Battle of Monmouth

A Brief History

As British General Clinton prepared to evacuate Philadelphia there was strong sentiment in the Continental Army command that a cooperative effort between their army and the newly allied French naval fleet might result in winning the war. A French naval squadron consisting of 11 war ships along with transports carrying 4000 French troops sailed from France in May of 1778 and headed to America. The fleet, commanded by Comte d'Estaing, was far superior than any Admiral Howe (British) could immediately concentrate in American waters. This represented a stronghold on strategic initiative in favor of the Americans, which General Washington hoped to capitalize on.

Clinton received orders from England to detach 8000 of his roughly 10,000 man force to the West Indies and Florida and evacuate the rest of his men from Philadelphia to New York by sea. Instead, Clinton decided to move the entire army to NY before making any detachments and to move them overland. His decision was largely based on the fact that he didn't have the transports to move his 3000 horses over sea. Clinton set out from Philadelphia with his 10,000 men, to include Tories from the region, on 18 June 1778. Washington and his growing army of 12,000 men immediately occupied Philadelphia and began pursuit of Clinton towards NY.

Washington was still undecided as to whether he should risk an attack on the British column while it was on the march. He held a meeting of his command staff, the Council of War, and attempted to find some resolve in that matter. The council, however, was quite divided on the issue. The only unifying theme was that none of Washington's generals advised in favor of a general action. Brig Gen Anthony Wayne, the boldest of the staff, and Maj Gen Marquis de Lafayette, the youngest of the staff, urged for a partial attack on the British column while it was strung out on the road. Gen Lee, who had been captured and exchanged and had rejoined the army at Valley Forge, was the most cautious. He advised only guerilla action to harass the British column. On 26, June 1778, Washington sided with a more bold approach but did not go so far as issuing orders for a general action. He sent almost one-half of his army as an advance force to strike at the rear of the British when Clinton made the eminent move out of Monmouth Courthouse, which occurred on 28, June 1778.

Early in the morning on 28 June, Lee advanced upon unreconnoitered ground and made contact with the British rear guard at Monmouth Courthouse. Clinton reacted quickly and maneuvered to envelop the American right flank. Lee felt that he was then faced by a superior force and fell into a retreat that seems to have been quite confused. Washington was quite irate at the retreat and spoke harshly at Lee. Washington then assumed a defensive position to repel a possible British counter-attack.

The ensuing battle, involving the bulk of both armies, was fought on that hot, sultry day and continued until nightfall with both sides holding their original positions.

Overview of Events Precipitating Battle

  1. British evacuate Philadelphia
  2. Continental Army spends winter of 1777-78 training at Valley Forge
  3. The Battle of Saratoga
  4. French alliance with American cause

Key Events Prior to Start of Action

Battle Preparation
Date American Actions British Actions
26JUNE78 Washington and main force go into bivouac 20 miles away from Monmouth Courthouse in town of Cranbury.

Advance force (about 1/2 total force) led by Lafayette moves ahead to prepare for attack on Clinton when he leaves Monmouth.

Arrive at Monmouth Courthouse in the afternoon after a 19-mile road march in deep sand.

Many of the heavily burdened troops die from heat exhaustion.

Positions are built that allowed for attack, defense or retreat.

27JUNE78 Lee takes charge of advance force at Englishtown 5 miles from British.

Washington moves main body 8 miles west of British and 3 miles from Lee as support force to Lee.

N.J. Militia Gen Dickinson and 1000 men move to British west flank as scout/intel force.

Col Morgan of N.J. Militia flanked British on east with 600 riflemen.

Col Moylan's mounted regiment screened roads ahead of suspected British retreat to provide intel.

Lee informs his officers that he intends to play his attack "by ear" in the case of minimum intel.

Clinton prepares for 04:00, 28June retreat toward Sandy Hook.

Defenses reinforced to allow rear guard to act as delaying force during successive retreat by echelon.

28JUNE78 04:00 Dickinson observes Knyphausen's movement and has report to Washington by 05:00. 04:00 Clinton sends Knyphausen north toward Middletown with his element and the baggage/supply train.

Clinton keeps Cornwallis' command attached to him as the main delaying/defense force.

28JUNE78 06:00 5 hours late, Lee begins the recon of attack routes and of enemy positions he was ordered to do at 01:00.

Col William Grayson is sent toward British with 4 guns and 600 men.

28JUNE78 07:00 Lee begins to move main element toward Monmouth Courthouse.

Dickinson retreats across swamp of West Ravine when enemy security patrol advances against him.

07:00 Security patrol makes contact with Dickinson's element and pushes toward them.
28JUNE78 After 07:00 Grayson arrives and links-up with Dickinson and combined element regains lost ground.

Lee arrives and gets conflicting reports about whether or not Clinton had begun his withdrawal which leads to dispute between Lee and Dickinson.

Wayne ordered forward to command Grayson's advance guard.

Lee advances to position between East Ravine and enemy's line of retreat.

28JUNE78 08:00 Main body of Cornwallis' division and Clinton's command begin to evacuate Monmouth Courthouse and leaves sizable rear guard detachment.
28JUNE78 10:00 Lee launches unplanned attack on Cornwallis' detached rear guard which turns into confused retreat. 10:00 Rear gaurd attacked by Lee and manuevers into counter-flanking position.
28JUNE78 After 10:00 Lee's retreat moves back 3 miles and meets Washington's main body.

Washington moves forward and takes command of both elements and forms final defensive line.

Clinton orders elements of Knyphausen's command to move back to Monmouth Courthouse and to also cover the northern flank of the supply column.
28JUNE78 Lee's botched attack reveals to Clinton that Washington's main body is nearby. Clinton turns back toward Monmouth to face Lee.

Sequential maps of the Battle.

Who was involved

  1. American Leaders
  2. British Leaders
  3. Units Involved

Staff Ride Qualifications

  • Echelons of Command: Corps level engagement
  • Terrain Quality: Well preserved within Monmouth Battlefield State Park.
  • Types of Units Involved: Musket Infantry, Grenadiers, Artillery, Dragoons, Militia.
  • Availability of Sources: Adequate enough to develop understanding - research ongoing by historians at Monmouth Battlefield State Park.
  • Availability of Logistic Support: Adequate civilian - special military accomodations TBD.

Battle of Monmouth Staff Ride

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