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On This Day: The American Flag Was Flown in Battle for the First Time

During a 1777 skirmish in Cooch’s Bridge, Delaware, General William Maxwell ordered the flag be raised.

An American flag flies over George Washington and troops at the Battle of Yorktown
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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In 1777, a new flag flew over the heads of Patriot soldiers, attacked by British and Hessian troops. Just three months earlier, the Stars and Stripes had been designed by the Continental Congress, who declared that the new union’s 13 colonies were to be represented by 13 alternating red and white stripes and 13 white stars in a blue field.

Related: Revolutionary War Battles: The Key Conflicts

According to legend, it was Betsy Ross’s own rendition of the flag that took to the skies during this minor battle. Much about the moment remains shrouded by the passage of time, with some historians even dismissing this date as the first flight.

The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, sometimes also called the Battle of Iron Hill, was a minor skirmish between British and Hessian forces and General Maxwell’s light infantry, a group of 1,000 Patriot troops chosen from the main forces as the best of the best. Sadly, even these best men were unable to prevail against the superiorly-trained British forces.

Related: What Happened to the German Mercenaries Who Fought Against the American Revolution?

After about 20 casualties on each side, British troops drove the Americans across the eponymous bridge. A few days later, the forces would meet again at the Battle of Brandywine, where once again, the British would take the day.

Until Valley Forge and its complete revamping of the Continental Army, these defeats would be commonplace for the struggling, straggling American forces. Regardless, their new flag would fly over battle until the final days of the Revolution at the Battle of Yorktown.