On August 24, 1777, in the third year of the American Revolution, General William Howe with 13,000 British and 5,000 Hessian troops landed near Head of Elk, Maryland, his goal being to seize Philadelphia (Map 1). By September 9, his army was at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, six miles west of the Chadd's Ford Crossing of Brandywine Creek. Facing him from the east side of Chadd's Ford, about five miles downstream from the point where the creek divides into east and west branches, was George Washington with 11,000 American soldiers.
Although dry weather had left the Brandywine shallow, it provided a considerable obstacle. Trees grew thickly to the banks, making it impassable to an army except at the fords. There were, however, no fewer than three of these between Chadd's Ford and the forks of the Brandywine, and another (Pyle's) just below Chadd's. Immediately above the forks, the east branch of the creek was crossed by Buffington's Ford and, a mile and a half farther up, by Jefferis' Ford. Across the west branch, less than a mile from the forks, was Trimble's Ford.
The region was inhabited chiefly by Quakers, whose religious views made them neutral. Most local families who favored the American cause had fled. Thus, Washington got sparse information, and much of that was inaccurate-he was told, for example, that there was no ford above Buffington's for twelve miles. Furthermore, the rolling and forested nature of the ground prevented good observation.
Washington deployed General Anthony Wayne's brigade and Colonel Thomas Proctor's artillery on high ground east of Chadd's Ford, covering the crossing. General William Maxwell's brigade was moved across the creek to form an outpost line on a hill, blocking the Kennett Square-Chadd's Ford road. General John Armstrong and about a thousand Pennsylvania militiamen were posted to cover Pyle's Ford. General John Sullivan's division extended northward along the Brandywine's banks. Farther upstream was General Adam Ste...