Brandywine Battlefield

Living in eastern Pennsylvania as we do, we are never too far from a Revolutionary War site. We are surrounded by the stuff. Despite that, I really don’t know as much as I ought to about the Revolution. It just doesn’t engage me as a subject so I really only retain the scratchiest general knowledge about it. This is not because I am British. Nope. I am totally on the side of the Americans. I am just really not into military history unless it intersects with some other genre of history that I am into. I only know as much as I do about the Civil War because I am married to a big Civil War nerd and learning osmosis happens.

Anyway, one of the local Revolutionary history sites we had not visited in the almost 8 years since moving here was a pretty big one: Brandywine. It was the biggest battle of the War, with the most troops fighting and doing so continuously for 11 hours over 10 square miles. The battlefield is only open seasonally and on particular days so we have just never gotten around to making a plan to visit work. Mr Pict, however, was determined we should finally visit so we got our act together and went.

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We started off at the Visitor Center where some friendly, chatty staff placed the battle within its wider context for us. Mr Pict also got deep into the weeds of a conversation with them about why the site doesn’t have National Park status. The rest of us scuttled off into the adjoining museum. Small as the museum was, the information boards were some of the clearest and most informative I have encountered. I was actually finally able to grasp the chronology of the conflicts that occurred in our region and why the American and British sides manoeuvred that they did. I always love a diorama and they had several. Meanwhile the 12 and 14 year olds entertained themselves in the dress up corner.

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The rest of the trip was a driving tour. We could have hit up a couple of dozen points of interest along the route but nobody was really enthralled at that prospect so we kept to the highlights. We started at the house of Gideon Gilpin, a Quaker farmer. It was the property that Lafayette used as his quarters and where he returned after being shot in the leg during the battle. Incidentally Lafayette turned 20 days before Brandywine which kind of blows my mind. I personally just like old buildings so I enjoyed wandering around and looking at the shapes and the stonework. Near the house is a massive sycamore tree that is over 300 years old which means it was around during the battle. I kind of love that living connection to the past.

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The next stop was the Benjamin Ring house that Washington used as his HQ. The interior was not yet open so we just skirted its exterior. I didn’t find it too interesting to look at. However, we got chatting to a volunteer guide who, while telling us that his hobby is making replicas of historic guns, revealed that he lives in the house that was the site of the last witch trial (more of an interrogation) in Pennsylvania. Obviously I had to steer the conversation in that direction. Much more interesting to me than battles and military leaders.

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We went to find Jefferis Ford, which is the spot where the sneaky British forces managed to cross the river. American troops were defending all of the other fords along the river but, for some reason, neglected to protect Jefferis Ford. Quite the oops. Anyway, we cross the bridge that now spans that area and looked down at the dun brown water and then we went on a trek up hill and down dale trying to find a spot with decent sight lines where I could do a three point turn. So that was annoying.

The final stop was at the Birmingham Quaker Meetinghouse. This was the location of some ferocious fighting and fallen soliders from both sides are buried in a mass grave in the small walled cemetery that abuts the meetinghouse. As much as military history is not my thing, cemeteries very much are. After visiting the walled graveyard, I therefore wandered off into the adjoining larger cemetery. Most of the stones are very small and simple, since Quakers traditionally do not approve of ostentatious memorials. I went in search of the grave of artist NC Wyeth but really stood no chance of locating it since his family’s stone is a simple one set into the ground. Our kids were all out of tolerance for this parent-driven excursion as it was so were not up for entertaining my cemetery wanderings.

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While the cemetery largely comprised standard grave markers, there were some very elaborate memorials. Just outside the gates were monuments to Lafayette and Casimir Pulaski, neither of whom is buried in Pennsylvania let alone that cemetery. Inside the cemetery, however, is a large monument containing a marble statue that really is quite at odds with the rest of the graves. It marks the plots of the family of John Gheen Taylor. Want to know why he got to break the rules? That would be because he was the cemetery president.

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So that was our trip to Brandywine Battlefield. I don’t think I will feel the need to return but, surprisingly, I did actually learn something through my visit. Plus it is always nice to go for a wander somewhere new. Now I am actually keen to visit the Museum of the American Revolution so that I can put together some more of the details of the war. Because goodness knows I am not going to sit down to read a book about it or even watch a documentary. Once I feel ready to return to museums, that one is going to be high on my list.

15 thoughts on “Brandywine Battlefield

    • Indeed. That’s one of the Civil War battlefields I’ve not been to. My husband was last there when he was a child. I’m eager to return to Mississippi some time anyway as my kids have not yet been. We road tripped around the south when I was pregnant with my oldest.

    • Any time I am on a battlefield tour, I have to find some kind of hook that captures my interest and makes me engage. That is why I get frustrated when my husband drags me to a historic site that is literally just a field of stubble. No hooks for me.

  1. I imagine you know more about the Revolutionary War than most Americans do at this point. And you aren’t even trying. In Texas, all we care about is the Alamo and that’s about it. You can walk through that in about 5 minutes. Looks like you had lovely weather.

    • We actually got very lucky with the weather as it has been mostly too hot and humid to do much outdoor exploration here lately – though nowhere near as bad as in other regions of the country so I am not complaining.

      I have not yet visited Texas and would love to take a trip exploring all of the different regions of your massive state. There are so many layers of history and cultures there.

  2. Thank you for sharing your trip! Speaking of witch trials – I enjoyed a trip to Salem Massachusetts and getting to tour one of the witch trial judge’s house, the judge who made the decision to not allow spectral evidence at the trial. He made a huge difference by introducing a note of rationality. There was much discussion in the museum of the argument during the time period of whether or not to allow spectral “evidence”.
    At the public library- a grand building- they had documents from the witch trials that one could see.
    Also in the same area is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s house.
    Additionally there are 3 graveyards related to the witch trials close by.
    Anyway, I just loved our historical visit to Salem – have you been?

    • I was last in Salem in 2001. We have been back to Massachusetts since then but not Salem. I would love to return and take the boys. My husband has several personal family connections to the Salem witch trials. His 9x Great-Grandfather, Moses Tyler (1641-1727) was one of the people doing the accusing, including accusing members of his own family who were then imprisoned. He is also related to Nathaniel Hawthorne through Hawthorne’s wife, Sophia Peabody.

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