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Maxwell's Light Infantry

Maxwell's Light Infantry

MAXWELL'S LIGHT INFANTRY. Having detached Colonel Daniel Morgan and his Corps of Rangers to the Northern Army to help defeat the white and native American skirmishers supporting Burgoyne's invasion, Washington on 28 August 1777 ordered the creation of a new formation to take its place. He directed that each of his seven brigades detach 9 officers and 108 enlisted men to form an elite corps of light infantry, and two days later placed this 800-man force under the command of Brigadier General William Maxwell of New Jersey. Washington ordered Maxwell to skirmish in front of Sir William Howe's army as it advanced from Head of Elk, Maryland, toward Philadelphia. On 2 September Washington sent Colonel Charles Armand's four-company partisan corps to join the light infantry and ordered Maxwell to?

Be prepared to give them [the British] as much trouble as you possibly can. You should keep small parties upon every road that you may be sure of the one they take, and always be careful to keep rather upon their left flank, because they cannot in that case cut you off from out main body (Washington, Papers, Vol. 11, pp. 127-128).

The light infantry men fought their first action at Cooch's Bridge, Pennsylvania, on 3 September 1777, but ran out of ammunition and, lacking bayonets, were forced to retreat by a British bayonet charge. They were part of Major General Benjamin Lincoln's division at the battle of Brandywine (11 September 1777), initially posted on the enemy side of Brandywine Creek, and then helped to defend Chadd's Ford. They covered the retreat of the main body of Washington's army, collecting stragglers and the wounded. The corps was disbanded on 25 September, and Maxwell resumed command of the New Jersey Brigade. Reconstituted by 28 September, although now with only 450 men, it was held in reserve during the battle of Germantown on 4 October 1777 and was permanently disbanded shortly thereafter. Maxwell was later acquitted by a court-martial of charges brought by a senior subordinate, Lieutenant Colonel William Heth of Virginia, that he had been drunk at Brandywine.

SEE ALSO Brandywine, Pennsylvania; Cooch's Bridge; Light Infantry; Maxwell, William.


Ward, Harry M. General William Maxwell and the New Jersey Continentals. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Washington, George. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. Vol. 11: August-September 1777. Edited by Philander D. Chase et al. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

                          revised by Harold E. Selesky

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