Historical Markers
Battle of Brandywine (British Attack) Historical Marker
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Battle of Brandywine (British Attack)

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
PA 926 at intersection SR 1001 (Birmingham Rd.) W of Darlington Corners, West Chester

Dedication Date:
March 18, 1952

Behind the Marker

Stone Wall at the Birmingham Meeting House, Chester County, PA, 2015
On September 11, 1777, Howe’s troops reached markerOsborne Hill, after an 11 hour forced march from Kennett Square. There, sometime around 3pm, General Cornwallis spotted some Continental forces under Adam Stephen forming to his left but was unaware of his enemy’s exact strength. At 3:30pm, Cornwallis ordered German Captain Johann Ewald to take his advance guard to gather reconnaissance, and if practical, attack the enemy. Marching his men southeast from Osborne Hill, Ewald quickly pushed back a small Virginia regiment then stopped his advance a mile south of Osborne Hill, so as not to isolate himself from the rest of the British and German forces. Traveling west to gain a better view of the Continental forces, Ewald and three of his men saw a more imposing enemy. “I gazed in astonishment when I got up the hill,” Ewald wrote, “for I found behind it- three to four hundred paces away- an entire line deployed in the best order, several of whom waved to me with their hats but did not shoot.” What Ewald witnessed was Alexander Stirling’s division of approximately 2,000 men defending the center of Birmingham Hill, and he reported this information back to Cornwallis immediately. General Howe had expected to surprise the Continental Army, but now realized that General Washington had countered his move by strongly defending his right flank. Cornwallis and Howe now prepared for a fight, not knowing that a third America division under General John Sullivan was marching towards the area.
At 4pm, as the full force of Cornwallis’ 8,000 troops advanced from Osborne Hill towards the Continental line, the American artillery unleashed a heavy bombardment. As the advancing British and German troops entered the valley between Osborne Hill and Birmingham Hill, the British responded with their own cannon fire. “There was a most infernal Fire of Cannon & musketry-smoak-incessant shouting-incline to the right! incline to the Left!-halt!-charge!” a British officer later remembered. This artillery could be heard twenty-five miles east in Philadelphia. “A Cannonade, which We distinctly heard at this place [Philadelphia] & which was returned by our Army,” said statesman Elbridge Gerry, “was as heavy a Fire from the Musketry as perhaps has been known this war in America.”
Birmingham Hill, Chester County, PA,  2015.

Upon hearing the artillery fire, German General markerWilhelm von Knyphausen, three miles to the southwest, launched the secondary British attack during the Battle of Brandywine.
At the same time, General John Sullivan’s division was making an arduous two-mile march from the Brandywine River to reinforce the American divisions at Birmingham Hill. They arrived to the scene at 4pm just as the British and German troops attacked. markerSullivan’s defense, however, during the markerBattle of Brandywine, failed as the British Guards quickly overran Sullivan’s division and flanked the Continental line.
Sandy Hallow, Chester County, PA, 2015.
The center of the Continental line commanded by Stirling, defending Birmingham Hill, however, fought tenaciously, through some of the fiercest fighting of the Revolutionary War. Between 4pm-5:30pm, the British Grenadiers charged up the hill five separate times, and five times the Continentals drove them back down. A sixth bayonet charge up Birmingham Hill finally drove Stirling’s men from their positions and penetrated the center of the Continental line. “At the battle of Brandywine we had the most dreadful fire for one hour I ever saw.” a German soldier later wrote to a friend, “I heard nothing equal to it all last war in Germany. At last we gave the rebels the bayonet, which soon dispersed them.”
As the British attacked up Birmingham Hill, the markerMarquis de Lafayette arrived to witness the fight. While the impressive fighting spirit of the Americans surprised the British and German attackers, Lafayette was not pleased. Lafayette grabbed American muskets and locked bayonets to the top. He then, “pushed [the soldiers] in the back to make them charge,” a French aide recalled. “The Americans are not suited for this type of combat,” Lafayette wrote.
As Stirling’s men retreated southeast from Birmingham Hill, Lafayette continued to exhort the Americans to hold their position. Ignoring the threat of advancing enemy troops he received an injury to the leg. “The confusion became extreme,” Lafayette wrote, “and it was while [I] was rallying the troops that a ball passed through [my] leg.” He later wrote a letter to his wife and lied about the incident, “I do not know how I received it...I did not expose myself to enemy fire.”
Birmingham Hill Fields of Fire
As Sullivan’s men retreated and the Grenadiers penetrated Stirling’s position, the German Jaegers and British Light Infantry attacked Adam Stephen’s division, positioned to the right of Stirling. Of the three American divisions, Stephen had the best defensive position near a wooded area on top of Birmingham Hill. The British and German troops could not navigate their cannons through the woods and up the hill. Stephen and his men defended the hill until 5:30pm, when Stirling’s men retreated from Birmingham Hill and exposed Stephen’s left flank. With British and German troops now attacking from all directions, Stephen’s division retreated.
By 6pm, the British and German troops had broken through Washington’s right flank, then continued to push the rebels from the battlefield. Watching from Osborne Hill, General Howe believed he was on the verge of a stunning victory. Perhaps he could force Washington to surrender the Continental Army here and end the war. Nathaniel Greene, however, was marching his division from markerChad’s Ford to stop the British advance and save the American war effort with his defense near markerDilworthtown. 
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