Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Meeting Notes: January 20, 2010

"Battle of Monmouth," Richard Bellamy

Richard Bellamy, who is a board member of the Friends of Monmouth Battlefield is also a licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg and is much in demand, spoke on the Battle of Monmouth at our first meeting in 2010. Because Bill Welsch and Richard Bellamy are longtime friends and Bill wanted to introduce him, Bruce Venter took over for the introductory portion of the meeting and then Mr. Bellamy was ably introduced by his good friend (and our president), Bill Welsch.

Mr. Bellamy came with handouts showing the battlefield in great detail and the handouts also included a list of books which are on sale at the Friends of Monmouth Battlefield gift shop for those who either want to purchase from the gift shop or who want to follow-up with their own studies. Mr. Bellamy pointed out that frankly the best book on the Battle of Monmouth remains one by William S. Stryker who wrote it in 1898 (although the 1927 edition sponsored by the Friends of Monmouth Battlefield is the best one now).

The Battle of Monmouth took place on June 28, 1778. General Charles Lee was in charge in the morning portion of the battle but he was later relieved by George Washington and court martialed. The testimony in that proceeding gives us the best glimpse as to what happened at least in the morning part of the battle. Frankly the battle lasted all day from about 8:00 am until 8:30 that night so we only really know about the morning hours in detail.

At the time, people in America were in thirds: one-third being the rebels, one-third being the loyalists and one-third being those who just wanted to be left alone. The whole Revolutionary War lasted approximately eight years with about 10,000 casualties and even though most large battles found only about 10,000 participants, there were upwards of 31,000 soldiers in action at the Battle of Monmouth!

The Battle of Monmouth was the last major battle in the north. It came following Washington’s defeat at Brandywine in September of 1777, his loss at Germantown in October of 1777 (opened up the Delaware River so that British warships could bring in food for their occupation of Philadelphia) and then, of course, Washington went into winter quarters in December of 1777 at Valley Forge.

Mr. Bellamy pointed out that even though there were tremendous hardships at Valley Forge, it was remarkable that Washington was able to keep his army together in the field despite so many losses and despite so many supply problems. It was also at Valley Forge, of course, that Baron Von Steuben arrived who really changed Washington’s army from a ragtag type group into a well organized and disciplined European type army.

In May of 1778, Clinton became the new commander and decided to move his forces back to New York. Because his approximately 100 ships were not enough to transport all of his men, Clinton sent the Hessian soldiers first and by ship because he really wasn’t that convinced of their allegiance. They were from six different municipalities in Germany but were not really mercenaries because they were not being paid directly but were in fact receiving their normal pay and the German princes were the one receiving the funds for having these soldiers in the field. In any event, one of the reasons that Clinton didn’t trust the Hessians was because the Continental Congress had been encouraging them to desert with the promise of land and so forth. In fact, approximately one out of six Hessian soldiers did in fact desert.

On June 18, 1778 Clinton started his march north through New Jersey with approximately 18,000 men and 1,500 wagons. His wagon train was approximately 12 miles in length and he also had approximately 1,000 women and children who were loyalist types who did not, of course, want to remain in Philadelphia.

On June 21, 1778 Clinton crossed the Delaware River and it was about a week later on June 28th that the battle actually took place.

There was obviously a lot of controversy about what happened and when. General Charles Lee, who really out ranked everyone except George Washington himself was thought to have ordered a disorderly retreat. Washington got furious with Lee and relieved him immediately and then rallied the troops.

At the end of the battle, the British moved on and so one of the questions is “who really won”? In effect it might have been considered a “draw” and frankly if Clinton had stayed, the British might have won. Of course Clinton’s whole idea was to get his army up to New York. Clinton had always thought that it was really his baggage train that Washington was going after.

At the end of the day, however, the Americans held the field and of course it was during this battle, as mentioned, that Washington got so furious at Lee for what he perceived as this “disorderly retreat” and it was Washington’s rallying of the troops that really enhanced his reputation as the premier general of the American forces.

What were the casualties like? Frankly a lot of sources report how many people were killed and injured on both sides but none of those sources really agree. Actually in effect the Battle of Monmouth was a “political battle”. Perhaps Charles Lee’s involvement would have been forgotten except that Lee demanded and received a court-martial. At the court-martial he was found guilty of three charges but was probably only guilty of one and that is disrespect of a superior officer. There is a real question in Mr. Bellamy’s mind as to whether or not Lee ever was involved in a disorderly retreat.

Because of Charles Lee’s conduct at the Battle of Monmouth and because of General Horatio Gates’ blunders in the south, everything worked together to secure Washington’s reputation for all the time.

We had quite an animated question and answer session and we thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Bellamy and his insightful commentary.