George Washington Papers

VIII: To John Hancock, 11 September 1777

To John Hancock

Chester [Pa.] Septr 11. 1777. 12 o’Clock at Night.


I am sorry to inform you that in this days engagement we have been obliged to leave the enemy masters of the field. Unfortunately the intelligence received of the enemy’s advancing up the Brandywine, & crossing at a ford about six miles above us, was uncertain & contradictory, notwithstanding all my pains to get the best. This prevented my making a disposition adequate to the force with which the enemy attacked us on our right; in consequence of which the troops first engaged were obliged to retire before they could be reinforced. In the midst of the attack on the right, that body of the enemy which remained on the other side of Chad’s ford, crossed it, & attacked the division there under the command of General Wayne & the light troops under General Maxwell; who after a severe conflict also retired. The militia under the command of General Armstrong, being posted at a ford about two miles below Chad’s, had no opportunity of engaging. But though we fought under many disadvantages, and were from the causes above mentioned, obliged to retire; yet our loss of men is not, I am persuaded, very considerable; I believe much less than the enemys. We have also lost seven or eight pieces of cannon, according to the best information I can at present obtain. The baggage having been previously moved off is all secure; saving the mens’ blankets, which being at their backs, many of them doubtless are lost.

I have directed all the troops to assemble behind Chester, where they are now arranging for this night. Notwithstanding the misfortune of the day, I am happy to find the troops in good spirits; and I hope another time we shall compensate for the losses now sustained.

The Marquis La Fayette was wounded in the leg, & General Woodford in the hand. Divers other officers were wounded, & some slain; but the numbers of either cannot now be ascertained. I have the honor to be, Sir, your obedient h’ble servant

Go: Washington

P.S. It has not been in my power to send you earlier intelligence; the present being the first leisure moment I have had since the action.

LS, in Timothy Pickering’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, in Pickering’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; LB, Ct: Trumbull Papers; copy, OClWHi: Samuel Holden Parsons Papers; copy, MiU-C: Clinton Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter at 6:00 A.M. on 12 Sept. and ordered that it and Robert Hanson Harrison’s second letter to Hancock of this date be published (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 8:735–36).

Octavius Pickering writes in his biography of his father Col. Timothy Pickering that “General Washington and his staff arrived at Chester late at night [on 11 Sept.], and took up their quarters in a house in that town, all of them very tired. The General, however, said he must send to Congress a report of the engagement, and called upon his military secretary, Colonel Harrison, to prepare the despatch. Colonel Harrison desired to be excused, on account of fatigue, and requested Colonel Pickering to write it. Colonel Pickering retired to another room, made a draught, and handed it to Washington. The General, having read it, said it was very well, but that some words of encouragement should be inserted, as that he hoped to give a better account of the enemy another time. Mr. [Jared] Sparks told me, that, in relating the circumstances to him, Colonel Pickering remarked, that this was a very proper and a very important suggestion.” The text that was added to the letter for that purpose, Octavius Pickering says, was the second sentence of the second paragraph (Pickering and Upham, Life of Pickering description begins Octavius Pickering and Charles W. Upham. The Life of Timothy Pickering. 4 vols. Boston, 1867–73. description ends , 1 : 156–58).

GW’s expenses for 11 Sept. included £1.10 “Cash paid at the road from brandywine for wagg[on]” and £5.2.6 “Cash paid at Middletown at Night for horses waggon &c. at hay & necessaries in the house” (household account book, 11 April 1776–21 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 28). Middletown Township is on the east side of Chester Creek about six miles northwest of Chester. No evidence has been found to indicate where GW lodged in Chester on the night of 11 September.

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