The American Revolutionary War’s Battle of the Clouds was destined to be a major battle, but it never happened. Rather, it ended up being a series of small skirmishes and retreats, thanks to a major outbreak of rain.
The battle gets its name from the fact that fierce thunderstorms bringing torrential rains headed off what was to be a major confrontation between George Washington and British General William Howe.
After all was said and done, about 100 men were killed and wounded on both sides. The Battle of the Clouds is considered “inconclusive” by military historians.
Skirmishes in the Philadelphia Area
The Battle of the Clouds took place on September 16, 1777, in an area surrounding present-day Malvern, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. It was shortly after a major defeat for the Americans at the Battle of Brandywine. Washington’s troops had withdrawn from Brandywine, but Howe was determined to press his advantage and attack the Continental Army where it was encamped about 10 miles away.
In the meantime, Washington needed to resupply his dwindling stocks of ammunition and just about everything else his army needed. But he also wanted to protect Philadelphia from being overrun by the enemy. Washington had 10,000 soldiers at his command, while British forces numbered about 18,000.
As both armies moved to position themselves for battle, a tremendous rain moved into the area, bringing extremely heavy downpours that lasted more than a day. The result was that British troops became bogged down in mud, and could not advance on Washington’s army as they had planned.
Before the rain started, Washington was planning to take the offensive. He ordered his army to cross the Schuylkill River and move toward the position of Howe’s troops, which had moved little since the meeting at Brandywine. A series of maneuvering for advantage ensued on both sides. Washington sent Anthony Wayne ahead to slow British progress while Washington could fortify his position.
Wayne’s troops fought skirmishes with British forces mostly made up of Hessian mercenaries, resulting in some 100 casualties on both sides. Washington eventually retreated back across the Schuylkill River, but left General Wayne behind to keep the British in check.
The British were able to overrun and take Philadelphia a few days later, however.