Sunday, September 13, 2015

American History 101: Battle of Brandywine Creek 09/11/1777

Today September 11th has a specific and well-defined meaning to Americans, and even to many people around the world.  The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93 in Pennsylvania will go down in history as the horrific tragedy to ever occur on this date.  However, it is not the only tragedy that occurred on September 11th in American History.  In 1777 on September 11th in the beautiful Brandywine Valley of Southeaster Pennsylvania, not far from Delaware, General George Washington's army engaged with the British lead by General William Howe in a battle that -- if Howe and Cornwallis had any idea what as going on -- could have been the end of the American Revolution.  As it stood, Washington got luck and the American revolutionaries still lost control over the city of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Campaign of the war.

On September 11th, 1777 the British sailed into Elk Head (now Elkton, MD).  The British initially handled the little resistance they encountered on their march north from Elk Head to Philadelphia, and handled the ragtag Americans with ease.  General Washington had foritified his army just south of Chadds Ford, and the rest behind the Brandywine Creek near Kennet Square.  Washington expected the British to march headlong into the soldiers at Chadds Ford and would then use the soldiers at Brandywine as a second punch into the gut of Howe and his redcoats.  Unfortunately, Howe split his army.  He sent a portion of his army straight into Chadds Ford, just as Washington expected.  But he also sent a portion of the army north, having them cross the Brandywine and circle back towards the Americans on their left flank.  

Washington never saw them coming.

Washington, being a solid field general if not a great tactician at the time, reacted quickly and pushed three divisions to meet Howe's men at what is not the Old Kennett Meeting House and put up a nasty fight.  But even with intense resolve, after several hours Howe's men pushed through the American line and pushed Washington back on his heels.  At the same time the Hessian General Knyphausen sent his troops into Chadds Ford and overwhelmed the Americans who were already exhausted and fighting at a reduced force from successfully defending against Cornwallis' first charge.  As Knyphausen overran the Americans, Howe retreated and circled back to help Knyphausen and Cornwallis.  This would prove to be a fortuitous moment in American history.

This combination caused the main portion of the American Army to retreat northeast towards Philadelphia, leaving General Nathaneal Greene to stand fast and put up enough resistance to allow Washington's army to retreat out of
the fight -- and live to fight another day.  Greene's fortitude and defense, combined with Howe's decision proved to be the factors that saved the American Revolution.  

In the Battle of Brandywine Creek, the Americans lost 300, had 600 wounded and 400 captured.  These numbers were a significant blow to the American cause.  It reduced the efficacy of Washington's army to the point that it could not put up any defense of Philadelphia as the British marched north.  Washington sent couriers north ahead of his army to alert the city that the British were en route and he could not stop them.  At the time, Philadelphia was the capital of the United States -- but it was moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a short time and then to York, Pennsylvania.  

Historians agree that there is little question that had General Howe continued to push, and not circled back, that he could have defeated Washington and the Americans at Brandywine once and for all.  But Howe thought there were another 10,000 men at Brandywine and took his victory and marched north without trying to deliver a death blow.  And if General's Greene and Stirling did not put up a strong defense as Washington retreated, the capital itself might have been captured at this time.  The British took Philadelphia on September 26, 1777.

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working towards a Masters Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

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