What Really Happened At: The Battle of Monmouth

By Garry Wheeler Stone

On June 18, 1778, the main British Army under the command of General Sir Henry Clinton abandoned Philadelphia and began marching to New York City. The next day, the Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, left Valley Forge and moved to harass the British. The morning of Sunday, June 28, 1778, found the British Army of 20,000 men camped around the village of Freehold, while the main American Army of 8500 men was camped at Manalapan Bridge, four miles west of Englishtown. In Englishtown, General Charles Lee and an advance force of 500 men had orders to attack the rear of the British Army.

As the British broke camp to continue their march to Sandy Hook, General Lee moved to encircle the British rear guard. Lee's men skirmished with the Queen's Rangers, and the field artillery on both sides erupted in a thunderous cannonade. Barely in time, Lee realized that half of the British Army was returning to attack him. As Lee led a retreat across the Rhea Farm, General George Washington intercepted him and gave orders to begin a delaying action while Washington organized the main Continental Army.

The battle resumed around 12:30 p.m. as the British Guards and Grenadiers pushed across the Dividing Brook. After brief, vicious clashes in the "Point-of-Woods" (#1 -- please see map on page 12) and along the Hedgerow (#2), the Continental troops under General Lee fell back across Spotswood Middle Brook. As the British charged the bridge, they found the Continental Army occupying a very strong position on the Perrine Farm ridge (#3) behind ten guns. Exhausted from a forced march and the extreme heat (it would reach 96°F) and cannonaded with grapeshot, the British attack collapsed.

To silence the Continental artillery commanding the bridge, the British massed ten cannon and howitzers in front of the hedgerow. For hours during the mid-afternoon, the largest land artillery battle of the American Revolution raged. The Continental artillery won the duel when, about 3 p.m., General Nathanel Greene brought a brigade of Virginians and four guns to the top of Combs Hill (#4). The American guns raked the hedgerow, forcing the British artillery to withdraw and their infantry to shift position.

As the British artillery fell silent, Washington cautiously counterattacked. First, two battalions of New Englanders advanced along Spotswood North Brook to skirmish with the retreating Royal Highlanders (#5). Then, General Anthony Wayne led three regiments of Pennsylvanians across the bridge to attack the withdrawing British Grenadiers. After heavy, stubborn fighting, Wayne's men were forced back into the shelter of the Parsonage buildings and orchard (#6). Again raked by Continental artillery, the British pulled back across the Dividing Brook and made camp (#7). General Washington moved fresh troops forward to resume the battle at dawn, but about 11 p.m., the Crown forces resumed their march to New York City. Thus ended the last major battle in the North.

The Battle of Monmouth was a political triumph for the Continental Army and General George Washington. The Continental Army had met the British in open field and forced them to retreat. British casualties were two or three times greater than those of the American troops. Almost half of the casualties on both sides were due to heat exhaustion.

Copyright © 1995 Garry Wheeler Stone. All rights reserved.