Virtual Marching Tour of the American Revolutionary War

Townsend's Observations

Joseph Townsend, a Quaker youth of the neighborhood, later in life wrote a book detailing his impressions of the Battle of Brandywine. Excerpts of his book published in 1846 follow.

On our coming out of the house and making some inquiry of what had happened, we found it to be an alarm among some of the neighboring women, that the English army was coming, and they murdered all before them, young and old. Some of us endeavored to quiet their fears by telling them it was not likely to be the case, and that they had better compose themselves than to maker further disturbance, and while we were reasoning with them, our eyes were caught on a sudden by the appearance of the (British) army coming out of the woods into the fields belonging to Emmor Jefferis, on the west side of the creek above the fording place. In a few minutes the fields were literally covered over with them, and they were hastening towards us. Their arms and bayonets being raised, shone as bright as silver, there being a clear sky and the day exceedingly warm. Recollecting that there was no one at our dwelling, except some of our sisters, we concluded it was advisable to return home as expeditiously as possible, as we had no doubt but that they were marching direct for Philadelphia and pass by the house over the farm.

After returning home, Townsend was upset to find that the Britsh had turned toward Birmingham and were heading for Sconnelltown where earlier in the day Joseph had been at Meeting. He set out for a better view of the British picking up other curious Quakers along the way.

Being disposed to have a better and nearer view, we set out for the purpose, and passing the dwelling of Abel Boake, we soon after met Sarah, his wife, who had been as curious as ourselves, and had been among the soldiers as they marched along. The space occupied by the main body and flanking parties was near half a mile wide. She encouraged our going amongst them, at the same time admiring their appearance, and saying what fine looking fellows they were, and to use her own expression 'they were something like an army,' which we would see for ourselves, if we would go amongst them, and that there would not be any objection to our entrance; thus encouraged, we walked on until we approached the flanking party, when a soldier under arms called out 'where are you going?' We replied, 'we wished to see the army, &c., if there was no objection.' He observed 'there was their Captain, we might speak to him,' which being done, leave was readily obtained, and in a few minutes we found ourselves in the midst of a crowd of military characters, rank and file: little to be discovered but staff officers, and a continued march of soldiers and occasionally a troop of horse passing; great numbers of baggage wagons began to make their appearance, well guarded by proper officers and soldiery.

Soon after, Townsend and his curious Quaker friends were subject to a kindly interrogation.

We reached one of the most eligible houses in [Sconneltown] and soon after divers of the principal officers came in, who manifested an uncommon social disposition. They were full of their inquiries respecting the rebels, where they were to be met with, and where Mr. Washington was to be found, &c. The officers aforesaid, were replied to by brother William Townsend, who modestly and spiritedly told them that if they would have patience a short time, he expected they would meet with General Washington and his forces, who were not far distant, (the front of his army was then in view on the heights of Birmingham meeting house, though three miles distant from us.) They inquired what sort of man Mr. Washington was. My brother had a knowledge of him by being with him at his quarters at Chad's Ford, and replied that he was a stately, well proportioned, fine looking man, of great ability, active, firm, and resolute, of a social disposition, and was considered to be a good man.

The British officers were unimpressed.

To which one of them answered that 'he might be a good man, but he was most damnably misled to take up arms against his sovereign...' The house we were in was elevated, so that on the first floor where we stood we had a pretty full view of the army as the progressed along; and while we were conversing together, my brother called on me to step to the door to see General Lord Cornwallis, who was passing by. He was on horseback, appeared tall and sat very erect. His rich scarlet clothing, loaded with gold lace, epaulets, &c, occasioned him to make a brilliant and martial appearance...It may be observed that most or all of the officers who conversed with us, were of first rank, and were rather short, portly men, were well dressed and of genteel apparance, and did not look as if they had ever been exposed to any hardship, their skins being as white and delicate as is customary for females who were brought up large cities or towns.

Townsend and his friends walked among the soldiers until they reached the advance guard who were Hessians. "Many of them wore their beards on their upper lips, which was a novelty in that part of the country," he observed. Then the reality of musket fire intruded; war was no mere novelty.

While we were amusing ourselves with the wonderful curiosity before us, to our great astonishment and surprise the firing of musketry took place; the advanced guard aforementioned having arrived at the street road, and were fired upon by a company of the Americans, who were stationed in the orchard north of Samuel Jones' brick dwelling house. The attack was immediately returned by the Hessians, by their stepping up the back of the road alongside of the orchard, making the fence as a breast work through which they fired upon the company who made the attack...I concluded it best to retire, finding that my inconsiderate curiosity had prompted me to exceed the bound of prudence.

Townsend "retired" but still took in the battle. He continued, "...little was to be heard but the firing of musketry and the roaring of cannon." He watched the British punch through the American lines. Townsend moved back to the top of Osborne Hill where he found a cadre of British officers including General Howe. "He was mounted on a large English horse and much reduced in flesh, I supposed from their being so confined on board the fleet between New York and the head of Cheapeake Bay...The general was a large, portly man, of coarse features. He appeared to hae lost his teeth, as his mouth had fallen in."

By nightfall, the victory belonged to the British. The wounded dying and dead of both armies covered the battlefield. Townsend's curiosity once again got the best of him. He gathered some buddies and suggested an inspection of the battlefield.

We should go over to the field of battle and take a view of the dead and wounded, as we might never have such another opportunity. Some of them consented, and others with some reluctance yielded. We hastened thither and awful was the scene to behold — such a number of fellow beings lying together severely wounded, and some mortally — a few dead, but a small proportion of them considering the immense quantity of powder and ball that had been discharged. It was now time for the surgeons to exert themselves, and divers of them were busily employed. Some of the doors of the meeting house were torn off and the wounded carried thereon into the house to be occupied for an hospital...

The British, short on manpower, pressed Joseph into triage service.

The wounded officers were first attended to — several of distinction had fallen, and as every thing appeared to be in a state of confusion, and as we being spectators and assistance required, some of our number, at the request of the surgeons, became active in removing therm therein — of whom I was one... After assisting in carrying two of them into the house I was disposed to see an operation by one of the surgeons, who was preparing to cut a little above the knee joint, he had his knife in his hand, the blade of which was of a circular form, and was about to make the incision, when he recollected that it might be necessary for the wounded man to take something to support him during the operation. He mentioned to some of his attendants to give him a little wind or brandy to keep up his spirits are up enough without it.' He then observed, 'that he had heard some of them say there was some water in the house, and if there was he would like a little to wet his mouth.

Right before the limb was going to be cut off, the Quaker lads were shooed away, the British officers telling them that if they stayed any longer they would have to spend the night since it was past curfew.