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The Battle of Monmouth: The American Revolutionary War

Though there was no clear winner, this battle did much to increase the courage of American Continental Army soldiers.

Background

The Battle of Monmouth (or Battle of Monmouth Courthouse) was an important American Revolutionary War battle, fought at Monmouth, New Jersey on June 28th, 1778. It was here that the Americans intercepted the British forces who were trekking from Philadelphia. The battle was a military conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and their rebelling colonies in North America. How and why this battle took place, however, revolved around events that began in the previous days and months beforehand. In 1777, British forces had captured Philadelphia. However, in May of the following year, General Clinton was ordered to evacuate Philadelphia and take his troop at the main base that was in New Jersey. He was also ordered to dispatch units to West Florida, which left him with few troop to occupy Philadelphia. General George Washington saw this evacuation as the perfect opportunity to strike at the British. He ordered a detachment of around 5,000 men to conduct the strike, which later increased in number as reinforcements arrived.

Makeup

There were two sides of opposing belligerents in the battle. A British force of around 14,000 men, including the assistance of hired Hessian soldiers, faced an outnumbered Continental Army force of around three-quarters the size of the British. The British army was headed by the British North American Commander-In-Chief, Sir Henry Clinton, supported by General Charles Cornwallis and Major General Alexander Leslie. General Washington led the Continental Army on the American side, superseding Major General Charles Lee, Henry Knox, Nathanael Greene, and Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette. The principal weapons used by both sides during this battle were muzzle-loading flintlock musket and its attached bayonet. Cannon and howitzers were used as fire support. American officers and some small scale scouts used horses to maintain overall command. The commanders and the dragoons used horses on the Britons’ side.

Description

Continental General George Washington’s tactics involved initially avoiding direct engagements in the battle altogether. There was more of a “harassing assault” on the rear guard of the British when, immediately upon their evacuation of Monmouth Courthouse, under Lee's command, they repeatedly struck and retracted. Washington used this tactic as a way of making the British side underestimate the American forces’ sizes, which would prevent them from calling for reinforcements. Then Washington would bring the reserve force if needed as a support to overpower the British. As British General Clinton came to be aware of the American tactic, therefore, he turned his plans to defensive ones, counterattacking and retreating at the courthouse.

Outcome

Tactically, the battle was considered a draw, because the Americans had not gained any substantial ground, and the British were unable to go on with their retreat unimpeded. Both sides, however, accomplished their respective objectives in a sense. The Americans were able to harass Clinton’s force, and the British were able to escape to New York with most of their supplies intact. The Americans, however, had achieved a victory in terms of fighting on equal terms with the numerically superior British force. However, there were casualties on both sides. Between 362 and 500 of the Continental Army's forces were killed, wounded, or captured, while British forces saw between 65 and 304 men killed, 170-770 wounded, and 60 captured. It is possible that many of these men actually died as a result of heat stroke rather than combat.

Significance

To some, the Battle of Monmouth was an indirect victory for the Continental forces, though others doubt the possibility of classifying it as such. Regardless, Monmouth was significant in the sense that it was one of the battles that helped turn the tide of the overall Revolutionary War. Revolutionaries managed to stand toe-to-toe with arguably the greatest army on earth. Heroes were also made here, such as Molly Pitcher, a local civilian who attended to the thirst and wounds of men on the field, and many others. Today, the historic battlefield is preserved by the State of New Jersey as Monmouth Battlefield State Park. It is listed among the US National and New Jersey State Registers of Historic Places, and is classified as a US National Historic Landmark District. Numerous community initiatives to restore and maintain the colonial history of the town and the integrity of the battlefield still continue to this day.

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