ONE OF THE RELICS. - It is said that General Washington and Staff held a council of war on the evening previous to the battle of Brandywine, in the house on the old Harlan property, now belonging to Mr. Allen Ward, in the Milltown, Mill Creek Hundred. The room pointed out for this important conference is little more than ten by twelve feet, and is still in good repair. Although the present owner has erected a substantial brick dwelling adjoining, we presume he intends to preserve this momento of the days of the revolution. The American army was posted in great force at this point, as the British were expected to take the route to Philadelphia, but they changes there course, keeping farther to the north, and the Battle of Brandywine, at Chaddsford, was the result. The house alluded to above, is built of logs, dovetailed together, which are in a remarkably good state of preservation; there are four rooms and a passage on the first floor, and five on the second, with a garret above; the floors are oak, and although they are said to be 112 years old, look as though they might last for a century to come. Attached to the ceiling, in the entry, is a three cornered box, which is of the shape of the military hat worn in the revolution, and it is generally supposed that it may have held the chapeaux of Washington. The descendants of the Harlans may know something of his history, and we have no doubt that they might furnish an interesting chapter in regard to it.
In this post we'll deal with the first of the two issues, the one that probably jumps out at most people first -- Washington held a War Council in Milltown?!? I admit that I had never heard that story before, but I was understandably both intrigued and skeptical. Obviously we know that the Continental Army was encamped near Marshallton for several days, lying in wait for the Biggest Thing That Almost Happened in MCH, the Battle of Red Clay (I hope they wouldn't have called it the Battle of Cuckoldstown). There are even several well-known stories already of Washington meeting with advisers at various locations in the area, ranging in veracity from (in my opinion) the likely (the Hale-Byrnes House), to the questionable (Delcastle Recreation Area), to the dubious (the Council Oak at Brandywine Springs).
There's really no question, though, with Washington being in the area for a few days, that he would have met with his aides and advisors multiple times. The question now is, why would he have done so at the Harlan's house? To answer this, I turned to the closest thing I know to an expert on the subject -- Walt Chiquoine. While maybe not technically an "expert", Walt has done extensive research over the years on the topic of the MCH-related events of early September, 1777. And though he hadn't come across this particular story before, Walt was able to give some valuable insight into what was going on here at the time. Since I don't think I could encapsulate it any better, here's what he had to say:
The Battle of Brandywine was fought on Sept. 11th. The story says Washington held a council of war at this house the night before the battle - that can't be, they were already at Chad's Ford, but he may have been there Sept. 8th. [Not the evening before the battle, but the evening before they left for the battle.] I think that is very credible, although it has to be reasoned out.
The Continentals were entrenched behind Red Clay and Christiana Creeks on Sept. 8th. The Brits made a feint towards the Continental lines, but rather than attack, they marched north and camped along the Limestone Road ridge. The encampment stretched from Carousel Farms to Southwood Road. Washington waited all day for an attack, but then got the reports of the British movements. He was befuddled, and that is evident in his writings. I can imagine that on the evening of Sept. 8th, Washington himself went to see what was going on - he had a reputation for that, some felt he could be reckless. From his HQ in Newport, Washington went to Milltown, perhaps with some senior staff, to meet with junior officers who were right under the nose of Cornwallis' light infantry. Can't believe he would bring his generals here for a council of war, it's more likely that he returned to Newport to hold that full council.
Late that night of Sept. 8th, Washington and his council made the decision to abandon their position and march towards Chad's Ford. Sources say that they departed about 2 AM on Sept. 9th and marched to the Brandywine. In Washington's own words of Sept. 9th to the President of Congress, he says "Upon reconnoitering their Situation, it appeared probable, that they only meant to amuse us...while their real intention was to march by our Right..." It has never been so stated, but I think this story suggests it was Washington himself who did the "reconnoitering". It fits his character, and I'm inclined to believe it.So to sum it up very briefly, the British were encamped along Limestone Road from just above Milltown all the way to Hockessin. Washington was confused as to what they were doing and it wouldn't have been out of character for him to come take a look for himself. While he was there, it's logical that he would have talked to someone on his staff about the situation, and would have used a house nearby. The most nearbyest were in Milltown.
The last question you may have, which I'll only briefly touch on now, is exactly what house he used, and where it was. For that answer, I'll show again the map section from the top of the post. This is from the 1849 map, with the Harlan House circled. Unfortunately this house is no longer with us, as it sat in the middle of what is now Milltown Road, between the McKennans Church Road and Limestone Road intersections. There is a whole other story about this house and its successor, mentioned in the news story. If the blogging gods are with me, another post will follow in the near future with much more information about this property and the folks who lived there.