Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, on fateful September 11, 1777, one of the largest and most important engagements of the American Revolution took place in southeastern Pennsylvania. It was the Battle of Brandywine, a crushing defeat for the American side.

Although British and Hessian engineers delineated several maps of the battle immediately afterwards, until recently no contemporary illustration of this fierce engagement was known to exist. In summer 2001, two small watercolors were discovered in a British officer’s journal, one of the Battle of Brandywine, the other of a part of the British camp at Tredyffrin, a township in Chester County that was part of the Welsh Tract laid out in 1681. The journal is in the library of the University of Durham, in England, in the papers of General Charles Grey (1729-1811), the 1st Earl Grey. How Grey came to possess the items is not known. To the knowledge of the library staff, the images have never before been published. Through the gracious permission of Lord Howick, owner of the papers, the images are now part of the public record, and provide an important glimpse into Pennsylvania’s early history. Both add important visual components to the body of information about the Revolutionary War, for period images are quite rare and images by eyewitnesses are even more rare. The depictions give an extraordinary glimpse into history through the eyes of a participant, and as historical images of landscape, these are the earliest known depictions of the Chester County countryside.

The artist and author of the journal was Ensign William Augustus West (1757-1783), styled Viscount Cantelupe, of the Royal Army’s Brigade of Guards. He was the twenty-year-old son of Lieutenant General Thomas West (1729-1777), who was the 2nd Earl De la Warr. The earl held the Baronies of De la Warr and Cantelupe, although he had relinquished the title of Viscount Cantelupe to William Augustus when he himself succeeded the first earl in 1766. They were direct descendants of Thomas West, Baron De la Warr (1577-1618), for whom Delaware Bay, River, and state were named. When the earl died in November 1777, Ensign West, Viscount Cantelupe, succeeded to the earldom and baronies. He rose to lieu- tenant colonel of the Coldstream Guards, but died unmarried at the age of twenty-six in Nice, a city then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia.

Young Lord Cantelupe had been commissioned in 1774 an ensign in the Coldstream Guards, one of three regiments of Foot Guards – elite units – in the British Army at that time. In February 1776, King George III authorized a thousand men to be drawn from the three regiments to form a Brigade of Guards for service in America. This composite brigade served in America from 1776 until 1783, but officers from the contributing regiments were rotated in and out throughout the war. Cantelupe, with others, left England in March 1777, and landed in New York two months later. He joined the Brigade near New Brunswick, at “Rariton Camp,” New Jersey, on June 6. He first tasted battle three weeks later at Short Hills, where the Guards and Hessian grenadiers stormed a hill and captured three brass cannon from American troops led by New Jersey’s General William Alexander (1726-1783), Lord Stirling.

In July 1777, an army of eighteen thousand British, Hessian, and American Loyalist troops, commanded by General Sir William Howe (1729-1814), sailed from New York to capture Philadelphia. After landing in northern Maryland on August 25, Howe’s army maneuvered slowly towards the rebel capital as Wash­ington’s army tried to block their advance. Nearly three weeks of cam­paigning brought the two armies into position on the banks of Brandywine Creek in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where the battle was fought on September 11. Howe divided his army, and sent one column under a Hessian general, Wilhelm von Knyphausen (1716-1800), directly towards the American center at Chadds’s Ford. The larger column, which Howe accompanied, was commanded by Lord Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805) and composed of British and Hessian grenadiers, light infantry, and the Brigade of Guards. Although the grenadiers no longer threw grenades, they were chosen from the tallest and strongest soldiers available. Light infantry, an innovation of the Seven Years War, used lightened muskets, uniforms, and equipment, so that they could march and maneuver faster than the standard infantry units. Corn­wallis’s column marched north about four miles, on a road west of the Brandy­wine, turned east to cross both branches of the stream at established fords, and proceeded south on a road that would place it in position to attack Washington’s right flank.

One of the watercolors depicts the action on a hill (“Battle Hill”) near Birm­ingham Friends Meeting House in Birm­ingham Township, Chester County, grenadiers in the center, and the British Light Infantry and Hessian riflemen on the left. The scene was spectacular, for the battlefront created by the three columns was nearly a mile wide. Colonel William Mead­ows, leading the 1st Grena­dier Battalion, commanded his troops, “Grenadiers, put on your caps! For damn’d fighting and drinking I’ll match you against the world!” The grenadiers put on their fifteen-inch tall bearskin caps, ornamented with shining black and silver cap plates bearing the King’s Arms and a scroll with the motto Nec Aspera Terrent – “hardship does not deter us” – and formed into a column more than twelve hundred strong. With battalion flags at the front and the field officers mounted in place, the crimson lines awaited the signal to march.

A thunderous rumble of drums, with the spine-tingling lilt of dozens of fifes piercing the din, signaled the beginning of Howe’s flank attack. Evidently believing that the grenadiers and the Guards were part of the same massive column, Lieutenant Martin Hunter of the British Light Infantry recalled, “We marched to the attack in two columns, the Grenadiers at the head of one, playing The Grenadiers March, and the Light Infantry at the head of the other.” Late afternoon sun backlit Lord Cornwallis’s columns, as they swept over the crest and down the front of Osborne’s Hill, in a rhythmic mass of glit­tering pageantry. The two British grenadier battalions alone fielded nearly sixty fifers and drummers, and the Brigade of Guards had twenty musicians with them. One grenadier officer, Captain William Hale of the 45th Regiment, wrote, “Nothing could be more dreadfully pleasing than the line moving on to the attack; the Grenadiers put on their caps and struck up their march, believe me I would not exchange those three minutes of rapture to avoid ten thousand times the danger.”

When the columns reached Street Road (today Route 926), they deployed from columns into a line of battle and prepared to launch their assault. Lieutenant Hunter noted, “The action began by a cannonade from the enemy, while our army was forming in line from a column. The position the enemy had taken was very strong indeed – very commanding ground, a wood on their rear and flanks, a ravine and strong paling in front. The fields in America are all fenced in by paling. In this situation they allowed us to advance till within one hundred and fifty yards of their line, when they gave us a volley, which we returned, and immediately charged.”

Cantelupe’s painting depicts British troops formed along a fence lining a road (probably Street Road), with farm buildings and a haystack in the left foreground. Fences, meadows, and a plowed field are shown in the upper left, while in the center, a wooded, rolling hill fronted with scattered trees commands the scene, with more farm buildings to the lower right. The landscape is reminiscent of many places in the British Isles, and a very old tradition associated with this part of the battle maintains that a British officer, when viewing the landscape from Osborne’s Hill, had remarked, “the scenery before him was as familiar to him as the scenery of his native place in Northumberland [in England]; it had come before him at the twilight and in his slumbers over and over again, and added, ‘I know I am to die here.'” The dream became reality when he was mortally wounded that day.

Cantelupe painted skirmishers of both armies which had advanced on the left and right partway up the hill, firing away at each other. The gray blotches above the line of redcoats indicate that the British are firing a volley up the hill. Close exami­nation of bluish and brownish markings on the road behind the troops reveal two distinct pairs of horses pulling wheeled vehicles. The blue blotches before and behind the horses and vehicles strongly suggest that the vehicles are artillery pieces, for Royal Artillery personnel wore blue uniforms.

After Washington received confirmation that Howe was indeed maneuvering around his right flank, Continental Army regulars under Generals Adam Stephen (1718-1791) and Stirling had hurriedly approached the heights near Birmingham Meeting House from the south and east, while General John Sullivan (1740-1795) maneuvered into the area from the south and west. The American line was uncoordinated due to the haste of the maneuvering, and as Sullivan attempted to reposi­tion some of his troops, Cornwallis launched the attack.

The Americans could hear the relentless throbbing of drums as the grenadiers and Guards advanced across the fields. Ebenezer Elmer, a surgeon of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment in General Stephen’s Division, wrote, “we formed abt. 4 oClock on an Eminence, the right being in ye woods, presently a large Column Came on in front playing ye Granediers March & Now the Battle began wh[ich] proved Excessive severe[.] the Enemy Came on with fury[;] our men stood firing upon them most amazingly, killing almost all before them for near an hour … but unfortunately for want of a proper Retreat 3 or 4 of our [artillery] pieces were left on ye first ground.” A description by Lieutenant Hunter confirms Elmer’s account. “They stood the charge till we came to the last paling,” Hunter recalled. “Their line then began to break, and a general retreat took place soon after, except from their guns, many of which were defended to the last; indeed, several officers were cut down at the guns. The Americans never fought so well before, and they fought to great advantage.”

Continental artillery thundered from several positions along the front, and the painting focuses on one of these American batteries blasting away. The three red streaks in the cloud of smoke represent muzzle flashes, and the three gray plumes blend together into a massive cloud of suffocating, sulfurous smoke.

Commissioned a major general by Congress but without troops to command, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) conspicuously asserted leadership under fire and was wounded in this, his first battle. “Sullivan’s corps’ had scarcely had time to form one line in front of a thinly wooded forest,” Lafayette wrote. “A few moments later Lord Cornwallis’s men suddenly emerged from the woods in very good order. Advancing across the plain, his [Sullivan’s] first line opened a very brisk fire with cannon and muskets. The American fire was murderous, but both their right and left wings collapsed.” Captain John Montrésor (1736-1799) of the Royal Engineers observed, “The ground on the left being the most difficult, the rebels disputed it with the Light Infantry with great spirit, particularly their officers, this spot was a ploughed hill .. they pushed in upon them under a very heavy fire. The British Grenadiers and Guards at the same time labouring under a smart and incessant fire from the Rebels out of a wood and above them, most nobly charged them.”

The British grenadiers in the center and the light infantry on the left carried the weight of the attack and drove the Americans south and east towards Sandy Hollow and the village of Dilworth. As a result, the Guards were not as heavily engaged, for Continental forces retreated towards what would be the upper left of the scene, and the Guards and 1st Grenadier Battalion continued straight ahead. Lieutenant Colonel Sir George Osborn, commanding the grenadier and light infantry companies of the Guards, wrote, “we attacked the left flank of the rebel army, and raining upon Sulli­van’s, brigades, a French Gen­eral deBore, and [General William] Maxwell with an impetuosity really that it would have been scarcely possible for them to resist; we saved much loss we might otherwise have sustained, and certainly made the enemy first give way. I had but one Grenadier wounded, the Light Company who were with me had only three.”

Cantelupe’s written journal entry for Brandywine is curiously brief.

11th of September marched from Kennetts Square at 4 in the morng. about four in the Evening the Army were drawn up for Battle at Birmingham near Brandywine & defeated the Rebels, & took 11 paces of Cannon & 1 Howitzer[.] Col Meadows of the G[r]enadiers received a wound in his Arm.

His visual journal entry, however, speaks volumes.

The days following Brandywine saw the British army occupy the battlefield, while Washington fell back towards Philadelphia, regrouped, and returned to Chester County. On September 16, the two armies once more faced each other about ten miles north of Brandywine, this time in Goshen Township, only to have a huge rainstorm prevent a major battle. General Washington withdrew to Yellow Springs.

On September 18, the British moved into the Great Valley and established camp in Tredyffrin Township. Captain Friedrich von Münchhausen, a Hessian aide on General Howe’s staff, explained, “They call this region Great Valley because there are chains of high hills cov­ered with woods on both sides of the Val­ley.” That evening, two squadrons of the 16th, or Queen’s Own Light Dragoons, commanded by Lord Harcourt, along with light infantry and dismounted dragoons, left the Tredyffrin camp and rode four miles to seize American supplies stored at Valley Forge. After a brief skirmish with a handful of American dragoons commanded by Captain Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee (1756-1818), the British captured the supplies and occu­pied Valley Forge.

Through the night and the following morning, September 19, American light troops hovered around the British position. At about noon, when word reached Howe’s Tredyffrin Camp headquarters that the small British force at Valley Forge was about to be attacked, Captain von Münchhausen reported, “In the afternoon the English grenadiers and the 1st battal­ion of light infantry left for Valley Forge, and the detachment under Colonel Harcourt…came back here today.” Just after midnight, the Guards Brigade was sent over to Valley Forge to reinforce the grenadiers and light infantry.

These documented maneuvers enable historians to determine that the Can­telupe image of the Tredyffrin Camp was made during the afternoon of September 19, 1777. The perspective and location of the artist and the subject can be pinpointed, thanks to a detailed manuscript map of the camp drawn by Captain John André (1751-1780), later more famous as the major involved in Benedict Arnold’s treason plot of 1780. The light dragoon encampment was immediately behind the Guards camp, which was located on a small hill just south of Swedesford Road in the Great Valley. Both units were the troops stationed closest to Howe’s headquarters, which would have been behind the trees on the left and just outside the scene in the picture. Cantelupe evidently sat down on the south side of this hill and drew what was before his eyes: a wooded hillside called the South Valley Hill, with fenced meadows and plowed fields. A small stream, Trout Run, is in the foreground, with a horse drinking from it. Captain von Münch­hausen, stationed at headquarters, enthusiastically noted, “The Valley Creek, part of which flows through our camp, has the best water I have tasted here in America.”

Two types of fences are visible in the picture: in the foreground, a snake or worm fence, with crossed corner rails to support the rider rail on top, and a post­-and-rail fence running up the hill, possibly along the road that Andre shows on his map [now part of Contention Lane]. Tethered to this fence behind the camp are horses, and the camp itself is an interesting combination of small tents and “wigwams,” temporary shelters constructed of brush, fence rails, and corn stalks. Most of the British army’s tents had been left on their ships in order to shorten the baggage train, so the enlisted men built these improvised quarters at each encampment with materials they scrounged. Cantelupe included a carefully rendered dead tree in the right foreground, which further supports the theory that he painted what he actually saw. Oddly enough, not a soul is in sight; given the fact that the dragoons were on the march the previous day and night, and had only returned to camp in the afternoon of this warm, sunny day, they may have been sleeping. The shadows cast by the trees suggest that the scene was drawn in mid-afternoon, as Can­telupe was facing south.

Once more, Cantelupe’ s written jour­nal entry is terse: “[September] 20 [:] Marched from Trydyffin at 3 in the Morn­ing about 3 miles [to Valley Forge] And hutted on the banks of the Schuylkill River [.] several shots fired by the Rebels across the river.” In fact, the only journal entries between September 11 and September 20 are: “12th Sept : Marched 2 miles farther to Dilworth, & there encamped,” and “18th [:] Marched for [Tredyffrin].” It would have been in this time period that he made the two water­color sketches. On the night of September 20, a column of twelve hundred British light troops under the command of Gen­eral Charles Grey marched forth to attack General Anthony Wayne’s Pennsylvania Division camped on the South Valley Hill about four miles away, near the Paoli Tavern. The ensuing Battle of Paoli – “The Paoli Massacre” – was a night action noted for brutality and terror, as bayonets and dragoon sabers performed their grisly work. By dawn on September 21, the entire British army was on the march to Valley Forge, and five days later took possession of Philadelphia.

Although considerably altered over time, the sites depicted by Cantelupe remain identifiable. Housing and commercial development in the past three decades have obscured much of the region’s terrain and the land along Street Road near Battle Hill has been built upon. Battle Hill remains relatively intact, but the struggle to preserve what remains nearby is, literally, another battle. The site of the Tredyffrin Camp has changed from agricultural to commercial and residential use. It is remarkable, however, that a Tredyffrin Township park occupies much of the site of the Light Dragoon encampment, and Trout Run still continues to flow, even though its water may no longer be “the best… tasted in America.” The Light Dragoon camp is largely occupied by public tennis courts, and a railroad partially obscures the rest, but the South Valley hill remains.


Brandywine Battlefield Park, administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) in association with the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates, brings to life the largest engagement of the Revolutionary War, fought on September 11, 1777. The battle, which pitted the Continental Army led by General George Washington against the British forces commanded by General William Howe, was a defeat for the American side. Located in the rolling countryside of the Brandywine Valley of Chester and Delaware Counties, Brandywine Battle­field Park will conduct a number of events and activities this fall, several of which will commemorate the two hundred and twenty­-fifth anniversary of the battle. For more information, write: Brandywine Battlefield Park, P.O. Box 202, Chadds Ford, PA 19317 or telephone (610) 459-3342. Admission is charged.


For Further Reading

Kipping, Ernst, and Samuel Stelle Smith. At General Howe’s Side, The Diary of Gen­eral William Howe’s aide de Camp, Cap­tain Friedrich von Münchhausen. Mon­mouth Beach, N.J.: Philip Freneau Press, 1974.

McGuire, Thomas J. Battle of Paoli. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2000.

____. Brandywine Battlefield Park: Pennsylvania Trail of History Guide. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2001.

Reed, John F. The Campaign to Valley Forge. Philadelphia: University of Pennsyl­vania Press, 1990.

Smith, Samuel Stelle. The Battle of Brandywine. Monmouth Beach, N.J.: Philip Freneau Press, 1976.

Webster, Nancy V., Martha L. Wolf, Betty Cosans-Zebooker, and Ken Joire. Brandy­wine Battlefield: National Historic Landmark Revisited. Chester: Delaware County Planning Department, 1992.


Thomas J. McGuire, a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, was born in Philadelphia. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Villanova University. He has taught history at Malvern Preparatory School since 1980. He is the author of The Surprise of Germantown, or the Battle of Cliveden, Oct. 4th, 1777 (1994), Battle of Paoli (2000), and Brandywine Battle­field Park (2001), a title in The Pennsylvania Trail of History guide series published by Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, in association with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.