New findings on Battle of Brandywine

History tells us that the Battle of Brandywine was fought Sept. 11, 1777 in Chadds Ford and Birmingham townships. But some recent findings indicate that the battle could have been fought days earlier in Delaware.

That was the takeaway from the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force’s annual meeting held at Radley Run Country Club last night. The task force works to protect the battlefield and preserve its historic resources. It has been researching and investigating the area since 1993.

Wade Catts, the project’s archeologist consultant, and Robert Selig, the project’s historian consultant, told those attending the meeting that the battle could conceivably have been fought in Delaware had Gen. George Washington and, for Britain, Gen. Sir William Howe, made different decisions on Sept. 7, 8, and 9.

Chadds Ford “was Washington’s choice,” Selig said in a brief interview before the meeting started.

Historian Robert Selig addresses the audience at the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force's annual meeting at Radley Run.

He explained that both forces were in Delaware leading up to the battle. It was Howe’s intention to take Philadelphia, and he tried to flank Washington’s troops so he could head toward the city without hindrance. But Washington kept his men moving to thwart Howe.

On Sept. 8, 1777, Washington decided to take a position in Chadds Ford and arrived Sept. 9. Howe arrived in Pennsylvania late on Sept. 10, too late in the day to start a battle, Selig said. He camped in Kennett Township that night and marched east in the morning to begin the battle.

But both sides had already been skirmishing all along the way through Delaware, as Catts said during his presentation.

Had any of those skirmishes flared, or had Washington decided to continue his tactics in Delaware the history of the battle would be different.

Catts said he and others used source material — letters and documents from British, German and American troops, maps that were drawn at the time and civilian claims of battle damage to their properties — and took a military terrain assessment approach in studying the Wilmington and Hockessin area.

“We need to push the battlefield into New Castle County,” he said.

Catts added that the American forces under Washington took defensive positions along the Red Clay Creek — in the area that is now in the vicinity of Kirkwood Highway — from Sept. 4-9.

He said Howe was outflanking Washington on Sept. 8 when Washington decided to move on to Chadds Ford, using what are now Routes 41 and 82. Washington himself crossed into Pennsylvania at Smith's Bridge and getting to Benjamin Ring’s house, which he used as a headquarters before the battle, via Ridge and Ring roads.

Findings also showed there had been skirmishes between the two forces in New Garden and East Marlborough townships. Jeannine Speirs, the task force’s project manager said some of the findings need to be more fully vetted.

Next steps also include updating the report to include the southern portion of the battlefield, she said. Additionally, she announced that the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution and it’s Color Guard donated $45,000 for markers for all 15 of the municipalities where there had been troop movement.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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