Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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The Struggle at Monmouth. Hot Engagement. Check of the British. Formation of the American Line. The
Enemy beaten back. Fall of General Monekton. The Day over Washington sleeps on the Field.


June 18,

SIR HENRY CLINTON, in pursuance
of his orders from the British min
istry, was about evacuating Philadelphia ;
but so adroitly had he made his prepara
tions, that even on the very day of his
march, his destination and route
were unknown in the American
camp. "As yet," wrote Washington, on
the morning of that day, " I am not fully
ascertained [informed] of the enemy s des
tination ; nor is there wanting a variety
of opinions as to the route they will pur
sue, whether it will be by land or sea, ad
mitting it to be New York."

On the previous day a council of war
was held, in which the question as to the
policy of attacking the British army on

Carlisle for satisfaction. The latter, in a very sensible let
ter, told him that he did not at all think it became him to
answer for his conduct as a public minister to a private
man, and that he thought the national quarrel would be
best decided by Admiral Byron and Comte D Estaing."

its march from Philadelphia (should New
Jersey be the route) was submitted. A


great variety of opinion was entertained,
but most of the officers considered it too
hazardous to make a general attack ; for,
although the Americans had, including

O / i_;

the militia, nearly fourteen thousand men,
and the British numbered less than ten
thousand, the latter w r ere effective troops.
General Lee was opposed to doing any
thing beyond skirmishing with the out-
guards, and harassing the enemy as cir
cumstances would permit. His influence
in the council was great, and he carried
with him many of the other officers. The
decision of the majority was therefore in
accordance with Lee s views.

After the council broke up, however,
Generals Greene, Lafayette, and Wayne,
wrote to Washington, explaining more
fully their opinions, which differed from
those of the majority. They did not do-



clfire in favor of pushing the enemy at
all events to a general action, but they
strongly urged an attack upon their rear
with a large detachment, and such a dis
position of the main body of the army as
to be ready for an engagement should cir
cumstances seem favorable. Washington s


own opinion being in accordance with this
plan, he determined (if the British gave
him an opportunity) to adopt it. He, how
ever, as soon as he was well assured of
Sir Henry Clinton s movement across the
Delaware, sent out General Maxwell with
his brigade to co-operate with the New-
Jersey militia in obstructing the inarch
of the British. In accordance also with
the decision of the council, Washington
ordered a detachment of fifteen hundred
men, under General Scott, to act on the
enemy s left flank and rear, preliminary
to carrying out the more general plan of
attack which he anticipated, in further
ance of his own views, and those of Gen
erals Greene, Wayne, and Lafayette.

Washington now broke up his camp at
Valley Forge, and, crossing the Delaware
at Coryell s ferry, marched with his main
body to Cranberry. Having here learned
that the British were taking the route
toward Monmouth courthouse, he deter
mined to carry out his plan, and ordered
a thousand of his choicest troops under
Brigadier-General Wayne to advance im
mediately, and, having formed a junction
with Maxwell s brigade, the force under
Scott, and the other detachments which
had already been sent forward, to attack
the enemy s rear and flanks.

As General Lee was second in rank, the
whole advanced corps fell under his com-

mand. Lafayette, however, always eao;er


for an opportunity to distinguish himself,
was glad to take advantage of Lee s sup
posed reluctance to execute a plan which
he had so strenuously opposed. Accord
ingly, the young marquis, suggesting to
Washington the probability of Lee s em
barrassment, offered himself as a substi
tute. The commander-in-chief answered
that such an arrangement would be agree
able to him, but that it was necessary to
obtain General Lee s consent, La.fa.v-


ette s desire met with no opposition from
Lee, who immediately resigned the com
mand to him, with an emphatic denunci
ation of the plans of Washington, which
he was sure, he declared, would fail, and
that he was therefore glad to be rid of
any responsibility in their execution.

General Lee, on reflection, however,
repented of the readiness with which he
had granted the request of Lafayette,
and strove to get back his command. He
wrote to Washington, and, acknowledge

o t / o

ing that he had been rash, asked to have
his command restored to him. But the
commander-in-chief declared that he could
not reinstate him without the consent of
Lafayette. Lee appealed to the young
marquis, who said that, as the command
had been yielded to him freely, he was
very reluctant to give it up. Lee, how
ever, becoming urgent, Lafayette finally
consented, provided (as he was now on
his march) he did not come up with the
enemy during that day.

In the meantime, Sir Henry Clinton, on
inarching from Allentown, had changed
the disposition of his army, by placino-
the baggage in advance, under the guard




of Knyphausen and his Hessians, and his
best troops, consisting of the British gren
adiers, light-infantry, and chasseurs of the
line, under the command of Earl Cornwal-
lis, in the rear. Washington, on discov
ering this, found it necessary to strength
en his advanced corps, and immediately
detached Major- General Lee, with two
brigades, to form a junction with Lafay
ette at English town. This nt once set
tled all difficulty between these two offi
cers; as Lee, being the higher in rank,
on being ordered to reinforce the ad
vanced troops, necessarily assumed the
general command. Washington s object,
in sending Lee with the reinforcement,
was, to relieve him of his " uneasiness,"
which was " rather increasing than aba
ting At the same time that I felt for

General Lee s distress of mind," observed
Washington, writing to Lafayette, "I have
had an eye to your wishes, and the deli
cacy of your situation ; and have there
fore obtained a promise from him that,
when he gives you notice of his approach
and command, he will request you to
prosecute any plan you may have already
concerted for the purpose of attacking or
otherwise annoying the enemy."

Washington, in the meantime,
having lightened his march by
leaving his baggage behind, moved on
with the rest of the troops, and encamped
within three miles of Englishtown, where
the advanced corps, now consisting of five
thousand men, under the command of
General Lee, was posted.

Sir Henry Clinton, on reaching Allen-
town, found Washington almost in front;
and, not wishing to hazard a battle, he

June 25.

June 27.

changed his original purpose of marching
his troops to the Karitan, and embarking
them at Brunswick or South Amboy for
New York. He now turned to the right,
and took the road toward Monmouth, with
the intention of proceeding in all haste
to Sandy Hook.

The British, being hindered by their
immense baggage and camp-appurtenan
ces, fagged by their fatiguing marches in
the hot summer weather, and harassed
by the skirmishing of the country militia,
were slow in their movements.
They encamped in a strong po
sition, with their right extending about a
mile and a half beyond Monmouth court
house, and their left along the road from
Allentown to the village of Monmouth.
Their right flank lay on the skirt of a
small wood, while their left was secured
by a very thick one. There w r as a morass
in their rear, and again another, together
with a wood, in their front.

The position of the enemy was deemed
too strong for an attack, and Washington
awaited the moment when they should
begin to march, to commence operations.
He accordingly ordered General Lee to
make his disposition for the assault on
the British rear as soon as they should
get in motion from their present ground.
Lee was directed to keep his troops con
stantly tying upon their arms, in order to
be in readiness at the shortest notice ; for
Sir Henry Clinton had only ten or twelve
miles to march in advance, to reach the
heights of Middletown, where it would be
impossible to attempt anything against
him with a prospect of success. The at
tack, to be made at all, must be made in



the interval of time between his march
from his present strong ground to the
still stronger one beyond. The greatest
alertness was therefore necessary, to seize
upon the critical moment. Washington
not only enjoined this upon Lee, but took
care to secure it on the part of the troops
under his immediate command, which he
kept in reserve at Cranberry, several miles
distant, and was prepared to bring up to
sustain the advanced corps so soon as it
should have begun its attack on the ene-
nry s rear.

Washington was so anxious lest the
British should escape him by decamping
unobserved before the break of day, that
at midnight he sent word to General Lee
to order out a corps of observation. The
New-Jersey militia, under General Dick
inson were accordingly sent forward, to
lie as close as possible to the enemy, in
order to watch their movements. At five

o clock the next morning;, an ex-
Juii6 28

press from Dickinson came into

Washington s camp, with the intelligence
that Sir Henry Clinton s front had begun
to move. The day had no sooner broken,
than General Knyphausen marched with
his long train of baggage and bat-horses,
extending ten or twelve miles along the
narrow road. It was about eiiHit o clock


when Sir Henry Clinton followed with the
rear, composed of the main body of the
army and the choicest troops, under the
immediate command of Lord Cornwallis.
As soon as he received intelligence of
the enemy s march, Washington sent one
of his aids to General Lee, with orders to
move on and attack them, " unless there
should be very powerful reasons to the

contrary." The commander-in-chief liim-
v self, having ordered his men to throw off
their packs and blankets, that they might
march with the greater rapidity and com
fort during that sweltering summer day,
immediately advanced to the support of
Lee, to whom he had sent due notice of
his approach.

General Lee, on receiving Washing
ton s orders, despatched a body of light-
troops in advance to skirmish with the
enemy, while he moved forward with the
brigades of Wayne and Maxwell to sus
tain it. In the course of his march, Lee
received a variety of contradictory re
ports. Now one aid-de-camp rode back
with the intelligence that the main body
of the British was marching to attack
him ; and, again, another brought word
that Sir Henry Clinton had moved off in
precipitation, and left only a covering-
party to protect his retreat! Lee was
obliged to manoeuvre accordingly; and,
skirmishing as he went, he advanced and
retired again and again. At one time,
hoping to find the enemy in small force,
he crossed the bridge over the morass on
his route, in order to attack them ; at an
other, fearing that their main body was
approaching, he rapidly retired, lest he
should be caught in the dangerous posi
tion, with a morass in his rear, and only
a narrow bridge to cross it. While thus
bewildered, Lafayette came up with the
main body of Lee s division, which, when
united with the advanced troops, formed
a force (exclusive of Morgan s corps and
the New-Jersey militia,, then out skirmish
ing) of about four thousand men. Thus
reinforced, Lee pushed forward until he

03 6


[PART n.

reached the plains of Monmouth. on the
edi^e of which, and within the cover of a


wood, he formed his line, that it might
be concealed from the view of the Brit

General Lee, accompanied by Wayne,
now rode out to reconnoitre ; and, from
his own observations, and the intelligence
received from his scouts, he concluded
that the troops of the enemy which he
saw were only a covering-party, and that
there was a sufficient distance between
them and their main body to allow of a
chance to cut them off. Lee formed his
plans accordingly. lie sent off Wayne,
with seven hundred men and two field-
pieces, to attack them in the rear, but not
with such impetuosity as to drive them
either to seek safety by a junction with
their main body in advance, or to cause
reinforcements to be sent to their aid.
Lee himself proposed to take them with
a strong force in front, and strove accord
ingly to carry out his purpose by leading
his men along a short and cross route by
which he expected to intercept the en

Full of confidence in his plan, the gen
eral was riding at the head of his troops,
and hurrying on their march, when he
was accosted by an aid-de-camp of Wash
ington, who rode up for intelligence. Lee
was in high spirits, and his face beamed
with an expression of confident success,
while with a firm tone of voice he told
the aid-de-camp to inform his excellency
that the rear of the enemy was composed
of only fifteen hundred or two thousand
men, and that they did not seem to un
derstand the roads that the route he was

on cut off* two miles of distance; that he
expected to fall in with them, and felt
great certainty of cutting them off; and
that General Wayne and Colonel Butler
were amusing them with a few loose shot
while he was inarching to the attack.

As Wayne approached and prepared to
skirmish with the rear of the enemy, a
party of British dragoons were seen pa
rading as though they were about charg
ing the American light-horsemen in ad
vance, when General Lee s aid-de-camp
rode forward and suggested to the officer
in command of the latter, to appear to
await the attack, and then at the last
moment to retire toward General Wayne
and allow him to receive it. This ma
noeuvre succeeded : the British dragoons
made the charge, and, while in pursuit of
the retreating; American horsemen, came


within the fire of Wayne s troops, when
they were suddenly compelled to wheel
round and gallop back.

General Wayne s men now pushed on
with fixed bayonets, and charged the en
emy with such spirit, that Lee sent word,
in order to check his impetuosity, that lie
(Wayne) was only to feign an attack, or

\ i/ / / o /

otherwise he would spoil his game. Colo
nel Oswald, in command of the artillery,
observing the impression which Wayne s
charge had made upon the British, be
lieved that they were about retreating,
and hurried forward with his two field-
pieces across the morass in front, and,
planting them on some high ground on
the other side, commenced a cannonade.
Wayne was disappointed by the check
which he received in the orders of Lee,
but he obeyed them; although, with his



usual sanguineness of temper, lie believed
that his obedience had cost him an almost
certain victory. He, however, waited in
the hope that Lee, by a vigorous blow in
front, would retrieve the loss.

General Lee, however, was proceeding
with caution ; and, as he approached the
British, instead of coming: forward at once


with his whole force and striking a rapid
blow, his troops made their appearance
emerging from the woods in separate de
tachments. The enemy were drawn up
to receive him, and, as Lee was formin<-


his line, their cavalry began to manoeuvre
in the direction of the American riirht.


Lafayette s ardentand youthful spirit was
much chafed by General Lee s cautious
movements, and, eager for action, he at
this movement begged to be permitted
to try to get to the rear of the enemy.
"Sir," answered Lee, -you do not know
British soldiers ; we can not stand against
them; we shall be certainly driven back
at first, and we must be cautious." "It
may be so, general," responded the young
marquis, "but British soldiers have been
beaten, and may be beaten again ; at any
rate, 1 am disposed to make the attempt."
Lee so far yielded to the desire of the
impulsive Frenchman as to allow him to
wheel his column to the right, for the
purpose of attacking the enemy s left

Lafayette seems to have been so much
dissatisfied with Lee s conduct, that he
took the occasion of the riding up of one
of Washington s aids-de-camp to send back
word to the commander-in-chief that his
presence on the ground was absolutely
necessary. Lee continued to act with

the same deliberate circumspection, and
seemed by no means impatient for action.
While reconnoitring, the enemy were dis
covered to be in so much greater num
bers than he expected, that Lee acknowl
edged that he had been mistaken in their
strength. Sir Henry Clinton, moreover,
was making preparations for a vigorous
attack upon the Americans in his rear,
with the view of forcing them to call to
their aid Dickinson with his militia and
Morgan with his rifle-corps, who were se
verely harassing the British van, which
was marching with the ba^ini^e. While

O o O O

Lee was cautiously manoeuvring, to pre
pare to meet the enemy, a confusion took
place, either in his orders or in the under
standing of them by his subordinate offi
cers : one whole brigade having retreat
ed when it had been ordered merely to
fall back, the rest of the troops followed
in disorder, pursued by the British.

General Washington, in the meantime,
was pushing on to the support of Lee.
When he reached the church at Free
hold, where two roads joined, General
Greene with the right wing took one, in
order to prevent a flank-movement on the
part of Sir Henry Clinton ; while Wash
ington led the rest of the force along the
other directly to the rear of General Lee,
who was supposed to be at that time en
gaged with the enemy. This disposition
having been made, the march had hardly
been resumed, when a countryman was
met, with intelligence that the continen
tal troops were in full retreat. Washing
ton could not believe it, as he had re
ceived from Lee such an encouraging ac
count of his prospects, and there had been



[PART n,

June 28,

no indication of an engagement, beyond
the sound of a cannon or two. Soon, how
ever, others- came up with the
same report ; and finally the re
treating troops themselves followed.

"The conviction that Lee was a TRAI
TOR," says Lossing, " and that this retreat
was the first bitter fruit of his treason,
now flashed upon the mind of Washing
ton. Already the belief that he was un
true, and a dangerous man in the army,
had been forced upon the consideration
of many officers; but, until the previous
evening, the generous heart of the com
mand er-in-chief would not harbor such a
suspicion. Late at night, the Reverend
David Griffiths, a Welshman, and chap
lain of the third Virginia regiment, had
repaired to headquarters, and warned the
chief, in presence of Hamilton, Harrison,
and Fitzgerald, not to employ General
Lee in commanding the advance on the
ensuing morning. Washington received
the warning doubtingly ; when the rev
erend gentleman, on retiring, observed, 1
am not permitted to say more at present,
but your excellency will remember my warning
voice lo-morrov.^ in the battle / Now that
warning voice, Lee s opposition to attack
ing Clinton at all, and his changefulness
respecting the command of the advance,
all combined to make Washington feel
that Lee had ordered this retreat for the
purpose of marring his plans, and disgra
cing him by the loss of a battle, so as to
fulfil the traitor s own predictions of its

Washington accosted each officer as
he rode up, ordering him to halt his men.
and asking him for an explanation of what

seemed so incomprehensible. He could
get no satisfactory answer, and therefore
determined to seek out General Lee him
self. Putting spurs to his horse, he gal
loped rapidly along the road until he
reached an ascent, from which he caught
a glimpse of Lee, with the remainder of
his troops, coming on in full retreat. The
commander-in-chief was greatly troubled
at what had occurred, and, holding Lee
responsible, could not, on meeting him,
contain his indignation.

" What is the meaning of this, sir ?" he
demanded of Lee, looking at him sternly,
and speaking with angry emphasis. "1
desire to know, sir, the meaning of this
disorder and confusion !" repeated Wash
ington, before the recreant general could
sufficiently recover himself from the ef
fect of being thus accosted, to reply.

Lee now in turn gave issue to his own
temper, and answered fiercely, while he
hurriedly strove to justify his conduct,
saying that he had not been disposed to
face the whole British army with such a
force as he had.

" I have certain information," replied
Washington, " that it was only a cover

" Covering-party or not," declared Lee,
" it was stronger than mine, and I was
not disposed to run the risk."

" I am very sorry, then." rejoined Wash-
ington/ thatyou undertook the command,
unless you meant to light the enemy."

" I did not think it prudent to bring on
a general engagement," retorted Lee.

" Whatever your opinion may have
been, I expected my orders would have
been obeyed," said Washington. During




this brief interview, the enraged chief is
said, on the authority of Lafayette, to
have called Lee "a damned poltroon;"
and the marquis observed that this was
the only instance in which he ever heard
the general swear. The ardent Hamil
ton, too, who also remembered the chap
lain s warning, here dismounted, and, un
sheathing his sword, addressed Washing
ton : " Your excellency and this army are
betrayed; and the moment has arrived
when every true friend of America and
her cause must be ready to die in their
defence !"*

There was no time for further alterca
tion, as the British were rapidly pressing
forward in pursuit of the fugitives. Wash
ington rode off hastily to the extreme
rear of the retreating troops. Taking a
rapid survey of the ground, and finding
it favorable for forming, the chief ordered
the battalions of Colonel Stewart and
Lieutenant-Colonel Ramsay to face about
and march to the left, where, under the
cover of the wood, they might be some
what protected from the enemy s artille
ry, and also be enabled to check their ad

General Lee, on being told by one of
his aids that Washington had taken the
command of his division, said, "Then I
have nothing further to do ;" and, turning
his horse, he rode back to where the com-
mander-in-chief was forming a front out
of the rear of the retreating troops to op
pose the enemy s approach. As he came
up, Washington asked:

" Will you command on this ground or
not? If you will, 1 will return to the

* Lossin<c.

main body, and have them formed on
the next height."

" It is equal with me where I com
mand," was Lee s reply.

" I expect you will take proper meas
ures for checking the enemy," said Wash
ington, emphatically.

" Your orders shall be obeyed," prompt
ly answered Lee, "and I will not be the
first to leave the field !"

Washington now hurried back to the
main body, which he formed on a height,
with a morass in front, and between him
and Lee s advanced division. He had
hardly gone, when the British brought
up their artillery, and began a severe can
nonade on Lee s right, which was, howev
er, well returned by the Americans. At
the same time the enemy pushed forward
their light-horse, which, making an im
petuous charge, followed by a large body
of light-infantry, drove the battalions of
Stewart and Rarnsay before them.

The engagement now became hot be
tween the British and Varnum s brigade
united with Livingston s regiment, which
had been stationed in front of the bridge
across the morass, in order to cover the
retreat of the artillery and the advanced
troops. They, too, were obliged to give
way before a charge of the enemy, but
retired in good order. Lee, having post
ed Colonel Ogden in a wood near the
bridge, ordered him to defend it to the
last extremity, and remained in person
on the ground until the orderly retreat
of his whole force was secured, when he
himself crossed the bridge, and rode up
to Washington. "Sir," said Lee, "here
are my troops : how is it your pleasure



Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 82 of 126)