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Ten interesting facts to learn at the Brandywine Battlefield

Sep 01, 2014 04:35PM, Published by Kerigan Butt, Categories: Local History


Andrew Outten, the education director of the Brandywine Battlefield, during a presentation to a school group.



(Editor's note: This article first appeared in our Fall 2014 issue)

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

One of the most important, but often overlooked battles of the American Revolution took place in and around Chadds Ford on September 11, 1777. The American troops, under the command of Gen. George Washington, clashed with the British Army, which was under the command of Gen. William Howe during a day of heavy fighting that took place with the course of history resting in the balance.

Despite its importance, the Battle of the Brandywine “often goes overlooked in history,” explains Andrew Outten, education director at the Brandywine Battlefield. Outten earned his degree in history and served as an intern at the battlefield before becoming its education director two years ago.

Outten leads tours of the battlefield, sharing many interesting facts with visitors. Even people who live close to the battlefield, don’t realize all the secrets it holds.

“They know about the battlefield but they don’t usually realize how the battle fits into the grand scheme of things,” Outten explained.

West Chester & Chadds Ford Life met with Outten so that the education director could share some of the interesting facts about the Brandywine Battlefield and the battle that took place there.

1. The size of the battle: The Battle of the Brandywine involved 30,000 troops, making it one of the largest battles of the American Revolution. While 52 acres of the preserved Brandywine Battlefield were where Gen. Washington set up his encampment, the troops fighting actually spread out over 35,000 sprawling acres.

“This was the largest land battle of the American Revolution,” Outten explained.

2. History is written by the winners: The Battle of the Brandywine was a victory for the British Army. Consequently, Outten explained, you don’t find extensive details about the battle in U.S. history books.

3. The British ruled the world with the bayonet: The British Army had a distinct advantage whenever the fighting on the battlefield included the use of a bayonet, a fierce weapon in the practiced hands of the British soldiers. Even though the British Army had a tremendous advantage with the weapon, the American soldiers stood up to the British in this battle. Afterward, British officers even wrote about it, commending their American counterparts on the effort.

4. Washington almost lost his life during the Battle of the Brandywine—maybe: Major Patrick Ferguson was a Scottish officer in the British Army and the designer of the Ferguson rifle. In 1777, Ferguson led an experimental rifle corps for the British Army. Ferguson may have had George Washington in his sights when the general was at the river. Ferguson knew that he had a shot at an American officer, but the man’s back was turned and Ferguson didn’t take the shot. Later in the day, as fate would have it, Ferguson got shot through the right elbow joint. When he was being tended to by a surgeon, he was informed that Gen. Washington had been in that area at the time.

5. Lafayette sees combat action: Lafayette Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat and military officer whose remarkable military career also included key roles in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830, was 19 years old when he left his home country to fight in the American Revolution because he believed in the American cause. Outten explained that American leaders, including Washington, were skeptical about foreign officers. But Lafayette earns Washington's trust by assuring the American general that he’s not there to impose his own will on things, but rather wants to learn. Lafayette sees combat action. Unfortunately, he was shot in the right leg within 15 or 20 minutes of being on the field at the Battle of Brandywine, but he survives and goes on to play a significant role in the Battle of Yorktown and also is instrumental in getting France to increase its support of the American cause.

6. Did Lafayette stay at the Gilpin House?: Gideon Gilpin, a Quaker farmer, owned a home with his family that was plundered by foraging soldiers after the Battle of the Brandywine. Outten explained that it was thought at one time that Lafayette may have stayed at the Gilpin House. Most historians, however, believe that Lafayette would have stayed at the nearby Ring estate with Washington.

“There’s significant question about whether he stayed at the Gilpin House or at the Benjamin Ring House,” Outten explained. “We can’t really judge whether he was there or not.

7. The changing role of the calvary: The first Continental calvary charge took place at the Battle of the Brandywine. A calvary would typically be assigned the duty of handling scouting missions. Casimir Pulaski organized the American calvary for a charge that allows the American troops to escape and retreat after the American Army had been outmaneuvered by Howe.

8. A costly fight: The exact number of casualties—killed, wounded, or imprisoned soldiers—is unknown. But, according to the Brandywine Battlefield website, the best estimates are that between 500 and 600 British troops and between 1,000 and 1,300 American troops lost their lives.

Outten explained that the Birmingham Meeting House was used as a hospital after the battle. Gen. Howe informed Gen. Washington that he did not have enough physicians or surgeons to care for all the wounded so Washington sent Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, to the Birmingham Meeting House to help care for the wounded.

9. Local residents suffered as a result of the battle: Local residents, including Quakers in the area, suffered severely as a result of the battle. Gen. Howe’s troops were always foraging for supplies and they took what they wanted. The fighting was taking place at a time of the year when crops were ready to be harvested.

“It took this area a few years to get back into the full swing of things economically,” Outten said.

10. How the battle is viewed through the lens of history: The American Army suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Brandywine and the British troops were able to continue the move toward Philadelphia, which was the American capital at the time. However, Washington and his troops were able to escape and fight another day. Within a month of the Battle of the Brandywine, the American and British forces clashed during the Saratoga campaign and the American forces succeeded to the point where they proved to French leaders that they were capable of defeating the British Army.

The Brandywine Battlefield is located at 1491 Baltimore Pike about one mile east of Chadds Ford and offers full tours for individuals and groups. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday between now and Dec. 21. For more information, visit www.brandywinebattlefield.org or call 610-459-3342.



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