historic researcher Sean Moir
Battle of Brandywine Creek – September 11, 1777
In July, 1777, Gen. William Howe’s British army of 19,000 took 264 ships south toward Philadelphia from their encampment in New Jersey. With a small naval force in and along the Delaware River blocking his path, he changed course to the Chesapeake Bay and planned to march his troops 30 miles northeast to Philadelphia.
When Gen. George Washington learned of Howe’s movement, he marched his army south to Wilmington, DE, arriving on August 25. That same day, Howe landed his army at Head of Elk, MD. On September 3, the majority of Howe’s army started marching toward Philadelphia, moving forward in 2 divisions; one commanded by Hessian Gen. Wilhelm Knyphausen and the other by Gen. Charles Cornwallis.
Washington moved his army to the high ground east of the Brandywine Creek. He positioned brigades and regiments at the main fords crossing the Brandywine. Washington was told by an advisor that Howe would try to outflank him by sending his main force northward while a decoy force attacked at the Chadds Ford. However, Washington had been assured by local informants that the road southward was poor. So, Washington expected the British to cross at Chadd’s Ford and therefore put most of his army there.
Greene’s 1st Division was assigned the primary defense at Chadd’s Ford. To Greene’s right was Gen. Anthony Wayne’s 4th Division. Col. Thomas Procter’s Continental Artillery Regiment was placed to Wayne’s right, on the heights at Chadd’s Ford.
On September 11, at 6:00 A.M., Howe sent half his army, led by Knyphausen, straight at Washington at Chadd’s Ford to act as decoy. The rest of Howe’s army marched 17 miles north to cross the Brandywine above the fords that Washington guarded. Howe then turned south to launch a surprise attack on the American right flank.
Knyphausen’s force had advanced only 3 miles before running into Maxwell’s outposts. Knyphausen’s men drove in the American pickets west of the creek. By 10:30 A.M., the British had cleared the west bank of the Brandywine Creek and took up positions on the high ground overlooking Chadd’s Ford.
After Washington had received reports from several officers that Howe was making a flanking movement, Washington planned to make an attack on Knyphausen’s force. He then received a report from Sullivan that said the earlier reports were incorrect. Washington decided not to go forward with his planned attack.
Once Howe was spotted, it was too late and Washington had no choice but to make a defensive stand. The situation demanded swift measures. Washington ordered Sullivan to take overall command of the 3 divisions. Howe’s troops formed into a line for the assault on Battle Hill. The attack began before Sullivan’s troops had a chance to take up proper positions. Washington ordered Greene to march to Sullivan’s aide. On the right, the American artillery opened fire on the advancing British troops. The British were forced to halt and take cover a short distance from the base of the hill. Howe and Cornwallis ordered a series of attacks on the left, right and center of the hill, gradually forcing the Americans off the hill.
After one and a half hours of fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the British pushed the Americans back and took possession of Battle Hill. Washington’s priority for the rest of the battle was the successful withdrawal of the remainder of the army.
Upon hearing of the ensuing battle to the north, Knyphausen launched his own attack on the weakened American center at Chadd’s Ford. They rapidly drove the Americans back and captured most of Washington’s artillery pieces. Washington had no choice now but to break off the fight and escape eastward with his remaining army. Washington’s army retreated to Chester, 12 miles east.