From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

September 11, 1777.

On this date, two hundred and twenty­-five years ago, George Washington and his army suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Brandywine. A flanking action ordered by Sir William Howe, commander of British forces, nearly led to a complete rout. Surprised and mis­informed about his opponent’s plans, Washington man­aged an orderly but embarrassing retreat. The largest and longest battle of the American Revolution – more than twenty-eight thousand men on both sides participated – resulted in as many as two thousand deaths and countless wounded and missing.

The immediate consequence of this battle was the British occupation of Philadelphia that began on September 26. In spite of Wash­ington’s efforts to mount a counterattack at Germantown on October 4 and other attempts to drive the British from the city, winter weather eventually drove the army to a secure encampment at Valley Forge. Under the most trying conditions of harsh weather, inadequate supplies, and rampant disease, the army eventually regrouped and rallied to recapture Philadelphia the following summer.

The economic and political impact of the Battle of Brandywine was equally important. Farmers in the region suffered severe crop losses for several years. Sev­eral communities, including Ephrata Cloister, set up military hospitals and lost some of their own residents through exposure to infections from wounded soldiers. Foreign-born troops and lead­ers, including the Marquis de Lafayette, fought in the battle. The mutual respect forged on the battlefield, even in the face of defeat, contributed to France’s decision to join in an alliance that triumphed at Yorktown in 1781.

Agricultural prosperity and pastoral beauty returned to the Brandywine Val­ley following the war. A visit by the aging Lafayette during his triumphal tour of 1824-1825 caused an outpouring of patriotic sentiment and, over the next century, residents placed memorials and plaques at several locations to commemorate key locations of battle action. In 1947, the state created a his­toric site in Dela­ware County, now administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commis­sion, which includes the head­quarters of Wash­ington and Lafayette. In the 1990s, a consortium of public and private organizations raised funds to preserve other battlefield sites in the region. The power of this major event resonates over the centuries in public memory.

A historical coincidence-September 11-links the Battle of Brandywine with the terrorist attacks last year on New York and Washington and the crash of United Flight 93 near Shanksville, Som­erset County. We note the parallels of appalling losses, faulty intelligence, economic disruption, inspiring recoveries, strategic alliances, emerging leadership, and acts of commemoration. Yet we know that each event carries its own distinct character. History does not repeat itself, but it does offer a context to help us understand and interpret the meaning of our own time.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director