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Backstory extras:
Battle of Cooch's Bridge given its due

By robin brown, The News Journal
Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Tributes at Cooch's Bridge Battlefield no longer honor only unknown soldiers.

Archaeologist Wade P. Catts studied historic muster logs, pension papers, dispatches, diaries and memoirs, finding many names and accounts disputing earlier views of the battle. "In our time," he said, "the Battle of Cooch's Bridge is often dismissed as a mere skirmish, a prologue to the more important engagements of Brandywine, Paoli and Germantown. Judging by the pension applications, filed by aged veterans in their 70s and 80s, this conclusion is patently false," Catts said. To those who told of a "severe," "sharp" and "bloody" battle, he said, "Cooch's Bridge was no mere skirmish."

Catts was cheered Friday by about 250 people as Pencader Heritage Area Association dedicated a Field of Valor monument and two state markers. Superior Court Judge Richard R. Cooch thanked all who helped with the effort to honor those in the battle on his family land. Tributes included honor guards, gun volleys, taps and speeches.

Identifying all who fought or died there "is nearly impossible," Catts said. There are few records, as George Washington's order a week before the battle drew marksmen from as far as North Carolina and troops from area militia. And the corps Washington assembled dissolved in a month. Still, Catt identified many who fought under Brig. Gen William Maxwell of New Jersey on Sept. 3, 1777:

"Col. Alexander Martin, of North Carolina, destined to be governor of that state; French and Indian War veteran Maj. Francis Gurney of Philadelphia, who was wounded at the battle and later became a trustee of Dickinson College; and Col. William Heth of Virginia, who had already given his right eye at the battle of Quebec for the cause of American liberty. Col. James Dunlap hailed from Carlisle, Pa., and brought with him militia riflemen from that frontier part of the state. A young lieutenant, Derrick Lane of New Jersey, became a leading citizen and founder of Rensselaer County in New York. Perhaps the most noteworthy of all was Virginia Capt. John Marshall, destined to become a chief justice of the United States." vHe named two others injured at Cooch's Bridge, one taken prisoner, and others who survived but were killed later in the war.

Catts concluded about two dozen died in the battle, such as "the unknown corporal and five men 'killed by grapeshot' who died near the bridge" and Capt. Archibald Dallas, "killed near the bridge and mill, and who left a young widow in Morris County, N.J."

Identifying those who fought "is important because it makes this commemoration personal, not an abstract remembrance of our Colonial past," he said. "The names remind us that real people, with lives, families and homes fought here ... so that we can stand here today and do honor to their service."

Amid the applause for Catts, many in the crowd wiped away tears.


Write to robin brown at The News Journal, Box 15505, Wilmington, DE 19850; fax 324-5509; call 324-2856; or e-mail backstory@delawareonline.com

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