Exploring the Little-Known Brandywine Battlefield in Chadds Ford
Pennsylvania is home to many important Revolutionary War events that are well known throughout the country: the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Valley Forge, and Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, to name three. However, there are also many important events that happened during this time period which are not very well know. The Battle of Brandywine is one of these.
The Battle of Brandywine occurred on September 11, 1777, near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. The largest battle of the war, more than 30,000 soldiers fought during the battle. At 11 hours in length, the battle was also the longest single-day battle of the Revolutionary War.
The British forces, led by General William Howe, defeated the American forces, who were led by General George Washington. Washington was able to retreat with his forces, but this defeat led to the British capture of Philadelphia on September 26, and the army’s longest and hardest winter at Valley Forge.
Another notable point about the Battle of Brandywine was that it was the first battle in which the Marquis de Lafayette saw combat. While he was instrumental in rallying the retreating American soldiers, he was shot through the calf and wounded. Washington sent future president James Monroe to see Lafayette as Monroe spoke French. Lafayette would be sent to a hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to recuperate.
Today, the Brandywine Battlefield is partially preserved along Route 1 in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The main battlefield site comprises 50 acres along the highway, which includes Washington’s headquarters, the Gideon Gilpin House, and a museum. This preserved area is the site of the Continental Army’s encampment prior to the battle, though some fighting did likely occur on the grounds here.
Visits to the site start in the museum, where you can purchase tickets to tour Washington’s headquarters, get self-driving tour maps, and learn more about the battle. The museum features artifacts discovered during archeological digs of the battlefield, a display of what life was like for soldiers, and information on the generals that fought in the battle. There is also a well-done battlefield map that was created a by a lieutenant that fought at the site. The highlight of the museum is a very well done, 20-minute film that tells the story of the battle, along with the events leading up to and after the battle.
Washington’s Headquarters, officially known as the Benjamin Ring House, is located a short drive from the museum. While the outside remains largely intact, the interior was destroyed by a fire in the 1930s when it was being used as an apartment building. The interior was restored to appear much as it would have at the time Washington stayed there.
Despite not being original, the displays inside the home are well done, and visitors can tour the first floor, which consists of an office, parlor, dining room, and kitchen. The parlor has been set up as it may have looked when Washington was using it as his headquarters. While touring the home, guides provide information about both the home and the battle.
On the opposite end of the preserved battlefield lies the Gideon Gilpin House. This house owned by Quakers and tells the story of how the British occupation affected local residents. Next to the home is an incredibly large American sycamore tree that is believed to have been present during the fighting.
The rest of the battlefield is seen via a driving tour. The visitor center sells an inexpensive guide that takes you through the battlefield on public roads. Despite some grammatical errors, the guide offers a wealth of great information about the battle and comes with a detailed map to guide you to the various points on the battlefield. There are a total of 20 points of interest on the tour, counting the previously mentioned Washington’s Headquarters and the Gilpin House.
Many of the stops are little more than points of reference for the battle, and there is often nowhere to pull over to appreciate the history. Having a second person to guide and provide narration would definitely be helpful. There are also several places where visitors can park and explore a bit more of the park.
The first is at the Lafayette Cemetery and the Birmingham Friends Meetinghouse next to it. Portions of this cemetery existed during the battle, and it was the site of fighting. The low walls near the meetinghouse were used by soldiers for protection from British gunfire. In the cemetery are several large monuments, the most impressive of which was dedicated to Lafayette.
Portions of the Birmingham Friends Meetinghouse next door existed at the time of the battle. This portion of the building was used as a hospital for sick American troops before the battle, and for wounded British soldiers after. Inside the courtyard, there is a marker denoting the approximate location of a mass grave for those that died on both sides of the fighting.
When visiting the cemetery and meetinghouse, remember that these are both still actively used today, so make sure to respect those coming to the area to mourn and worship.
The second stop is just down the road at Birmingham Hill Park. This stop is located next to a field that was where the main American line stood during the battle. There are several signs in this park that offer a nice bit of history about the battlefield.
Compared to some battlefields in Pennsylvania, such as the Gettysburg Battlefield, much has changed at the Brandywine Battlefield. The addition of modern structures, forests that didn’t exist in 1777, and private property can make fully appreciating this battlefield a bit difficult. However, for history buffs and those wanting to learn more about the American Revolution, a visit to the Brandywine Battlefield offers a great lesson into one of the most influential battles of the war.
Note: My visit to the Brandywine Battlefield was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Hours: Operating days vary.
Cost: Adults: $8, Children: $5
Address: 1491 Baltimore Pike