Virtual Marching Tour of the American Revolutionary War

The Philadelphia Campaign: 1777

American colonies represented as pieces of a snake with the caption "join or die"

Paoli Massacre: Part 6 of 7

Next morning

The morning of September 21 was chilly and wet. Local farmers awoke to find a field of shredded and burned American bodies awash in blood. The Americans suffered greatly. The final count was 53 dead, about 100 wounded and 71 captured. Of the captured, 40 also had been wounded. Since the British had decamped the business of burying the dead was left to the farmers. The land on which the massacre occurred was owned by a Tory who denied the Americans permission to bury their dead there. Tradition holds that the Americans were buried in a common hillside trench overlooking the battlefield.

The fact that the raid occurred at night and involved the dreaded bayonet soon gave rise to rumors that the fight had been a massacre and that the British had bayoneted many men who were trying to surrender.

After the massacre, the following letter, supposedly written by a Hessian soldier was circulated widely. Historians recognize both that there were no Hessians involved at Paoli and that 53 were killed. It is widely assumed that the following was American-created propaganda.

What a running about barefoot, and half clothed, and in the light of their own fires. These showed us where to chase them, while they could not see us. We killed three hundred of the rebels with the bayonet. I stuck them myself like so many pigs, one after another, until the blood ran out of the touch-hole of my musket.

American propagandists used the Paoli Massacre to rouse anti-British sentiment. Americans thought that bayonets were barbaric. It will not be until Valley Forge that Americans are taught to fight with bayonets. Further, night raids were relatively rare adding to the general horror. Burning of huts gave rise to rumblings that the Americans were burned and bayoneted in their sleep. All this, and rumors that the British killed Americans trying to surrender were shocking.

The British action at Paoli would even influence their own thinking. Two weeks later at the Battle of Germantown a group of besieged British soldiers locked themselves in a house and faced almost certain death rather than to come out and surrender. They were worried that Wayne's men would offer them no quarter after what happened at Paoli.