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Chester County Press

Reflections on renewal and history

09/16/2014 09:10PM ● By Lev

A cannon at Saratoga, where American General Horatio Gates led this forces to a complete victory over British General John Burgoyne. Battles took place in Chester County in September 1777.

By Bruce E. Mowday

September has been a time of renewal and reflection in the Brandywine Valley for as long as I can remember. Festivals abound in the area, another school years begins and this month is the time to remember our nation’s founding.

September 1777 was a pivotal time in the history of our nation and Chester County – then also including what is now present day Delaware County – played a crucial role with the Battle of Brandywine taking place on September 11.

General George Washington did what he did best on that fateful day; he escaped to fight another day. British General William Howe had a daring plan to catch Washington’s troops in a vice and end the American Revolution on the banks of the Brandywine. Howe came close to accomplishing his goal. One of his officers wrote that if another hour of daylight was available Washington’s army would have ceased to exist.

Brave work by American generals, including Marquis de Lafayette and National Greene, and the American patriots held off the British during the late afternoon on the field of what is known as Sandy Hallow near the Birmingham Meeting House. Philadelphia, the young nation’s capital, fell to Howe and the British. Brandywine was Washington’s stance to save Philadelphia.

Washington’s forces retreated that night towards Chester and later overcame setbacks at Germantown and Paoli to winter in Valley Forge and regroup for the next year’s tests on other battlefields.

While Washington was struggling to survive in Chester County, a far more important military campaign was taking place in New York at Saratoga. I just returned from a visit to Saratoga where the National Park Service has done a wonderful job at preserving the land where American General Horatio Gates led this forces to a complete victory over British General John Burgoyne.

Burgoyne fought at Saratoga on September 18, 1777, and couldn’t dislodge the American forces. A British attack on October 7 – after Burgoyne knew he wasn’t receiving support from British forces in New York City – again failed and the total British army eventually surrounded.

“At Saratoga, the British campaign that was supposed to crush America’s rebellion ended instead in a surrender that changed the history of the world,” wrote author Richard M. Ketchum in his book “Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War.”

The victory by Gates emboldened King Louis XVI of France to enter into an alliance with America. Before the battle France didn’t fully support nor believe in the Americans. France was looking for revenge for its defeat in the French and Indian War. With France and Spain aiding America, the British couldn’t concentrate resources on the forces of the colonies.

Ketchum wrote, “Thanks to Saratoga, France entered the war as America’s ally… (without France’s support) it is entirely possible that the unrelieved suffering and economic chaos brought on by three years of fighting might have let the Americans to negotiate a settlement with Great Britain – a settlement that could hardly have been on favorable terms. So Saratoga was the watershed, the turning point. It meant that the fight for independence would continue and ultimately be won.”

With the new school year and the devaluing of American history, I wonder how much will be taught of the many individuals you played vital roles at Brandywine and Saratoga and helped establish the United States of America. {A September 20 festival} in Malvern  in connection with the Paoli battle will be an excellent way for us all to learn something about the sacrifices that made this country.

In today’s world we can’t afford to not understand our history.

(Bruce Mowday is a Chester County author who wrote "September 11, 1777: Washington’s Defeat at Brandywine Dooms Philadelphia" and other books on history, business, true crime and sports. See

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