The chapter was organized by Mrs. Harriette Curtis Clark (Mrs. Delaware) at the home of Mrs. F. William Curtis in Newark, Delaware with thirteen women in attendance. It was the fifth chapter to be organized in Delaware.The name Cooch’s Bridge was chosen because all the charter members lived near the site of Delaware’s only Revolutionary War engagement and one-third of them were members of the Cooch family.
A chapter flag was purchased in 1995 and is displayed at all chapter and state meetings. A chapter web page was created and linked to the NSDAR website in 1996.
In 1998 the former Captain William McKennan Chapter of Hockessin, Delaware merged with the chapter. The Captain William McKennan Chapter had been founded in 1948 with members from Cooch’s Bridge.
Pictured Right: President General, Denise Doring VanBuren
Twelve members have served as Delaware State Regents: Miss Eleanor Eugenia Todd, 1922-1925; Ola Worth Cann (Mrs. J. Pearce) 1925-1928; Eleanor Bedford Wilkins Cooch (Mrs. Edward, Sr.), 1928-1932; Louise Webber Dayett (Mrs. J. Irwin), 1946-1947; Pauline Kimball Skinner (Mrs. Glenn S.), 1947-1950; Miss Gallaher, 1968-1971; Mrs. Wolf, 1977-1980; Mary Ann Shaver Llewellyn (Mrs. Winfield C.), 1983-1986; Miss Hancock, 1989-1992; Joyce Jones Franks (Mrs. Roger G.E.), 1998-2001; Priscilla Pearce Zaller (Mrs. Kurt) 2001-2002; Saundra Moore Chapman (Mrs. Paul Jeffrey), 2003-2007; Susan Meade-Beachell, 2016-2019.
ABOUT COOCH’S BRIDGE
The battlefield at Cooch’s Bridge is one of Delaware’s rare historic places. Indeed, the battlefield is one-of-a-kind in the state. No where else in the state did American soldiers meet British and Hessian troops in battle in large numbers. American soldiers sacrificed their lives on this field for a cause and a country, and all Americans are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice. These soldiers – approximately 24 in number – lie in unmarked graves on the battlefield. The precise locations of those graves are unknown. The battlefield is a legacy to their sacrifice and is hallowed ground.
The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge was fought on September 3, 1777. Fighting here was described by American, British, and Hessian participants as “heavy,” “severe,” “sharp,” and “bloody.” The “British” unit most heavily engaged was not British at all but instead was the Hessian Field Jäger Corps, a well-trained, elite unit. Their opponents at Cooch’s Bridge were an ad hoc formation of American “light infantry,” composed of Continentals from New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, militia from Delaware and Pennsylvania, and volunteers under the command of New Jersey Brigadier General William Maxwell. Maxwell established his headquarters and camp at Cooch’s Mill a few days before the battle.
The American Light Infantry Corps should have numbered a little over 1,000 officers and men, but probably did not exceed 800 effectives. From the day it was formed, the composition and strength of the Corps was in a state of flux, with units – particularly militia companies – being added frequently. The nine brigades forming the Main army were ordered to furnish “…men that are good marksmen…” Recognizing that the Light Corps was a temporary formation, General George Washington ordered that the Corps be composed of men “…as may be depended upon.”
The Light Corps was formed only one week before the battle and existed for about one month. While the Light Corps was itself new, many of the individual officers and men had previous combat experience. Their role was to gather intelligence, harass the British in their movements, and act as an advanced guard for the Americans. The American light infantry had no intention of fighting a pitched battle against the advancing British army, but sought only to delay. After fighting at Cooch’s Bridge, the Battle of Brandywine, and the Battle of the Clouds, the formation was dissolved in late September 1777.
Early on the morning of September 3, the British army advanced from the Head of Elk towards Aiken’s Tavern (today’s Glasgow). The advance guard was under the command of Hessian Captain Johann Ewald, an outstanding officer who excelled at small unit combat and light infantry fighting. Ewald moved from Aiken’s Tavern north on the Newark Road towards Cooch’s Bridge with six mounted jäger. Around 8AM at about half mile north along the road, Ewald’s command was ambushed by point-blank musket or rifle fire from a hedge, and all six of his men were either killed or wounded.
Ewald attacked this American force with his company. The battle here between the jäger and the light infantry was spirited, but the Americans eventually quit this position, or were driven from it according to Hessian accounts.
The Americans fell back and formed a second line in the woods and faced the Hessians again. Hessian officer Lt. Colonel Ludwig von Wurmb reported that the Americans in the second line “defended themselves obstinately,” but were outflanked in hand-to-hand fighting. The action here seems to have been heated. Lt. Colonel von Wurmb was described as “continuously in front of the jäger, encouraging them in every way, both by actions and by words.” Outflanked by the Hessian attack and engaged in hand-to-hand combat, the American second line exhausted its ammunition and was forced to withdraw.
By this time, the sound and intensity of the firing was increasing, so that Sir William Howe, commander of the British Army, determined to send in two battalions of British light infantry – elite troops – in an attempt to outflank Maxwell’s line. The 1st Light Infantry Battalion moved to the east to cut off the American line of retreat but, as one British officer complained, the movement of the battalion was “prevented by an impassable morass, which the guide was not acquainted with.” It is likely that the “impassable morass” is in the present location of Sunset Lake, a mill pond created in the nineteenth century, and not present at the time of the battle. The 2nd Light Infantry Battalion moved to the west and while it, too, encountered a swampy area, it was able to continue its advance.
The Americans withdrew and formed a third defensive line, this time to the east, passing the Cooch House and Mill and crossing Christiana Creek at Cooch’s Bridge. Further south, General Howe, concerned that the firing was still heavy and that his two flanking light infantry battalions were not yet engaged, sent forward more elite soldiers – two battalions of British grenadiers and cannon to support the jäger. In the combined force of Hessian jäger, British light infantry and British grenadiers, Howe was prepared to commit approximately 3,000 men to the fight; a force several times larger than Maxwell’s entire corps.
The final phase of the battle was fought in the vicinity of the Cooch House and at Cooch’s Bridge. This third American line held for a time, but the Hessians, now reinforced by the 2nd British Light Infantry, forced the Continentals back from the bridge. The jäger’s 1-lbs. and 3-lbs. guns apparently came into play during the fight at the bridge. These cannons were loaded with grape shot which was used to deadly effect. British officer Francis Downman noted that he saw “a corporal and five men lying near together, killed by grape shot.” The British light infantry stormed across the bridge, taking a few casualties in the process.
Their ammunition expended, facing a large enemy force with artillery, and unsupported by the rest of the American army, Maxwell’s troops withdrew, moving to the east and into thick woods, then toward the village of Christiana. Most participants agree that the engagement had lasted about two or three hours. The British controlled the field, holding the bridge and the main road to Philadelphia.
Following the battle the British Army occupied the area from Rittenhouse Park and Iron Hill to Aikens’ Tavern (Glasgow). British General Charles Cornwallis established his headquarters at the Cooch House. The local grist mills of Thomas Cooch and Andrew Fisher were used to provide flour to the Crown’s troops. The British and Hessians encamped in the area for five days and on September 8 marched north through Newark. When they left their camps, the British burned the Cooch Mill. On September 11, 1777 the two armies met again at the Battle of Brandywine.
Casualty reports for the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge are difficult to interpret and are likely under-reported. British and German accounts stated their losses as three killed and 40 wounded. American casualties as reported by the British ranged from 20 to 50 or more. American wounded were carried from the field, but the dead remained to be buried by the British. Among the American officers engaged in the battle were Virginian John Marshall (future United States Chief Justice), Thomas Duff and Samuel Patteson of Delaware, Alexander Martin (later Governor of North Carolina), Derek Lane of New Jersey (later of Rensselaer New York), and Pennsylvanian merchant Francis Gurney (trustee of Dickinson College).
The Cooch Property is a remarkable tract with a remarkable story. Thomas Cooch, Sr. and his wife and two children emigrated from England to Delaware in 1746. He purchased several hundred acres of land around Iron Hill and built a home next to the bridge over the Christina Creek in 1760. Seven generations of the Cooch family lived in the ancestral home, which has been modified several times. The cultural history of the land encompasses not only resources that are on the land, such as the Cooch House and farm complex, roads, and dams, or those that can be observed in the landscape, such as mill races, fence lines, and the Christina River – but also those items found below ground – the important and fragile archaeological record that provides information about the history of a place not found in written documents. Combined, these elements constitute a rich legacy of Delaware history.
The first formal commemoration of the battlefield took place in 1895, when landowner J. Wilkins Cooch erected a flagpole in his lawn. The Wilmington newspaper, the Evening Journal (1898), described Cooch as “the only man in Delaware who owns his own battlefield.” A few years later in 1901, the Cooch’s Bridge Battlefield Monument was erected by state patriotic societies. Under Lt. Governor Edward W. Cooch, Sr.’s guidance, the monument’s plaque was modified in 1932. Since that time there have been commemorative events held regularly here at Cooch’s Bridge.
The opening engagement of the Philadelphia Campaign, the fighting at Cooch’s Bridge was not a pivotal or turning-point battle of the Revolution. However, to those who fought here, it was more than a skirmish. The battle served to affirm to the British that their invasion and intent to capture Philadelphia would be contested by General George Washington and his army.
- The Cooch’s Bridge Chapter gratefully acknowledges Wade Catts, MA, RPA, for his historical expertise and authorship of this account of the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge.