Imagine, if you will, fighting a war without any of our modern day technology or information. You had to rely on word of mouth and personal observation for intelligence gathering and planning. Much of what took place happened much slower than today’s battles because it took longer for troops to move and deploy into position. Often, they had to scavenge for supplies and food along the way. Such was the way of things during the Revolutionary War.
In early 1777, British Lieutenant General Sir William Howe was the commander of all of the British forces in North America. His adversary was American General George Washington and his Continental Army. Strategizing for the two leaders was like playing a game of chess where you not only have to plan your own moves but anticipate your opponent’s moves as well. Often, he who strategizes the best wins and in the warfare of the times, sometimes victory is not only good strategy but it also involves luck in dealing with many other circumstances.
Howe had assigned British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne to cut a path across New England to cut them off from the rest of the colonies. Howe, took the task of trying to lure Washington’s army into battle in New Jersey, but Washington didn’t take the bait.
Howe then planned to sail his army of about 16,000 north up the Delaware River and attack Philadelphia and preventing Washington from joining forces with American Major General Horatio Gates who was busy protecting New England from Burgoyne. Howe’s brother, Admiral Richard Howe used his fleet to transport Howe’s army. However, Howe received false information and changed his plans of sailing up the Delaware River to Philadelphia.
On August 22, 1777, Howe sailed into Chesapeake Bay and landed around Turkey Point, located 8 miles south of Head of Elk, Maryland. The sea journey left many of Howe’s men ill with seasickness. A number of their horses died on the voyage. Basically, Howe’s army was in sad shape and needed time to rest, heal and re-group.
Howe’s new plan was march north to Philadelphia and confront Washington there. On the march, he decided to split his forces into two groups, one led by Hessian Lieutenant General baron Wilhelm Knyphausen and the other led by British Major General Earl Charles Cornwallis. With the smaller force, he would attack Washington straight on and with the larger force he would march around and attack Washington’s right flank.
In the meantime, Washington learned of Howe’s movements and suspected his move and counter move.
On September 3, 1777, Washington sent Brigadier General William Maxwell toward Howe to observe, monitor and harass Howe’s advancement north. Maxwell and Howe’s forces met at Cooch’s Bridge where Howe prevailed and drove Maxwell and his men retreating back to Washington’s position.
For the next week, the American and British forces continued to maneuver to monitor and prepare to engage each other.
On September 10, 1777, Washington’s forces took positions on and near Brandywine Creek on the road to Philadelphia.
On this day, September 11, 1777, there was a dense fog in the early morning that provided some cover for Cornwallis to take his forces and circle around to Washington’s right flank. Even though Washington had somewhat anticipated such a move, he was not fully ready for the encounter with Cornwallis.
In the battle that ensued, Washington’s forces lost about 1,100 men while the British lost about 600 men. Realizing his position was untenable, Washington was forced to retreat, ending up at Germantown, Pennsylvania.
Had Howe and Cornwallis pursued Washington, it’s quite possible that Washington could have been defeated and the Revolutionary War lost and we would all still be singing God save the Queen. Instead, Howe marched his forces on to Philadelphia where he captured and occupied the city. The Continental Congress had received word of the approaching British army and escaped to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and then on to York, Pennsylvania.
The Battle of Brandywine Creek was a decisive victory for the British and could well have spelled the end of the war, but luck or the providence of God, as Washington often referred to, intervened and protected him and the Continental Army.
Sources for the above includes: The Battle of Brandywine; History of the Battle of the Brandywine; Battle of Brandywine; The Battle of Brandywine Begins; Battle of Brandywine; The Battle of Brandywine Creek 1777; The Battle of Brandywine; Battle of the Brandywine