The Battle of Brandywine: — Part 4 of 10
Washington Receives Conflicting Reports
The Benjamin Ring House, used as Washington's Headquarters during the battle
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Battle of Brandywine is the great number of conflicting reports Washington received throughout the morning and early afternoon regarding whether Howe was moving troops north — towards the supply depots up at Reading? To ford the Brandywine elsewhere? To conduct a major flanking movement?
Washington heard a preliminary report at around 7 A.M. and a 10 A.M. report saying that Howe's troops were moving north. He heard a report at 9:30 A.M. and one from Major Spear at 1 P.M. that made him feel confident that it was just a feint and not a major troop movement. But the subsequent reports from Major Eustace, Colonel Bland, and a patriotic local squire named Thomas Cheyney finally convinced Washington that the reports of significant northern troop movement were real. Read more about the conflicting reports.
Surgeon Ebenezer Elmer traveling with the American army, put it most succinctly: "the reports were so Contradictory that it was difficult to make a proper disposition."
Washington Chooses a Course of Action
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Major General Nathanael Greene
Washington ordered part of Greene's troops and Maxwell's light infantry across the Brandywine at Chadd's Ford. The vanguard of this charge attacked an entrenching party from the British 49th regiment. They drove the British from their ground and in the process inflicted 30 casualties and killed a captain. Maxwell's infantrymen took possession of "a number of Entrenching Tools with which they [the British] were just throwing up a Battery."
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Major General John Sullivan
At this time, Washington had dispatched Lord Stirling's and Stephen's brigades farther north on the east side of the creek toward Birmingham Meeting House in case Howe was indeed planning an attack from the north and not heading up to Reading.
Just before Washington was going to send the remainder of the army across the creek, he received a "definitive" message from Major Spear that there was no northern British troop movement. Washington decided "that the movement of the enemy was just a feint" and that they were returning to reinforce Knyphausen at Chadd's Ford.
Assuming that this was the case, he knew it would be folly to abandon his defensive position on the east side of the Creek to launch a full assault. Washington recalled his attacking troops back to the east side of the Creek. He also removed his defense against the flanking movement by recalling both Lord Stirling's and Stephen's brigades. This faulty report was very damaging, as it gave Howe the extra time he needed to march south into the flank of American forces.