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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cooch's Bridge, William Maxwell and Honor

We can note the 235 anniversary on September 3 of the only major action of the Revolutionary War in Delaware, the Battle of Cooch's Bridge (sometimes Cooche's Bridge).


The British had landed at Head of Elk in Maryland on August 25, 1777, following their departure from New York, and moved northward. George Washington put General William Maxwell in command of 700 Continentals and 1000 Pennsylvania and Delaware militia to keep track of enemy movement. They took position on Iron Hill and nearby Cooch's Bridge. Following an ambush of Captain Johann Ewald's Hessian troops by Americans, the Hessians, joined by British Light Infantry and Grenadiers, drove the Americans off Iron Hill towards Cooch's Bridge.  Overwhelmed, and after futile skirmishing, Maxwell was forced to retreat to join the main army at Wilmington. The Americans lost 24 men and officers, the Hessians and British, 3-4 killed.

It's a battle that lets us pause a moment to consider one of the lesser known but nonetheless important American generals, William Maxwell.  He fought at the major actions until the Battle of Springfield, after which he precipitously resigned that same day, June 12,  1780.  Congress accepted his resignation and he was not able to get reinstated.  His 19th century biographer, J.H. Griffith claims the reason for his resignation "has always been a mystery, historically speaking . . . and the only plausible reason given is the fact that his merits had excited jealousy and envy among some of the officers, who boasted a more aristocratic lineage than he could claim.  He served a single term in the New Jersey State Legislature.  So, when one of this class succeeded in obtaining promotion over his head, he felt that he had no other alternative but to resign in order to save his honor and not compromise his manhood."
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