September 11, 1777: Battle of Brandywine

“He [Colonel Alexander Spotswood] commanded the second [Virginia] regiment, at the battle of Brandywine; and, it was said by a British writer, one Smith, that it was the only regiment that left the field of battle in good order.”

– Francis Brooke

The Battle of the Brandywine, was fought on September 11, 1777, in the area surrounding Chadds Ford, PA. The battle, which was a decisivevictory for the British, left Philadelphia, the revolutionary capital, undefended. The British captured the city on September 26, beginning an occupation that would last until June, 1778.

Edward G. Lengel explains the positioning of the Continental Army in his article, The Battle of Brandywine: “Washington concentrated the American defenses at Chad’s Ford, but also prepared to prevent possible British flanking movements to the south or north. Pyle’s Ford, an easily defensible crossing and the only practicable one south of Chad’s Ford, was covered by two brigades of Pennsylvania militia under Brigadier General John Armstrong. Nathaniel Greene’s 1st Division, composed of the 1st and 2d Virginia Brigades under Brigadier Generals Peter Muhlenberg and George Weedon, was entrusted with the primary defense of Chad’s Ford. Greene’s troops straddled the Nottingham road leading east from the Brandywine. To Greene’s right was Brigadier General Anthony Wayne’s 4th division containing two brigades of Pennsylvania Continentals. Colonel Thomas Procter’s Continental Artillery Regiment was placed on some heights commanding Chad’s Ford to Wayne’s right.” The 2d Virginia Regiment was assigned to Weedon’s Brigade of Greene’s Division.

Lengel further writes that “What remained of the three divisions fled a mile further east to Dilworthtown, just north of which place Greene’s division was forming up. Washington had dispatched Greene to this place after learning of the fall of Birmingham Hill, and he now arrived to supervise the positioning of Greene’s troops. By this time the 1st division was the last fresh American division on the field. Knyphausen had assaulted Wayne’s and Maxwell’s positions around Chad’s Ford at five o’clock, rapidly driving them back and capturing all of Procter’s guns. The position at Dilworthtown was therefore critical if the rest of the army (including Armstrong’s militia, which had not been engaged but was busy retreating eastward) was to be preserved.

"Weedon's Run" by Pamela Patrick White & Bryant White, http://www.whitehistoricart.com

That this position held until sundown was partly because of Washington’s careful positioning, at Sullivan’s suggestion, of Brigadier Generals Peter Muhlenberg’s and George Weedon’s brigades respectively on the front and flank of the British advance. As the Hessian grenadiers marched on Dilworthtown, Captain Johann Ewald [of the Hesse-Cassell Jaegers] wrote, they “received intense grapeshot and musketry fire which threw [the Germans] into disorder, but they recovered themselves quickly, deployed, and attacked the village.’

[General James] Agnew’s 4th Brigade…occupying at Ewald’s suggestion a hill on the flank, ‘ran into several American regiments’ of Weedon’s brigade [2d and 10th Virginia Regiments], preparing to fall upon the German’s flank. ‘At this point,’ Ewald wrote, ‘there was terrible firing, and half of the Englishmen and nearly all of the officers of these two regiments (they were the 46th and 64th Regiments of Foot) were slain.’ Fortunately for the British, an English artillery officer arrived opportunely with two six-pounders on Weedon’s flank, breaking up their attack. By this time it was growing dark and Greene’s men could follow their compatriots to Chester while the British remained in Dilworthtown, tending the wounded of both sides.”

Francis Brooke (who served as a lieutenant in the 1st Continental Artillery Regiment) recalls the service of his father-in-law Colonel Alexander Spotswood and the 2d Virginia Regiment at the Battle of Brandywine in his memoirs: “He commanded the second regiment, at the battle of Brandywine; and, it was said by a British writer, one Smith, that it was the only regiment that left the field of battle in good order.” This is corroborated by Captain John Peebles of the 42nd Regiment of Foot‘s grenadier company writes in his diary that the men of Weedon’s Brigade were “…the Enemy’s best troops…”

Video from the 2010 Reenactment

Photos from the 2010 Reenactment

Photos on Flickr

Advertisements

September 8, 1781: Battle of Eutaw Springs

“In this stage of the action, the Virginians under lieutenant colonel Campbell, and the Marylanders under colonel Williams, were led on to a brisk charge, with trailed arms, through a heavy cannonade and shower of musket balls. Nothing could exceed the gallantry and firmness of both officers and soldiers on this occasion. They preserved their order, and pressed on with such unshaken resolution that they bore down all before them. The enemy were routed in all quarters.”

Major General Nathanael Greene

The Virginia Brigade would continue to dwindle and in July 1781, Huger relinquished command of the brigade to Colonel Richard Campbell and command of the 1st Virginia Regiment passed to Captain Thomas Edmunds. Command of the 2d Virginia Regiment had passed to Major Smith Snead in May 1781.

Artwork by Don Troiani, http://www.historicalartprints.com

Their final battle would be at Eutaw Springs, another battle that went initially very well for the Americans but during which opportunity for a decisive victory was lost. Coming upon a camp of British troops under Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart, Major General Nathanael Greene once again had “…second line consisted of three small brigades of continental troops…The Virginians consisted of two battalions, commanded by Major Snead and captain Edmonds, and the whole by lieutenant colonel Campbell, and posted to the centre.”

The Americans gained ground against the British with two successive pushes which were countered by British counterattacks until according to Lt. Colonel Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee: “Greene, determining to strike a conclusive blow, brought up the Marylanders and Virginians; when our line became dense, and pressing forward with a shout the battle raged with redoubled fury.”

Greene’s army pressed their way into the British camp, and “In this stage of the action, the Virginians under lieutenant colonel Campbell, and the Marylanders under colonel Williams, were led on to a brisk charge, with trailed arms, through a heavy cannonade and shower of musket balls. Nothing could exceed the gallantry and firmness of both officers and soldiers on this occasion. They preserved their order, and pressed on with such unshaken resolution that they bore down all before them. The enemy were routed in all quarters.”

Lee writes that “The battle lasted upwards of three hours, and was fiercely contested, every corps in both armies bravely supporting each other.” The offensive stalled at the British camp as a detachment of British troops under Major John Marjorbanks fiercely defended an adjacent brick house which gave Stewart’s force an opportunity to regroup and counterattack again, driving the Americans from the camp. Once again Greene retreated in good order and the British were forced to consolidate their forces closer to Charleston.

Greene considered it a victory, thinking he was “…principally indebted for the victory we obtained to the free use of the bayonet made by the Virginians and Marylanders…”, however Lee characterized the battle by saying the “…loss was uncommonly great — more than one fifth of the British and one forth of the American army being killed or wounded, as stated in the official returns, which intelligent officers of both armies considered short of the real loss sustained…. Of six commandants of regiments bearing continental commissions, Williams and Lee were only unhurt.” Greene wrote Congress “…Lieutenant colonel Campbell fell as he was leading his troops to charge, and though he fell with distinguished manner [?] of honour, yet his loss is much to be regretted: he was the great soldier and the firm patriot.”

External Links