September 11 as a general date will likely—and appropriately—for generations of Americans to come be synonymous with the jihadist terrorist attacks of 2001, the most grievous assault by foreign aggressors ever perpetrated against the American mainland.
Yet history as a whole looks out over a very wide and deep landscape dotted with myriad events.
September 11, 2017, also marks the two-hundred-fortieth anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine Creek, often referred to simply as the Battle of Brandywine.
Fought in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War, it was an American defeat. General Sir William Howe was leading the British Army on a campaign to seize Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As the seat of the Second Continental Congress, Philadelphia was the de facto capital of the United States and a politically and strategically rich prize.
General George Washington commanded the less trained and comparatively ill-equipped army of the nascent United States, the Continental Army. Washington ordered his forces into defensive positions to contest Howe's crossing of the Brandywine, a critical crossing between Baltimore and Philadelphia.
The British outflanked the northern (right) end of the American defensive line, which sealed the fate of Washington's army, forcing the right-flank Continental units to fall back hastily from their positions along the Brandywine and gather with Washington's other units on more open ground to face the British advance. A particularly large concentration of continentals was arrayed behind the stone walls on the Old Kennett Meetinghouse grounds, which besides the creek itself was the battlefield's most significant feature.
The battle was fought at mid-morning around the meeting house while the pacifist Quakers continued to hold their midweek service.
More troops fought at Brandywine than any other battle of the American Revolution. It was also the longest single-day battle of the war, with continuous fighting for 11 hours.
Washington withdrew his forces along the road to Philadelphia. Arguably, nightfall was the only thing that saved his army from being routed, possibly annihilated. Either outcome might well have ended the American Revolution.
The continental forces likely suffered about twice as many causalities as the British, possibly more—approximately 1,200 killed, wounded, or deserted. But no official record of American causalities survives. British casualties were reported as 587:
93 killed (eight officers, seven sergeants and 78 rank and file); 488 wounded (49 officers, 40 sergeants, four drummers and 395 rank and file); and six rank and file missing [and] unaccounted for.
After the battle, the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia, which the British captured without opposition on September 26, 1777. Washington's army would eventually retreat to isolated Valley Forge for the winter of 1777–1778, where by winter's end approximately 2,500 soldiers would die, most from typhoid, typhus, smallpox, dysentery, or pneumonia.
I have an extremely attenuated familial connection to the battlefield. A battalion of the 2nd Canadian Regiment, also known as Congress' Own or Hazen's Regiment, commanded by Moses Hazen and raised in the Canadian province of Quebec, was positioned at Buffington's Ford, the right-most position of the Continental Army's line on the morning of the battle.
The ford is named for the family of my maternal ancestors, the descendants of Richard Buffington of Buckinghamshire, England. In 1677, Buffington settled west of the Delaware River on lands that became part of the Province of Pennsylvania in 1681 when it was founded by William Penn.
Image, above, click to enlarge: A drawing by Lord Cantelupe, who was at the battle as an officer of the Coldstream Guards. It depicts American batteries firing on British Foot Guards as they begin their attack at the Birmingham Friends Meeting House. (BritishBattles.com)
Image, below, click to enlarge: A battle map by John Fawkes from BritishBattles.com's page on the Battle of Brandywine.