“Marched at Day Break and fell in With the Rebels”

Anonymous British diary,
13 April 1777 to 26 September 1777

Transcribed by John U. Rees
© 2002

This British diary is perhaps unremarkable when compared to numbers of other contemporary soldiers’ accounts; likely written by a junior officer, possibly with duties in the quartermaster or commissary department, details of soldiers’ daily life and personal comments are sorely lacking. On the other hand, the document does cover a period of intense military activity in northern New Jersey, followed by the British landings at the Head of Elk in August and the early stages of the Philadelphia Campaign. Both major and minor actions are discussed; in fact, except for a few other notable occurrences, encounters with the enemy dominate the narrative.

Here is a compendium of encounters, large and small, the author mentions.

13 April 1777 - This likely refers to the 12 April action near New Brunswick between General Benjamin Lincoln’s American forces and British and German troops commanded by Lord Cornwallis.

10 May - Action near Bonhamtown, New Jersey. General Alexander Stephen’s division’s attack on the British 33rd, 42nd, and 71st regiments.

26 May - Possibly an action between forces under General Benjamin Lincoln and a British detachment of unknown composition.

13 June - No corresponding action has been found in the examined sources.

14 June - This may refer to a skirmish between American troops and Cornwallis’s rear guard near New Brunswick.

22 June - An action described by Howard Peckham as “Large British forces under Gen. William Howe … attacked by 4 brigades and Morgan’s riflemen under Gen. Nathanael Greene.”

26 June - Battle of the Short Hills, New Jersey; the first (relatively) large action of the campaign, fought between General William Alexander, Lord Stirling’s division (comprised of Conway’s Pennsylvania brigade and Maxwell’s New Jersey brigade) and a large portion of Howe’s army. The Americans were defeated and retired to the main army posted at Middlebrook.

25 August - After taking ship at Staten Island on 23 July, British troops land at the Head of Elk in Maryland.

3 September - Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, Delaware. An encounter between the American light infantry under General William Maxwell and British advance forces.

11 September - Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania. This major battle took place at and around Chadd’s Ford on the Brandywine Creek. While British troops demonstrated at the ford, holding American attention, General William Howe took a large force of British and Germans on a successful flanking movement, catching Continental forces under Generals Sullivan and Stirling at a disadvantage near Birmingham Meeting House. A hard-fought rear guard action checked the British, allowing Washington’s army to retreat towards Chester.

20 September - Battle of Paoli, Pennsylvania. A devastating night attack on General Anthony Wayne’s Pennsylvania division by British forces commanded by General Charles Grey. Under the contemporary rules of warfare no quarter (mercy) was expected or given in a night action. Americans termed it a “massacre” and in the opening phases of the Germantown battle (4 October 1777) Pennsylvania troops attacked with the cry “Remember Paoli!”

On 26 September 1777 British troops entered Philadelphia, not to leave until 18 June 1778. Exactly how this diary came into American hands is not known; given that the last entry was dated September 26th, and that the next battle of any note was Germantown, it was likely captured there.

One final note on editing the text: the original spelling has been left largely intact, but comments or spelling clarifications have been inserted in brackets [ ]. A forward slash / has been occasionally used to denote sentence breaks. For those unfamiliar with creative 18th century spelling practices, this diary will serve as a wonderful introduction. Anyone wishing to view the original, a link to the George Washington Papers, Library of Congress, has been provided.


Mark M. Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1966).

Howard H. Peckham, ed., The Toll of Independence: Engagements & Battle Casualties of the American Revolution (Chicago and London: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1974).