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Whitemarsh: Part 2 of 8

Drunk During Battle

General Washington, who had seen three of his officers brought before courts-of-inquiry within the last month — and acquitted — started off the Whitemarsh encampment with yet another trial.

Now it was General Adam Stephen's turn. Though a laundry list of charges was brought against General Stephen, everyone present at his court-martial knew that the most serious accusation was for leading his troops while drunk during the Battle of Germantown. During the battle, Stephen's men broke into a crazed retreat, and the inebriated officer was unable to control them.

General Sullivan, who on October 10 had himself been "honorably acquitted" of charges stemming from conduct in battle, presided over Stephen's court martial. The trial, which began on November 3, ended 17 days later in Stephen's conviction on "unofficerlike behavior and "drunkenness." Washington approved the court's recommendation that he be dismissed.

The Marquis de Lafayette was given command of the dismissed Stephen's division.

"In a Manner Shocking to Humanity"

While Stephen's trial was proceeding, Washington took time to initiate a prisoner exchange with General Howe. Disturbing reports of the Draconian treatment of American prisoners had begun reaching Washington, who on November 14, urged an immediate swap of captives. The Americans, according to Washington, were being treated "in a manner shocking to humanity."

Howe, never one to act swiftly, took his time responding.

After nine days passed without word from Howe, Washington wrote anew on the 23rd, demanding a response. When the British commander in chief finally did reply, he agreed to a parole of officers only, but put off an exchange of regular soldiers.

Once an officer was paroled, he was in effect out of the war, until an official exchange of prisoners could be worked out. The paroled officer had to sign a pledge promising not to fight until said exchange was worked out.

Howe was happy to be relieved of the burden of caring for the paroled American officers, while at the same time he recognized that until he signed a formal exchange of prisoners, the Americans would have a hard time finding new, qualified officers to take their place. Conversely, Howe did not agree to an exchange of soldiers, as it would have benefited the Americans.

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