The March to Germantown: — Part 2 of 4
Washington Defends Reading
Washington chose to defend Reading. He ordered General Sullivan to send troops to block fords along the upper Schuylkill. He reminded Sullivan "not to neglect such fords as the country people tell them are difficult, because at such places the enemy will be most likely to pass." Washington did not want a reprise of Brandywine, where the advice of locals about fords contributed to his defeat in battle.
Meanwhile British soldiers had a grand time plundering houses and farms in the countryside. Despite orders from Howe not to pillage, the troops found the area irresistibly ripe pickings. They took military caches and what food they could find.
Howe Takes Philadelphia
On September 22nd, Howe discerned that the Americans had evacuated their camp and had moved west to defend Reading — precisely what he had hoped Washington would do. Though Reading was a tempting target, Howe now had an uncontested path into the unprotected capital of Philadelphia.
Washington, who had already moved west, tried the ruse of leaving campfires burning in order to fool the British into thinking the Americans were still in the area. But by this time in the war, both generals were starting to catch wise to the other's tricks. Howe was not fooled.
Howe was wary and sent Jagers across the Schuylkill at both Gordon's and Fatlands Fords — just in case Washington had something up his sleeve. Once across though, the Jagers met only token opposition from local militia.
At midnight, Howe moved all his men to Fatlands Ford and marched them across in water that was barely over a foot deep. The entire army had crossed the river by morning. They encamped in Norristown, a village between Philadelphia and Washington's army.
Washington could do nothing to save Philadelphia.