Battle of Brandywine, 11 September 1777

Battle of Brandywine, 11 September 1777

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Battle of Brandywine, 11 September 1777

Battle during American War of Independence. Washington, with the main Continental Army had moved to oppose Sir William Howe's attack on Philadelphia. He decided to block the British at the Brandywine River, about half way between Howe's landing place on the Chesapeake and the city. The river was a good defensive position, with a limited number of fords to defend although Washington, with 11,000 men was outnumbered by Howe's 13,000.

Howe decided to attempt to outflank Washington. He sent 5,000 troops under Lieutenant-General Wilhelm von Knyphausen to feint against Washington's centre while another force under Cornwallis was sent on a flanking move around the American right, commanded by General John Sullivan. Sullivan failed to extend his patrols far enough to detect the British move, although Cornwallis had marched his men 18 miles to achieve his flanking manoeuvre.

This lengthy march meant that Cornwallis was unable to attack immediately, and Sullivan was able to turn his troops to face the new attack. Despite this, when Cornwallis attacked his men were able to break Sullivan's line. Only support from Nathanael Greene's division prevented an immediate collapse, but they too were forced to fall back under British fire. At the same the American centre, weakened by Greene's move, was pushed back by von Kynphausen, whose feint now became a serious attack.

The stage was almost set for the decisive victory in battle that the British desired, but it was not to be. A combination of the late hour, with darkness descending, the tiredness of Cornwallis' troops and the British lack of cavalry prevented any truly devastating pursuit, while the American forces managed to withdraw in unexpectedly good order, a sign of the increasing quality of the Continental Army. Despite this, Brandywine was a major British victory. Howe suffered 576 casualties, compared to 900 American. The British also captured most of the American artillery and 100 prisoners. Two weeks later Howe's army entered Philadelphia.

See AlsoBooks on the American War of IndependenceSubject Index: American War of Independence


On September 11, 1777, General George Washington was determined to prevent the British from capturing the American seat of government, Philadelphia. Taking up positions along Brandywine Creek, Washington mistakenly believed that his army blocked all fords across the Brandywine.

Opposing Washington was Sir William Howe and an army of 15,500 British Regulars and Hessian troops. Hidden by heavy fog, the British moved into position. General Wilhelm von Kynphausen was ordered to demonstrate against the Americans’ front at Chadds Ford, while the bulk of Howe’s forces crossed the Brandywine further upstream.

The battle had been raging for hours by the time Howe's force appeared undetected on the Continental right flank. Washington dispatched troops under General John Sullivan and William Alexander, “Lord Stirling,” to shore up his right flank. However, despite putting up a stiff resistance, the Continentals were eventually overrun by Howe’s men.

Simultaneously, Knyphausen’s troops hit the American units that remained near the Quaker meeting house at Chadds Ford. Washington’s line collapsed.

To prevent the defeat turning into disaster Washington ordered Nathanael Greene’s division to act as a rear-guard so that the Continental Army could escape to the northeast. Greene’s brave men counterattacked, going toe-to-toe with British along the crest of Birmingham Hill. When night fell, the remaining Americans fell back in an orderly retreat, led in part by the Marquis de Lafayette. Although wounded, the charismatic young Frenchman remained on the field to ensure an organized withdrawal.

The crushing defeat allowed the British to occupy Philadelphia, but the bulk of the Continental army survived to fight another day.

Map Battle of Brandywine, 11 September 1777

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Battle of Brandywine, 11 September 1777 - History

The foggy afternoon of September 11, 1777 marked a battle that would end the long period of frustration for the British army in North America. The Battle of Brandywine, or the Battle of Brandywine Creek, was a battle between the American army of Major General George Washington and the army of General Sir William Howe, comprising of British-Hessian army men. The battle was inevitable as both camps had been planning for the battle beforehand. The British were the victors of this battle, forcing Americans to withdraw towards Philadelphia, where the rebel capital resided. The main battle occurred miles before Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania while General Howe was executing a campaign to capture Philadelphia.

Howe’s Decisive Plan

Howe’s British-Hessian army sailed towards Elkton, Maryland, located in the northern Chesapeake Bay where they landed from York City. They immediately marched north where they brushed aside a number of American light forces in a few skirmishes. Washington then battled their troops behind Brandywine Creek. Howe’s plan was decisive. Part of his army battled in front of Chadds Ford, but the majority of his troops marched a long way to cross the Brandywine creek beyond Washington’s right flank. The American troops did not notice Howe’s army until they already reached a strategic location in the back of their right flank.

The Occupation That Would Last Almost A Year

The following hours that rolled after these events were stiff. The fighting became tough. Howe was able to break through the forces of the Americans in the right wing which was situated on several hills. Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen took the opportunity to attack Chadds Ford, maiming the left wing forces of the Americans. Washington had no choice but to retreat, bringing some of Nathaniel Greene’s division. This division delayed Howe’s forces long enough to buy time for Washington’s army to escape northeast. Consequently, this left Philadelphia vulnerable, allowing the British to capture it on September 26. This occupation lasted until June 1778.

The Main Battle

The eleventh of September was greeted with a heavy fog, a blessing for the British troops for it provided them cover. General Washington received reports of different contents about the movements of the British troops. But he expected and continued to believe that Howe’s main force was going to seize the Chadds Ford. Early in the morning, Howe’s troops began marching along the Great Road from Kennet Square as they advanced on the opposing troops in Brandywine Creek.

A Round Of Shots Becoming a Battle

Scouts were sent by General Maxwell to gather intelligence, but they ended up in the bar, bellied up in Welch’s Tavern. Headed straight for the tavern, the British and the Americans took their first shot. The British where repulsed and they called for reinforcements as they ran to take cover in Old Kennet Meetinghouse grounds. The initial fires started in mid-morning, marking the start of the Battle Of Brandywine.

The Unexpected Flow Of The Battle

The battle grew and expanded as far as three miles away from the initial confrontation and eventually the British was able to push the lines. At 2 p.m., Howe’s decisive plan bears fruits as the British appeared on the right flank of the Americans, outflanking their brigades. The Americans never saw this strategy coming, hence they were caught in Howe’s trap.

The American Counterattack

The Americans tried to remedy the problem by repositioning their troops in order to clash with the unexpected British forces on their right flank. Sullivan, Stephen, Stirling and Hazen were the ones who reorganized their brigades for the counterattack. Howe, however, was not able to take advantage of this surprise because of his slow attack. Due to this the Americans were able to position themselves on high grounds at Birmingham Meetinghouse. However, the British forces were still strong enough to make the American division lose their ground by 4 p.m.

From Counterattack to Retreat

By 4 p.m., the fate of the battle was apparent. The Americans had to retreat and whatever reinforcements came could only delay the pursuing British forces at best. Sullivan attacked the troops that outflanked Stirling’s men. This delayed the pressing British attack, buying some time for Stirling’s men to retreat. But this heroic act only forced Sullivan to retreat because the British forces backfired and focused on his forces instead. Washington and Greene arrived and combined with other remaining troops of Sullivan, Stirling and Stephen, they tried to fight the losing battle but were only able to stop the pursuing British army for nearly an hour. They had to retreat, leaving behind many cannons since a lot of their horses that carried the artillery were killed.

Worsening Circumstances for American Troops

To add injury to the already losing battle that the Americans fought, their weakened center was further attacked by Knyphausen across Chadds Ford. Commanders Wayne and Maxwell were forced to retreat also. When evening came, the pursuit of the British army was halted because of the darkness, giving more time for the American army to retreat. The defeated Americans retreated to Chester between midnight and morning.

Battle Casualties

British official reports indicate that there were a total of 587 casualties, where 93 where killed, and 488 were wounded. Of these 587 casualties, only 40 were Hessians. Also, of the 93 killed, eight were officers, seven of them were sergeants and 78 belonging to rank and files. Of the 488 wounded, 49 were officers, 40 were sergeants, and 395 were rank and file.

There were no official reports were ever released about the casualty for the American army. Most accounts of British reports say that over 200 were killed, 750 were wounded and 400 prisoners were taken.

The Aftermath of the Battle

Howe was victorious in this battle but his lack of speed and cavalry prevented the total annihilation of the American forces. Due to poor scouting also and a poor decisions, Washington erred in leaving his right flank open. Had it been not for Sullivan and the others, their forces would have been totally wiped out.

British and Patriot forces would continue to encounter each other for the next several days, albeit these skirmishes were of lower scale. The Americans would eventually give up Philadelphia, allowing an easy capture for the British forces on September 26, 1777.

Ancestor Research

Do you have an ancestor who you know fought in the American Revolution? Do you suspect that they were involved in the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777? Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates would like to offer our help!

To help preserve the history of each soldier who fought at Brandywine, our newly developed Ancestor Reports includes the following information: name, birth date, death date, brigade, regiment, superior officer’s name, role at Brandywine, and the significance of that role.

Although this service is complimentary, we graciously accept donations to continue our mission. By donating to the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates, you are helping to fund programs for school children (K-12) and newly created history programs for adults.

This service, however, does not offer complete genealogical information and will only include your ancestors role at the Battle of Brandywine. The more information you can provide us, the more information we can give back to you.

Battle of the Brandywine, September 11, 1777

In addition to the terrorist attack 18 years ago, the Battle of the Brandywine in Chadds Ford in 1777, the first death of the civil war in Christiana, 1 mile west of Chester County in 1851, and the 1857 massacre of 120 mostly Arkansas immigrants by Mormon settlers in Southern Utah, all took place on the eleventh day of the ninth month.

We asked noted Chester County author Bruce Mowday, who spent six years researching the Battle of Brandywine, to provide a brief overview of what would be the largest land battle of the American Revolution, a skirmish that gave the British a major victory and forced General Washington and his 20,000 troops to retreat to Valley Forge.

September 11, 1777 by Bruce Mowday os available on Amazon.

During the early morning hours of September 11, 1777, more than 6,000 British troops under the commands of generals William Howe and Charles Cornwallis broke camp in Kennett Square and began a march that would take them to the undefended rear of General George Washington’s troops behind the east bank of the Brandywine River. A short time later another large British contingent under the command of General Wilhelm Knyphausen began driving the American troops before him to the Brandywine.

The British plan to ensnare Washington’s army behind the two British columns and smash the rebellion once and for all was moving forward as planned on that hot and humid morning. Fog masked the early march of Howe’s troops. If an American farmer happened to see the advancing British column, that farmer was taken into custody so he couldn’t warn Washington.

Washington picked the Brandywine as the best defensive position to protect Philadelphia, where the young nation’s government was headquartered. One of the goals of the British’s Philadelphia campaign was to capture the members of the Continental Congress and to rally those loyal to King George III.

The largest land battle of the American Revolution played out that day on the fields of Chester County. More than 25,000 soldiers took part in the conflict, doubling the size of the county’s population. Many significant figures in American history took part in the battle, including Washington, Colonel Alexander Hamilton, and future Supreme Court Justice John Marshall. Evidence indicates the battle was the first time the new American flag came under fire.

The day played out almost as Howe anticipated. His troops indeed surprised Washington. A local loyalist led the British past the right flank of Washington’s army by crossing two fords of the Brandywine. In the afternoon of September 11 Howe and Cornwallis lined their troops along Osborne Hill – near what is now Radley Run Country Club – and attacked Washington’s rear guard. The Americans were pushed from field, past Birmingham Meeting House to Sandy Hollow where the untrained Americans bravely stood toe-to-toe against the professional British army.

A Quaker youth, Joseph Townsend, was present that day and wrote down his thoughts as he witnessed what took place at Osborne Hill and the meeting house. Many described the attacking British force as a grand sight with all of the different colored uniforms and the British musicians playing as the advance began against Washington’s unorganized defense.

The day didn’t go as planned for Washington. The British didn’t force a crossing of the Brandywine as Washington wished and Washington was outflanked at Brandywine the same way he was outflanked a year before in New York. One story has British Captain Patrick Ferguson almost ending Washington’s life that day.

Brandywine was a major British victory and Howe did conquer Philadelphia but the British didn’t destroy Washington’s army and the Continental Congress fled to Lancaster and then York for the winter.

Many heroic deeds took place that day on both sides. Squire Thomas Cheyney, an American patriot, risked his life to alert Washington of Howe’s flanking movement. Chester County’s General Anthony Wayne fought bravely that afternoon to help save Washington’s army, as did troops under General Nathanael Greene.

The most significant part of Brandywine is many times overlooked. Brandywine was the first battle for the young French General Lafayette. Lafayette didn’t have a command at Brandywine and he was distrusted by many members of Washington’s staff. A number of European political generals had sought fame and fortune fighting for America and failed.

When Howe’s flanking movement was detected, Lafayette rushed from Washington’s camp to the area near Birmingham Meetinghouse, near Sandy Hallow. As Lafayette attempted to rally the retreating American forces, he suffered a leg wound. The young Frenchman shed his blood for the American cause of freedom and gained the respect of his fellow American soldiers on September 11, 1777.

Lafayette’s connection to the American cause helped to solidify France’s aid to the young nation and directly led to the defeat of the British. Brandywine and Lafayette played significant roles in the fight for independence.

Bruce E. Mowday spent six years researching and writing September 11, 1777: Brandywine’s Defeat at Brandywine Dooms Philadelphia. The book was the first major work on Brandywine and included research in London. He also authored the chapter on Brandywine and Germantown in the book Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History It Was News. This book was recently named one of the top 100 books ever written about the American Revolution.

Bruce is an award-winning author and newspaper reporter. He has authored more than 15 books on history, sports, business and true crime. Bruce has appeared on the Discovery ID channel, C-SPAN, the Pennsylvania Cable Network, Hollywood and Beyond, and Philadelphia and local television shows. He is a contributing editor with Business 2 Business magazine. Mowday has hosted his own radio shows and was chairman of the Chester County Historical Society and president of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates. He is a board member of the Valley Forge Park Alliance and the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau. He is a frequent speaker at various civic and historical groups.


After the American defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, American Major General George Washington was intent on accomplishing two tasks. He wanted to protect Philadelphia from British forces under the command of Lieutenant General William Howe, and he needed to replenish the rapidly dwindling supplies and munitions stored at Samuel Van Leer's furnace in Reading, Pennsylvania. [4] [5] Washington withdrew across the Schuylkill River, marched through Philadelphia, and headed northwest. Since the Schuylkill was fordable only far upstream starting at Matson's Ford (present-day Conshohocken), Washington could protect both the capital and the vital supply areas to the west from behind the river barrier. Washington reconsidered and recrossed the river to face the British, who had moved little since Brandywine, because of a shortage of wagons to carry their wounded and their baggage. [6] After the Battle of the Clouds was aborted by bad weather on September 16, Washington again withdrew across the Schuylkill, leaving Brigadier General "Mad" Anthony Wayne's Pennsylvania Division at Chester, Pennsylvania. When the British columns passed by, Wayne followed, under orders from Washington to harass the British and attempt to capture all or part of their baggage train.

Wayne assumed that his presence was undetected and camped close to the British lines in Paoli, Pennsylvania. His division consisted of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th Pennsylvania Regiments, Hartley's Regiment, an attached artillery company and a small force of dragoons. All told, it was about 1,500 strong. Camped about 1 mile (1.6 km) away was William Smallwood's Maryland militia, about 2,100 relatively inexperienced troops.

The British heard rumors that Wayne was in the area, and General Howe sent out scouts who reported his location near the Paoli Tavern on September 19. Since his position was just 4 miles (6.4 km) from the British camp at Tredyffrin, Pennsylvania, Howe immediately planned an attack on Wayne's relatively exposed camp.

At 10 p.m. on September 20, British commander Major General Charles Grey marched from the British camp and launched a surprise attack on Wayne's camp, near the General Paoli Tavern, from which the battle takes its name, located near present-day Malvern. Grey's troops consisted of the 2nd Light Infantry, a composite battalion formed from the light companies of 13 regiments, plus the 42nd and 44th Foot. Altogether, his brigade comprised some 1,200 men.

To ensure that the Americans were not alerted, General Grey ordered that troops should advance with muskets unloaded and attack with the bayonet alone. In the case that loads could not be drawn from weapons, he ordered that flints should be removed instead, giving rise to the tradition this was a general order and earning the General the epithet "No Flints" Grey. In fact, Major Maitland, commanding officer 2nd Light Infantry battalion, was given permission to advance with muskets loaded, giving his personal assurance that his men could be relied on.

The British forces, led by a local blacksmith forced to act as guide, approached the camp from a wood and were able to achieve complete surprise. They stormed the camp in three waves—the 2nd Light Infantry in the lead followed by the 44th and the 42nd. Completely unprepared, Wayne's troops fled from the camp and were pursued. Near the White Horse Tavern the British encountered Smallwood's force and routed it as well.

With casualties of only 4 killed and 7 wounded, [2] the British had routed an entire American division. Historian Thomas J. McGuire says that 53 Americans were buried on the battlefield but "whether these were all of the American dead or only those found on the campsite-battlefield is uncertain". [1] Local tradition says that 8 more Americans killed in the battle were buried at the nearby Anglican church of St. Peter-in-the-Great Valley. [1] [7] 71 prisoners were taken by the British, 40 of whom were so badly wounded that they had to be left behind in nearby houses. [8] A total of 272 men were killed, wounded or missing from Wayne's division after the battle. [1] McGuire reports that the day after the battle, 52 dead Americans were buried (and another who was found later), 39 of the buried are un-named. The highest ranking American officer killed was Major Mareen Lamar (sometimes misspelled Marien).

An official inquiry found that Wayne was not guilty of misconduct but that he had made a tactical error. Wayne was enraged and demanded a full court-martial. On November 1, a board of 13 officers declared that Wayne had acted with honor.

The incident gained notoriety partly because of accounts by eyewitnesses, who claimed that the British had bayoneted or mutilated Americans who tried to surrender. Among them were the following:

I with my own Eyes, see them, cut & hack some of our poor Men to pieces after they had fallen in their hands and scarcely shew the least Mercy to any.

— Lt. Col. Adam Hubley, 10th PA Regiment. [9]

. more than a dozen soldiers had with fixed bayonets formed a cordon round him, and that everyone of them in sport had indulged their brutal ferocity by stabbing him in different parts of his body and limbs . a physician . examining him there was found . 46 distinct bayonet wounds.

— William Hutchinson, Pennsylvania Militiaman. [10]

The Enemy last Night at twelve o'clock attacked . Our Men just raised from Sleep, moved disorderly — Confusion followed . The Carnage was very great . this is a bloody Month.

— Col. Thomas Hartley, 1st PA Regiment. [11]

The Annals of the Age Cannot Produce such another Scene of Butchery.

— Maj. Samuel Hay, 7th PA Regiment. [9]

The military historian Mark M. Boatner III refuted these allegations, writing:

American propagandists succeeded in whipping up anti-British sentiment with false accusations that Grey's men had refused quarter and massacred defenseless patriots who tried to surrender . The "no quarter" charge is refuted by the fact that the British took 71 prisoners. The "mangled dead" is explained by the fact that the bayonet is a messy weapon. [8]

In any case, Wayne's troops swore revenge and "Remember Paoli!" was used by them as a battle cry at Germantown and at Stony Point.

There is a tradition that, to show their defiance, the men of the 2nd Light Infantry dyed their hat feathers red so the Americans would be able to identify them. In 1833, the Light Company of the 46th Regiment of Foot were authorized to wear red cap distinctions instead of the regulation Light Infantry green, [12] apparently in commemoration of this gesture, and in 1934, the Royal Berkshire Regiment, which carried on the traditions of the 49th Foot, were authorized to wear a red distinction in their head dress although, misleadingly, this was granted "to commemorate the role of the Light Company at the battle of Brandywine Creek". [13] In the second half of the 20th century, the descendants of both regiments wore red backing to their cap badges and did so until 2006 when The Light Infantry and the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment were absorbed by The Rifles.

In 1877, a granite monument was erected at the site of the battle to replace an 1817 monument that was in poor condition the Paoli monument inscription replicates the words of the 1817 monument on one side. [14] It stands 22.5 feet (6.9 m) tall and is inscribed on all four sides. [15] It is located in a local park in Malvern that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 as the Paoli Battlefield Site and Parade Grounds. [3] There are two contributing buildings, two contributing sites, and five contributing objects included on the listing. They are the Paoli Battlefield Site, Paoli Parade Grounds, Paoli Massacre Monument (1817), Paoli Massacre obelisk (1877), World War I monument (1928), World War II urn (c. 1946), and caretaker's house and garage (1922). [16]


In late August 1777, after a distressing 34-day journey from Sandy Hook on the coast of New Jersey, a Royal Navy fleet of more than 260 ships carrying some 17,000 British troops under the command of British General Sir William Howe landed at the head of the Elk River, on the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay near present-day Elkton, Maryland (then known as Head of Elk), approximately 40–50 miles (60–80 km) southwest of Philadelphia. Unloading the ships proved to be a logistical problem because the narrow river neck was shallow and muddy.

General George Washington had placed the American forces, about 20,300-strong, between Head of Elk and Philadelphia. His forces were able to reconnoiter the British landing from Iron Hill near Newark, Delaware, about 9 miles (14 km) to the northeast. Because of the delay disembarking from the ships, Howe did not set up a typical camp but quickly moved forward with the troops. As a result, Washington was not able to accurately gauge the strength of the opposing forces.

After a skirmish at Cooch's Bridge south of Newark, the British troops moved north and Washington abandoned a defensive encampment along the Red Clay Creek near Newport, Delaware, to deploy against the British at Chadds Ford. This site was important as it was the most direct passage across the Brandywine River on the road from Baltimore to Philadelphia. On September 9, Washington positioned detachments to guard other fords above and below Chadds Ford, hoping to force the battle there. Washington employed General John Armstrong, commanding about 1,000 Pennsylvania militia, to cover Pyle's Ford, 5.8 miles south of Chadds Ford, which was covered by Major Generals Anthony Wayne's and Nathanael Greene's divisions. Major General John Sullivan's division extended northward along the Brandywine's east banks, covering the high ground north of Chadds Ford along with Major General Adam Stephen's division and Major General Lord Stirling's divisions. Further upstream was a brigade under Colonel Moses Hazen covering Buffington's Ford and Wistar's Ford. Washington was confident that the area was secure.

The British grouped forces at nearby Kennett Square. [8] Howe, who had better information about the area than Washington, had no intention of mounting a full-scale frontal attack against the prepared American defenses. He instead employed a flanking maneuver, similar to that used in the Battle of Long Island. About 6,800 men under the command of Wilhelm von Knyphausen advanced to meet Washington's troops at Chadds Ford. The remainder of Howe's troops, about 9,000 men, under the command of Charles, Lord Cornwallis, marched north to Trimble's Ford across the West Branch of the Brandywine Creek, then east to Jefferies Ford across the East Branch (two fords that Washington had overlooked), and then south to flank the American forces. [9]

British advance Edit

September 11 began with a heavy fog, which provided cover for the British troops. Washington received contradictory reports about the British troop movements and continued to believe that the main force was moving to attack at Chadds Ford.

At 5:30 a.m. the British and Hessian troops began marching east along the "Great Road" (now Route 1) from Kennett Square, advancing on the American troops positioned where the road crossed Brandywine Creek. The first shots of the battle took place about 4 miles west of Chadds Ford, at Welch's Tavern. Elements of Maxwell's continental light infantry skirmished with the British vanguard (primarily the Queen's Rangers – a battalion of loyalists). The British continued to advance and encountered a greater force of continentals behind the stone walls on the Old Kennett Meetinghouse grounds. The battle was fought at mid-morning around the meeting house while the pacifist Quakers continued to hold their midweek service. One of the Quakers later wrote, "While there was much noise and confusion without, all was quiet and peaceful within." [10]

From the Meetinghouse grounds, the battle continued for three miles to the Brandywine Creek, at Chadds Ford. Eventually the British pushed the Americans back but not before suffering heavy losses.

The main British column under General Cornwallis (and accompanied by General Howe) set out from Kennett Square at 5:00 a.m.. Local loyalist sources had provided Howe with knowledge of two unguarded fords, above the forks of the Brandywine. The 17-mile flank march took approximately 9 hours to complete. The British appeared on the Americans' right flank at around 2 p.m. and took a much-needed rest on Osbourne's Hill, a commanding position north of the Continental army. Having received intelligence from Colonel Bland's scouts, Washington ordered Sullivan to take overall command of Stirling and Stephen's divisions (in addition to his own) and quickly march north to meet the British flank attack. As they were forming their lines north of Dilworth, Howe launched his attack. Having taken overall command of the right wing of the army, Sullivan left his division to confer with the other generals. His own division he left under the command of Preudhomme de Borre, with orders to shift to the right in order to link up with Stirling and Stephen's divisions (from left to right the divisions were arranged as Sullivan, Stirling, Stephen). As the British lines advanced, the Hessian Jaegers threatened to flank the American right forcing Stephen and Stirling to shift right. Howe was slow to attack, which bought time for the Americans to position some of their men on high ground near Birmingham Meetinghouse, about a mile (1.6 km) north of Chadds Ford. [11] By 4 p.m., the British attacked. The British Brigade of Guards caught de Borre by surprise on the American left, before de Borre had time to fully form, and immediately sent them in to disarray, causing the entire division to rout. Initially, Stephen's and Stirling's divisions held firm, aided by a battery of artillery on a knoll between their divisions. However, the British light infantry battalions, aided by the Jaegers, eventually caused Stephen's division to fall back. A bayonet charge by the British grenadier battalions, in the center, similarly forced Stirling to retreat. The Marquis de Lafayette had only just arrived, joining Stirling's division, when he received a wound while trying to rally the retreating troops.

Washington and Greene arrive near Dilworth Edit

Around 6 p.m., Washington and Greene arrived with reinforcements to try to hold off the British, who now occupied Meeting House Hill. Washington conferred with Greene and Knox, the latter of whom was head of artillery, in the yard of the William Brinton house. [12] The 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers was nearing their position, and was joined by a fresh reserve brigade (the 4th British Brigade). It was determined that Knox would deploy artillery to slow the British advance. Greene's reinforcements, combined with the remnants of Sullivan's, Stephen's, and Stirling's divisions, formed south of Dilworth and stopped the pursuing British for nearly an hour, letting the rest of the army retreat. When darkness fell, Greene's division finally began the march to Chester along with the rest of the army. The British army was not able to pursue due to the onset of night. The Americans were also forced to leave behind many of their cannons on Meeting House Hill because almost all of their artillery horses were killed.

Knyphausen's final attack Edit

Upon hearing the attack of Cornwallis's column, Knyphausen launched an attack against the weakened American center across Chadds Ford, breaking through the divisions commanded by Wayne and William Maxwell and forcing them to retreat and leave behind most of their cannons. Armstrong's militia, never engaged in the fighting, also decided to retreat from their positions. Further north, Greene sent Brigadier General George Weedon's troops to cover the road just outside the town of Dilworth to hold off the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to retreat. Darkness brought the British pursuit to a standstill, which then allowed Weedon's force to retreat. The defeated Americans retreated to Chester where most of them arrived at midnight, with stragglers arriving until morning. The American retreat was well organized, largely because of the efforts of Lafayette, who, although wounded, created a rally point that allowed for a more orderly retreat before being treated for his wound. [13]

The official British casualty list detailed 587 casualties: 93 killed (eight officers, seven sergeants and 78 rank and file) 488 wounded (49 officers, 40 sergeants, four drummers and 395 rank and file) and six rank and file missing unaccounted for. [3] Only 40 of the British Army's casualties were Hessians. [14] Historian Thomas J. McGuire writes that, "American estimates of British losses run as high as 2,000, based on distant observation and sketchy, unreliable reports". [3]

Most accounts of the American loss were from the British. One initial report by a British officer recorded American casualties at over 200 killed, around 750 wounded, and 400 prisoners were taken, many of them wounded. A member of General Howe's staff claimed that 400 rebels were buried on the field by the victors. [15] Another British officer wrote that, "The Enemy had 502 dead in the field". [3] General Howe's report to the British colonial secretary, Lord George Germain, said that the Americans, "had about 300 men killed, 600 wounded, and near 400 made prisoners". [3]

No casualty return for the American army at Brandywine survives and no figures, official or otherwise, were ever released. The nearest thing to a hard figure from the American side was by Major General Nathanael Greene, who estimated that Washington's army had lost between 1,200 and 1,300 men. [16] On September 14, about 350 wounded Americans were taken from the British camp at Dilworth to a newly established hospital at Wilmington, Delaware. [17] This would suggest that of the "near 400" prisoners reported by Howe, only about 50 had surrendered unwounded. If General Greene's estimate of the total American loss was accurate, then they had between 1,160 and 1,260 killed, wounded or deserted during the battle. The British also captured 11 out of 14 of the American artillery pieces. Among the American wounded was the Marquis de Lafayette.

In addition to losses in battle, 315 men were posted as deserters from Washington's camp during this stage of the campaign. [18]

Although Howe had defeated the American army, his lack of cavalry prevented its total destruction. Washington had committed a serious error in leaving his right flank wide open and could have brought about his army's annihilation had it not been for Sullivan, Stirling and Stephen's divisions, which bought them time. Evening was approaching and, in spite of the early start Cornwallis had made in the flanking maneuver, most of the American army was able to escape. In his report to the Continental Congress detailing the battle, Washington stated: "despite the day's misfortune, I am pleased to announce that most of my men are in good spirits and still have the courage to fight the enemy another day."

British and American forces maneuvered around each other for the next several days with only a few encounters such as the Battle of Paoli on the night of September 20–21.

The Continental Congress abandoned Philadelphia, moving first to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for one day and then to York, Pennsylvania. Repairs were made at the Van Leer Furnace [19] and military supplies were also moved to Reading, Pennsylvania. On 26 September 1777, British forces marched into Philadelphia unopposed.

Eight Army National Guard units (103rd Eng Bn, [20] A/1-104th Cav, [21] 109th FA, [22] 111th Inf, [23] 113th Inf, [24] 116th Inf, [25] 1–175th Inf [26] and 198th Sig Bn [27] ) and one active Regular Army Field Artillery battalion (1–5th FA [28] ) are derived from American units that participated in the Battle of Brandywine. There are thirty currently existing units in the U.S. Army with lineages that go back to the colonial era.

Brandywine Battlefield Historic Site is a National Historical Landmark. The historic park is owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, on 52 acres (210,000 m 2 ), near Chadds Ford, Delaware County, part of the site of the Battle of Brandywine.

The American Battlefield Trust and its partners have acquired and preserved 10.4 acres (0.042 km 2 ) of the battlefield. [29]

Battles of American Revolution

Reveal All Swap Clues and Answers Click on each clue for its answer.

Clue: A pivotal event in the Southern campaign and called "the war's largest all-American fight", this October 7, 1780 battle of a North Carolina town saw the Patriot militia defeat the Loyalist militia and reversed a string of American debacles in the south.

Battle: Battle of Kings Mountain

Clue: Last major action of Washington's winter New Jersey campaign, this Jan 3, 1777 battle was a follow-up to the recent Battle of Trenton.

Battle: Battle of Princeton

Clue: After this April 1775 battle that started the revolution, John Adams said, "The die was cast, the Rubicon passed". Ralph Waldo Emerson described the first shot fired by the American side as the "shot heard round the world" in Concord Hymn.

Battle: Battles of Lexington and Concord

Clue: Fought on August 16, 1777 in upstate New York about 10 miles from its namesake place in Vermont, it was a significant American victory and is considered one of the turning points of the revolution. John Stark, Seth Warner and members of the Green Mountain Boys decisively defeated a detachment of General John Burgoyne's army.

Battle: Battle of Bennington

Clue: Fought on Lake Champlain on October 11, 1776, it is one of the first naval battles of the revolution and one of the first fought by the US Navy. Benedict Arnold commanded the American fleet most of whose ships were lost including Philadelphia and Spitfire.

Battle: Battle of Valcour Island

Clue: A series of American victories along the waterways from Lake Champlain into Canada ended here on December 31, 1775 in what was the first major defeat of the war for the Americans.

Clue: George Washington's mission for this October 4, 1777 battle fought in the north of Philadelphia was to replicate the success of the Battle of Trenton. Heavy fog caused the columns of his own troops to fire on each other and the attack fizzled away.

Battle: Battle of Germantown

Clue: The first major battle of the revolution, it is also the biggest in the war in terms of troop deployment. A complete British victory that gave them access to the strategic Port of New York.

Battle: Battle of Long Island/ Brooklyn/ Brooklyn Heights

Clue: A major victory for the British, it was fought between March 29 to May 12, 1780 after they shifted focus to the south following the collapse of their northern strategy in late 1777 and their withdrawal from Philadelphia in 1778.

Battle: Siege of Charleston

Clue: Another British victory in the south following their capture of Charleston in which forces under Cornwallis routed the numerically superior US forces of Horatio Gates north of the namesake South Carolina city on Aug 16, 1780.

Clue: Last battle of the Philadelphia campaign in which George Washington faced Henry Clinton and was the first battle after Friedrich von Steuben trained troops at Valley Forge the previous winter.

Battle: Battle of Monmouth

Clue: September, 1781 defeat of the Royal Navy by the French, only major defeat for the Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries. This strategic result prevented the Royal Navy from aiding the besieged forces of Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Battle: Battle of the Chesapeake/ Battle of the Virginia Capes/ Battle of the Capes

Clue: This August 6, 1777 battle was a significant engagement of the Saratoga campaign and saw negligible British presence it pitted Patriots and allied Oneidas against Loyalists and allied Iroquois.

Battle: Battle of Oriskany

Clue: Longest single-day battle of the war that was fought on Sep 11, 1777 between the armies of George Washington and William Howe. Decisive British victory resulted in the eventual capture of Philadelphia after two weeks.

Battle: Battle of Brandywine

Clue: January 17, 1781 battle that was a turning point in the American reconquest of South Carolina in which Daniel Morgan defeated Banastre Tarleton.

Clue: Biggest battle of the southern theater fought on March 15, 1781 which saw Cornwallis defeat Nathanael Greene but the British lost almost a quarter of their outnumbered forces.

Battle: Battle of Guilford Court House

Clue: Engagements of September 19 and October 7, 1777 that marked the end of the namesake campaign with a decisive American victory resulting from the surrender of John Burgoyne's army that invaded from Canada. This victory was instrumental in securing the support of France.

Battle: Battles of Saratoga

Clue: Last major land battle, this 1781 victory by the combined forces of George Washington, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette and Comte de Rochambeau over Cornwallis paved the way for peace negotiations and the end of the revolution.

Clue: The name of this June 17, 1775 battle fought during the Siege of Boston is a bit misleading as most of the action took place on the adjacent Breed's Hill. The result was a tactical but costly victory for the British.

Battle: Battle of Bunker Hill

Clue: Fought on the morning of December 26, 1776 after George Washington famously crossed the Delaware the previous night. A significant American victory resulted after the capture of the enemy's Hessian troops which boosted the morale of the Continental Army and rekindled their fighting spirit.

The Battle of Brandywine was the largest single day engagement of the American Revolution where nearly 30,000 soldiers (not including civilians, teamsters, servants, and other members of the army) squared off on a ten square mile area of roughly 35,000 acres. Today’s battlefield landscape encompasses nearly fifteen different municipalities with the main gateway of interpretation being our park. Brandywine Battlefield Park is simply a 52-acre park that was the epicenter of George Washington’s continental encampment but is often mistaken as being the entire battlefield itself.

Prelude to Battle

In order to understand how the Battle of Brandywine came to be and existed in the grand scheme of the American Revolution, one must look at 1777 in its entirety. The year 1777, deemed “The Year of the Hangman” by historian John S. Pancake, was a decisive year of the American Revolution that had a indispensable impact on the latter years of the war. Many are aware of Washington’s famous Christmas crossing of the Delaware to surprise the Hessian forces at Trenton under Col. Rall as well as the infamous winter encampment of Valley Forge, but few truly understand the events that occurred in between and the dramatic repercussions they had on the British forces as well as the Continental Army and its forthcoming alliances in 1778.

General William Howe

The year 1776 is often seen as being very successful for the British forces under William Howe. Howe had nearly decimated Washington’s forces in New York, but the “Old Fox” escaped to fight another day. Howe, for his leadership and performance in those series of engagements was knighted by the king and became Sir William Howe. Loyalist populations flocked to New York and bore the brunt of the hardships of rebuilding and moved towards reconciliation. In late 1776, British parliament was already planning for post war retributions and was preparing to hang every rebel leader audacious enough to go rebel against their King. Nothing was more evident than their decision to abolish of the Writ of Habeaus General William Howe Corpus entirely for rebel leaders in the colonies. All in all, it looked optimistic for William Howe and his British Forces, but a series of events at the end of 1776 would drastically change that delighted mood Washington’s crossing of the Delaware and his victory at Princeton.

Lord George Germain

Throughout 1776, Parliament had, in fact, been somewhat divided on the matter in the colonies. Whig sympathizers were a minority in the shadows during the year 1776 simply because things were going so well for the British forces, so much, that they did not dare speak out against British policy towards the rebellion. However, with the events occurring at the close of 1776 and into early 1777, they had a foundation to express their opposition. Lord George Germain, the Secretary of State of North America in the Lord North government felt the pressure from King George III. He was under strict orders to bring the rebellion to a swift and just end. At the time, had three generals of the British army in North America to rely on and he needed to do something quickly in order to quell the opposition he was facing. Two of these generals, Sir William Howe and John Burgoyne, were the major players in the events that would unravel in 1777. For them, another campaigning season was upon them and Germain needed the best plan on how to conduct it.

John Burgoyne was viewed by many as an arrogant man who wanted only to benefit himself. He left in December of 1776 for leave in England and once he arrived, he was at the desk of George Germain almost instantly. Before his arrival, he had devised a plan to invade the colonies from the Canada and laid it upon the desk of Germain at first chance he had. His plan called for a force under his command to march from Montreal, through the mountainous terrain of New York along the Hudson, and eventually rendezvous with General Howe who would move north from New York City with a much larger force to reinforce him.

Additionally, a smaller British force would sweep through the Mohawk Valley from the west under the command of General St. Leger to bolster this movement. Together, the combined force would push it’s way across the New England colonies, the hot bed of the rebellion, in order to teach a lesson that the rest of the colonies would quickly learn from. To Burgoyne, the result of such an impressive show of force would be that everything that followed would simply fall back into place. To Germain, this was music to his ears. Ultimately, Germain would approve the plan on the condition that Burgoyne communicated and coordinated this with William Howe in New York. Howe, however, had different plans.

William Howe, following his successes in 1776, wanted another prize: Philadelphia. This city was the largest in the colonies and it was the seat of power for the Continental Congress. Howe had his eyes set on this target for quite some time, but it’s capture just was not possible in 1776 with winter setting in and forcing his army to hunker down and postpone their campaigning (typically armies did not fight in the winter because they would not be able to move on difficult roads and wet weather soaked their gunpowder). Howe had written to Germain about his intended plans of taking the colonial capital, not by an overland expedition through New Jersey, but via a fleet of ships in coordination with his brother, Admiral Richard Howe. Germain also approved this plan. In layman’s terms, the British forces had two entirely different plans that were both approved by the Secretary of State. Already, one can see the confusion this would cause.

John Burgoyne arrived back in the colonies in May 1777 and began to move his plan into action. The one costly blunder was, he had relied too heavily on William Howe in whom he had barely communicated with. Howe, who was gearing up for a campaign to capture Philadelphia, received correspondence from Burgoyne about his plans, but was so adamant on Philadelphia that he did not nearly fulfill his end of the bargain. Henry Clinton, the third British general in the colonies, advised Howe that he and Burgoyne should coordinate better and that Howe should in fact stick to one plan: support Burgoyne, however, Howe being the commander in chief of the British forces should have had the ultimate say and he did. Howe finally wrote to Burgoyne, a message that would not get to him until early August, that he would be sailing for Philadelphia but had left roughly 3,000 British reserve troops in New York under General Clinton should he need any assistance. These 3,000 soldiers were not the 18,000 Burgoyne was depending on.

General John Burgoyne

John Burgoyne moved from Montreal into New York with his army, a massive baggage train, and permission to hire Native Americans as a support system. His expedition moved quickly at first. He captured Fort Ticonderoga from the Americans with ease, but upon moving father south and reaching the extreme density of the Hudson River Valley, his expeditionary force was quickly brought to a snail’s pace. Pressing on, took him nearly a month to move thirty miles because of the dense forests, lack of provisions and unsuccessful foraging parties, and obstacles put in place by a northern Continental army under Philip Schuyler. On August 9, 1777, after countless notes sent the Howe, he finally got Howe’s message that the commander in chief was not coming to his aid to reinforce his plans with the massive army, but instead was sailing to launch his plan of taking Philadelphia. Burgoyne was forced to press on without the necessary reinforcements and a logistical nightmare began to ensue.

The fleet under Richard Howe with his brother’s forces on board endured a strenuous voyage. The time frame was anticipated as being shorter than reality dictated and the men were suffering on the tall sailing ships in the mid-Atlantic summer heat. Additionally, provisions became spoiled and were dwindling at a rapid rate. When the fleet disembarked in Maryland in late August 1777, the British forces were forced to forage for nearly three weeks before making any decisive move. This provided Washington ample time to move his forces into place with the assertion that Howe was going after Philadelphia.

Washington moved from his strategic position outside of New York, through New Jersey, and into Philadelphia. In Washington’s mind, he was prepared to move north along the Hudson thinking that Howe would be moving to fortify it. Tactically, it was the only option Howe had according to Washington’s thinking and was strategically the best option. When Howe’s massive fleet of nearly 265 ships disappeared over the horizon after leaving New York harbor, Washington was genuinely perplexed. It wasn’t until the fleet was spotted off the mouth of the Delaware Bay, that Washington knew the intended target was Philadelphia. Moving overland through New Jersey, the Continental army marched into Philadelphia where it was paraded in front of the Congress to boost the morale of the soldiers before continuing south into Wilmington, Delaware. It was here that was Washington was anticipating the British to move and follow the course of the Delaware River into Philadelphia and move east from their landing point at the Head of Elk. Howe, however, had the advantage of employing local guides who informed him that an expedition along that route would be one full of obstacles provided by the terrain and waterways and would slow his army down. Howe instead moved through Maryland, the northern tip of Delaware, and into south eastern Pennsylvania. Every move Howe made was accompanied by his army foraging and surviving off the rich landscape, mills, and farms, resembling a plague of locusts in addition to an intimidating and professional fighting force.

Howe and his generals, Wilhelm von Knyphausen and Charles Cornwallis, moved together in column until reaching the Pennsylvania/Delaware border. There, they split into two columns, again for the purpose of foraging. Washington, who was mirroring Howe’s movements in every regard, knew that General Howe only had one easily accessible road into Philadelphia with the way in which he was moving. This road was known in the 18th century as the Great Nottingham Road (modern day US Rt. 1). Washington and Howe played a game of “leap frog” throughout early September and once he realized Howe only had one major option of accessing Philadelphia, Washington moved his forces to Chadds Ford on September 9. It was there that he set up in a defensive position along the Brandywine River where the Great Nottingham Rd crossed it. Once in the area, he made his headquarters at the Benjamin Ring home, one of the historic homes on the Brandywine Battlefield Park grounds and held two councils of war with his officers on the nights of the 9 th and 10 th . The Continental army began building defenses and earthworks on the heights along the east side in order to prepare for the upcoming engagement to repel the British onslaught.

The British army, moving into Chester County, Pennsylvania in two columns, came together and met in the small village of Kennett Square on September 10. Once at Kennett Square, they set up in two lines on the eastern and northern part of the village. At that point the two large armies were within five miles of each other. General Howe, with the assistance of local guides and the local population had the advantage before the engagement even started. He was given information that Washington had covered several fords, or crossing points, along the Brandywine River, but failed to guard to northern fords Trimble’s and Jefferis’ Fords. Howe devised his plan quickly and on the morning of September 11, 1777, he launched his assault on Washington leaving Kennett Square in two columns one to the east and one to the north in order to complete a pincer movement and surround Washington’s army. The northern column, led by Cornwallis and accompanied by Howe, was comprised of the battle-hardened veteran soldiers of his forces and would consist of most of his army of roughly 10,000 troops. While they made a strenuous outflanking march to get maneuver around Washington’s right side at the two unguarded fords, General Knyphausen and a column of nearly 8,000 provincial and regular soldiers, artillery, and the army’s baggage would attack directly at Washington’s forces along the Brandywine in order to distract the American general and put up a ruse to dupe him into thinking he had the entire British army in front of him. Knyphausen was not to cross the river from the west until he heard Howe’s guns from the north. When that took place, a two-pronged attack would trap Washington in a pincer movement. The stage was set for the Battle of Brandywine. Below is a timeline of events that encompassed the day’s fighting.

The morning of September 11 was foggy and exceptionally warm. Knyphausen’s forces camped on the eastern side of the village of Kennett Square began to form up into their column to make their way on an eastern course towards Washington’s main defenses on the Brandywine. Shortly after departing the eastern heights of Kennett Square, they quickly came under fire from American light infantry under William Maxwell who was camped around Welch’s Tavern (located around modern Longwood Gardens). This was where the opening shots of the battle took place, but it was short-lived as Maxwell and his approximately 300 soldiers were just the tip of a series of strategic positions positioned along the Great Nottingham Road in order to harass the oncoming British forces. After firing a minimal number of volleys, the Americans quickly fell back to a second area on an elevated position approximately 700 yards east of their initial one around the small village of Hamerton. Flanking either side of the single lane road and concealed by dense trees, fences, and other obstacles, the Americans waited for the British to approach before firing another small series of volleys and falling back again where they continued to join additional light infantry forces. This convinced the British that a cautious approach had to be taken because they were formed in a vulnerable marching column. The American harassment also slowed them down because the maneuver of taking the advanced guard of the column from column to line of battle to engage the skirmishers took time. Essentially, the British would be engaged, deploy, realize the Americans had fallen back, reform, and continue marching until they were engaged again. This was repeated several times that morning as the Americans fell back to positions around the Old Kennett Meetinghouse and others to the east. Eventually, after nearly two-three hours of harassment, the British were able to push their way to the west bank of the Brandywine and force Maxwell’s men to the eastern side with the rest of the American forces and deploy their men accordingly in order to distract Washington.

As Knyphausen’s column was engaged along the Great Nottingham Road, Cornwallis and Howe were leading their elite column north along the Great Valley Road in order to reach the two unguarded fords. Washington had scouts and forward pickets on roads the ran east to west that were north of the Great Nottingham Road in order to report of any British movements in that sector. One group was under the command of Lt. Col Ross who had roughly 100 riflemen under his command who was positioned along the Street Road at the modern intersection of Doe Run Road today. This high point offered him a vantage point of the Great Nottingham Road, but also allowed him to look west and north. It was from this point that he witnessed the British marching column under Howe and Cornwallis and began to pursue. He wrote a report to Washington telling him of his findings.

Knyphausen’s column had fanned itself out in order to make it seem like Washington had the entire British army in front of him. Following the deployment, a massive cannonade ensued that would make up most of the action throughout the morning hours and into the afternoon. This portion of the battle has often been deemed the “Mid-Morning/Afternoon Lull”. No significant troop movements take place, but both armies on either side of the Brandywine River around Chadds Ford gave everything they had in terms of Artillery to each other. Around 11:00am Washington received Lt. Col. Ross’s report about his sighting of the northern British column. This confirmed to Washington that there was only a small portion of Howe’s forces across from his position and Washington began to devise a plan to send a small force across the river in order to probe. At Brinton’s Ford, just north of Chadds, men began to cross, but it was short-lived. At roughly 11:20am, another report arrived in Washington’s hands. This report mentioned that a Major Joseph Spear of the Chester County Militia had witnessed no British force in the northern sector, which directly contradicted Ross’s report. How could there be confusion surrounding the sighting of an 10,000+ man marching column moving north along one of the only major roads at that time? It was simply a timing issue. Spear had been reporting from nearly 8 miles away and correspondence in the 18 th century took time and effort to get from one point to another. Spear’s report, written before Ross’s report, had to travel a greater distance. With that, Ross’s report arrived in Washington’s hands before Spear’s did. Essentially, what should have gotten to Washington first, arrived second. This now forced Washington to believe that the entire British army was in fact in front of him and he had to immediately pull his probing force back and not risk them moving into the jaws of Howe’s entire force. In utter confusion, Washington immediately sent Col. Theodorick Bland and the 1 st Continental Dragoons to the north in order to get a precise report of what was taking place and because of this blunder, Howe and Cornwallis had the opportunity to cross the two unguarded fords unopposed.

The British forces, now having the ability to cross unopposed at the northern fords, began to move south along Birmingham Road behind Washington’s lines. They stopped for a mid-afternoon meal on Osbourne Hill in order to refresh themselves and prepare for a large engagement. Theodorick Bland, who was riding north from Washington’s position arrived on a high eminence across from the British position and was shocked to find the British forces beginning to form up. He immediately hastened to get the report to Washington and in his report, he informed the American Commander in Chief that a large body of the enemy was forming up on the heights across from his position, but there was an elevated position in front of the British that could be used to repel an attack. This elevated position was Birmingham Hill, which surrounded the Birmingham Friends Meetinghouse. The Quaker meetinghouse was being used as a field hospital by the American forces at the time and unbeknownst to Washington, it ended up being caught directly in the middle of the heaviest combat. Washington immediately dispatched Generals William Alexander Stirling and Adam Stephen to move north with their divisions and form up on the hill. He then added an additional division under General John Sullivan to reinforce them. Stirling and Stephen moved as one body along existing roads and formed up adjacent to one another in good order. Sullivan, who was stationed around Brinton’s Ford, had his division spread thin. Regiments from his division were guarding the fords north of Brinton’s Ford and were stretched over a great distance. He first had to consolidate his forces and then move to reach Stirling and Stephen. In addition to the time it took to consolidate, Sullivan’s men were forced to move overland fighting hilly and rocky terrain. They did not have the luxury of taking existing roads, but only had make shift cart paths and farm trails to follow if anything. By the time Sullivan reached the vicinity of Stephen and Stirling, he quickly realized that his division was entirely out of position as he was too far forward and left of the other two. Sullivan quickly rode to Stirling’s position in order to grasp a better understanding on what to do. This left his men under his second in command, General Prunhomme de Borre, who was a French officer who was not respected and who no one could understand because he barely spoke English. As this was all transpiring for the Americans, the British attack was about to commence.

The British army began to form and launch their main attack at Birmingham. On the British right were the Brigade of Guards, the cream of the British military. At the center were the Grenadiers, another elite group comprised of the tallest and most formidable soldiers in the British army. To their left were the British light infantry and Hessian Jaegers, highly mobile units typically used as flank companies. Supporting the main line of British infantry were the Hessian Grenadiers and 3 rd /4 th Brigades. Unluckily enough for Sullivan’s men under Deborre, who were still entirely out of position, they had the elite Brigade of Guards directly across from their lines who bore down on them quickly. With mixed levels of experience, veteran soldiers fighting with untrained soldiers comprised Deborre’s men and did not stand a chance against the Guards and within a short time, they were completely routed from the field. Stirling and Stephen’s division, however, were in a formidable position to repel the British onslaught. Luckily enough for Stirling and Stephen’s division, who were able to line up adjacent to one another, they were in a formidable position. As the Grenadiers and the light infantry charged up Birmingham Hill, they were repelled several times by the two divisions. As the attack unfolded, Washington and other officers, like the young Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, finally arrived in the area of the attack to gain a better understanding of the situation. Over the course of approximately an hour and a half, the two divisions continued to withstand the British attack, engaged in fighting so fierce that some British officers later wrote that it was the heaviest they had ever seen in their long military careers.

At the same time, Knyphausen, hearing the British attack from the north, began to push his men across the Brandywine River at Chadds Ford. Washington had only Generals Anthony Wayne, Maxwell, and Armstrong with the militia there to try and repel the assault.

At first, General Nathanial Greene was acting as a reserve force for the three generals at Chadds Ford, but Washington began to realize that he could not overcome an attack on two fronts and had other plans for Greene. He ordered Greene’s division to make a daring 3-mile march to a position located adjacent to modern day Painter’s Crossing shopping center to form a rearguard for the retreating American forces. Greene’s men made the 3-mile march in a miraculous thirty-five minutes. It was there that he positioned his men in a crescent formation in a grove of trees. He was joined by men from Birmingham Hill that were falling back in a strategic way as the British slowly pursued them. British grenadiers and the reserve force of the 3 rd Brigade slowly marched across an open field towards the position of Greene’s men. With the sun going down and impeding their ability to see clearly, Greene’s men opened fired, engulfed the British forces, and inflicted an enormous number of casualties. Howe, trying to reconcile this defensive stance, ordered the light infantry and jaegers to attempt to flank the right side of Greene’s rearguard, but that was also short-lived. A Polish cavalry officer, Casimir Pulaski, saw this and formed up what ever cavalry units he could in order to launch a cavalry charge at the British light infantry. Between Greene and Pulaski, Washington’s forces were able to retreat out of the area and down the road to Chester, Pa in an orderly fashion with Wayne, Armstrong, and Maxwell following closely behind the forces retreating from Birmingham.

With the success of Greene’s rearguard, the darkness setting in, and the fatigue of the British soldier, Howe decided to not pursue Washington, but to stop all action for the day. His forces camped around the small village of Dilworth and the Birmingham Meetinghouse while Knyphausen’s men camped in and around our park grounds.

Aftermath of the Battle:

As Washington retreated and regrouped in Chester, PA, the British forces stayed in the region for nearly five days. In order to replenish the supplies, they lost on the long voyage from New York they took full advantage of the rich agricultural landscape. To accomplish this, they looted and plundered the local mills and farms of the peaceful Quaker inhabitants for their benefit. According to damage claims and other sources, the British took livestock, crops, personal belongings, and other valuables from the inhabitants. British soldiers camping on and around farms destroyed farmland that was ready to be harvested. Gideon Gilpin and his young Quaker family suffered damages in the amount of nearly $86,000 in modern monetary value. Gilpin was a prime example of how a neutral Quaker family, who wanted nothing to do with the war before the battle, was coerced in choosing sides. In 1778, he swore and oath of allegiance with the Continental cause and abandoned his peaceful Quaker faith. As a result, he was expelled from his local meeting and did not regain admittance until 1789 when he renounced his wrong doings and made a formal apology. Another young Quaker, Joseph Townsend, wrote a manuscript of his experience during and after the battle. In 1839, he described the aftermath by writing:

“We had the full opportunity of beholding the destruction and wanton waste committed on the property of the peaceful inhabitants of the neighborhood, and on the ground of encampment. Those who were obliged to remain had their stock of cattle destroyed for the use of the army—their houses taken away, and their household furniture, bedding, etc, wantonly wasted and burned.”

All in all, some inhabitants took decades to recover from the occupation and most were not reimbursed for their hardship.

The British left the area on September 16, 1777 and proceeded north into West Chester, PA (Turk’s Head in 1777) to try and intercept Washington and his forces. They found him in Goshen township where another battle that could have been as large as the Battle of Brandywine unfolded. As both armies fell into position, a large storm swept through the area and caused a torrential downpour of rain and wind. This occurrence, known today as the Battle of the Clouds, did not result in an actual fight and both armies retired from the field. Anthony Wayne and a detachment of the Pennsylvania regulars were surprised in a night time attack at Paoli on the evening of September 19, which is known as the Paoli Massacre. On September 26, General Cornwallis marched with a large British force, unopposed, into the colonial capitol of Philadelphia where they would remain until the spring. With the larger British force in Philadelphia, Howe set up a line of defensive positions that stretched north to the small town of Germantown, PA. Washington attempted one last assault on the British to capture Howe’s forces at Germantown and work his way down to capture Philadelphia. Not many people realize that the British, even having captured Philadelphia, were still suffering in terms of logistics. Although the army had made it’s way into the city, the Americans still held the Delaware River, which prevented any supplies or British shipping from accessing the port of the city to resupply the desperate Crown forces. The British navy battled their way up the river, dodging obstacles and bombarding Forts Mercer and Mifflin on either side of the river and engaging with small parties of Continental forces. After a long-fought bombardment, the two forts finally fell, and supplies were able to access the city. Washington, having no alternative, fled west to Whitemarsh and eventually on to his winter encampment at Valley Forge. The British had captured Philadelphia, but at a major cost.

As the events of the Philadelphia Campaign transpired, another campaign was taking place in the northern theater of the war. General John Burgoyne, having been abandoned by General Howe in the summer of 1777, desperately and slowly continued to march his army south in the Hudson River Valley. With Howe out of the picture, he was left to forage and fight the Continentals in a totally unknown and foreign landscape. Generals Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold with a large American force bolstered by New England militia harassed Burgoyne in every possible way. Little by little, Burgoyne’s force continued to suffer defeats when they were sent on foraging expeditions. Towns that were thought to be loyal and secure, turned out to be occupied by large bodies of militia and it all culminated at one place known as Bemis Heights, a major component in what would become the Saratoga Campaign. In October 1777, after a long and tedious expedition from Montreal, Burgoyne had no other alternative than to surrender one third of the British forces in North America.

With the fall of Burgoyne, events turned in favor of the Continental cause. Across the Atlantic, King Louis XVI watched and waited for his opportunity to scribe his signature on a formal treaty with the Americans. Before this, France was unofficial allies with the Americans, but they needed satisfactory proof that the Americans could hold their own before France opted to officially get involved. France wanted nothing more than to fight Great Britain but having just lost a humiliating defeat in the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War in North America), they were reluctant to jump feet first into the fray. The Saratoga Campaign along with Washington’s resilience in the Philadelphia Campaign was the evidence they were looking for and in 1778, France finally entered the war. Now the American Revolution, a colonial and continental war, was now a world war. England, feeling the pressure, had to relocate an already stretched military force from North America to other locations, particularly the Caribbean and other key footholds around the empire.

General Howe caught blame for the events that transpired and put forth a letter of resignation to George Germain. He returned to England and left the British forces under the command of Sir Henry Clinton who would remain the Commander in Chief until the end of the war. In the spring of 1778, Clinton pulled the entire occupation force of the British army out of Philadelphia and marched them overland to the original location from which they left in the summer of 1777, New York City. Washington, having spent the winter in Valley Forge, had an army at his disposal that had been entirely transformed. Under the tutelage of the Baron de Steuben, the Continental army had been trained in proper European military drill and once they learned of the British withdrawal from Philadelphia, they set out to intercept the large retreating column in New Jersey. They did so around Monmouth Courthouse, where they proved that they were in fact transformed. Although considered a draw, Washington’s army maneuvered and stood their ground, which convinced reluctant eyes that the war was far from over. After arriving back in New York, Clinton set his eyes on the southern colonies where it was believed that there was an abundance of loyalists willing and ready to assist the British regulars in smashing the rebellion. He launched an expeditionary force under Charles Cornwallis that ended any major fighting in the northern portion of the colonies for the remainder of the war.

Although a loss, the Battle of Brandywine and the entirety of the Philadelphia Campaign convinced France that the Americans were a resilient and stubborn force. Tied with the Saratoga Campaign it transformed the war into a global conflict that began to wear on an already stretched British military force, which give credence and reinforcement to 1777 being known as the “Year of the Hangman.”

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