Contested Grounds An Environmental History of the 1777 Philadelphia Campaign

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Blake McGready


In the third year of the American Revolution, war moved into the Delaware River Valley and wreaked havoc. Throughout the series of battles for the American capital of Philadelphia, both the Continental Army and British forces had to contend with multiple environmental factors. The need for food and supplies dominated the armies’ military strategies. Daily atmospheric conditions and fluctuating temperatures bred deadly diseases. Soldiers manipulated landscapes and waterways for their survival needs. Weather sometimes determined the outcomes of major battles. In their writings, Continental and British soldiers consistently reflected on these environmental conditions and used them to justify their battlefield performance. During the Philadelphia Campaign, neither army effectively harnessed nature to its advantage or overcame nature’s challenges. Yet soldiers had a deep understanding that the success of their endeavor was directly related to environmental circumstances that they seldom could control.

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