When 11 September 1777
Strength British – 15,500
Americans – 14,600
In late 1776, the British government devised a strategy which called for two armies to converge on the Hudson River Valley in order to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies. The plan required Major General Sir William Howe to march north along the Hudson River and meet up with one led south by Major General John Burgoyne. Instead, Howe decided that Philadelphia, the Patriot capital where the Continental Congress met, was a vulnerable target and could be easily captured.
General George Washington marched his combined army of Continental regiments and colonial militia south to Wilmington and attempted to delay the capture of Philadelphia.
The road to Philadelphia crossed Brandywine Creek at Chad’s Ford, the most southern of a series of fords which flowed through rolling hills and thick woods, with steep cliffs along its banks in places. On 9 September, Washington’s army took position along the east bank of Chad’s Ford. Washington expected Howe’s army to march from the west and carry out a frontal assault.
During the morning of 11 September, Howe arrived at Kennett Meeting House to the west of Chad’s Ford where he divided his army in two. One force led by Lieutenant General Knyphausen took up position on the hills on the west bank where they began bombarding the Americans across the river. The other force led by Howe and Major General Lord Cornwallis marched north until they crossed at an unguarded crossing where they then turned south toward the right rear of Washington’s army hoping to surround his army.
Washington was convinced the main attack was to be a head on assault over Chad’s Ford and ignored warnings that the British were trying to encircle his army. When he finally accepted that the main attack was to his rear, he dispatched General John Sullivan’s troops to join those of Colonel Moses Hazen on a hill at the Birmingham Meeting House to block the British. There, the British formed three columns and attacked. Finally convinced of his mistake by the sound of heavy firing, Washington then sent Major General Nathanael Greene with reinforcements to support Sullivan’s men. However, it was too late as the British drove the Americans off the field.
At Chad’s Ford, Knyphausen launched an assault across the river and attacked the left flank of Washington’s troops who, likewise, retreated from the battlefield. The American army withdrew up the road to Philadelphia in considerable confusion.
Washington once again showed his limitations as a strategist leaving his right flank wide open. The lack of cavalry prevented the British from destroying the American army and nightfall allowed many Americans to escape.
The Continental Congress abandoned Philadelphia, moving briefly to Lancaster, PA and then on to York, PA. On 26 September, British forces captured and occupied Philadelphia without firing a shot.
British – 93 killed / 488 wounded / 6 missing
Americans – 300 killed / 600 wounded / 400 captured
Nation Makers by Howard Pyle, 1906.