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Battle of Monmouth

Originally published by Military History magazine. Published Online: August 21, 2006 
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Skyrockets swam lazily through the spring air and lighted up the sky over British-occupied Philadelphia. Royal Marines, dressed as Nubian slaves, waited on Tory girls in Oriental pavilions, and medieval jousts were held between the so-called Knights of the Blended Rose and the Knights of the Burning Mountain.

It was May 18, 1778, and 'Billy Howe was going home. The pomp and gaiety concealed, if only for one splendid evening, the failure of his mission.

Efforts to quell the rebellion in America were not going well. Sir William Howe had occupied Philadelphia the previous fall, but another British army, under the command of Maj. Gen. John Burgoyne, had been forced to surrender to the rebels at Saratoga, N.Y. The Old Fox, General George Washington, had survived his dread winter at Valley Forge, Pa., and had grown stronger through adversity. His command, which had once dwindled to a mere 5,000 troops, was now thought to be in the neighborhood of 13,000, perhaps larger than Howe's own force in Philadelphia. Worst of all, an alliance had been concluded between King Louis XVI and the Continental Congress. France, inveterate enemy of Great Britain, would soon be entering the contest on the side of the rebels.

So Sir William was glad to be done with this war. As the smoke from the last fireworks drifted away, his successor, Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, was left alone with the perplexities of his new command.

Orders had arrived from London. Clinton was to leave Philadelphia and withdraw to New York City. The British had determined that there simply was not enough manpower to hold both cities. And of the two, New York could be more readily supplied by sea, whereas the mouth of the Delaware River could be blockaded by a French naval force, cutting off Philadelphia.

Clinton, however, was worried about what might happen to the many Tory Loyalists in Philadelphia if he abandoned them to the rebels. Admiral Richard Howe, Sir William's brother and commander of King George III's fleet in America, did not have enough transport to evacuate soldiers and civilians alike in a single trip. Clinton therefore decided to send some 3,000 Tories to New York by sea, along with two regiments of mercenaries from the German margravate of Anspach. The balance of his command would march through New Jersey to rendezvous with Black Dick Howe's fleet near South Amboy. From there, they would be transported two miles across the mouth of the Raritan River to the safety of Staten Island.

It wasn't long before Washington's spies in Philadelphia learned of Clinton's plan. An overland trek would present the Colonials with an excellent chance of hitting the king's men in flank. Another decisive American victory coming on the heels of Saratoga could be the knockout blow of the war — and, for the first time, Washington had enough men to land that blow.

At 3 o'clock in the morning on June 18, Clinton's evacuation of Philadelphia began. The Carlisle Commission left the city with his army, having failed in its mission to negotiate an end to the war. The commission had offered the Americans everything short of independence itself, but the new alliance with France had made its overtures look merely desperate. The war would go on.

Clinton's army was a formidable panoply of professionals: two battalions of tall Grenadiers in towering bearskin caps; Hessians in blue, with their own Grenadiers in mitered caps with brass facings and their fierce, bearded JŠgers in forest green; Black Watch Highlanders; the storied Coldstream Guard; two regiments of Light Dragoons; and among the many Tory volunteers, Major John Graves Simcoe with his Queen's Rangers, in green and black.

Opposing that array on the opposite shore of the Delaware were no more than 1,000 rebel militia — the Jersey Blues, under Colonel Philemon Dickinson. But Washington and his Continental Army, breaking camp in Valley Forge, would soon be crossing the river as well.

Some have faulted Washington for not striking at the British during the seven hours they spent crossing the Delaware in flat-bottom boats and reassembling on the Jersey shore. His own army was not yet fully reassembled at that time, however, and he was surrounded by officers who doubted the wisdom of striking at all.

On June 17, the day before Clinton moved, Washington had called a council of war. Quartermaster Nathanael Greene and Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne urged that the retiring enemy be engaged, but Maj. Gen. Charles Lee, Washington's senior subordinate, thought not. He had no confidence in the fighting abilities of the men he commanded, and because of his prior service in the British army, his opinion carried much weight among Washington's junior officers.

Lee, however, had not been present at Valley Forge to witness the hardships those men had endured, nor the intense drilling they had undergone under the tutelage of Prussian Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Lee had been captured at Basking Ridge, N.J., in the fall of 1776 by a troop of the 16th Dragoons, a regiment he had once commanded in Portugal. He then languished under comfortable house arrest in New York until his release in a prisoner exchange in March 1778. Given Lee's friendly relations with his British captors and his unceasing criticism of Washington's generalship, there has always been a lingering suspicion about Lee's motives in the campaign that was to follow.

Unable to win a consensus for a major engagement, Washington sent out Colonel Stephen Moylan's 4th Continental Dragoons to follow and harass Clinton. They would be joined by Brig. Gen. William Maxwell's New Jersey militia and Colonel Daniel Morgan's Rangers. Those three, along with Dickinson, would have as their objective to give the enemy some annoyance by destroying bridges, felling trees across roads and filling up wells with stones.

After determining the most likely route of the British march — across New Jersey by way of Haddonfield, Mount Holly, Crosswicks, Allentown and Cranbury — Washington planned to cross the Schuylkill River at Swede's Ford, then go east to the Crooked Billet Tavern, head north to Doyleston, and then east again to cross the Delaware at Coryell's Ferry. He could then swing through Hopewell and Kingston. If Washington beat Clinton to Cranbury, the rebels would be able to occupy the high ground above the village. Although they had farther to go than the king's men to reach Cranbury, the Continentals would be traveling lighter and faster than the British and Hessian soldiers in their wool uniforms, who panted beneath packs weighing anywhere from 60 to 100 pounds. Moreover, the middle of Clinton's line of march would have no fewer than 1,500 wagons.

No battle would ever be fought at Cranbury, however. Clinton had heard a rumor that Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, victor of Saratoga, was moving south to join Washington. The rumor was false, but Clinton, afraid of crossing the Raritan with his flank exposed to Gates, veered off to the northeast toward Sandy Hook.

By avoiding an imagined threat, Clinton exposed himself to a real one. Until it reached Allentown, his army had advanced on two roads running more or less parallel, with Lt. Gen. Charles Lord Cornwallis in command of the westernmost column, acting as a shield for the baggage train, and Hessian Maj. Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen with his division and the train itself moving along the eastern road. But there was only one road to Sandy Hook. The army would have to move in a single column — with Knyphausen leading, followed by a baggage train strung out over 12 miles, and Cornwallis bringing up the rear. In the first six days, the British covered only 30 miles, while the Continentals had marched 57.

On June 24, while Clinton was still reordering his army at Allentown, Washington held a council of war at Hopewell, a few miles west of Cranbury. Once again, Lee argued for avoiding battle, warning that if the Americans lost, it might jeopardize the new alliance with France. A compromise resulted. A 1,500-man detachment from the main body, commanded by Brig. Gen. Charles Scott, would be sent ahead to harass the British. As an afterthought, Dan Morgan and his Rangers were ordered to hang on the enemy's right.

On June 25, Washington moved to Kingston. There he decided to detach another 1,000 men from Wayne's command. Lee was offered command of this advance guard, but he declined. Washington then turned to Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, who was only 20 years old. Lafayette eagerly accepted. Washington's young staff officer, Alexander Hamilton, was dispatched to assist him. They met near Robin's Tavern, some eight miles from Allentown, and Hamilton reported that the British were marching toward Monmouth Court House.

The marquis' command was short-lived. The combined force was now composed of some 6,000 troops — about half the size of Washington's entire army when it had crossed at Coryell's Ferry. When this dawned on Lee, he decided that the command was not something to be sniffed at after all, and he demanded that he replace Lafayette, whom he had referred to as the little French boy. Washington felt he had no choice, and Lee galloped down toward Robin's Tavern.

For days, the temperature had stood above 90 degrees. Violent evening thunderstorms had served only to churn the dusty roads to muck, and the mosquito-bitten, exhausted soldiers struggled on in the stifling, humid air. Washington decided to abandon all his heavy baggage and steal a march on Clinton in the cool of the night. By the morning of the 26th, he had reached Cranbury, but his forces had dispersed so widely in the darkness that Hamilton wrote, We are entirely at a loss where the Army is.

One thing was certain: The two armies were so close to each other that a fight could break out at any time. Washington therefore sent Lafayette with the men still directly under his command east to join Lee at Englishtown, which was only about five miles from Monmouth Court House (present-day Freehold), where Clinton had encamped. Lee's advance guard was further reinforced by the rest of Scott's brigade and that of James Mitchell Varnum. But even with the additional troops, Lee had no stomach for the fray.

On Saturday, June 27, Washington summoned Lee to his headquarters at Penelopen (presently called Manalapan), a little village a few miles south of Englishtown. There, in the presence of Lafayette, Wayne, Maxwell and Scott, he ordered Lee to attack the British before they got away from Monmouth Court House. The others eagerly awaited Lee's plans. None came. At midnight, Washington dispatched a courier ordering Lee to have Philemon Dickinson make contact with the enemy as soon as possible. Lee grudgingly passed the order on to Dickinson, but later, at 4 a.m., Lafayette entered Lee's tent and discovered that he had issued no orders in support of Dickinson.

The British, meanwhile, were already preparing to march. Knyphausen was taking to the road to Sandy Hook, and Cornwallis' division, nearer the courthouse itself, would soon be forming ranks to follow.

As the stars faded, Dickinson stood on a hill overlooking the road to Monmouth Court House, with the Tennent Church at his back. In front of him, a wooden bridge crossed the marshy West Ravine, which carried the north branch of Wemrock Creek into the south branch. Beyond it, to the south and right, was Comb's Hill. Next along the road was the sluggish Middle Ravine, crossed only by a crude causeway. When the road finally came into the village, it merged with the road from Allentown, which could then be taken north to Briar Hill. Before reaching Briar Hill, however, that road branched off into the road to Middletown and Sandy Hook. Farther on the way to Briar Hill was the East Ravine, part of McGellaird Brook, which would form the northern border for most of the battle to come.

Dickinson reported Knyphausen's movement to both Lee and Washington as early as 5 a.m. He then dispatched a scouting party under Colonel William Grayson, which advanced about a half mile beyond Tennent Church before Grayson saw firing, and a party of militia retreating from the enemy. The longest single battle of the American Revolution was just beginning.

A number of Dickinson's men who were posted by the West Ravine ahead of the scouting party had encountered a British flanking party detached by Cornwallis. Grayson sent a regiment with a single cannon across the bridge, and the British retired in good order.

In the meantime, Washington had received notice from Dickinson of Knyphausen's movement. He immediately ordered his men to drop their packs by the roadside, march to Englishtown and join Lee, who was once again exhorted by courier to press the attack. It was 7 a.m., and the temperature had already reached 80 degrees.

Lee halted his leisurely advance from Englishtown at 8 o'clock, just before arriving at the Tennent Church. News of the opening skirmish had reached him. Some reports claimed that the British were in retreat, but the flanking party seems to have convinced Dickinson that the British were advancing. In the confusion, the brigades of Scott and Varnum first crossed and then recrossed the bridge over the West Ravine, not knowing whether to attack or withdraw. Lee, who had never liked Dickinson, did accept the report of Colonel John Laurence, who claimed that the entire British army was definitely moving onto the road. After wasting an hour considering the matter, Lee had finally made up his mind to fight, but he had neither reconnoitered the field nor drawn up even the sketchiest battle plan, and when he ordered his troops to deploy, they spilled off the road in all directions, picking whatever terrain seemed to suit them.

Believing that there was no more than a holding force of some 2,000 men left at the courthouse, Lee ordered Wayne, joined by Lt. Col. Eleazar Oswald's artillery and preceded by Colonel Richard Butler's Pennsylvanians, to advance toward Briar Hill. Just past the East Ravine, Butler ran into the Queen's Rangers, coming at him full-tilt with sabers drawn. A ragged volley rang out, green-coated Tories tumbled from their saddles, and the Rangers withdrew.

Lee then heard a report that the Rangers were retreating toward the Middletown road, along with all of Cornwallis' division. Exulting, the general led his men across the East Ravine and formed up on the opposite rim. Intending to leave Scotch Willie Maxwell's troops as a reserve on Briar Hill, Lee planned to circle north and cut off Cornwallis before he could close up with the rest of Clinton's force. Word of that plan was sent to Washington.

Clinton, observing Lee's advance, erroneously concluded that his baggage train was about to be ambushed. He then did the right thing for the wrong reason — he started back toward the courthouse with most of his cavalry and several other regiments, including his Grenadiers and Coldstream Guards, while Lee continued his now pointless encircling movement. Lafayette, with three regiments and some artillery from Wayne's vanguard, was ordered toward the courthouse to close the bottom of a trap that no longer existed.

Since Lee had failed to inform all his subordinates of his plan, an already confusing engagement degenerated into outright chaos. When he finally saw the British 3rd, 4th and 5th brigades advancing over Briar Hill, Lee ordered Maxwell and Scott to line their troops up to face them. When Oswald's artillerymen were sent back to replenish their ammunition, however, other Continental troops, including Scott's and Maxwell's, mistook their retirement for an ordered retreat. Scott also thought that Lafayette was retreating and began withdrawing his own men to the western side of the East Ravine. That left Grayson isolated, and he, too, decided to withdraw to protect himself. Like an avalanche started by a few loose stones, the entire American line began to disintegrate as Lafayette, having been informed that Scott had retired, began to fall back.

Clinton now saw his chance. Ordering Knyphausen to halt, he brought up reinforcements. With 3,000 troops heading toward the courthouse, Cornwallis was ordered to attack immediately with the soldiers at hand and turn the Yankee retreat into a rout.

The Redcoats swarmed over abandoned Yankee positions by Briar Hill. Learning of that, Lee abandoned his feckless attempt at encirclement, and by 1:30 p.m. he had ordered a retreat. At first, he thought about rallying his men in the streets of Monmouth Court House itself, until he discovered that the houses were built of wood — not stone as originally supposed — and could easily be set aflame by enemy fire. He then consulted with his French engineer, Louis Duportail. Duportail pointed out a slight ridge about a mile or so from Monmouth Court House, near the present Catholic cemetery. Perhaps a stand could be made there. Again, though, Lee seems to have been unable to get the word of the plan to his subordinates. So the retreat continued, despite the fact that Lee still had more than 3,000 men, and only 1,500 to 2,500 of the king's men had actually arrived on the scene.

Washington, meanwhile, had heard the distant gunfire at about 1 p.m. and had received Lee's dispatch announcing his plan to encircle the enemy. As the commander in chief approached the bridge at the West Ravine about an hour later, he thought all was going well — until a terrified young fifer came down the road, babbling of disaster. His story was soon confirmed by companies and then whole regiments of sullen soldiers slogging down the road, some falling out and fainting from the murderous heat.

An astonished Washington questioned every officer he could find as to why the army was retreating. None could give a coherent answer. At last, down the road came the lanky, dust-covered figure of Charles Lee.

There are many versions of just what was said, but for once the Virginia gentleman seems to have lost his aristocratic reserve. General Scott, himself given to profanity, reported that Washington swore at Lee until the leaves shook on the trees. Another version has him merely saying, doubtless with a deadly glare, I desire to know, sir, what is the reason — whence arises this disorder and confusion. All witnesses agreed, however, that his ire reduced Lee to an unintelligible stammer.

Washington then turned and galloped up and down the lines of thirsty, bedraggled men. He was mounted on a great white charger, and the determination on his face could be easily read by all. Lafayette never forgot it: His presence stopped the retreat…his fine appearance on horseback, his calm courage, roused to animation by the vexations of the morning, gave him the air best calculated to excite enthusiasm….I thought then, as now, that never had I beheld so superb a man.

Washington charged across the bridge at the West Ravine and turned around the last two regiments in the line of retreat. Those two units, Colonel Walter Stewart's 13th Pennsylvania Regiment and Nathaniel Ramsay's 3rd Maryland Regiment, had just fallen out on the north side of the road when they were attacked by a raiding party of the 16th and 17th Light Dragoons. Stewart was wounded and carried from the field. Ramsay was charged head-on by a dragoon wielding a pistol. Ramsay cut the man down with his sword, swung himself into the dragoon's empty saddle and galloped out in front of the enemy line, challenging the entire British army. He was shortly overwhelmed and taken prisoner but later was quietly pardoned and released by Clinton, in recognition of his remarkable courage.

As the Marylanders and Pennsylvanians began to waver, Washington sent in Varnum's brigade and Oswald with six artillery pieces. Four more pieces were then summoned, and Henry Knox, Washington's squat, scholarly artillery chief, came up to take charge of them. Finally, Henry Livingston's 4th New York arrived, taking up position with Varnum behind a sheltering hedge. Thus the first Yankee line of battle, running between the West and Middle ravines, was composed of Ramsay and Stewart to the north of the road with Varnum and Livingston behind the hedge to the south.

Just behind that line, Washington placed Wayne's division on the north bank of the West Ravine. To the rear and left of it was the division of William Alexander, who claimed a British earldom through his father's support for the House of Stewart and who insisted on being addressed as Lord Stirling. To the rear and right was Nathanael Greene. A reserve under Lafayette formed the final line.

Lee seems to have performed but one positive service after Washington's arrival. He was given permission to escort the battered regiments of Stewart and Ramsay back to Englishtown, where they could rest and be re-formed.

The Continental artillery was cleverly positioned on both wings of the field, where it could enfilade a British advance from opposite directions. Especially deadly would be the fire from Comb's Hill, a point Greene had taken note of earlier that day during Lee's retreat. Its crown now bristled with six big guns under the capable command of another French volunteer, Knox's adjutant, the Chevalier de Maudit du Plessis. As the firing continued, Varnum's exhausted brigade was withdrawn to the rear and replaced with Wayne's division.

Clinton and Cornwallis, emboldened by the earlier American retreat, decided to press the attack. The 42nd Foot, the famed Black Watch, would lead the way against Lord Stirling on the American left. But a Yankee battery of 12 big guns under the command of Edward Carrington, extending from those on Comb's Hill, opened on the Highlanders with such fury that they were forced to fall back. The British then brought up some guns of their own, and an artillery duel broke out.

The British officers were startled to see the Americans turn around and fight with such calm deliberation when only an hour or so before they appeared to be a defeated mob. Steuben, who witnessed Stirling's men stand firmly before the onslaught, must have been gratified. Here was the reward for his exertions at Valley Forge.

Washington, accompanied by Steuben, rode up and down Stirling's line, half-hidden by the battle smoke. It was Washington's only protection — sometimes he was seen only 30 to 40 feet from the enemy. Before the day was out, his great white charger would die of exhaustion, to be replaced by a chestnut mare.

Just as it appeared that Stirling's division might buckle from repeated assaults, Colonel Joseph Cilly with two regiments of New Hampshiremen and some Virginians — a total of about 1,000 fresh troops — emerged from the woods nearby and pounced upon the extreme right of the British line, whose soldiers fell back in surprise. Cilly was accompanied by Lt. Col. Aaron Burr, who urged his men forward across a marsh and up a hill in a mad dash. Falling from the saddle of his injured horse, Burr begged to be permitted to continue the counterattack, but Washington called it off.

Clinton, having failed to break the Yankee left, now decided to try the right. Lord Cornwallis would personally command the assault. It would be spearheaded by Grenadiers under Sir John Wrottsley and Scots Foot Guards under Cosmo Gordon and supported by the Coldstream Guards and Hessian Grenadiers.

The king's men moved into the crossfire of Yankee artillery. According to one story, a single round from Comb's Hill knocked the muskets out of the hands of soldiers from an entire British platoon as it zoomed across their straight and steady path. In front, Greene's muskets blazed forth. Five British officers, including the colonel in command of the Coldstream Guards, were shot down, along with a heap of their men. Cornwallis fell back, his soldiers black with powder and dazed from the heat — now well over 100 degrees.

Meanwhile, as Clinton's attack on Stirling faded, Wayne had joined in the pursuit of the withdrawing Redcoats, charging all the way across the Middle Ravine until forced back by a wall of fire. He retired once again to the hedge, which stood by an orchard near the Tennent parsonage. It was the strongest position in the American line — to get to Wayne, the British would have to assault a concealed enemy across the 100-yard Middle Ravine.

Clinton, loath to break off the engagement, ordered an assault against the hedgerow. Light infantry, Grenadiers and dragoons advanced to within 40 yards of Wayne's position, only to be thrown back by a volley from 1,000 muskets. They re-formed and rolled forward, drums beating, only to be stopped again.

It took the shaken British an hour to dress their ranks and prepare for a third assault. The Americans could hear Lt. Col. Henry Monckton, commander of the 45th Regiment of Foot's 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers, as he urged them on: Forward to the charge, my brave Grenadiers! Wayne calmly told his own men: Steady! Steady! Wait for the word — then pick out the king birds.

At 40 yards' range, a great moan went up as musket balls tore through the splendidly uniformed soldiers, and the whole British line crumpled. Among the king birds was a giant British sergeant who stood 7 feet 4 inches. He proved too easy a target to miss.

Maxwell's New Jersey militia and Scott's Virginians now came to Wayne's support as the Colonials' musketry reached a crescendo. Monckton fell so close to the hedge that some rebels sought to retrieve his body, along with the standard of his battalion, and a macabre tug of war over the colonel's corpse ensued with some nearby Grenadiers.

Yet a fourth attack ended in failure for the British, after a flurry of hand-to-hand combat along the hedge. Monckton's body was eventually dragged back to the American lines (it lies buried to this day in the cemetery of the Tennent Church). The British, however, managed to work their way around both flanks of the hedge, compelling Wayne to fall back in good order.

It was late in the day, but the fighting blood of both commanders was still up. The usually phlegmatic Clinton had been observed dashing about the field on horseback like a Newgate jockey, as one eyewitness put it. Perhaps encouraged by Wayne's withdrawal, he ordered yet another assault on Stirling's flank by the Queen's Rangers and his Light Infantry, but realizing that his men were exhausted, he called it off at the last minute.

As for Washington, he was trying to round up enough fresh troops to put together some sort of counterattack. He came up with Brig. Gen. William Woodford's Virginians and Colonel Thomas Clark's North Carolinians, along with Enoch Poor's brigade. The British had now withdrawn east of the Middle Ravine, where they occupied a strong position with both their flanks anchored in marshland, but the Continental commander in chief was willing to gamble on attacking both flanks. By the time his pitiably weak force was organized and marched into position, however, the light had failed and the attack was canceled. The cannonade persisted in the smoldering dusk, but the Battle of Monmouth was over.

Washington walked alone amid the ruins of the battlefield. Beneath an old oak tree he saw Lafayette, in fitful repose without a blanket. Tenderly, Washington knelt beside the young marquis and, drawing his dusty cloak around them both, fell fast asleep.

Both sides had been worn out as much by heat and thirst as battle. One story is told of a Redcoat who happened upon a pool of water and, falling upon his face, drank until his insides burst.

Clinton allowed his men to bivouac on the field for a few hours. Then they were silently awakened by their officers and at midnight stole away to join Knyphausen, who had advanced to a place called Nut Swamp on the road to Middletown. By morning, there was a gap of six hours between the two armies. With another day of blistering heat ahead and his own soldiers still weary from their long battle the day before, Washington decided not to try to close it.

Both sides had fought bravely, and neither had surrendered the field. The battle ended only with sunset and mutual exhaustion. Clinton, in command of the only significant British fighting force in the 13 colonies, could have lost the war that afternoon, but he made good his escape in spite of everything. By 10 a.m. on June 29, he was in Middletown. On the 30th, he reached Sandy Hook, and by July 5, Howe's transports had brought him to New York. He had averted a catastrophe by just six days — on the 11th, Vice Adm. Hector comte d'Estaing arrived off Sandy Hook with the French fleet, looking for him.

Sir Henry Clinton later maintained in his memoirs that he could have destroyed the Continental Army in short order if Lee had not had the good sense to retreat when he did. Perhaps. But having scattered the enemy, there really was no reason for Clinton to press the attack. Privately, he criticized his subordinates for their excessive zeal on the battlefield. He could have said the same about his own behavior.

As a leader of men, Washington was never more inspiring than at Monmouth, but his generalship left something to be desired. Along with Lee, he is to be blamed for committing the army without a battle plan and for failing to reconnoiter the terrain. Once the battle began, Washington did not exploit his full potential — for instance, he seems to have completely forgotten about Dan Morgan and his Rangers, who were left unemployed on the enemy's right flank throughout the entire engagement. Undoubtedly Washington's gravest mistake, however, was trusting Charles Lee.

The Americans reported 69 killed, 161 wounded and 130 missing. Clinton admitted to 65 killed, 170 wounded, 64 missing and another 59 dead from heatstroke, which may also account for 37 of the missing Americans. In contradiction to Clinton's statistics, Washington claimed to have buried 249 of the enemy. Some historians have placed total British casualties as high as 1,200 — about a quarter of those actually engaged. In addition, it was reported that 136 British and 440 Hessian deserters had made their way into American lines before the campaign was over.

A series of acerbic letters between Lee and Washington ended in a court-martial proceeding at Lee's request. He was charged with disobeying orders, running from the enemy and showing disrespect to his superior. Lee was found guilty on all counts and suspended from his command for a year by the Continental Congress. He never commanded again and died, still protesting his innocence, in a boardinghouse in Philadelphia on October 5, 1782.

The second anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was celebrated by the Continental Army in camp at New Brunswick. Washington ordered a feu de joie — a grand musketry salute — and extra rations of rum for all ranks. As they passed in review before him wearing sprigs of green, the ancient symbol of hope, in their cocked hats, Washington's men could take pride in having given a good account of themselves. Monmouth was no ambush like Trenton, no rear-guard action like Princeton. It was a daylong pitched battle, fought against the vaunted Redcoats and the best mercenaries the king's coin could buy. The Continentals were real soldiers now.


This article was written by David R. Wade and originally appeared in the June 1998 issue of Military History magazine.

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3 Responses to “Battle of Monmouth”


  1. 1
    Larry Foss says:

    Excellent read. Thank you for preserving our history with the drama of
    the moment. Brave men stood and fought for our freedoms. We must
    never forget their sacrifices. General Lee troubles me, he presents the
    enemy from within, so troublesome in American Politics, hindering wholehearted effort at evil and it's remedy. The courage of Nathaniel
    Ramsay is breathtakingly inspiring.

  2. 2
    Derek says:

    Great article. I visited Monmouth Battlefield Park this past weekend (6/18/11) & saw the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Monmouth. Although it involved only hundreds of re-enactors, not thousands of soldiers as in the original battle, & played over a small field, it did take place on Combs Hill which is the original site of part of the battle. It was quite well done & probably just as hot that day as in 1778. I commend the re-enactors for their enthusiasm & attention to historical detail. I recommend any Revolutionary War or military history enthusiast to visit the Monmouth battlefield in Freehold, NJ.

  3. 3


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