Virtual Marching Tour of the American Revolutionary War

The Philadelphia Campaign: 1777

American colonies represented as pieces of a snake with the caption "join or die"

The Battle of Brandywine: — Part 6 of 10

Birmingham Meeting House

Meanwhile Brandywine Valley locals came to gawk at the British war machine. These included a group of Quakers who were holding their prayer meeting at a wheelwright's shop in Sconneltown. Two days earlier they had been evicted from their normal place of prayer, the Birmingham Meeting House, because Washington had taken over the building for use as an American hospital.

Some meeting members went back home to protect their families and farms; others watched in awe. Captivated by the sight of the British army, was a Quaker teenager named Joseph Townsend who would march among the British soldiers in the afternoon, watch the battle into dusk, and be pressed into triage service carrying wounded from the battlefield that night. Townsend observed that Cornwallis made "a brilliant and martial appearance," and Howe "was a large and portly man, of coarse features. He appeared to have lost his teeth, as his mouth had fallen in."

[Read more of Townsend's observations on the battle and aftermath]

After their teabreak, the British broke their column into an eight-pronged attack in which they hoped to either outflank or overrun the American line. Meanwhile the Americans had tried to form a solid defensive line with the center at the heights around Birmingham Meeting House. They were thwarted in this attempt, in part because General Sullivan had marched his troops too far north and left a gap in the American line. Further complicating matters, was the behavior of a proud French Brigadier General named Prudhomme DeBorre who insisted that he be given the position of honor of commanding the right of General Sullivan's Division. Parts of the American line were in disarray. The British launched a furious attack. The British scooped up several artillery pieces along the way.

While the Continental Army fought valiantly, the British attack was too overwhelming, and the Americans had to fall back to new defensive line 400 yards to the southwest.

Read in detail the Battle around Birmingham Hill