Cooch's Bridge

or Iron Hill

September 3, 1777

     After scattered fighting in New Jersey in the first half of 1777, Sir William Howe decided to move the main British army by sea to Pennsylvania.  He planned to capture Philadelphia, the national capital, and live off the fertile farmland of the colony.  Sir William and his brother Admiral Richard Howe found the defenses of the Delaware River too strong and instead made the long voyage through the Chesapeake Bay, landing the 17,000 man army at Head of Elk, Maryland starting on August 25th.

    Nathaniel Greene encouraged Washington to take up a defensive position at Cooch's Bridge at the Christiana Creek.  Perhaps because Cooch's Bridge was too near the British, Washington instead moved his army to Red Clay Creek to face the invader and sent a detachment of around 700-1,000 men under William Maxwell ahead to delay the enemy.  The force included Maxwell's Light Infantry, composed of 100 specially picked men from each brigade. 

    The British army was in bad condition after the unexpectedly long sea journey, and the horses were especially affected.  In fact, Howe was reduced to just 30 mounted cavalrymen for the campaign.  After a short time which included looting, foraging, and the encouragement of American cavalry desertion, the British army began its offensive on August 28th.  Howe thought Washington's Red Clay Creek position should be bypassed to the north, so he planned to take two of his three columns directly north into Pennsylvania.  But first Cornwallis's column advanced directly on Cooch's Bridge as a diversion and to protect the British supply line.

    Maxwell placed his 100 man detachments in ambush sites at several places along the British route.  At each place they fired on the enemy and retired to the next detachment.  At the crossing of Christiana Creek at Cooch's Bridge, four miles in front of the main American army, Maxwell's whole force made a stand.  The modern version of Cooch's Bridge is the leftmost of the three small bridges shown here.  The Cooch House on the left was Cornwallis's headquarters after the battle.  Fortunately at the time of my visit, the current resident of the house came out to get his newspaper, and we had a short talk.  He said the Americans defended the opposite side of the creek, and  the British approached from the road ending at the T-intersection.  (I doubt that, though.)  After direct attempts to cross failed, the British sent troops beyond the house to get around the American right flank.  This and the arrival of artillery put the Americans to flight.  Casualty estimates vary, but are generally thought to be between 20 and 40 for each side.  Although not a large battle, the fight is famous for being the only Revolutionary War battle in Delaware.  It is also said to be the first time the "Betsy Ross Flag" was flown in battle.

Here is the view from down at creek level.  The home owner said that there is a conservation easement on the house and some of the surrounding area.

This is the view from the small hill on the American side of the creek looking toward the bridge on the left and toward the attacked flank on the right.  You can make out the Cooch House through the trees.

    After the skirmish at Cooch's Bridge, Howe stayed in the area for several days.  Then on September 8th, Cornwallis advanced on the Red Clay Creek position while Howe headed north to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  Washington detected this turning movement withdrew, crossing the Brandywine Creek late on September 9th.  On September 11th, Howe attacked.


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