Robert Tomes.

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

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[PART n.

that I should dispose of them ?" As they
were jaded by the day s work, the coni-

mander-in-chief ordered them to
June 28. . ,

to be marched to the rear, in the

neighborhood of Englishtown, that they
might be refreshed by repose.

While the enemy were thus checked
by Lee s division, Washington had an op
portunity of forming his line, with care
ful deliberation. Lord Stirling command
ed the left wing, where he had posted
some heavy artillery ; and Greene, when
he discovered Lee s early retreat, had
changed the direction of his march, and
was now posted with his whole force on
his lordship s right.

The British continued to advance in
front, but Earl Stirling soon checked them
with his artillery, and by detachments of
infantry pushed forward to oppose them.
They then attempted to turn his flank,
but were repulsed. A movement toward
the American front proved equally un
successful ; for Greene had advanced a
body of troops, and Knox with his artil
lery , to take possession of some rising
ground in advance, by which the design
of the enemy was checked, and their en
tire front enfiladed. General Wayne, as
usual, among the most active with his
brigade, having been posted in an orchard
close to the foe, when Colonel Monckton,
of the British grenadiers, determined to
make an effort to drive him off. So, form
ing his men in close ranks, he ordered
them to charge with the bayonet. Wayne
bade his men withhold their fire until the
enemy should be close up. On they came,
with their colonel at their head, waving
his sword, and shouting to his men, when

the Americans opened their fire, and the
brave Monckton fell amid heaps of his
slaughtered grenad iers.

The British now fell back to the posi
tion occupied by General Lee in the
morning. Here their flanks were secured
by thick woods and morasses, while their
front could only be approached through
a narrow pass. Washington was not dis
posed, how r ever, well covered as they ap
peared to be, to let them escape without
another attempt to get at them. lie ac
cordingly ordered General Poor, with his
own and the Carolina brigade, to move
toward their right, General Woodford to
their left, and the artillery to be brought
up so as to gall them in front. But be
fore this disposition could be made, the
day was well spent; and the men were
so fatigued by their marching and coun
termarching in the sandy Jersey soil, and
so prostrated by the excessive heat (the
day being one of the most sultry of the
whole season), that it was determined to

postpone the attack till the next

1 . . June 29,

morning. Ihe troops were ac
cordingly ordered to lie upon their arms,
in order to be in readiness for action at
the earliest moment ; while the general-
in-chief himself wrapped his cloak about
him and lay down, with the young mar
quis de Lafayette by his side, at the foot
of a tree, talking over the events of the
day, until they both sought, in a short
night s sleep, refreshment for the expect
ed struggle of the coming morning.

Thus ended the battle of Monmouth,
which was one of the most hotly-contest
ed of the war, and in which great skill
was exhibited on both sides.




The Dawn of Morning, The Enemy gone. Pursuit impracticable. Fresh Graves. Losses on Both Sides. Loss of
the British from Heat and Desertion. Their March through New Jersey. Washington moves toward the North
River. A Painful March. Horses dying in Troops. A Refreshing Halt at Brunswick. Court-Martial on General
Lee. His Letter to Washington. lie complains of " Cruel Injustice." Washington s Answer. Lee s Rejoinder.
Postponement of the Trial. Lee s Skilful Defence. He is found guilty. The Verdict. Confirmed by Congress.
Lee s Duel with Laurens. Version of Lee. His Retirement to Virginia. His Morose and Secluded Life. His
Eccentricity. His Death. His Singular Will. A Traitor? Justification of Washington.


THE morning came, and the Amer
ican troops were aroused to arms
by the early beat of drum; but the ene
my had disappeared. Sir Henry Clinton,
having employed the early part of the
night in burying some of his dead, and
collecting his wounded, marched off at
twelve o clock, and with such cautious
silence, that the most advanced of the
American outposts had not the least sus
picion of the movement. Nothing was

left of the whole army in the
June 29, . J

morning but lourollicers and ror-

ty soldiers, who had been so severely
wounded, that they could not be carried

The extreme heat of the weather, the
continued fatigue of the men from their
march through a low, sandy country, al
most destitute of water, and the distance
which the British had gained by their se
cret march in the night, made a pursuit
impracticable. Washington was particu
larly apprehensive of the fatal effects of
the excessive heat. Many of the men in
both armies had fallen dead on the field,
without a shot, while exposed to the hot
glare of the noonday sun.

The enemy left two hundred and forty-
five non-commissioned officers and pri
vates dead on the field of Monmouth, and
four officers, among whom was the gal
lant Colonel Monckton, of the grenadiers.
There were also several fresh graves ob
served, where in their haste they had bu
ried some of their dead ; and more than
a hundred prisoners were taken. " Fifty-
nine of their soldiers," says Lossing, " per
ished by the heat. They were found un
der trees and by rivulets, whither they
had crept for shade and water, without a
wound." A large number of wounded
were carried off with them during the
action, and until midnight, when, as Wash
ington said, " they stole off as silent as
the grave."

The American loss was, seven officers
and fifty-two rank and file killed, and sev
enteen officers and a hundred and twen
ty privates wounded. The only two im
portant officers who suffered were LieiN
tenant-Colonel Briuiier, of Pennsylvania,
and Major Dickinson, of Virginia.

The British, in their inarch through
New Jersey, suffered a loss, including the
lesertions, which was estimated in all at



[PART n.

about two thousand men. More than six
hundred deserters went back to Philadel
phia, and many joined the American ar
my. One of the German regiments was
considered so disaffected, that Sir Henry
Clinton did not venture to trust it on
land, and accordingly sent it to New York
by sea from Philadelphia, while he took
up his march through New Jersey. The
British were now left almost uninterrupt
ed to pursue their way to Sandy Hook,
and thence to New York, where they en
camped in the vicinity of the city.

Washington, having left the New-Jer
sey brigade, Morgan s corps, and some
other light parties behind him, to hover
about the enemy, in order to countenance
desertions from their ranks, and as far as
possible to prevent depredations, moved
on the rest of his army through New- Jer
sey toward the North river, with the in
tention of forming a junction with Gen
eral Gates, then in command at Fishkill.
The march from English town to
Brunswick was " inconceivably
distressing to the troops and horses." The
route lay for twenty miles through a deep
sand, during the extrernest heat of the
season, while there was but one shallow
stream, throughout the whole distance,
where a drop of water could be obtained.
Some of the men died and many were dis
abled in consequence, and the horses fell
dead in troops. Upon the " airy, open
grounds" in the neighborhood of Bruns
wick, Washington, though eager to pur
sue his march, now halted his army for a
week, that his men might obtain the re
pose and refreshment they so greatly re

June 30,

July 4,

At Brunswick the court-mar
tial first assembled which was
appointed to try General Lee on the fol
lowing charges:

"First. Disobedience of orders, in not
attacking the enemy on the 28th of June,
agreeably to repeated instructions.

"Secondly. Misbehavior before the ene
my on the same day, by making an unne
cessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat.

"Thirdly. Disrespect to the command-
er-in-chief, in two letters, dated the 1st
of July and the 28th of June."

The irascible Lee was so provoked by
the angry reprimand of Washington for
his retreat at Monmonth, that, unable to
control his temper, he wrote a letter 1o
the commander-in-chief, in which he in
dulged in personal reflections such as no
superior officer could, with a proper re
gard to his own dignity, pass by without
rebuke. " From the knowledge I have
of your excellency s character," wrote
Lee, "I must conclude that nothing but
the misinformation of some very stupid
or misrepresentation of some very wicked
person could have occasioned your ma
king use of so very singular expressions
as you did on my coming up to the ground
where you had taken post. They implied
that I was guilty either of disobedience
of orders, want of conduct, or want of
courage. Your excellency will therefore
infinitely oblige me by letting me know on
which of these three articles you ground
your charge, that I may prepare for my
justification, which I have the happiness
to be confident I can do to the army, to
the Congress, to America, and to the world
in general."


Lee then, with his usual self-sufficiency,
having not only justified his retreat, but
claimed for it the merit of having saved
the day, took occasion, after telling Wash
ington that he thought him "endowed
with many great and good qualities," to
complain that he had been " guilty of an
act of cruel injustice toward a man who
certainly has some pretensions to the re
gard of every servant of this country. . . .
And I think, sir," added Lee, "I have a
right to demand some reparation for the
injury committed ; and, unless I can ob
tain it, I must in justice to myself, when
this campaign is closed, which I believe
will close the war, retire from a service,
at the head of which is placed a man ca
pable of offering such injuries. But at
the same time, in justice to you, I must
repeat that I from my soul believe that
it was not a motion of your own breast,
but instigated by some of those dirty ear
wigs, who will for ever insinuate them
selves near persons in high office."

Washington wrote firmly in answer,
telling Lee that his letter was, as he con
ceived, expressed in terms highly improp
er, and that he was not conscious of hav
ing made use of any very singular ex
pressions at the time of meeting him da-
ing his retreat. " What I recollect to have
said," added Washington, " was dictated
by duty and warranted by the occasion."
He closed by promising him the oppor
tunity which he had asked for justifying

Lee petulantly rejoined, saying : " You
can not afford me greater pleasure than
in giving me the opportunity of showing
to America the sufficiency of her respec

tive servants. I trust that temporary
power of office, and the tinsel dignity at
tending it, will not be able, by all the
mists they can raise, to obfuscate the
bright rays of truth."

General Lee was now arrested and
tried. The court-martial was convened
as early as the 4th of July, but its ses
sions were interrupted by the movement
of the army, and it did not come to a de
cision until the 12th of August. Lord
Stirling was president, and the rest of the
court was composed of a major-general,
four brigadiers, and eight colonels. Lee
defended himself with great skill. He
contended that, as his orders were discre
tionary, he could not be justly charged
with disobedience. In regard to the re
treat, he declared that he did not wish or
give any orders for a retrograde manoeu
vre from the first point of action, adding :
"Even when I was informed of our left
being abandoned, the retreat, however
necessary, was, I am ashamed to own it,
done contrary to my orders and contrary
to my intentions. He claimed that, in
falling back and taking the ground that
he intended when his division was reti
ring, the enemy would probably have
been drawn from a good position, and
the advantage given to the Americans.
The weak point in Lee s conduct was the
fact of his not having sent word to Wash
ington of the retreat of his troops by
which neglect the safety of the whole
army was hazarded. This looked either
like premeditated injury or uncontrolla
ble confusion.

General Lee was found guilty of all
the charges, though in the second the ex-


[PART u.

Dec. 5,

pression " shameful" was omitted, and the
term " disorderly" mitigated by the inser
tion of " in some instances." The sentence
was, suspension from all command in the
armies of the United States for the term
of twelve months.

The finding of the court was now re
ferred to Congress for its action. Lee
went to Philadelphia at the time, and was
not a little wounded in spirit to find his
old popularity so much on the wane, that,
although he had still strong friends, the
majority of the members were evidently
against him. He strove to better his
cause, by writing a clever defence, which
he termed " General Lee s Vindication to the
Public." The opinion of Congress was,
however, unfavorable ; and in an
exceedingly thin house, fifteen
voted in the affirmative and seven in the
negative, thus confirming the decision of
the court-martial.

General Lee s temper was not improved
by these adverse circumstances. He be
came greatly embittered against Wash
ington, and took every occasion to rail at
him and his military conduct. The lat
ter remained in stoical indifference ; but
one of his aids, Colonel Laurens, was hot
and young enough to take up the quar
rel, and wrote to Lee, declaring that, in
contempt of decency and truth, he had
" publicly abused General Washington in
the grossest terms," and that the relation
in which he (Laurens) stood to him for
bade him to pass such conduct unnoticed.
He therefore demanded the satisfaction
which he was entitled to ; and desired
that, as soon as General Lee should think
himself at liberty, he would appoint time

and place for a hostile meeting, and name
his weapons."

Lee did not hesitate to accept the chal
lenge, and, taking advantage of his privi
lege, as the challenged party, of choosing
his weapons, he selected pistols instead
of the smallsword, in the use of which he
was a great adept, but which he now de
clined in consequence of being in a some-
wluit weak state of body, on account of a
fall from his horse, and a recent fit of the
gout. His courage was undoubted, and
Lee bore himself in the encounter with
cool intrepidity. His antagonist, however,
proved the better shot, and wounded him
slightly in the side.

Lee was especially envenomed against
the members of Congress who were prom
inent in favor of confirming the decision
of the court-rnartial ; and William Henry
Drayton, of South Carolina, drew upon
himself the most concentrated bitterness
of the wrathful general, who tells him in
a letter, " I find that you are as malignant
a scoundrel as you are universally allowed
to be a ridiculous and disgusting coxcomb."

tJ e7

Again, he says : " You tell me the Ameri
cans are the most merciful people on the
face of the earth. I think so too ; and
the strongest instance of it is, that they
did not long ago hang you up, and every advo
cate for the stamp-act. And do not Hatter
yourself that the present virtuous airs of
patriotism you may give yourself, and
your hard-labored letters to the commis
sioners and the king, will ever wash away
the stain. If you think the terms I make
use of harsh or unmerited, my friend Ma
jor Edwards is commissioned to point out
your remedy."



Lee was not indulged in his wish for
another duel, but was allowed to retire
to his plantation in Berkeley county, in
Virginia, and there in solitude nurse his
discontent. But he nevertheless still ex
hibited his malevolence toward Washing
ton, by publishing his " Queries., Political
and Military" in which there was a labored
attempt to depreciate the military quali
fications and conduct of the commander-
in-chief. When the " Queries" were sent
to the publishers of the Philadelphia pa
pers, they refused to publish them; but
they were finally printed in the "Mary
land Journal" of Baltimore. Their publi
cation caused a storm of indignation, and
the deeply-incensed people insisted upon
the name of the author of the gross li
bels. Lee now became an object of al
most universal scorn.*

The spirit of the fallen general contin
ued to grow more and more irritable and
morose. Having heard a rumor that he
was to be deprived of his commission at
the close of the term for which he was
suspended, Lee, without waiting to ascer
tain the truth or falsity of the report,
wrote an insulting letter to the president
of Congress, saying : " Sir, I understand
that it is in contemplation of Congress,
on the principle of economy, to strike me
out of their service. Congress must know
very little of me, if they suppose that I
would accept of their money, since the con
firmation of the wicked and infamous sentence

* Among the " Queries," twenty-five in number, arc the
following, showing the malignant spirit which animated the
whole : " Whether it is salutary or dangerous, consistent
with or abhorrent from the spirit and principles of liberty
and republicanism, to inculcate and encourage in the people
an idea that their welfare, safety, and glory, depend on one
man ? Whether they really do depend on one man ?"

which ivas passed upon me"* This was re
ceived in high dudgeon by Congress, and
provoked that body to do the very act
which it been unjustly suspected of in
tending: Lee was summarily dismissed
from the army. He now hid himself from
all public observation, slinking away in
his half-ruined house on his Virginia es
tate, and avoiding all companionship but
that of his horses and dogs. " His dwel
ling," says his biographer, " was more
like a barn than a palace. Glass-windows
and plastering would have been luxuri
ous extravagance, and his furniture con
sisted of a very few necessary articles."
Without partitions, the one apartment
of the house was divided into parts by
lines of chalk ; and the eccentric old cam
paigner, as he looked upon his bed in one
corner, his guns, whips, and saddles, in
another, his library in a third, and his
kitchen in a fourth, congratulated him
self that he could sit and oversee the
whole without moving from his chair!
Thus he lived for several years, until he
found that hoeing tobacco, as he termed
it, was rapidly bringing him into debt.
He now removed to Philadelphia, where
he took lodgings at an inn in Market
street, known by the sign of " The Connes-
tijoe Wayyon" A few days after his arri
val, he was attacked by a fever, which
proved fatal, and he died on the 2d of
October, 1782. The last words which the
veteran was heard to utter in his delirium
(doubtless inspired by the flickering re
membrance of his European campaigns)
were, "Stand by inc., my brave grenadiers /"

* Subsequently, however, on learning that the report wag
without foundation, he offered an apology to Congress.



In his will, General Lee showed his
gratitude to those friends who had been
faithful to him through all the vicissitudes
of his strange career. Among his old aids-
de-camp he divided his landed estate and
distributed most of his horses, his " brood
mares and his fillies," of which he had a
choice variety. To his " old and faithful
servant, or rather humble friend, Guiseppi
Minghini," he bequeathed three hundred
guineas, to his housekeeper one hundred
and his stock of cattle, with all his negroes
to be divided equally between the two.
He also took care to leave money to buy
"rings of affection" for this and that friend
in whose memory he desired still to lin-

This characteristic request closed the
will : " I desire most earnestly that I may
not be buried in any church or church
yard, or uithin a mile of any Presbyterian or
Anabaptist meetinghouse ; for, since I have
resided in this country, I have kept so
much bad company when living, that I do
not choose to continue it when dead. :::

"I recommend my soul to the Creator
of all worlds and of all creatures ; who
must, from his visible attributes, be indif
ferent to their modes of worship or creeds
whether Christians, Mohammedans, or
Jews ; whether instilled by education or
taken up by reflection ; whether more or
less absurd ; as a weak mortal can no
more be answerable for his persuasions,
notions, or even skepticism, in religion,
than for the color of his skin."

* Notwithstanding this expressed wish, Lee was interred
in Christ churchyard, at Philadelphia, with military honors,
and in presence of a large assemblage of the people, drawn
together more by curiosity than veneration, to look upon the
remains of one_whose life had been so eventful

Lee passed away under a cloud which
has perhaps for ever obscured his charac
ter and motives. His conduct at Mon-
mouth has been differently appreciated.
At the time, most men were of the opin
ion that it was actuated by envy of Wash
ington, whom he had hopes of supplant
ing in the chief command, if, by thwarting
his purposes, he could make it appear
that the general-in-chief was unequal to
his position. Others have not hesitated
to charge Lee witli treasonable designs,
and have connected with his conduct at
Monmouth an incident which occurred a
short time previously:

"Soon after General Lee rejoined the
army at Valley Forge," says Sparks, " a
curious incident occurred. By order of
Congress, General Washington was re
quired to administer the oath of allegi
ance to the general officers. The major-
generals stood around Washington, and
took hold of a bible together, according
to the usual custom ; but just as he began
to administer the oath, Lee deliberately
withdrew his hand twice. This move
ment was so singular, and was performed
in so odd a manner, that the officers smiled,
and Washington inquired the meaning of
his hesitancy. Lee replied : As to King
George, 1 am ready enough to absolve
myself from all allegiance to him; but I
have some scruples about the prince of
Wales. The strangeness of this reply
was such, that the officers burst into a
broad laugh, and even Washington could
not refrain from a smile. The ceremony
was, of course, interrupted. It was re
newed as soon as a composure was re
stored proper for the solemnity of the oc



ensiori, and Lee took the oath with the
other officers."*

While most men attributed Lee s con
duct at Monmouth to envy, and some to
treason, there were others who justified
it, as the general himself strove to do, on
the score of its propriety. Even Marshall,
the impartial judge, declares that the rea-

* A document, found among the papers of Lord and Sir
William Howe, has lately come into the possession of the
New-York Historical Society, which proves that Lee was
guilty of an act of treason while a prisoner at New York,
whatever may have heen his conduct before or after. This
document is in the handwriting of the general, and is en
dorsed " LEE S PLAN, 1777," by Strachey, the secretary of
Lord and Sir William Howe. It contains an elaborate plan
for a campaign against the Americans, by which the war,
as the writer of the document says, " may be effectually put
an end to." The paper was evidently drawn up for the
benefit of the enemy, and submitted to the Howes, while
Lee was a captive in New York. He proposed an expedi
tion against New England, so as to keep the inhabitants
there at home, and make it an easy matter for the British to
hold possession of New York and the Jerseys. He suggest
ed that, simultaneously with this movement eastward, a con
siderable force should be sent up the Chesapeake bay, to
land at and take possession of Annapolis, and march into
the interior of Maryland as far as Queen Anne county. An-
. other was to be despatched up the Potomac, and take pos
session of Alexandria, when the two invading armies might
form a junction ; while a third should ascend the Delaware
and capture Philadelphia. The middle states would now
be in subjection, and New England and the southern states
would be too wide apart to act in efficient concert. " These
things accomplished," adds Mr. Lossing, " and the system
of resistance dismembered, all that would be necessary, to

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 83 of 126)