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Allan Mclane Unknown Hero Of The Revolution
Dashing fighter, daring scout, this romantic trooper played a large part in Washington’s triumph at Yorktown
October 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 6
The Quaker matron complied, but her curiosity had been aroused. And so when Howe’s officers gathered, she slipped off her shoes, tiptoed to the door of their room, and listened at the keyhole long enough to learn that they were discussing plans for a surprise attack on Washington at Whitemarsh.
The next morning, determined to get word to the patriots, Lydia crossed the street to Howe’s headquarters and requested a pass to go to a miller at Frankfort to obtain flour. With the pass, she went through the British lines, left her bag to be filled at the mill, and then hurried northward, met McLane and delivered her warning.
Lydia then returned to the mill, paid for her bag of flour, and re-entered the city, unsuspected. McLane alerted Washington and intensified his patrols. At midnight on December 4, Howe moved to the attack, with virtually his entire army strung out in two long columns on the Manatawny and Skippack roads. McLane, with a hundred hard-riding horsemen, charged upon the head of the second column as it reached Three Mile Run. The shock of the surprise attack threw the British into contusion. The advance was halted, the line dressed for battle. When the British again probed slowly forward, McLane laded away into the night, but time and again he returned to stab at their front and Hank.
When Howe reached Chestnut Hill, he found the American army drawn up for battle three miles away. For two days the armies sat looking at each other. Then, on December 7, Howe tried his favorite tactic, a night pincer movement against the American right and left flanks.
Both thrusts scored initial successes. On the left, a fierce attack directed by Howe himself dislodged a regiment of Pennsylvania militia and another of Continentals. General Joseph Reed, stationed as an observer here, had his horse shot from under him at the first fire and was pinned to the ground. British infantry rushed forward to bayonet him where he lay when out of the night came the thunder of hoofs, and Allan McLane swirled upon the scene with his hard-riding troopers, sabering British right and left and rescuing the General.
This action terminated the futile battle of White-marsh. Howe retired for a gay winter of drinking and wenching in Philadelphia, while Washington drew back to Valley Forge. From this camp that became a symbol of suffering and fortitude, a friend wrote McLane on February 15, 1778: “I have often inquired amongst your company how they were treated, and they have no complaints, but that of being naked, which must be endured as it is a general Calamity.”
To clothe his men. McLane had his wife Rebecca rip up her white linen tablecloths for breeches. Clad thus in white linen, beaver hats, and rough hunting shirts, lacking greatcoats and boots, McLane’s tatterdemalion troopers scourged the countryside, swooping down on British foraging parties and diverting the supplies they had gathered to the impoverished camp at Valley Forge. In one far-ranging expedition into Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. McLane rounded up, as he later wrote, “1500 fat hogs, 500 head of cattle. 200 head of Horses—for the army at Valley Forge.”
With spring, the question of Howe’s next move became paramount, and McLane prowled incessantly through the countryside just beyond the British lines. He had many spies in the city. as Valley Forge correspondence attests, and he was instrumental in foiling the last pet scheme of the departing Howe.
The British commander had just been crawling into bed with the dawn of May 19 when aides brought him word that the Marquis de Lafayette, with 2,200 Continentals, was sitting out in an exposed position at Barren Hill, only eleven miles from Philadelphia, with a force too small for battle, too large for scouting. Howe vowed he would have “the boy,” as he called Lafayette, as a prisoner within 48 hours.
Again, as at VVhitemarsh, Howe moved out with more than 7,000 troops, virtually his entire army. His force left Philadelphia at 10:30 on the night of May 19, but McLane, with his cavalry raiders and Oneida Indian allies, was on patrol. At Three Mile Run, he left out the massive movement, sensed its objective, and rode off at a breakneck pace to warn Lafayette.
He reached Lafayette just at daybreak. Already, so swiftly had the British moved, Lafayette seemingly was cut off from his only escape route, Matson’s Ford over the Schuylkill River. The head of one British column was close to the lord when Lafayette, making a brave show of attacking, threw forward a menacing contingent. The British halted and formed for battle. While they did, Lafayette peeled off his companies one by one and sent them clown the steep slope of the hill behind him to a hidden road along the river. Along this they raced to the ford unperceived by the British, and when the jaws of the trap closed. British troops came face to face with each other in an empty camp. Lafayette had made his escape.
Nothing could keep McLane from the forward lines. The British obviously were preparing to abandon Philadelphia, and McLane could hardly wait for them to leave. He was scouting with his light horse across the Schuylkill at daybreak June 18 when George Roberts, one of his contacts, crossed by the Middle Ferry with the information the British were leaving. With his glasses, as day brightened. McLane could see the last of Clinton’s army being ferried across the Delaware to the Jersey shore.