Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department, Volume One
Henry Lee

CHAPTER III.

WHILE this severe and eventful contest occupied the armies of the north, Washington patiently waited the development of sir William Howe’s intention. This officer, commanding in chief the British forces, had left New York with 18,000 men completely appointed and equipped, under convoy of a powerful fleet, directed by his brother lord Howe.

Weighing from Sandy-Hook, in July, the fleet steered for the south, which general Washington supposed to be the intended course: but lest it might have been a feint to draw the American army far from the Hudson, with a view of returning with the first fair wind and seizing West Point, the American Thermopylæ,[note 6] washed by that river; Washington proceeded no farther south than to Bucks county, in Pennsylvania, sufficiently near, for his timely interposition, should sir William Howe suddenly change his direction. There, after a lapse of five weeks, he received information, that the fleet had entered into the Chesapeak, and was standing up that bay. He instantly decamped, and took a position on White-Clay creek, in the county of Chester, while his light troops extended to the vicinity of Elkton, in the state of Maryland; below which, at Cecil old court-house, the enemy disembarked on the 28th of August. With very little delay, sir William advanced to Elkton, whence he moved to his left, preferring the upper route, where the water-courses were fordable; where, from the presumed security of the farmers, provisions were more readily procurable; and where he avoided those artificial impediments known to be prepared for him on the lower route. As soon as this movement was ascertained by Washington, he broke up from White-Clay creek, and, turning to his right, took post on the eastern side of the Brandywine, fronting Chadsford, where he waited the approach of his foe. Sir William continued to advance by steady marches, holding up the strength of his troops, whose valor he foresaw, wrth pleasure, would be tested in a few days.

Having reached Kennet’s Square on the 11th of September, not more than six or seven miles from Chadsford, Howe advanced in two columns:[note 7] the right, inferior in force, and charged with the care of the baggage, provisions, &c., under the direction of lieutenant general Knyphausen, took the road to Chadsford, with orders to delay passing the Brandywine, until the commencement of the battle, by the left, should announce itself. The other column, made up of the best corps, and consisting of nearly two thirds of the whole force, commanded by sir William Howe in person, having under him lord Cornwallis, diverged to the left; and making an extensive circuit, crossed the two branches of the Brandywine; when turning down the river it approached the American right. The battle soon began in this quarter; and quickly afterwards Knyphausen forcing brigadier Maxwell, who commanded the light infantry stationed on the western side of the Brandywine, advanced upon our left. Three small detachments, commanded by the lieutenant colonels Parker, Heth, and Simms, of the Virginia line, were, early in the morning, separately and advantageously posted by the brigadier, contiguous to the road, some distance in his front; and captain Porterfield, with a company of infantry, preceded these parties, with orders to deliver his fire as soon as he should meet the van of the enemy, and then to fall back. This service was handsomely performed by Porterfield, and produced the desired effect. The British van pressed forward rapidly and incautiously, until it lined the front of the detachment commanded by lieutenant colonel Simms, who poured in a close and destructive fire, and then retreated to the light corps. Tho leading officer of the enemy was killed; and the detachment suffered severely. The contest which began on our right spread to our left, and was warm in some parts of the American line; and many of the corps distinguished themselves. The most conspicuous were the brigades of Wayne and Weedon, and the third regiment of Virginia, commanded by colonel Marshall;[note 8] to which, with the artillery directed by colonel Proctor of Pennsylvania, much praise was given. Of these the third regiment stood preeminent, part of Woodford’s brigade: it occupied the right of the American line; and being advanced to a small eminence, some little distance in front, for the purpose of holding safe that flank, it received the first shock of the foe. One column moved upon it in front, while a second struck at its left. Cut off from cooperation by the latter movement, it bravely sustained itself against superior numbers, never yielding one inch of ground, and expending thirty rounds a man, in forty-five minutes. It was now ordered to fall back upon Woodford’s right, which was handsomely accomplished by colonel Marshall, although deprived of half his officers, where he renewed the sanguinary contest. The regiment, having been much reduced by previous service, did not amount to more than a battalion; but one field officer, the colonel, and four captains, were with it. Marshall escaped unhurt, although his horse received two balls. Of the captains, two only, Blackwell and Peyton, remained fit for duty. Chilton was killed, and Lee mortally wounded. The subalterns suffered in proportion. Lieutenants White Cooper, and ensign Peyton, were killed; lieutenants Mercer, Blackwell, and Peyton wounded. Thirteen non-commissioned officers, and sixty privates fell.

The opposing enemy was as severely handled; and the leading officer of one of the columns, with several others, was killed. The action closed with the day, in our defeat.

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