Despite its status as the first state, Delaware had a pretty boring American Revolution. In fact, only one battle was fought on Delaware’s soil (although several naval engagements occurred off its waters). The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge has quite the legacy.
After the British drove the Americans from New York, their war effort centered on dividing the colonies even further, and one of those components was to seize the revolutionary capital of Philadelphia. In order to do this, British troops sailed south from New York, and planned on marching through Delaware to Philadelphia, but George Washington was onto their plan, and their armies slowly approached each in Delaware. In the days leading to the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, the Americans constantly harassed the British army and refused to enter into open combat.
On the day of the battle, a small, handpicked contingent of men (including future Supreme Court Justice John Marshall) waited in the forest for the advance guard of the British army. When the Hessian troops appeared, the Americans opened fire, and successfully repelled several charges. After each volley, the Americans would retreat towards the bridge. The battle itself lasted most of the day, and after the Americans had exhausted their ammunition, they fought with swords and bayonets. This put the Americans at a decided disadvantage, since many did not even have bayonets attached to their guns. Nevertheless, they fought the Hessians in hand to hand combat before making a larger retreat while the British slowly pushed the Americans back, and were eventually able to cross Cooch’s Bridge in enough numbers to put an end to the battle. Notably, a British attempt to flank the Americans failed due to the impassable terrain of Purgatory Swamp.
Both sides suffered relatively few casualties, and the battle itself changed very little on the ground. However, there are three noteworthy components of it: it was the only battle in Delaware, John Marshall fought in it, and it is believed that it saw the first flying of the now-familiar Stars and Stripes.
After the battle, the fighting turned towards Pennsylvania, where the British scored another victory at the Battle of the Brandywine, which paved the way for their occupation of Philadelphia. All of this would have been terrible news for the Americans, except for the fact that the other prong of the British plan to divide the Americans failed spectacularly. British General John Burgoyne was forced to surrender to the Americans after the Battle of Saratoga (where the Americans were commanded by none other than Benedict Arnold). The American victory at Saratoga directly led to France joining the war effort against Britain. Remember that Britain and France were at each other’s throats during this time in history, so the French did not need too many reasons to fight the English, but they needed to be sure that they were investing in a feasible cause, and Saratoga showed them just what they needed to see.
Although the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge was far from a decisive battle in the Revolutionary War, its legacy lives on as the first battle to see the Stars and Stripes. So, if you want to visit a battlefield from the Revolutionary War in Delaware, now you know the only place to go. Cooch’s Bridge over troubled waters and Purgatory Swamp. The next time you see a battle marker by the side of the road, stop by it (not only because it is a PokéStop!!) and read it. You never know what you might learn.
This is the first Profiles in History article many of you have seen, but I just reclassified several older articles that fit the bill as Profiles in History as well. For more on political video games, Greece’s Brexit over 2,000 year ago, America’s first Donald Trump, and more, check out the rest of my Profiles in History here!