New Interpretive Map Shows Start of Philadelphia Campaign, From Head of Elk to Cooch’s Bridge in Revolutionary War

A Revolutionary War battle was waged on northern Delaware soil in September 1777, as an invading army marched on Philadelphia.  But it’s easy to miss this important occurrence in the annals of state history as the attractive fields and surrounding housing developments encompassing the battlefield yield only a few clues for curious 21st century residents.  So the Pencader Area Heritage Association is working on that, trying to make sure the importance of the bloody action, which in some places involved hand-to-hand fighting, is widely known.

Another step toward that goal occurred today as the small museum and research center formally unveiled a carefully researched map and presented a talk on the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge.  The group had cartographer Sean Moir and archaeologist Wade Catts investigate the first engagement of General Howe’s campaign to capture Philadelphia and create an evidence based interpretation and map of “how the troops moved and where they encamped during the first weeks of the famous Philadelphia Campaign.”  Their scholarly fact-finding resulted in the product that was presented to a standing room only crowd this afternoon.  Sean, the specialist in historical and temporal GIS mapping, used animated maps to help the audience follow along with events.

During the engaging PowerPoint presentation, he outlined how on August 25, 1777, a fleet of 260 ships landed in the in the vicinity of Cecil Courthouse and Cecil Ferry on the Elk River.  The army was low on supplies so General William Howe sent a division under General Wilhelm von Knyphausen into southern New Castle County to forage for supplies.  That route brought the division ashore at the courthouse south of Chesapeake City and had units lodge near St. Augustine Church in Cecil County as the companies prepared to explore the territory north of present day Middletown.  General Howe took the main British Army to Elkton or Head of Elk to rest and prepare for the advance toward Philadelphia.

On Sept. 3rd, the enemy army of 15,000 men broke camp at Elkton and headed toward Aiken’s Tavern (today’s Glasgow).  There advance units encountered a detachment of continental troops, Maxwell’s Light Infantry.  As fighting continued, combatants fell back toward Cooch’s Bridge and Iron Hill, where the bulk of the action took place.  Eventually Washington’s army was pushed back toward Wilmington and in time the fighting moved into Pennsylvania as Howe continued to advance on his objective, Philadelphia.

This was an informative, engaging talk and the interactive mapping is first-class, aiding to our knowledge of the Philadelphia Campaign and the battle.  This project, funded through a grant from the Delaware Humanities Forum, will also provide material on this subject to all Delaware schools.

Congratulations to Pencader Hundred’s heritage keepers.  This museum, and its small group of volunteers, is doing exceptional work.  While the talk and cartography yielded valuable, research based understanding, we were also impressed with the quality of the museum exhibits.  It’s on our schedule for a more leisurely tour on the next Saturday they’re open.  Thank you Pencader Heritage Association for presenting valuable programs about the area’s heritage.

Major Andre’s journal showing placement of British military units on Aug. 26, 1777 at Elk Ferry opposite Cecil Courthouse (Courthouse Point, south of Chesapeake City) Source: Library of Congress.

Historical Marker at Cooch’s Bridge.

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2 Responses to New Interpretive Map Shows Start of Philadelphia Campaign, From Head of Elk to Cooch’s Bridge in Revolutionary War

  1. Barbara says:

    Thanks for the great coverage, but our open days are Saturdays not Sunday


    • Mike Dixon says:

      Thanks Barbara. You folks are doing great work with your museum. I”m looking forward to coming back for a tour some Saturday. I fixed the item you mentioned.

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