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Delaware's Role in the Revolution

Most Delawareans know that the only Revolutionary battle fought in Delaware was the skirmish at Cooch's Bridge. But most don't know that Delaware contributed hundreds of soldiers to the Continental Army, that they fought valiantly throughout the war, and that many of them died and were buried far from home.

Structure of the American Forces | Declaring Independence | Northern Campaign | Southern Campaign

Structure of the American Forces

The Continental Army provided the regular, trained troops for the Revolution and were led by officers appointed by the Continental Congress. Supplementing their efforts were the militia units of the various colonies, who were more numerous, but not as well trained, motivated, equipped, or led. Delaware was a small state and could provide only a single Regiment to the Continental Army, but during the first three years it participated in many of the major battles of the northern war -- from Long Island to Trenton to Germantown -- and then marched 500 miles south to spend the final year of the war fighting to keep the British from expanding their toehold in South Carolina. The typical regiments contained 700 men commanded by a colonel and several majors, with 8 companies, each led by a captain and several lieutenants.


Hostilities Prior to the Declaration of Independence

Here is a sketch of the general course of the war [Symonds] -- On April 19 of 1775 British raids to sieze weapons stored at Lexington and Concord resulted in open warfare. Fort Ticonderoga was overwhelmed in May and the battle of Breed's Hill (later named for Bunker Hill) occurred in June. In July American forces from New York and Vermont entered Canada, hoping to secure Canadian support for resistance to British "tryanny". They captured Montreal but suffered a disastrous loss on New Year's Eve at Quebec City and were driven out of Canada by May. In the face of superior force, the British withdrew from Boston on March 17 of 1776.

Delaware and Other Colonies Declare Their Independence

On June 15, 1776, the Assembly of Lower Counties (of Pennsylvania, the three counties that are now Delaware) voted to separate from England (and the rest of Pennsylvania) so as to become the state of Delaware [Hoffecker]. In late June of 1776 the British started building a force of 32,000 troops near New York City. On July 4, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia declared Independence from Britain.


Delaware in the Northern Campaign

In a series of battles in August, September, and October the British drove the American force off of Long Island and Manhattan Island, and then held the city of New York until the end of the war. British attempts to get to Philadelphia by land were thwarted by defeat in the battles of Trenton NJ on Christmas Day 1776 and Princeton NJ -- where the Delaware Regiment's leader, Col. John Haslet, was killed on January 2, 1777 [Hoffecker]. The British forces based in Canada attempted to split the colonies by a two-pronged attack on Albany, but were beaten in a series of battles near Saratoga from August through October of 1777.

On July 23 of 1777 the a third of the British forces in New York City were sent by sea for a campaign to capture Philadelphia. They couldn't come up the Delaware river because the Americans had placed channel obstructions placed off New Castle DE, so they sailed around the end of the DelMarVa Peninsula and landed near Elkton MD on August 25. After a skirmish at Cooch's Bridge in DE on September 3, some 13,000 British troops marched up Paper Mill Road through Hockessin DE and won the Battle of the Brandywine (on the DE/PA border) on September 11. After several additional battles the British took Philadelphia and the American forts along the lower Delaware. This victory did not cause the Americans to give up. Washington and his troops kept a siege watch on Philadelphia from Valley Forge, the British evacuated the city (nine months after they captured it) in June of 1778 so as to supply troops for their military efforts in Florida and the Caribbean.


Delaware in the Southern Campaign

The British took Savannah GA in December of 1778 and were repulsed from Charleston SC in June of 1779. After being reinforced with 8,500 troops from New York City in December of 1779 they returned and captured Charleston along with 5,500 American troops on May 12, 1780. Bitter fighting now broke out between American loyalists and revolutionaries in the Piedmont area along the NC/SC border.

To counter the British threat in the South, the Continental Congress appointed Gen. Horatio Gates to organize a Southern Army to beat British General Clinton, as he had organized the Northern Army to beat Burgoyne. Gen. de Kalb was named to lead the Continental Army contingent. De Kalb had been born in Germany, served as an officer in the French army, and played major roles in several earlier Revolutionary battles. Some 1,400 Continentals marched south -- the First Maryland Brigade, led by Col. Smallwood, the Second Maryland Brigade, led by Col. William Gist, and the Delaware Regiment, led by a new commander, Lt. Col. Vaughan. The Delaware Regiment had suffered heavy losses at the battles of Germantown PA, and its new commander, Col. David Hall, had been seriously wounded and never fought again. It had not recruited many new members, so it went south with about 280 men rather than its normal compliment of 500.