and defend the city. The two armies clashed at Brandywine Creek on September 11 and the battle resulted in a British victory.
Howe then entered and occupied the city. Washington tried to dislodge one of the Howe at Germantown but failed. The Philadelphia Campaign was nearly complete.
The British captured the Patriot capital of Philadelphia on September 26, 1777. Following the defeat at Germantown, the Americans hoped to deny the British access to the city via the Delaware River. This was done by reinforcing Fort Mercer on the New Jersey side of the river and Fort Mifflin on the Pennsylvania side. As long as the Continentals held both forts, the British could not resupply the city from the sea. Along with the forts, they had a small flotilla of Continental Navy ships which were supplemented by the Pennsylvania State Navy. The American fleet was small and outgunned by the nine vessels the British would bring in to assist in the attack on Fort Mercer. The British sailed up the Delaware on October 20th.
The Hessians ferried across the river on October 21, landing near Camden, New Jersey. Met with light resistance, they marched closer to the fort. Jaeger Captain Johann Ewald approached the Salem and Cape May County militia. A skirmish broke out but the Americans were unable to halt the Hessians, who made camp for the night at Haddonfield. They marched for Fort Mercer at 4 a.mm on the 22.
Colonel Carl von Donop was overly confident in the upcoming attack and said to have claimed “either that will be Fort Donop or I shall be dead.” The Hessians began their attack at 4:45 p.m. on October22. The American defenders, under Col. Christopher Greene of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, awaited the assault. The Hessians gained entry to the abandoned section of the fort but because they didn’t have axes or tools to cut through the obstacles they became sitting ducks for Greene's men on the walls. When the battalion’s commander was shot, the Hessians panicked and a temporary retreat ensued. At the same time American gunboats opened a supporting fire, which pinned down the attackers. Despite being wounded, von Donop stayed remained in the fight. He was shot thirteen times and collapsed on the field.
Although the assault failed, the British were determined to capture the forts and open their supply line to Philadelphia. A few weeks later, both forts fell to the British. Howe spent the winter in Philadelphia while Washington camped at Valley Forge.