LAFAYETTE AT BARREN HILL. The first independent command of the Conti nentals entrusted by Washington to Lafayette as a major-general was with 2,100 of his best troops (out of 11,800 effectives trained by Steu ben), with five pieces of artillery, to take a position on Barren Hill, 10 miles from Philadel phia. The object was to cut off British foraging parties and make reconnaissance to see if Howe was about to evacuate the city. The British got wind of the projected movement and a ship was kept waiting in the Delaware River for 10 days, the commander hoping to take Lafayette as a prisoner to England. On 8 May, a day of joy, news of the French Alliance was read in camp. On the 18th Lafayette sallied out and secured a strong position on Barren Hill. On the 19th, 5000 British and Hessians marched by three roads to envelop the young Frenchman and his force, one detachment west of the Schuylkill expecting to cut off his retreat at Matson's Ford. The plan, skilfully conceived, seemed certain of success, when Lafayette, de tecting the red uniforms, quickly occupied the strongest positions and sent out false heads of columns, which delayed the British advance un til reinforced and able to deploy. The race was now for Matson's Ford. The enemy rallied by two roads to cut off the Americans, but the retreat was so skilfully conducted, Lafayette bringing up the rear, that, despite the heavy cannonade from the British batteries of field artillery and the swift charges of the Hessians, the young Frenchman, by his wisdom, coolness and promptness, saved the day. One incident
illustrates this. A British round shot, hitting the axle, disabled one of the five cannon of the Continentals. To abandon a gun would mean grief both to Lafayette and to Washinif ton. Ordering the artillerists to leap from their caissons and horses into the farm yard of John Harby, a farmer, Lafayette commandeered his wagon and had the gun quickly lashed by the breech to the hind axle. Then, whipping up the horses, the cannon was dragged seven miles over the rough road to Matson's Ford. In the skirmish at the river side the American rear guard lost nine men. That of the British was reported as three, hut the retreat was perfected and all the guns saved, together with the troops, to the joy of Washington and the confirming of his trust. A few days later the army started in pursuit of Howe. Consult Carrington, 'Battles of the American Revolution' (1888).