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Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania, USA

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The American Revolutionary War in the Middle Atlantic States:
Battle of New York City | Washington's Retreat from New York City | Washington's Crossing of the Delaware River
Battles of Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey | British Capture of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania
The Paoli Massacre | Battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania | Battle of the Barrels | The Winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey | Battle of Stony Point, New York | Battle of Springfield, New Jersey | General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne
Molly Pitcher | General Lord Charles Cornwallis

On the night of 10 September, 1777 the Colonial army of General George Washington was spread along a six-mile front on the eastern banks of the Brandywine Creek in south eastern Pennsylvania. Facing a force of 15,000 Redcoats, Washington felt he was in a strong enough position to face his British foe and block its advance toward the rebel capital of Philadelphia.

Believing the British could not flank his army, Washington fortified the eight fords across the creek. He paid special attention to Chadd's Ford, which lay along the main road from their camp in Kennett Square to Philadelphia*. A delegation from Congress inspected his disposition of troops and approved of his plan.

The British had other ideas. In a council of war on the night of 10 September, they decided to send one corps under the command of Hessian Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen into the centre of the American line at Chadd's Ford. While Washington was busy with them, Generals Sir William Howe and Lord Charles Cornwallis swept around to the north and hit the Colonials in their right flank.

On the morning of 11 September, Howe led the flanking force out of Kennett Square at 4am. The forces of General Knyphausen's division moved out at 5:45 toward Chadd's Ford seven miles to the east.

In heavy fog, the British surprised a party of Colonial scouts who were taking a break in the Anvil Tavern. The Americans fired off a quick volley from the tavern and bolted out the back door leaving their horses behind.

The British and Hessians advanced another mile where they ran into General William Maxwell's 800-man light infantry corps. They were hiding in ambush at Kennett Meeting House. Maxwell's men continued to harass the British. They retreated to prepared positions and slowed the British advance. After delaying the advance for more than two hours, they retreated across the Brandywine Creek under the cover of Colonel Thomas Proctor's Pennsylvania artillery regiment.

Knyphausen and Proctor then engaged in a two-hour artillery duel that was heard as far away as Philadelphia. While this was taking place in the centre of his line, Washington was receiving disturbing reports from his right flank.

Howe and Cornwallis, guided by local loyalists, had taken advantage of fords far to the north of the rebels. They were across the creek by 2 pm. The British marched 17 miles in less than 10 hours. They stopped for a quick meal and a bit of rest while Howe and Cornwallis scouted ahead to take a look at the Colonial position atop Obsorne Hill.

What they saw surprised them - more than 3,500 Colonial soldiers arranged in line of battle along the crest of the hill with a ploughed field of winter wheat before them. The Redcoats had more than 8,000 men to support their attack, and the generals went back to their men. They began arranging them for their strike.

After receiving conflicting intelligence reports of the presence of British on his right flank all morning, Washington finally reacted to the threat around 2pm. He sent orders to General John Sullivan withdraw his troops, who were defending the upstream fords, and join Generals Adam Stephen and William Alexander atop Osborne Hill to prepare for the onslaught.

As Sullivan was getting into position, the British struck with bayonets fixed. In the confusion, some of Sullivan's rear units fired into the Colonial troops in front of them. Before long, Sullivan's men were in retreat while he was in conference with Stephen and Alexander.

It was during the retreat of Sullivan's men, that Colonel Moses Hazen's regiment1, which was known as the 'Infernals', faced down Hessian forces that were three times their number. They fired volley after volley into the mercenaries and covered the retreat of Sullivan's men. At the same time they marched toward the Colonial forces of Alexander and Stephen.

The British advance was halted by Alexander and Stephen, but with darkness falling and a third of the rebel forces routed from the field the Redcoats continued to probe for weaknesses. They found it on the flanks of the hill.

On both the right and left flanks of Osborne Hill, the British poured hundreds of fresh troops into the fray. Out manned and outgunned, the rebels began to falter. Then they retreated in order with Hazen's 'Infernals' covering the withdrawal. During the fighting, the Colonial's youngest general Marquis de Lafayette was wounded in the leg.

In the meantime, Washington withdrew General Nathaniel Greene's 1st Virginia Division from where it was being held in reserve for Wayne's troops and sent it to help the northern flank. The Virginians ran to the north and covered the 4 miles in 45 minutes. They arrived just as right flank collapsed. As the Colonials withdrew through Greene's division, the Virginians were completely outnumbered. They were forced to form a line and perform a fighting retreat until nightfall when the fighting came to an end for the day.

When Knyphausen heard the fighting to the north, he attempted to cross the creek at Chadd's Ford. However, the heavy fire General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne's Pennsylvania Division and their supporting artillery kept the Redcoats on the western banks of the stream until 5:15pm. When they crossed, they engaged in a bloody battle began, and Wayne's men inflicted very heavy casualties on the advancing foe.

Eventually, Wayne's Pennsylvanians were overwhelmed and forced to withdraw in order toward Chester. They stopped behind every bit of natural cover to fire into the advancing enemy until both sides ceased fire at 7pm.

The Americans retreated and escaped the hammer blow, aided in part by Count Casimir Pulaski's cavalry charge that stalled a British attempt to cut off the American's retreat route.

The end result of the battle was a 'victory' for the British as they occupied the battlefield at the end of the day. Still, the casualties were surprisingly even. There were about 900 British and 850 to 1,000 Continentals killed and wounded during the day's fighting. But Washington again was able to avoid the total destruction of his army and with it the rebellion, which was the sole aim of the British attack.

1This unit was made up of men from New York and Pennsylvania but the majority were Canadians who had joined the rebellion in 1775 and were now in exile.

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