The defensive fortifications on the Delaware River convinced Howe to flank their way into Philadelphia via Chadd’s Ford. As Washington realized the British forces were headed to Philadelphia, he sent orders for American General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to gather the Pennsylvania militia, and sent reinforcements to defend supply points potentially within enemy reach. He had to solve supply and discipline problems and consult with Congress concerning the coming campaign and possible evacuation. By mid-August, Washington was “again befuddled concerning Howe’s objective”, but a reliable report came on August 22 that the British fleet was in the Chesapeake Bay. Calls went out for Delaware and New Jersey militia to join Washington’s forces. On August 24, the commander-in-chief conducted a grand march through Philadelphia to encourage the town’s people with a show of strength in the coming crisis.
Howard Pyle’s iconic painting, Nation Makers, depicts American troops at Brandywine and is displayed at the Brandywine River Museum
The British army aboard the ships had a miserable voyage—one German officer wrote that the bread had worms, the water stunk, the meat was inedible and the ship was full of lice. After almost two months aboard ship, about sixty German and English soldiers died on the voyage as storms battered the fleet. Four hundred horses were lost at sea. Despite the inauspicious beginning of the campaign, the redcoats finally landed unopposed at Head of Elk, Maryland. Despite five hundred soldiers sick and unable to continue, the British force moved north toward the Brandywine River where the Americans waited. A few army deserters and Tories from Philadelphia provided all the information General Howe needed to conduct his tactical operations.
Detail of a 1777 military map: Cooch’s Bridge is just to the right of Iron Hill; Philadelphia is off to the northeast; Head of Elk can be seen on the left along the Elk River. The Brandywine River is marked here as Christiana Creek, an alternate name.
On September 3, the Americans fought a delaying action at Cooch’s Bridge, the only battle of the war fought in Delaware. The Hessian brigades pressed on and Washington’s advance forces fell back to Chadd’s Ford, just over the Delaware line in Pennsylvania. The stage was set for the great Battle of Brandywine on September 11 that doomed Philadelphia.
Washington’s Headquarters at the Battle of Brandywine
Washington decided to make a stand behind the Brandywine River. He took over several local Quaker homes as headquarters and called together his brigadier generals and senior staff members, including Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, John Sullivan, William Alexander (“Lord Stirling”), the Marquis de Lafayette, Anthony Wayne, and a few others of high rank who would do great service over the next few years, like Alexander Hamilton, John Peter Muhlenberg, Israel Putnam, and Casimir Pulaski, all men whose names were commonly known by American school children until the 1960s. Remembering well the British penchant for flanking attacks, Washington was zealous to protect the fords and subsequently gathered a number of local patriots known for both their loyalty and knowledge of the terrain.