Philadelphia Campaign > Battle of Cooch's Bridge

Battle of Cooch's Bridge


The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, fought on September 3, 1777, was the only significant military engagement of the American Revolutionary War in Delaware. This skirmish involved American forces under General William Maxwell clashing with British and Hessian troops commanded by General Sir William Howe. The battle is notable for being one of the first instances where the American flag was flown in combat.


  1. British Strategy:

    • In 1777, British General Sir William Howe aimed to capture Philadelphia, the seat of the Continental Congress, to demoralize the American cause and end the rebellion. After landing his forces at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, Howe began marching toward Philadelphia.
    • To disrupt Howe's advance and gather intelligence, General George Washington deployed light infantry units under General William Maxwell to harass the British forces.
  2. American Forces:

    • General William Maxwell commanded approximately 800 troops, including Continental Army light infantry and New Jersey militia. His mission was to delay the British advance and provide Washington with valuable time to prepare defensive positions.

The Battle:

  1. Forces Involved:

    • American Forces: Maxwell's force included light infantry units, militia, and riflemen adept at skirmishing and guerrilla tactics. The total strength was around 800 men.
    • British and Hessian Forces: The British detachment, commanded by General Howe, included about 3,000 troops, comprising British regulars, Hessian mercenaries, and Loyalist units.
  2. Initial Engagement:

    • On the morning of September 3, 1777, Maxwell’s troops set up an ambush along the main road near Cooch’s Bridge, a strategic crossing over the Christina River near Newark, Delaware.
    • As the British advance guard approached, the Americans launched a surprise attack, inflicting initial casualties and causing confusion among the British ranks.
  3. Battle Dynamics:

    • The Americans utilized hit-and-run tactics, leveraging their knowledge of the terrain to maximum advantage. They engaged in skirmishing, using the cover of the dense woods and the bridge to fire on the advancing British and Hessian troops.
    • The British, after recovering from the initial surprise, launched a coordinated counterattack. Hessian forces, known for their discipline and effectiveness in close combat, played a crucial role in pushing back the American skirmishers.
  4. Intense Fighting:

    • The fighting at Cooch’s Bridge was intense, with both sides exchanging heavy musket fire. The Americans, outnumbered and facing superior firepower, gradually retreated in the face of the determined British and Hessian advance.
    • Despite the retreat, Maxwell’s forces continued to harass the British, inflicting additional casualties and delaying their progress.
  5. Outcome:

    • By the end of the day, the British had secured the bridge and cleared the area of American forces. The skirmish, while relatively small in scale, demonstrated the effectiveness of American light infantry tactics and their ability to challenge British movements.

Aftermath and Impact:

  1. Casualties:

    • The battle resulted in relatively light casualties compared to larger engagements. American losses were estimated at around 30-40 killed, wounded, or captured. British and Hessian casualties were similar, with around 20-30 men killed or wounded.
  2. Tactical Implications:

    • The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge delayed the British advance, providing General Washington with additional time to prepare defensive positions along the Brandywine River.
    • The skirmish demonstrated the growing proficiency of American light infantry units and their ability to effectively harass and slow down a larger and better-equipped enemy force.
  3. Historical Significance:

    • The battle is notable for being one of the first documented instances where the Stars and Stripes, the new American flag, was flown in combat.
    • The engagement at Cooch’s Bridge highlighted the strategic importance of reconnaissance, ambush tactics, and the use of terrain in warfare.
  4. Prelude to the Battle of Brandywine:

    • The skirmish at Cooch’s Bridge set the stage for the larger and more significant Battle of Brandywine, fought on September 11, 1777. The delaying actions of Maxwell’s forces contributed to Washington’s efforts to confront Howe’s army and defend Philadelphia.


The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge remains a notable event in the American Revolutionary War, illustrating the tactical ingenuity and resilience of American forces in their fight for independence.

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