Friday, August 19, 2016

See George...See George Lose...See George Carry On

I had a chance last weekend to get closer to my old pal G. Washington, Esq. The Bug's work took us to Wilmington, DE (well, it was more of a party than work, but anyway...). Normally she would have flown the regular "flying passenger van" shuttle between Dayton and Newark (been on that shuttle, myself...the jets are small, noisy, and a total kick in the backside on takeoff). But as you know, I have lots of free time these days, so we decided just to drive Daisy, our 2012 Fusion, and spend 20+ hours in the car together, all told. No, really, this is a very good thing. We listen to books, enjoy the scenery, and talk to each other...I mean really talk about stuff that needs to be discussed. And sometimes we see sheep! We love a good road trip. 

I hadn't thought about what to do while in Wilmington, except maybe head up the interstate to Philadelphia to the historic district. But when I looked at info for the area, I realized we were only about 15 minutes from Brandywine battlefield, and from there about 30 minutes up to Valley Forge! So our Saturday plans took shape. First of all, it was too hot to go to Philadelphia, so we deferred that trip. I also regret to say that we were only 15 minutes from the Brandywine River Museum (featuring the works of three generations of Wyeths), but I was unable to visit. I had planned to go to Chadd's Ford on Friday while Dana actually was at work in the Wilmington office, but I wasn't feeling all that well and, to put it bluntly, it was hotter than Hades outside. Someday we hope to return and visit Chadd's Ford and the several other fine art museums in the Wilmington area, not to mention Philadelphia, but this time it just didn't happen. 

We had an early evening party to attend on Friday, and a great time was had by all! Saturday we got up, packed up, and headed to Brandywine Battlefield State Park. The battle took place on September 11, 1777, as General Howe rolled the dice and decided to go for Philadelphia instead of heading up the Hudson to Albany to meet up with the armies of Burgoyne and St. Leger (neither of which actually got to Albany, but that's another tale). Howe accompanied George Washington's nemesis from the battles of New York, Lord Cornwallis, by water down to Hampton Roads and up the Chesapeake, along with perhaps as many as 20.000 of their closest friends, well armed and hardened professonal soldiers. Howe successfully landed his army at the northern end of the Bay and headed northeast for Philadelphia along the precursor to US Route 1, though his progress was hampered by a lack of horses (you don't want to know the details).
Hessian Map of the Philadelphia Campaign
(Library of Congress)
Washington responded with a very large force of his own, if not a very experienced one. Still, it was the largest army he commanded in the war, composed of about 3/4ths Continentals and 1/4th state militia...a good mix for him. He dug in on the high ground east of the Brandywine, overlooking Chadd's Ford on the road to Philadelphia, only 20 miles away. He posted watch on other nearby fords, assuming Cornwallis, with the lead column, would march right for his position. But, like previous battles, Cornwallis found a way to flank Washington's position, this time discovering that the Continentals had left their right flank vulnerable, if one bothered to march further upstream and ford the Brandywine there. In the ensuing battle, directly involving well over 20,000 men, with thousands more in reserve, Washington's soldiers fought bravely, some buying time with their very lives, others digging in and stubbornly holding off attacks on the right and in the center. But if they managed to avoid annihilation, they could not stop the British regulars, well-led as they were, and so they were forced by the end of the day to retreat. Philadelphia fell a couple of weeks later, but the new nation did not. General Washington still had an army, the government had evacuated Philadelphia, and many supplies had also been saved, thanks to the time bought along the Brandywine and the days of maneuvering that followed.
(Courtesy of History Department, United States Military Academy)
Though he could not keep Howe out of Philadelphia, Washington did have one opportunity to take back the important center of trade and manufacturing. Howe sent about a quarter of his army into the city to occupy it while he remained with the rest of the army in Germantown, blocking Washington from advancing. On October 4th, Washington launched a complex dawn attack on Howe's position. Initially, though the attack was poorly coordinated, Washington drove the British back. But then nature itself conspired against him. In the dense fog, units got confused by the roar of artillery and two of the Patriot columns collided and fired on each other. That and the unnecessary delay of trying to drive a small force of British soldiers out of a mansion, rather than just enveloping it and pressing on, cost Washington any hope of a major victory. British reinforcements arrived from Philadelphia, and so he reluctantly called for a general retreat. Washington refused to engage with Howe that autumn, though the British general tried a couple of times to draw him into another major battle.

General Howe, as the story goes, made himself quite at home in Philadelphia as October gave way to November and the onset of winter. He and his senior staff thoroughly enjoying being entertained by socialites, gambling, etc. Never mind that St. Leger's drive had been stopped and most of his Native American warriors had gone home. Never mind that Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne lost his entire army at Bennington and Saratoga. Never mind that the French monarch and his advisers now saw an opportunity to join the Americans and humiliate their British rivals. Howe blamed others for his failure to support Burgoyne up the Hudson, and he tendered his resignation, citing lack of support from his superiors (who had backed Burgoyne's plan). After that, he was content to winter comfortably in bed with Mrs. Loring, his mistress since Boston, rather than risk attacking Washington again. As for G. Washington, he had been beaten again, but remained undaunted, at least on the surface. He sought a reasonably safe place to hole up while not being so far from Howe that he couldn't keep tabs on the British forces. He chose Valley Forge and used spies to spread rumors that he had an unbreechable defensive position there. That winter, a core group of men would survive the crucible of cold and hunger and disease. They would drill to stay warm and alive, and men such as Joseph Plumb Martin would rise from that hellish place to become the heart of Washington's Continental Line of professional soldiers. 

Here are some pics from Brandywine Battlefield:

Nothing says "battlefield" like a bronze 12 pounder! Washington's army lost a significant percentage of its artillery at Brandywine, either because positions were overrun or from lack of horses to pull the guns away (you don't want to know what happened to the horses).
Selfie with George
Washington's HQ...a house owned by successful Quaker mill operator Benjamin Ring
Bug in the car (did I mention it was HOT?)
The high ground above Chadd's Ford
The Brandywine Valley was predominantly Quaker, with English and Welsh settlements known for productive farms and very large families. This is a wonderful example of how a farmhouse grows with the family. An initial square(ish) one-story house could easily have a second story and then a wing added to it, and in time more outbuildings, etc. Note the kitchen building in the center and the stone storehouse to the left. This property was owned by Gideon Gilpin
 Wonderful barn! Animals would have been sheltered below, and hay, fodder, etc., stored above
 Another outbuilding, complete with chimney. I'm guessing the combination means this was a building dedicated either to drying fruit or a "smokehouse" for curing meats...or both
 Me, doing what I do...
Another springhouse
(Public domain photo of Old Kennett Meetinghouse) Cornwallis, with 9,000 men, slammed into Washington's right flank, while a second force probed forward toward Chadd's Ford. Ironically, some of the worst of the fighting took place around two Quaker meetinghouses. The British column led by the Hessian General Knyphausen encountered a large force of Continentals hastily dug in behind the stone walls on the grounds of the Old Kennett Meetinghouse, west of the Brandywine. Inside, the Friends had gathered for a midweek service. As the battle raged, they continued to worship. As one Quaker noted later, "While there was much noise and confusion without, all was quiet and peaceful within."
The Continentals, with total numbers approaching 15,000, managed to hold together a line stretching from the Kennett Meetinghouse about three miles to the north, where they were hard-pressed to hold back Cornwallis. Gradually the more professional British forces pushed them back to a new position, anchored on the right along the stone walls around the Birmingham Meetinghouse (above), about a mile from Chadd's Ford and Washington's fortified position east of the Brandywine. The British successfully drove the Continentals from their positions at Birmingham and occupied the high ground on Meeting House Hill. Washington and his trusted subordinate Nathanael Greene arrived on the scene with the fat bookseller from Boston, Henry Knox, Washington's chief of artillery. Knox used his cannon to hold the British off, and Greene managed to assemble a patchwork force in the nick of time, as Knyphausen's force finally punched through the Continental center at Chadd's Ford. As darkness fell, Washington's army retreated from the Brandywine position, with Greene/s rear guard, commanded by the Virginian George Wheedon, finally withdrawing under cover of darkness.
 Today at Birmingham Meetinghouse there is a peace garden around a mass grave in which the dead from both armies were buried.
A memorial stone marks the grave site
It is a very peaceful peace garden. The Quaker settlements in the Brandywine Valley struggled for years after the battle, having lost horses, livestock, and other goods. By the time they had recovered, the war was over. The area happily remains rural and beautiful!


Lowandslow said...

Awesome commentary. Thanks for sharing. :)

The Bug said...

It was a great day - especially the air conditioned parts :)

NCmountainwoman said...

I'm not much for long road trips, but I do enjoy trips of less than four hours. And I love, love, love stopping at historic sights such as that one. And you described it so well. Thanks. Glad you had such a nice time.

Catalyst said...

I've always wanted to tour the historic sites in the eastern part of the nation but never got to it and now, probably never will. So thanks for the tour and the commentary, Professor.