Virtual Marching Tour of the American Revolutionary War

Conflicting reports

Although Washington had certainly considered the possibility of being flanked on his right side, he was confident that Howe would attack straight on at Chadds Ford.

First Report of Movement North

The first report that Washington received indicating that troops were heading north on the west side of the Creek was sometime after 7 A.M.

No Movement North

In response, he sent Major Jamison to investigate. Jamison reported back, "I might depend there was no enemy there." His report was delivered to General Sullivan. The message reached Washington at 9:30 A.M.

Yes Movement North

At about 10:00, Washington received a message from Hazen's battalion, which was posted at Wistar's Ford, saying that a large number of British were indeed on the move north.

At 11:15, Washington sent a message to Colonel Bland, commander of a post of dragoons at Jones's Ford, to watch carefully for a "body confidently reported to have gone up to a ford seven or eight miles above this [Chadds Ford]."

Yes Movement North

By 12:00, Bland reported that an enemy column was headed north on the valley road toward Trimble's Ford on the west branch of the Brandywine Creek.

Washington Convinced of Movement North

At about the same time Washington received this report from Lieutenant-Colonel James Ross, a Pennsylvania militiaman in Wayne's division, written about an hour earlier from Great Valley Road. Ross had sent a party of 70 to scout the west side of the Brandywine.

"A large body of the enemy, from every account five thousand, with sixteen or eighteen field pieces, marched along [the Great Valley] road just now. This road leads to Taylor's Ferry [Trimble's Ford] and Jeffery's [Jeffrie's] Ferry on the Brandywine and to the Great Valley and the Sign of the Slip on the Lancaster Road to Philadelphia. There is also a road from Brandywine to Chester by Dilworth Town."

Actually Jeffries' Ford was not on the Great Valley Road, but on a branch that led to Dilworth — the path Howe indeed intended to take. Ross also disclosed that his group had skirmished with the "rear guard" of the British column.

Washington Convinced No Movement North

At about 1:00 P.M., Major Spear, a member of the 8th Chester County Militia and a native of the area, reported that he had been reconnoitering the area above the upper banks of the Brandywine all morning and had seen no sign of the British. The Pennsylvania officer sent a messenger to Sullivan, who in turn sent a messenger to Washington, with the following report:

Since I sent you the message by Major Morris I saw some of the militia who came in this morning from a tavern called Martins on the forks of the Brandywine. He came thence to Welches Tavern and heard nothing of the Enemy above the Fords of the Brandywine and is Confident that [they] are not in that Quarters. So that [then] Colonel Hazen's information must be wrong.

After sending the above message to Washington, Sullivan ordered Spear to personally follow to confirm the report.

After interrogating Spear and due to Spear's honorable service and rank, Washington was convinced that there was no flanking 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."

Yes Movement North

Soon after, Washington heard from Major John Eustace, a member of Sullivan's staff, who reported that it was the enemy's "intention to turn our fight flank." Eustace was caught off guard when "General Washington and General Knox laughed at my intelligence and sent me back to General Sullivan without an answer."

Probable Movement North

Next, Washington heard another report which he didn't think quite so funny. A patriotic local squire named Thomas Cheyney arrived at the Ring House and insisted on talking directly with Washington. He told the general that the Redcoats had crossed the eastern branch of the Brandywine creek and were moving south to attack. He had talken it upon himself to reconnoiter, barely escaping the British, and this only because he had a faster horse.

Washington was dubious — perhaps Cheney was a spy.

Exasperated, Cheyney exclaimed, "If Anthony Wayne or Persie Frazer [Colonel Persifor Frazer of the militia] were here," referring to two of his Chester County neighbors, "they'd know whether I'm to be believed. My life for it. You're mistaken. By hell! It's so. Put me under guard till you can find out it's so! I would have you know that I have this day's work as much at heart as e'er a blood of you."

Definite Movement North

Soon after, another messenger sent by General Sullivan arrived, settling the question. The courier had two messages. The first was from Colonel Bland who had written at 1:15:

"I have discovered a party of the enemy on the heights, just on the right of the two Widow Davis's who live close together on the road called the Fork Road, about a half a mile right of the Meeting House."

The second, also from Colonel Bland, saying that two brigades of enemy were two miles in back of him. Bland reported seeing a "Dust Rise back in the country for above an hour." Bland had seen the 42nd British Regiment now on the eastern side of the creek coming toward him.