CHADD’S FORD, Pa. (WHTM) — Early on the morning of September 11, 1777, a column of British and Hessian soldiers from the army of General Sir William Howe, under the command of General Wilhelm von Knyphausen, marched towards the village of Chadd’s Ford, and the Brandywine River. On the east bank of the river, the Continental Army commanded by George Washington waited.

(This is the second of a three-part series marking the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine. In part one, we showed the movements of British and Colonial armies leading to them meeting along the banks of the Brandywine River in southeastern Pennsylvania.)

As the British forces approached the river, they spread out along the west side, and shooting began in earnest. Cannon fire from both sides added to the din. To Washington and his soldiers, it looked like the entire British army was arrayed in front of them.

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As Dr. Ricardo Herrera of the U.S. Army War College explains, what was actually in front of them was an elaborate ruse.

“Make a demonstration, convince Washington that the British are coming here, this is going to be the main attack. In the meantime, Howe co-locates himself with General Charles Lord Cornwallis, who’s in command of the left division. Cornwallis does a 15 to 17-mile Flanking march. It’s a humid day, happily for the British, it’s also a foggy day. This helps cover some of the dust trails from these several thousand troops, marching, with the intention of turning Washington’s right flank, his flank on the north.

At Jeffrie’s Ford, Howe and Cornwallis crossed the Brandywine, not all that far from the American line. They met no resistance from Washington’s Army. Thanks to loyalists in the area, the British know more about the terrain than the Continentals.

Washington, meanwhile, was trying to make sense of conflicting reports about British movements.

“One of the problems throughout the American War for Independence,” Dr. Herrera said. “Is the weakness of the continental cavalry, the continental light dragoons. One of their missions was to perform reconnaissance, in other words, go out, seek the enemy, pass on information to the commander, and this was something of an undeveloped branch in the Continental Army. So Washington did not get all of the information that he needed.”

Such information as he got was confusing-first, a message saying British troops were moving north, followed closely by another saying there were no British in sight. Washington, feeling sure of his preparations for battle, made the wrong decision.

“He was” says Dr. Herrera said. “Rather overconfident in the disposition of his troops. Hence, his ignoring of the initial word that the British were advancing on his right. Once contact was made, once they were across the ford, had gotten to the crest of Birmingham hill, advanced southward, Washington than did react and reacted pretty quickly.”

In hours of intense fighting, the Continentals were slowly pushed back. With the American line on the brink of crumbling, Washington calls on General Nathaneal Greene.

“And what Greene does is set up what’s really a giant L-shaped ambush. And so as British forces crest a hill, Greene opens fire on the British with a brigade of infantry, in their faces, and also on their left. Which drives the British back momentarily, slows down the advance, and buys important time for the Continentals to withdraw.”

General Howe has the victory but decides not to pursue Washington. Not only are his troops exhausted, they still haven’t gotten over the horrendous month-long sea voyage that brought them to this part of the American colonies.

“One of the things that are often unappreciated when looking at battles, particularly in the 18th Century, and even the 19th Century, and beyond,” Dr. Herrera said. “Is the fact that victory can often be as destructive to the victors as it is to the defeated? So Howe’s troops, still recovering from the long ocean voyage, have been in battle for several hours, they need to reconstitute their forces, redistribute their ammunition, take care of their wounded, and start reorganizing units as they need to. Howe, it is true, does not pursue with the vigor that might have been desired, but he’s got faith that he will defeat Washington in the field once again.

As for Washington’s army?

“Though the Continentals were defeated in battle, they still held together, and I think it’s an important testament not only to their skill, as veterans by now, but also to their faith in what they were fighting for, but also their faith in Washington and their other officers.”