Battle on the Brandywine


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Battle of Brandywine

Original 1777 Map of the Battle of Brandywine

Brandywine, BATTLE ON THE. When George Washington learned that Howe was ascending Chesapeake Bay in the fleet of his brother, he marched (August 24, 1777) from Philadelphia to meet him. At about the time he reached Wilmington Howe was landing his army, 18,000 strong, at the head of the Elk River, 54 miles from Philadelphia. Washington's effective force did not exceed 11,000 men, including 1,800 Pennsylvania militia. Howe's objective was Philadelphia, and he began his march (September 3) in that direction through a country swarming with Tories. One division was led by Earl Cornwallis, and the other by General Knyphausen. Washington had advanced almost to Red Clay Creek, and sent General Maxwell with his brigade to form an ambuscade in the direction of the enemy. In a skirmish the British were checked, but moved forward (September 8) to attack Washington and turn his flank. By a dexterous movement in the night, the latter fell back to Chad's Ford, on the Brandywine Creek, above Wilmington, and took post in a strong position on the hills that skirt the eastern borders of that stream. The astonished Britons gave chase the next morning, but found Washington standing in their pathway to Philadelphia.

Chad's Ford

Chad's Ford on the Brandywine

The two divisions of Howe's army met at Kennet Square (September 10), and the next morning Cornwallis led a large portion of them up the Lancaster road towards the forks of the Brandywine, leaving all their baggage --even their knapsacks—with the other division. The latter moved for Chad's Ford a few hours later in a dense fog. Washington's left wing, composed of the brigades of Muhlenberg and Weedon, of Creene's division, and Wayne's division, with Proctor's artillery, were on the hills east of Chad's Ford. The brigades of Sullivan, Stirling, and Stephen, composing the right wing, extended along the Brandywine Creek to a point above the forks; and 1,000 Pennsylvania militia under General Armstrong were at Pyle's Ford, 2 miles below Chad's. General Maxwell, with 1,000 light troops, was posted on the west side of the creek to dispute the passage of Knyphausen. The latter attempted to dislodge Maxwell, who, after a severe fight, was pushed to the edge of the Brandywine, where he was reinforced. Then he turned upon his pursuers and drove them back to the main line. Perceiving danger of being flanked, Maxwell fled across the stream, leaving its western banks in possession of the enemy. Knyphausen now brought his great guns to bear upon the Americans at Chad's Ford. It was to divert Washington's attention from Cornwallis, who was pushing forward to cross the Brandywine and gain the rear of the Americans. This accomplished, Knyphausen was to cross over, when a simultaneous attack by both parties was to be made. Washington directed Sullivan to cross the Brandywine above and attack Cornwallis, while he (Washington) should cross the stream and assail Knyphausen. Through misinformation, Sullivan failed to perform his part. A message which he sent to Washington kept the latter in suspense a long time. Greene, who had crossed at Chad's Ford with his advanced guard, was recalled; and Cornwallis, in the mean time, had made a wide Birmingham Meeting Housecircuit, crossed the Brandywine, and gained a hill near Birmingham Meetinghouse, not far from Sullivan's right, before that officer discovered him. The surprised general informed Washington of his peril, and immediately prepared to attack the enemy. Before he could do so, Cornwallis, with his rested troops, fell upon Sullivan, and a severe conflict ensued. For a while the result was doubtful. Finally the right wing of the Americans, under General Deborre, gave way; then the left, under Sullivan; but the centre, under Stirling, remained firm for a while. Then it, too, broke and fled in confusion. Lafayette, who was with this corps, fighting as a volunteer on foot, was badly wounded in his leg. The scattered troops could not be rallied, excepting a few who made a stand at Dilworth. They, too, soon joined the fugitives in the flight towards the main army, closely pursued by the victors, Cornwallis's cannon having made dreadful havoc in the ranks of the Americans. Meanwhile Washington, with Greene and two brigades, had hastened to the aid of the right wing. They met the fugitives, opened their ranks to receive them, and, by a constant cannonade, checked their pursuers; and at a narrow defile the regiments of Stephen and Stewart held the British back until night, when the latter encamped. In the mean time, Knyphausen had crossed at Chad's Ford and attacked the left wing under Wayne. After a gallant fight, the latter, seeing the British gaining his rear, abandoned his cannon and munitions of war and made a disorderly retreat behind the division of Greene. At twilight there was a skirmish near Dilworth between Maxwell and his light troops, lying in ambush to cover the retreat of the Americans, and some British grenadiers. The contest was brief, for darkness put an end to it. The Americans, defeated, marched leisurely to Chester; for the British, who held the field, did not pursue. The next morning (September 12, 1777) Washington gathered his broken army, marched towards Philadelphia, and encamped near Germantown. It was estimated that the Americans lost, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, about 1,200; the British, about 800.



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