Battle of Monmouth


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Battle of Monmouth

George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth

Monmouth CourthouseMonmouth, BATTLE OF. Just before the dawn of June 18, 1778, the British began their evacuation of Philadelphia. They crossed the Delaware to Gloucester Point, and that evening encamped around Haddonfield, a few miles southeast from Camden, New Jersey The news of this evacuation reached George Washington, at Valley Forge, before morning. He immediately sent General Maxwell, with his brigade, to cooperate with the New Jersey militia under General Dickinson in retarding the march of the British, who, when they crossed the river, were 17,000 strong in effective men. They marched in two divisions, one under Cornwallis and the other led by Knyphausen. General Arnold, whose wounds kept him from the field, entered Philadelphia with a detachment before the rear-guard of the British had left it. The remainder of the army, under the immediate command of Washington, crossed the Delaware above Trenton and pursued GENERAL CHARLES LEE, who had been exchanged, was now with the army, and persistently opposed all interference with Clinton's march across New Jersey, and found fault with everything.

Clinton had intended to march to New Brunswick and embark his army on Raritan Bay for New York; but, finding Washington in his path, he turned, at Allentown, towards Monmouth, to make his way to Sandy Hook, and thence to New York by water. Washington followed him in a parallel line, prepared to strike him whenever an opportunity should offer, while Clinton wished to avoid a battle, for he was encumbered with baggage-wagons and a host of camp-followers, making his line 12 miles in length. He encamped near the court-house in Freehold, Monmouth co., N. J., on June 27, and there Washington resolved to strike him if he should move the next morning, for it was important to prevent his reaching the advantageous position of Middletown Heights. General Lee was now in command of the advanced corps. Washington ordered him to form a plan of attack, but he omitted to do so, or to give any orders to Wayne, Lafayette, or Maxwell, who called upon him. And when, the next morning (June 28) —a hot Sabbath—Washington was told Clinton was about to move, and ordered Lee to fall upon the British rear, unless there should be grave reasons for not doing so, that officer so tardily obeyed that he allowed his antagonist ample time to prepare for battle.

Monmouth Battle Map

Original 1778 Monmouth Battle Map

When Lee did move, he seemed to have no plan, and by his orders and counter-orders so perplexed his generals that they sent a request to Washington to appear on the field with the main army immediately. And while Wayne was attacking with vigor, with a sure prospect of victory, Lee ordered him to make only a feint. At that moment Clinton changed front, and sent a large force, horse and foot, to attack Wayne. Lafayette, believing there was now a good opportunity to gain the rear of the British, rode quickly up to Lee and asked permission to attempt the movement. He at first refused, but, seeing the earnestness of the marquis, he yielded a little, and ordered him to wheel his column by the right and attack Clinton's left. At the same time he weakened Wayne's detachment by taking three regiments from it to support the right. Then, being apparently disconcerted by a movement of the British, he ordered his right to fall back; and Generals Scott and Maxwell, who were then about to attack, were ordered to retreat. At the same time Lafayette received a similar order, a general retreat began, and the British pursued. In this flight and pursuit Lee showed no disposition to check either party, and the retreat became a disorderly flight. Washington was then pressing forward to the support of Lee, when he was met by the astounding intelligence that the advance division was in full retreat. Lee had sent him no word of this disastrous movement.

The fugitives, falling back upon the main army, might endanger the whole. Washington's indignation was fearfully aroused, and when he met Lee, at the head of the second retreating column, he rode up to him, and, in a tone of withering reproof, he exclaimed, "Sir, I desire to know what is the reason and whence comes this disorder and confusion?" Lee replied sharply, "You know the attack was contrary to my advice and opinion." The chief replied in a tone that indicated the depth of his indignation, "You should not have undertaken the command unless you intended to carry it out." There was no time for altercation, and, wheeling his horse, he hastened to Ramsay and Stewart, in the rear, and soon rallied a greater portion of their regiments, and ordered Oswald to take post on an eminence near, with two guns. These pieces, skillfully handled, soon checked the enemy. Washington's presence inspired the troops with courage, and ten minutes after he appeared the retreat was ended. The troops, lately a fugitive mob, were soon in orderly battle array on an eminence on which General Lord Stirling placed some batteries. The line, then, was commanded on the right by General Greene, and on the left by Stirling. The two armies now confronted each other. The British, about 7,000 strong, were upon a narrow road, bounded by morasses. Their cavalry attempted to turn the American left flank, but were repulsed and disappointed. The regiments of foot came up, when a severe battle occurred with musketry and cannon. The American artillery, under the general direction of Knox, did great execution. For a while the result seemed doubtful, when General Wayne came up with a body of troops and gave victory to the Americans. Colonel Monckton, perceiving that the fate of the conflict depended upon driving Wayne away or capturing him, led his troops to a bayonet charge. So terrible was Wayne's storm of bullets upon them that almost every British officer was slain. Their brave leader was among the killed, as he was pressing forward, waving his sword and shouting to his men. His veterans then retreated, and fell back to the heights occupied by Lee in the morning. The battle ended at twilight, when the wearied armies rested on their weapons, prepared for another conflict at dawn.

Monmouth Battlefield

Monmouth Battlefield

Through the deep sands of the roads, Clinton withdrew his army so silently towards midnight that he was far on his way towards Sandy Hook when the American sentinels discovered his flight in the morning (June 29). Washington did not pursue, and the British escaped to New York. They had lost 1,000 men by desertion while crossing New Jersey, and they left four officers and 245 non-commissioned officers and privates on the field, taking with them many of the wounded. They lost fifty-nine by the terrible heat of the day. More than fifty Americans died from the same cause. The loss of the Americans was 228, killed, wounded, and missing. Many of the latter afterwards returned to the army. Washington marched northward, crossed the Hudson River, and encamped in Westchester county, New York, until late in the autumn. See PITCHER, MOLLY.



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