Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Trip to Spackman's Farm- and back to the Battle of the Brandywine...

On Saturday, April 30th 2011 I visited Tom Spackman who owns the Thornbury Farm just off of Birmingham Road, north of scenic Chadds Ford, Pa. Tom had attended my lecture on the Marquis de Lafayette at the West Chester Country Club given for the Rotary Club of West Chester and enjoyed it so much, he invited me and the entire audience to visit him on his estate. It lies along the battlefield where George Washington's troops- including the young Marquis de Lafayette- fought the British on September 11, 1777 in the Battle of the Brandywine.

Tom was a very gracious host, taking us for a walk through his 250-year old red barn where some very friendly cats begged to be petted. He showed us the edge of the valley where the British under General Howe pursued Generals Sullivan, Stephen and Stirling, culminating in the bloody engagement in and around the nearby Birmingham Meeting House. The largest land battle in North America up until the Civil War raged late in the day as the Colonials were overwhelmed in intense fighting around the hillsides. Lafayette was wounded in the left leg nearby at Sandy Hollow and taken off the field. Casimir Pulaski gave support with his forces on horseback, becoming the Father of the U.S. Cavalry in this battle. By early evening on September 11th, Washington realized he'd been flanked and retreated to Chester, Pa. His quick and orderly retreat, saving his army from a potentially disastrous ending became his hallmark- a general who knew "when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em", surviving to fight another day.

We walked up the ridge which stands about 200 yards from stately serpentine stone houses that were there at the time of the battle, along a small ravine where a creek runs down toward the valley floor. The Colonials followed the creek up a steep slope where the surrounding rock walls rose over twelve feet above them as they tried to avoid fire from Howe's troops nearby. At the crest of the hill you can see the grassy field and Sandy Hollow, now filled with wildflowers where blood once flowed from patriots trying to thwart the British attack. Today a blacktop walking path winds along the edge of the field, leading up to a house whose yard holds a monument to Lafayette erected by local school children to honor his bravery. The cream colored, weathered column is fringed with a black, wrought iron gate and inscribed with a description of Lafayette's triumphant return visit to West Chster in 1825 to re-live that valiant scene from 234 years ago. Lafayette would go on to participate in six other battles, including the dramatic victory over Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 19th, 1781, ending the American Revolutionary War.

With few supplies and a Continental Congress which was tardy at best in making appropriations, Lafayette came at the right time. As we hiked up the shady, tree-covered hill where he and the troops dodged musket balls and walked out into the bright sunlight, I could feel his presence... standing there late in the day, encouraging the troops to resist the attack as the battlefield changed hands five times. No marker stands where he was wounded- but as a light breeze blew the wildflowers in their early Spring repose, I heard his voice... and could sense his spirit... His heroism and monetary support- along with his undying loyalty to General George Washington- helped secure our independence, earning him the title "Founding Son" of the American Revolution.