Battle: Brandywine Creek
War: American Revolution
Date: 11th September 1777
Place: Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia
Combatants: British and Hessian troops against the American Continental Army
Generals: Major General Sir William Howe and General George Washington
British Light Dragoon
Size of the armies: Around 6,000 British and Hessians against 8,000 Americans.
Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British wore red coats and headgear of bearskin caps, leather caps or tricorne hats depending on whether the troops were grenadiers, light infantry or battalion company men. The two regiments of light dragoons serving in America, the 16th and 17th, wore red coats and leather crested helmets. The German infantry wore blue coats and retained the Prussian style grenadier mitre with brass front plate.
The Americans dressed as best they could. Increasingly as the war progressed regular infantry regiments of the Continental Army wore blue uniform coats but the militia continued in rough clothing. Both sides were armed with muskets and guns. The Pennsylvania regiments carried long, small calibre, rifled weapons.
Winner: The British and Hessians were left occupying the field having driven the Americans from their position on Brandywine Creek.
16th Light Dragoons later the 16th/5th Lancers and now the Queen’s Royal Lancers
Two Composite battalions of grenadiers
Two Composite battalions of light infantry
Two Composite battalions of Foot Guards (1st, 2nd and 3rd Guards)
4th Foot later the King’s Royal Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment
5th Foot later Northumberland Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
10th Foot later the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
15th Foot later the East Yorkshire Regiment and now the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire
17th Foot later the Royal Leicestershire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
23rd Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers
27th Foot later the Inniskilling Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish Regiment
28th Foot later the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment
33rd Foot now the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment
37th Foot later the Hampshire Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment
40th Foot later the South Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment
44th Foot later the Essex Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
46th Foot later the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry
49th Foot later the Royal Berkshire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment
55th Foot later the Border Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment
64th Foot later the North Staffordshire Regiment and now the Staffordshire Regiment
Three battalions of Fraser’s Highlanders, the 71st Foot.
Wayne’s Pennsylvania Brigade
Weeden’s Viriginia Brigade
Muhlenburg’s Virginia Brigade
Hazen’s Canadian Regiment
Maxwell’s Light Infantry
Colonel Bland’s 1st Dragoons
De Borre’s Brigade
Howe had brought his army by sea to the Chesapeake intending to capture Philadelphia. Washington marched south to Wilmington and attempted to delay the capture of the city falling back before the British and Hessian army.
On 9th September 1777 Washington’s army took positions behind the
Brandywine Creek at Chad’s Ford (now Chadds Ford). The creek flowed
through undulating countryside with steep cliffs in places and heavily
wooded hills. Below Chad’s Ford the flow became narrower and faster so
as to be unfordable. A number of fords marked the creek up to the
point where it divided into east and west branches.
Washington expected Howe’s army to march from Kennett Square in the West up to Chad’s Ford and carry out a frontal assault.
Pennsylvania militia were posted to the left of the Chad’s Ford position where little threat was perceived. Washington positioned Wayne’s Pennsylvania Continentals with Weedon’s and Mulenburg’s brigades in the centre opposite Chad’s Ford, under the command of Major General Nathaniel Greene.
Major General John Sullivan commanded on the right, posting forces under Colonel Moses Hazen at the distant Wistar’s and Buffington’s Fords. Light Infantry and picquets were posted to the West of the creek to give warning of the British advance.
At around noon on 11th September 1777 the first British and loyalist troops came down the road from Kennett Square, Major Patrick Ferguson’s Riflemen and the Queen’s Rangers, followed by two British brigades (4th, 5th, 23rd, 49th, 10th, 27th, 28th, 40th Foot and three battalions of Fraser’s 71st Highlanders) and a Hessian brigade. The column was commanded by the Hessian Lieutenant General Knyphausen. He had a squadron of 16th Light Dragoons and guns.
Knyphausen marched to the ford, his battalions took position along the hills on the west bank and he began to cannonade the American positions across the river.
The Battle of Brandywine Creek : The attack of the British 46th Foot
In the meantime the second British column under Howe and Major General Lord Cornwallis had turned North to cross the creek some miles upstream of the Chad’s Ford position. This column would then encircle the Americans’ rear right flank and cut them off from the Philadelphia road.
Washington appears to have been advised of the British encircling movement by Hazen’s distant troops, but to have discounted the warning for some hours. He and his staff were convinced that the main attack was to be a frontal assault over Chad’s Ford. It was not until early afternoon that he was finally persuaded that the main British movement was to his right rear. During that time he began an assault across the ford but withdrew it.
On the alarm being given Sullivan marched his right wing of the American army to the North East and, meeting the retreating Hazen, formed his troops on a hill at the Birmingham Meeting House. Howe’s regiments formed three columns and attacked the Americans.
Finally convinced of his mistake by the sound of the bombardment, Washington dispatched Greene with the American reserve to support Sullivan. By that time the British attack had driven Sullivan’s troops off the hill and Greene and Sullivan were forced to withdraw from the field.
At Chad’s Ford, Knyphausen launched an assault across the river, led
by the 4th and 5th Foot. A force of British Foot Guards and grenadiers
emerged from the forest, where it had been temporarily lost, and
attacked the right flank of the troops at the ford. The Americans were
driven from their positions.
The battle ended with the American army withdrawing up the road to Philadelphia in considerable confusion and the British encamped on the battlefield. Nightfall saved the Americans from greater loss.
Casualties: The British lost 550 killed and wounded. The Americans lost around 1,000 killed, wounded and captured and 11 guns, 2 of which had been taken at Trenton. The Marquis de Lafayette, fighting with Sullivan, was among the wounded.
Follow-up: Brandywine is not considered a decisive battle. Nevertheless it hastened the loss of Philadelphia to the British. The British failed to exploit their success.