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 Stephen's division, and beyond that was General Lord Stirling's division. Detachments under Colonel Moses Hazen were at each of the upstream fords, up to and including Buffington's. The brigades of Generals Peter Muhlenberg and George Weedon, comprising General Nathanael Greene's division, were in reserve behind Wayne. With them was most of the light horse, under the Polish volunteer, Count Casimir Pulaski. Other light horsemen were sent to scout west of the Brandywine to report any British movements.
Perhaps with Tory help (Joseph Galloway, a prominent Philadelphia loyalist familiar with the region, was with the British), Howe had better information than Washington. Instead of a head-on attack against prepared defenses, he planned a wide flanking movement. One part of his army would advance on Chadd's Ford in a demonstration to preoccupy Washington; the rest, screened by hills and woods, would march north, cross the creek's west branch at Trimble's Ford, cut northeast to Jefferis' Ford, then turn southward to drive down on the Americans.
As if to favor Howe's maneuver, heavy fog blanketed the area when the flanking column began its march early on the morning of September 11. Howe took the lead, heading a force of 13,000 British and Hessian troops.