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Chester County Press

A day of remembrance

09/11/2018 01:21PM ● By J. Chambless

Muskets were fired near a replica of George Washington's tent during a dedication event on Tuesday.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The sharp crack of musket fire echoed across Birmingham Hill on the morning of Sept. 11, just as it did 241 years ago, when soldiers of the Continental Army fought savagely during the longest single-day battle of the Revolutionary War.

This time, the two reenactors from the First Delaware Regiment were marking a happy occasion – the Brandywine Conservancy's acquisition of 13 acres atop Birmingham Hill, the last piece in a 25-year quest to preserve the land where soldiers fought and died during the Revolution.

With the exception of some stately homes and barns on adjoining parcels, the view from Birmingham Hill, just north of Chadds Ford, hasn't changed. But the fact that so much has been preserved is thanks to a small army of volunteers, property owners, politicians, advocacy organizations and the Brandywine Conservancy, which has spearheaded the protection of more than 500 acres of land associated with the Battle of the Brandywine.

“Today, we mark the acquisition of the final piece of a decades-long puzzle,” said Ellen Ferretti, director of the Brandywine Conservancy. “It is with profound excitement for the future of this land that we will soon undertake a master planning process to really explore how we can best activate and interpret this site. We look forward to working with all levels of government, with the community, our neighbors and area experts to create a plan that will pay homage to the significant events that took place here and engage future generations in its preservation.”

During the ceremony, Sen. Tom Killion and Rep. Carolyn Comitta spoke about the importance of the preservation of history. “Birmingham Hill is an incredibly significant Revolutionary War site for our country,” Killion said. “The Brandywine Conservancy has worked for decades to save hundreds of acres of the Brandywine Battlefield. We are immensely grateful for their efforts in protecting our land and preserving America’s history.”

“I have long admired the extraordinary work of the Brandywine Conservancy and am pleased to offer my congratulations and support for this project,” Comitta said. “I believe this purchase will allow for the permanent preservation of a vital part of our collective history and an important national treasure.”

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the Brandywine Conservancy and a consortium of local preservation groups, citizens, and local government officials formed the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force. Their mission was to implement public and private partnerships to preserve lands within the Brandywine Battlefield National Historic Landmark. Over 25 years, nearly $18 million was raised to purchase land outright or buy conservation easements. Securing the last parcel on Birmingham Hill, formely owned by the Odell family, caps efforts to preserve the land as a contiguous whole.

Over the years, landowners fought off developers as the value of property skyrocketed in and around Chadds Ford. Conservation groups negotiated and often pleaded with owners to not let housing developments be built on significant properties.

One of the speakers at the gathering on Tuesday morning was Scott Stephenson, the director of collections and interpretation at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Stephenson, who lives near Kennett Square, spoke with vivid detail about what happened in the meadow where the audience was gathered.

“It was a foggy day like this, but much hotter,” he said of the day of battle, tracing the movements of troops along what are now local landmarks such as Route 1 and the Brandywine River Museum. “There were about 30,000 men who met on both sides of this field,” he said. “That was a city's worth of people in those days.”

Noting that the fighting took place on land settled by Quakers, Stephenson related how a meeting was taking place in the Birmingham Meetinghouse as the fighting started, and the roar of the cannons shook the building. The sound of the battle could be heard as far away as Chester.

The Continental troops assembled from the fledgling America were lined up roughly along Birmingham Road, Stephenson said. “Some of the sharpest fighting of the whole war took place here. The land switched back and forth four or five times during the battle,” he said. Cannons fired into British troops from a distance of perhaps 40 feet.

“The wives of soldiers in the Sixth Pennsylvania Regiment refused to leave their husbands, and ran to a creek nearby to refill cantines during the battle,” Stephenson said. “By the end of the day, about 1,300 American soldiers were dead, wounded or captured, along with about 600 British soldiers. These fields were covered with shallow graves, which in the weeks after the fighting were washed out by rains or torn up by animals. It took years for this land to recover from 11 hours of fighting.”

While American forces eventually retreated to fight another day, the Battle of the Brandywine showed the resolve of the soldiers facing their European foes. “The significance of this place cannot be overstated,” Stephenson said, citing a history that extends from the original native peoples to the Wyeth family of artists. “There are so many layers of significance and history to the ground we are standing on,” he said.

Virginia Logan, the CEO of the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art, thanked many of the sponsors who have helped through the years. “It's amazing what we can achieve when we work together,” she said. “Today, more than 64,000 acres is protected by the Brandywine Conservancy. It is poignant to reflect on how, in perpetuity, people will stand on this property and imagine the cacophony of battle. Let this be, in the future, a place to be in the beauty and quiet of nature.”

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].