Historians have long considered the Battle of Monmouth one of the most complicated engagements of the American Revolution. Fought on Sunday, June 28, 1778, Monmouth was critical to the success of the Revolution. It also marked a decisive turning point in the military career of George Washington. Without the victory at Monmouth Courthouse, Washington's critics might well have marshaled the political strength to replace him as the American commander-in-chief. Authors Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone argue that in political terms, the Battle of Monmouth constituted a pivotal moment in the War for Independence.
Viewing the political and military aspects of the campaign as inextricably entwined, this book offers a fresh perspective on Washington’s role in it. Drawing on a wide range of historical sources—many never before used, including archaeological evidence—Lender and Stone disentangle the true story of Monmouth and provide the most complete and accurate account of the battle, including both American and British perspectives. In the course of their account it becomes evident that criticism of Washington’s performance in command was considerably broader and deeper than previously acknowledged. In light of long-standing practical and ideological questions about his vision for the Continental Army and his ability to win the war, the outcome at Monmouth—a hard-fought tactical draw—was politically insufficient for Washington. Lender and Stone show how the general’s partisans, determined that the battle for public opinion would be won in his favor, engineered a propaganda victory for their chief that involved the spectacular court-martial of Major General Charles Lee, the second-ranking officer of the Continental Army.
Replete with poignant anecdotes, folkloric incidents, and stories of heroism and combat brutality; filled with behind-the-scenes action and intrigue; and teeming with characters from all walks of life, Fatal Sunday gives us the definitive view of the fateful Battle of Monmouth.
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George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle
By Mark Edward Lender, Garry Wheeler
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
THE AUDIT OF WAR
THE MILITARY SITUATION, 1777–1778
Early in the afternoon of 24 May 1778, thirteen days after formally relinquishing command of His Majesty's troops in the rebellious American colonies, General Sir William Howe boarded the Royal Navy frigate HMS Andromeda and sailed from British-occupied Philadelphia. He was returning to Great Britain, and as Andromeda dropped downriver toward Delaware Bay and the Atlantic, Sir William must have realized any glimpse he had of the city would be his last. It was also the last he would see of the army he had led since 1775, the army that triumphantly entered the de facto rebel capital in September 1777. From the deck of Andromeda it must have seemed long ago.
Up to the time of his departure, Howe was a popular commander in chief. An affable man and no martinet, he socialized easily and enjoyed the company of his brother officers (and his mistresses); he also appreciated the theater and a well-prepared table. Howe's pleasures, however, never kept him from his duty. He was a good officer, one of the British army's best. He had seen action in the Seven Years' War (1756–63), including combat in North America and Europe, and was an expert in the use of light infantry. When Britain finally realized it would have to fight a major war in America, Lord North's government wanted to win the contest as quickly as possible. For that purpose it carefully selected Howe for the top command over generals with considerably greater seniority. Lord George Germain, secretary of state for the American Department, told Parliament that Howe (along with Lieutenant Generals John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton, who traveled with him to America) was the man best suited to defeat the rebellion. George Washington agreed: in late 1775 the Continental commander in chief assessed the British general as "the most formidable enemy America has."
Howe was indeed a formidable opponent. In the field he had been generally intelligent and personally brave. Yet he was seldom hard driving, and some of his men sensed that Sir William lacked an instinct for the enemy's jugular. In 1776 he had beaten Washington badly on Long Island, an action that won the British commander a knighthood. At Brooklyn Heights, however, he had failed to order a final assault that could have destroyed the opposing army. Howe then drove the battered patriots out of New York and across New Jersey, but he halted for the winter rather than chase them across the Delaware River. He paid heavily for this decision: The ensuing affairs at Trenton and Princeton stung his army and galvanized the rebels, perhaps blasting whatever chance the British had to break the rebellion through military force. The campaign of 1777 had been equally disappointing. Following heavy fighting, Howe managed to take Philadelphia and send Congress scurrying a hundred miles west to rustic York. Nevertheless, he had neither crushed the rebellion nor finished off the shaken Continental Army, and critics of his leadership — from which so much was expected — were asking why.
While Howe always vigorously defended his decisions in the American command, he winced at the criticisms of his leadership. As early as October 1777, discouraged by what he felt was a lack of support from the government of Lord Frederick North (and especially on the part of his civilian chief, Germain), he had asked to be relieved. Indecision on what to do about the American War delayed an answer, with Germain finally approving his request only in February 1778. Even then the ministry failed to dispatch an immediate replacement, and Sir William, however impatient to be away, had little choice but to remain at his post. It was only on 11 May that General Sir Henry Clinton formally relieved him as commanding general.
While awaiting relief, Howe remained popular in the army. In a tribute to their departing chief, his officers organized a magnificent sendoff party. The "Meschianza" had involved a fabulous banquet, a round of gay parties, a regatta, fireworks, and a final display in which an allegory of fame assured the general, "Thy laurels shall never fade." The mood upon Howe's actual leave taking, however, was decidedly somber. There were no change-of-command ceremonies, just emotional goodbyes from brother officers and on Howe's part, a number of heart-felt public and private expressions of gratitude to his subordinates. The general himself was subdued; he fully understood that he was returning to England under a cloud and would have to defend his performance in America. Among many of his contemporaries, even those who wished him well, the snarky observation of Horace Walpole, English litterateur, politico, and sometime wag, seemed on the mark. The general had returned, Walpole coolly noted, "much richer in money than in laurels."
If Howe's departure closed a signal chapter in the War of Independence, it quickly opened a new one. Barely a month after Sir William left, his army, under a new commander, would fight the rebel army at the village of Monmouth Court House in the heart of New Jersey. Measured in miles, the road to Monmouth was relatively short: only some sixty miles from Philadelphia and about seventy-five from Valley Forge. But from the wider perspective of the war, the road — metaphorically — was considerably longer and more complicated. For the British, the backdrop to the battle involved the strategic and political ramifications of Howe's campaign of 1777 and the subsequent change of command that brought Clinton to the post of commander in chief. For the rebellious Americans, the background story was, if anything, more tumultuous. Before the Continental Army marched out of Valley Forge and into New Jersey, the patriots had witnessed a searching examination of Washington's military acumen and swirling controversies over the future conduct of the war. In addition, the French political and military alliance with the rebellious colonies brought an international dimension to the conflict, a development that would force both sides to reconsider their strategic and operational plans. The influence and interplay of these factors mapped the contours of the war to 28 June 1778, and any understanding of what led to the Battle of Monmouth must begin with them.
General Howe's War
Walpole's quip about Howe's dearth of laurels, while perhaps unkind to the general, applied equally to the entire British war effort; by early 1777 it too had produced few laurels. In fact, 1777 had been one of the most disappointing, if not catastrophic, years in the annals of British arms. Lieutenant General Burgoyne's drive out of Canada — an attempt to reach Albany, New York, and thereby cut New England off from the colonies to the south — had ended in spectacular failure. In October Burgoyne had surrendered his entire army to Continental major general Horatio Gates at Saratoga. A blow serious enough by itself, the Saratoga disaster was only one factor, albeit a significant one, in a larger British malaise.
Howe would have insisted that his performance was better than Burgoyne's, but in reality it was little more conclusive. Over the spring of 1777, he had done his best to draw George Washington into a general engagement in central New Jersey, but the patriot general never took the bait. June saw a series of skirmishes, some involving very stiff fighting, as Sir William maneuvered against his elusive adversary. Finally, on 8 July, convinced that the Continentals would not give him a showdown fight, Howe abandoned the state, thus foregoing an overland march on Philadelphia, his target for the upcoming campaign. Philadelphia was less than seventy miles from the forward British garrison at New Brunswick, New Jersey, but Howe feared that such a march would leave Washington loose in his rear, able to strike at his communications, hit while the British were crossing the Delaware, or even turn east and attack New York. An overland march was too risky.
Instead, in late July Sir William's army took ship for Pennsylvania. The voyage was bitterly frustrating. Plans calling for a quick trip from New York to Philadelphia, striking toward the rebel city up Delaware Bay, dissolved in the face of contrary winds and doubts about being able to land safely somewhere below Philadelphia. There were too many questions about the nature of whig (patriot) defenses along and in the Delaware River. Again the risks appeared too great. The alternative was another month at sea, most of it in blazing August heat, as the invasion fleet sailed south around the Virginia capes and up the length of Chesapeake Bay. Only on 25 August were the groggy and miserable troops and animals able to land below Head of Elk, Maryland. The delays in New Jersey and on the voyage had cost the British three months of the campaign season. Once rested, on 3 September Howe's army skirmished with American light infantry at Cooch's Bridge, Delaware, then six days later battered the Continental Line at Brandywine; on the twenty-sixth the British marched unopposed into Philadelphia.
Yet the rebel army still showed plenty of fight. Washington counterattacked at Germantown on 4 October, but fog, an overly complicated attack plan, poor coordination, and plain bad luck prevented a patriot victory. Howe won, but the battle had been a near thing. Rebel garrisons held out stubbornly below Philadelphia at Forts Mercer and Mifflin, blocking the Delaware River to the Royal Navy and threatening to choke off supplies to the city. It took until mid-November, with plenty of bitter fighting, to force the defenders from the forts. Howe had won his victories, but none were decisive.
December saw the end of active campaigning. On the fourth Howe sallied to confront the rebels at White Marsh, some thirteen miles from the Philadelphia, but this led only to several days of inconclusive skirmishing. Washington refused to commit to a general engagement. On the eighth Sir William returned to Philadelphia and settled into the city for the season; Washington moved to take up winter quarters at Valley Forge. The British had wounded but had failed to destroy the patriot army, and Howe was unable to prevent rebel forces from harassing British foraging parties and patrols in the countryside. In return, the royal commander had suffered some 1,500 casualties during the campaign, a bit less than 10 percent of his army. While not disabling, these losses were disturbing. Parliamentary reticence over the costs of the war, as well as the government's worries over political opposition to the conflict, worked against the dispatch of significant reinforcements. Over the rest of the winter and into the early spring of 1778, additional losses occurred due to sickness, desertion, and small-unit operations around Philadelphia and in New Jersey. The victories of the Brandywine campaign proved largely hollow.
The only real prize was Philadelphia itself, and there was no denying the fall of the City of Brotherly Love dealt a blow to rebel pride. Yet even this triumph was questionable. Philadelphia, as Howe soon discovered, was never the strategic center of the rebellion. Its capture lacked the military, psychological, or political importance of taking a European capital; Congress simply transplanted itself to York and carried on. Philadelphia itself proved a drain on British resources. Having occupied it, Howe needed to govern it, a task to which his army was barely equal. The city provided his men with warm and secure quarters over the winter, but the minutia of maintaining local services and security demanded constant attention. Such matters as fire and police protection, local commerce, the civil courts, and sanitation could not be ignored if Philadelphia was to remain habitable. These functions were also critical to encouraging loyalist support, which would evaporate if the occupation appeared inept or only temporary. Howe understood that he needed help.
In an effort to create a viable civilian administration, the general turned to Joseph Galloway, Pennsylvania's most prominent tory, naming him to the newly created post of superintendent general of Philadelphia. He wanted Galloway to help run the machinery of local government and to rally his fellow Pennsylvanians to the royal cause. For his part Galloway was optimistic, thinking his prior service to the province would carry weight with popular opinion. Born in Maryland in 1731, Galloway moved with his father to Pennsylvania in 1740. Well educated, he studied law and subsequently practiced in Philadelphia, where he rose to political and social eminence. From 1757 to 1775 he served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, as speaker from 1766 to 1774. He considered himself a patriot and stood with the colonials when they protested imperial measures to tighten control of American affairs after 1763. Indeed, in 1774 as a Pennsylvania delegate, Galloway played a significant role in the First Continental Congress, authoring a substantial proposal — the "Galloway Plan" — to settle the constitutional relationship between the colonies and Great Britain. But he balked at independence, and in 1776 he fled to New York and joined Howe. (At this, the rebel Pennsylvania Assembly convicted him of high treason in absentia and confiscated his considerable estates.)
Galloway took his new role as superintendent seriously. He was able to organize a night watch and to keep the street lamps lit and did his best to revive local business activity. But it soon became evident that he was powerless without Howe's active intervention. The frustrated loyalist in fact enjoyed little authority or influence, and the general, for all practical purposes, had to govern the city by decree. As Howe believed that his army lacked the force to administer the city and to deal with General Washington simultaneously, he never seriously considered a move against Valley Forge, even as the patriot commander was struggling to hold his weakened forces together.
Worse, the British had to fight to sustain themselves in the city. As desperate as things were at Valley Forge, Washington was still able to make life dangerous for redcoat detachments moving into the countryside. The rebel general, knowing only too well what it was like to command an army short on food, forage, and supplies, tried to turn the tables on Howe. Militia and Continental patrols actively harassed British foraging and reconnaissance operations, forcing Sir William to send strong escorts with units leaving the lines around Philadelphia and Germantown. Foraging and supply shipments arriving via the Royal Navy kept the occupying troops fed, but over the winter, casualties from small-unit actions became a fact of life.
When he had to, the royal commander in chief was willing to go far afield to secure supplies for his men and animals. Forays included raids into New Jersey, where stocks of food and forage were relatively plentiful. Howe dispatched one of the strongest such expeditions in late March 1778, sending a party under Colonel Charles Mawhood across the Delaware to forage in Salem and Cumberland Counties. Washington had defeated the colonel the year before at Princeton, but this time the British officer was more successful. On the twenty-first and twenty-third, Mawhood badly bloodied two separate patriot militia detachments at Hancock's Bridge and Quinton's Bridge. He also gathered a rich haul of forage, though thoroughly outraging local civilians. Rebels claimed that the British had massacred helpless militiamen, some of whom had surrendered. For his part, Mawhood threatened to arm local tories and to lay waste the homes and property of prominent patriots. Colonel Elijah Hand of the Cumberland County militia knew a propaganda coup when he saw one. He decried what he claimed was wanton British brutality and warned Mawhood that such conduct would "injure your cause more than ours: it will increase your enemies and our army." The British paid for their forage with a public-relations debacle, and the incident put New Jerseyans on their guard against future enemy incursions — a fact that helped the British not at all when they marched across the state the following June.
The alternatives to foraging and other patrol duties were safer for the troops but not always productive. With Howe avoiding major operations, the rank and file spent long hours on routine garrison duty: watching approaches to the city, guarding and moving supplies, cleaning equipment, and all of the other daily chores essential to maintaining a military force. There were ample off-duty hours, though. Taverns did a roaring business, and incidents of drunkenness, vandalism, and brawling among soldiers and civilians kept the military-justice system occupied. In their free time officers enjoyed the civic pleasures of Philadelphia, including the society of prominent tories and local belles, and they pursued a range of amusements. Literature, gambling, mistresses, theater, entertaining on a lavish scale, cockfights, horseracing, cricket, and religious gatherings all had their devotees as officers sought to "kill dull hours" and drive off boredom. Efforts in this regard were such that some historians have described an army that had grown soft.
Excerpted from Fatal Sunday by Mark Edward Lender, Garry Wheeler. Copyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
1. The Audit of War: The Military Situation, 1777–1778,
2. A General under Fire: George Washington and His Critics,
3. Antagonists: The British and American Armies,
4. Toward a New Campaign,
5. The Matter of Major General Charles Lee,
6. The Roads to Monmouth I: Henry Clinton's March,
7. The Roads to Monmouth II: The Continental Advance,
8. General Lee's Orders: Expectations and Misunderstandings,
9. Battlefield and Village,
10. Morning at Monmouth I: The Opening Round,
11. Morning at Monmouth II: General Lee's Battle,
12. Commanders in Conflict: The Washington and Lee Affair,
13. Buying Time: The Point of Woods and the Hedgerow,
14. The Great Cannonade,
15. Death in the Afternoon: The Battle of Detachments,
16. Aftermath of Battle: The Living and the Dead,
17. The British and the French: Departures and Arrivals,
18. Constructing Victory, Settling Scores,
19. A Campaign in Retrospect: Assessments and Legacies,
Appendix A. Monmouth: A Campaign and Battle Chronology, 16 June–6 July 1778,
Appendix B. Continental Army Order of Battle,
Appendix C. British Army Order of Battle,
Index of Military Units,