NEW YORK, PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — In 1777, The Revolutionary War is in its third year. The British Commander in Chief, General Sir William Howe, having driven George Washington’s continental army out of New York City the year before, now plans to move south and capture the city of Philadelphia.
2022 marks the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine, which took place along the Brandywine River (or creek, if you prefer.) It was a major clash between British and American forces and would have a direct impact on South Central Pennsylvania. Here, in the first of three parts, we present the events leading up to the battle.
According to Dr. Riccardo Herrera of the U.S. Army War College, the city was not his only target-and perhaps, not even his primary one. “By threatening Philadelphia he believes he can draw Washington’s army, which is the main army of the Continental Army, into battle, into decisive battle, and destroy it on the field. By doing so, he believes he will be able to crush the rebellion. By doing so, he also believes he can inspire a loyalist uprising. Bring loyalists up to the king’s standard, and help him put down the rebels.”
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Rather than marching his men across the country, Howe decided to move his troops by sea. Working with his brother, Vice-Admiral Richard, Lord Howe, he puts together a fleet of over 260 ships, to transport some 18,000 soldiers, their equipment, provisions, and horses. They sail from New York on July 23.
“Washington had no idea where Howe was going,” explains Herrera. “He, through lucky guesswork but also through his intelligence network, and having good observers along the coast, was able to determine what Howe’s destination was. By heading southward, most likely Philadelphia.”
They were going to the Chesapeake Bay, to approach Philadelphia from the south. But due to bad weather, a voyage that should have only taken ten days dragged out to a month. Crowding, seasickness, disease, and spoiling food took a terrible toll on man and beast.
“Great numbers of horses were tossed overboard as they died, soldiers also tossed overboard as they died, on the voyage,” says Herrera. “Once they landed at Maryland, it took them several days to literally get their land legs back, but also start recovering some of their health. They were also looking for fresh food.”
The fleet was put in at Head of Elk, Maryland, on August 25. The delay in reaching their destination allowed Washington to bring his Army down from New Jersey, and through Philadelphia, to set up defensive lines.
“Shortly after Howe lands, Washington starts sending forces to contest Howe’s advance. So they’ll fight first at Cooch’s Bridge in Delaware, they’ll then fall back, eventually, they’ll end up at Brandywine Creek,” says Herrera.
Washington realized there was only one road in the region Howe could use to march on Philadelphia-the Great Nottingham Road, known today as Route 1.
On September 9, He moved his forces to the village of Chadd’s Ford and arranged them along the Brandywine River.
“Washington sees this as a water obstacle,” says Herrera, “There are no bridges. There are fords, however, and a ford will at least force the British to slow down, it would also channelize their approach. They wouldn’t be able to advance in linear formation, with all their soldiers facing Washington.”
“So he sees this as a good place. He extends his line northward from Chadd’s Ford, he’s attempting to cover some of the other fords approaching the area that he’s in, covering Birmingham Hill.”
It was a good defensive position, with woods to conceal the troops, and hilly terrain which made attacking difficult and provided high ground for his artillery. Washington’s troops took their positions, watched the fords, and waited.
In just two days they would fight the biggest battle of the Revolutionary War.