Historical Markers
Battle of Brandywine (Sullivan's Defense) Historical Marker
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Battle of Brandywine (Sullivan's Defense)

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
PA 842 at intersection SR 3061 SW of West Chester

Dedication Date:
March 18, 1952

Behind the Marker

By 12pm, on September 11, 1777, General George Washington had received several dispatches about "a large body of the enemy" heading north up the Great Valley Road. Washington mistakenly believed that he had enough time to launch a preemptive assault from markerChad's Ford before British troops reached the Brandywine River. An hour later, a message from General John Sullivan that one of his scouts had "heard nothing of the Enemy above the Fords of the Brandywine" reinforced Washington’s confidence that the British were not in the vicinity. This confidence, however, was tragically misplaced.

A postcard showing a cannon in position near trees and brush on the Brandywine Battlefield.
A postcard showing a cannon in position near trees and brush on the Brandywine...
In the hours preceding the battle, Washington received conflicting intelligence. Unfortunately, he discounted the most accurate accounts. When an officer from Sullivan's staff insisted to Washington that the British army had already divided, Washington, he recalled, simply "laughed at my intelligence." Thomas Cheyney, a local Quaker who had been fired upon near markerTrimble's Ford, later claimed that he had practically begged Washington to believe that Howe's troops were close. "You're mistaken, General," Cheyney cried out when Washington indicated his skepticism. "My life for it you're mistaken. By hell! It's so." American victory at the markerBattle of Brandywine depended upon Washington knowing whether Howe had divided his forces or not.
Major General John  Sullivan Distinguished officer of the Continental Army   mesotint,  [London] : Publish'd as the Act directs by Thos. Hart, 1776 Augt. 22.
"Major General John Sullivan, A distinguished Officer of the Continental...

Continued dispatches from the area near markerSconnelltown and markerOsborne Hill finally convinced Washington that his forces were in danger of being flanked much closer than he had expected. Sometime around 2pm, he ordered Alexander Stirling and Adam Stephens to march their two divisions, which he had been held in reserve all morning, to a defensive position three miles north on Birmingham Hill. By 3pm, Stirling’s division had taken its position. Soon afterwards, Stephens troops had formed on Stirling’s right, extending from Birmingham Road to a woods known as Sandy Hollow. Sometime around 2:30pm Washington ordered Sullivan to join Stirling and Stephens and take command of that theater of the impending battle. It took Sullivan and his men nearly two hours, using an old road that weaved through shallow ravines and emptied into a creek, to march the two miles between the river and Birmingham Hill. On their way a small regiment of American soldiers informed Sullivan, “the Enemy were Close upon his heels.”

At about 4pm, when Sullivan and his division were about 400 yards west of the markerBirmingham Meeting House--still a half mile north of Stirling and Stephen’s divisions—the British and German troops under General Cornwallis began their attack, descending from Osborne Hill towards the Continental line.  Rather than remain in command of his own division, however, Sullivan, following Washington’s orders, rode on his own to meet with Stirling and Stephens, leaving his division in the hands of sixty-year-old Frenchman Brigadier General Philippe Hubert de Preudhomme de Borre.

In the markerbattle that followed, the British drove Sullivan’s division from the field. This successful assault won the day for the British army.

Birmingham Hill Fields of Fire
After the Battle of Brandywine, some members of the Continental Congress, searching for an explanation for the American defeat, blamed Sullivan for leaving de Borre in command, arguing that the French general’s poor grasp of the English language had resulted in miscommunications that left Sullivan’s division out of line and vulnerable to Cornwallis’s advancing troops.  A month after the battle, on October 12, North Carolina representative Thomas Burke wrote Sullivan an angry letter that brutally scrutinized his performance. “Sir: I was present at the action at Brandywine and saw and heard enough to convince me that the Fortune of the day was injured marker by Miscarriages where you commanded.”

In the early 1778, with his reputation tarnished, Sullivan was relocated to Rhode Island where he led local militia.  In June of 1779, however, Sullivan would lead a markercampaign that attempted to drive Indian allies out of northern Pennsylvania and regain control of the region.
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