The March to Germantown: — Part 1 of 4
The Chess Game
General Howe had two choices. He could capture the capital city of Philadelphia, with its political and social benefits, or he could capture the supply depot at Reading, depriving the Americans of their primary source of ammunition and ammunition manufacture. This would have great military benefits for the British.
Howe would force Washington to choose which to protect. Washington, meanwhile, was trying to discern which target was Howe's goal.
The first move was Howe's. He marched to Valley Forge and from there spread his men along the Schuylkill River. Tents stretched from Fatlands Ford (near Valley Forge) in the east, to Gordon's Ford (Phoenixville) in the west. If Howe wanted to attack Reading, he would use Gordon's Ford. If his destination was Philadelphia, he would use Fatlands Ford.
Washington was in trouble. His men were exhausted, having just returned from a tiring three-day ammunition-gathering mission at Reading Furnace. The trip was taken after most of their cartridges and powder had been ruined during the Battle of the Clouds.
Further, Howe's arrayment of British troops along the river baffled and hamstrung Washington — he just couldn't tell which way they were headed. Washington personally rode to Fatlands Mansion, a home on the north side of the river to see if he could decipher what the British were up to. From his position he was able to see by telescope all the way down the British line to Cornwallis's camp at Gordon's Ford. Washington still could not gain an idea of British intentions.
He observed that Howe had wisely spread his troops out along the river so the Americans couldn't possibly defend both fording points. Howe probably preferred to take Philadelphia, although he seemed quite willing to attack Reading, if Washington elected to defend the capital. So, Howe had a bridge constructed at Gordon's Ford to encourage Washington to believe that his goal was Reading.