Battle of Monmouth
June 28, 1778
The Battle of Monmouth Court House was part of the British campaign under General Sir Henry Clinton to gain full control of the Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey and Delaware areas.
Washington was in the process of building and training an Army but he still pursued Clinton's forces, harassing, delaying, and doing as much damage as possible with his rag-tag units. In late June he wanted to launch an all-out attack against Clinton but some of his officers disagreed, most notably General Charles Lee. Washington, in Hopewell, N.J., acceded and decided that General Maxwell and the New Jersey militia under General Dickinson, should continue their hit-and-run attacks on the British flanks.
Soon thereafter, General Clinton, fearing an attack at New Brunswick, divided his army, placing half under Lt. Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen and the rest under Gen. Cornwallis. Separately, they headed for Monmouth Court House, an interim stop before proceeding to Sandy Hook.
Washington learned of the movement and was unhappy with the apparent free-roaming British forces. Despite the disagreement, he ordered General Lee to proceed with an attack plan and placed Lafayette in charge of an advanced guard of Dickinson's and Maxwell's forces with plans to assault the British rear.
On the 27th of June, all of Washington's forces were in place and he called a meeting of the commanders. Gerneral Lee was placed in charge with instructions to send out a reconnaissance force, but Lee delayed and procrastinated.
At 4:00 A.M. on the morning of the 28th, Dickinson's observers spotted the movement of von Knyphausen's forces but Lee still reacted lethargically. There had been no engagements except for a few brief skirmishes with the British rear guard. Clinton, alerted by the skirmishes, withdrew to prepare his battle lines. This action confused the troops of General Maxwell, who also retreated to avoid exposure. By 11:00 a 5000 man Continental force encountered 2000 British troops, but Lee had issued no orders, and mass confusion prevailed. The maneuvering of the colonial units spread confusion throughout the entire army of General Lee, which then turned and headed back toward Englishtown. Meanwhile, the remainder of Clinton's forces had arrived.
Washington, advancing with his main army, saw the troops of General Lee in retreat and became furious over what he thought should have been an easy rearguard action. Confronting General Lee, he swore, "till the leaves shook on the trees...he swore like an angel from heaven!".
Washington immediately assumed command, stopped the retreat, and formed a line commanded by General Greene on a high ridge between his position and Clinton's. He placed Henry Knox's artillery in support of Greene. He then attacked and the ensuing battle lasted all afternoon under a blazing sun with tempertures exceeding 100 degrees. Clinton launched intermittent counterattacks which drove the Americans back but massive artillery battles followed. At about 6:00 PM the British withdrew and the Americans began to regroup. Exhausted, the soldiers fell asleep at their positions as Washington made plans to resume the attack the following morning. Clinton, however, withdrew during the night.
Historians consider the battle a draw, giving credit to the weather for taking a greater toll than the fighting. Many on both sides suffered heatstroke, and severe heat exhaustion, requiring both armies to retreat to rest areas for recuperation.
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