George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 1 July 1778

To Henry Laurens

English Town [N.J.] 1st July 1778


I embrace this first moment of leisure, to give Congress a more full and particular account of the movements of the Army under my command, since its passing the Delaware, than the situation of our Affairs would heretofore permit.

I had the honor to advise them, that on the appearances of the enemy’s intention to march thro’ Jersey becoming serious, I had detatched General Maxwells Brigade, in conjunction with the Militia of that State, to interrupt and impede their progress, by every obstruction in their power; so as to give time to the Army under my command to come up with them, and take advantage of any favorable circumstances that might present themselves.1 The Army having proceeded to Coryell’s ferry and crossed the Delaware at that place, I immediately detatched Colo. Morgan with a select Corps of 600 Men to reinforce General Maxwell, and marched with the main Body towards princetown.2

The slow advance of the Enemy had greatly the air of design, and led me, with others, to suspect that General Clinton desirous of a general Action was endeavouring to draw us down into the lower Country, in order by a rapid movement to gain our Right, and take possession of the strong Grounds above us. This consideration, and to give the troops time to repose and refresh themselves from the fatigues they had experienced from rainy and excessive hot Weather, determined me to halt at Hopewell Township, about five Miles from princetown, where we remained till the Morning of the 25th On the preceding day I made a second detatchment of 1500 chosen troops under Brigadier Genl Scott, to reinforce th⟨os⟩e already in the vicinity of the Enemy, the more effectually to annoy and delay their march.3 The next day the Army moved to Kingston, and having received intelligence that the Enemy were prosecuting their Rout towards Monmouth Court House, I dispatched a thousand select men under Brigadier General Wayne, and sent the Marquis de la Fayette to take the command of the whole advanced Corps, including Maxwells Brigade and Morgans light Infantry; with orders to take the first fair opportunity of attacking the Enemy’s Rear.4 In the evening of the same day, the whole Army marched from Kingston where our Baggage was left, with intention to preserve a proper distance for supporting the advanced Corps, and arrived at Cranberry early the next morning. The intense heat of the Weather, and a heavy storm unluckily coming on made it impossible to resume our march that day without great inconvenience and injury to the troops. Our advanced Corps being differently circumstanced, moved from the position it had held the night before, and took post in the evening on the Monmouth Road, about five Miles from the Enemy’s Rear, in expectation of attacking them next morning on their march. The main Body having remained at Cranberry, the advanced Corps was found to be too remote, and too far upon the Right to be supported either in case of an attack upon, or from the Enemy, which induced me to send orders to the Marquis to file off by his left towards English Town,5 which he accordingly executed early in the Morning of the 27th.

The Enemy in marching from Allen Town had changed their disposition and placed their best troops in the Rear, consisting of all the Grenadiers, Light Infanty, and Chasseurs of the line. This alteration made it necessary to increase the number of our advanced Corps; in consequence of which I detatched Major General Lee with two Brigades to join the Marquis at English Town, on whom of course the command of the whole devolved, amounting to about five thousand Men.6 The main Body marched the same day and encamped within three Miles of that place. Morgans Corps was left hovering on the Enemy’s right flank, and the Jersey Militia, amounting at this time to about 7 or 800 Men under General Dickinson on their left.

The Enemy were now encamped in a strong position, with their right extending about a Mile and an half beyond the Court House, in the parting of the Roads leading to Shrewsbury and Middletown, and their left along the Road from Allen Town to Monmouth, about three miles on this side the Court House. Their Right flank lay on the skirt of a small wood, while their left was secured by a very thick one, a Morass running towards their Rear, and their whole front covered by a wood, and for a considerable extent towards the left with a Morass. In this situation they halted till the morning of the 28th.

Matters being thus situated, and having had the best information, that if the Enemy were once arrived at the Heights of Middletown, ten or twelve Miles from where they were, it would be impossible to attempt any thing against them with a prospect of success I determined to attack their Rear the moment they should get in motion from their present Ground. I communicated my intention to General Lee, and ordered him to make his disposition for the attack, and to keep his Troops constantly lying upon their Arms, to be in readiness at the shortest notice.7 This was done with respect to the Troops under my immediate command.

About five in the Morning General Dickinson sent an Express, informing, that the Front of the Enemy had began their march. I instantly put the Army in motion, and sent orders by one of my Aids to General Lee to move on and attack them, unless there should be very powerful Reasons to the contrary; acquainting him at the same time, that I was marching to support him, and for doing it with the greater expedition and convenience, should make the Men disencumber themselves of their packs and Blankets.8

After marching about five Miles, to my great surprize and mortification, I met the whole advanced Corps retreating, and, as I was told, by General Lee’s orders without having made any opposition, except one fire given by a party under the command of Colo. Butler, on their being charged by the Enemy’s Cavalry, who were repulsed. I proceeded immediately to the Rear of the Corps, which I found closely pressed by the Enemy, and gave directions for forming part of the retreating troops, who by the brave and spirited conduct of the Officers, aided by some pieces of well served Artillery, checked the Enemy’s advance, and gave time to make a disposition of the left Wing and second line of the Army upon an eminence, and in a wood a little in the Rear, covered by a morass in front. On this were placed some Batteries of Cannon by Lord Stirling, who commanded the left Wing, which played upon the Enemy with great effect, and seconded by parties of Infantry detatched to oppose them, effectually put a stop to their advance.

General Lee being detatched with the advanced Corps, the command of the Right Wing, for the occasion, was given to General Greene. For the expedition of the march, and to counteract any attempt to turn our Right, I had ordered him to file off by the new Church two Miles from English Town, and fall into the Monmouth Road, a small distance in the Rear of the Court House, while the rest of the Column moved directly on towards the Court House.9 On intelligence of the Retreat, he marched up and took a very advantagious position on the Right.

The Enemy, by this time, finding themselves warmly opposed in front made an attempt to turn our left Flank; but they were bravely repulsed and driven back by detatched parties of Infantry. They also made a movement to our Right, with as little success, General Greene having advanced a Body of Troops with Artillery to a commanding peice of Ground, which not only disappointed their design of turning our Right, but severely enfiladed those in front of the left Wing. In addition to this, General Wayne advanced with a Body of Troops and kept up so severe and well directed a fire that the Enemy were soon compelled to retire behind the defile, where the first stand in the beginning of the Action had been made.

In this situation, the Enemy had both their Flanks secured by thick Woods and Morasses, while their front could only be approached thro’ a narrow pass. I resolved nevertheless to attack them, and for that purpose ordered General Poor with his own and the Carolina Brigade, to move round upon their Right, and General Woodford upon their left, and the Artillery to gall them in front:10 But the impediments in their way prevented their getting within reach before it was dark. They remained upon the Ground, they had been directed to occupy, during the Night, with intention to begin the attack early the next morning, and the Army continued lying upon their Arms in the Feild of Action, to be in readiness to support them. In the mean time the Enemy were employed in removing their wounded, and about 12 OClock at Night marched away in such silence, that tho’ General Poor lay extremely near them, they effected their Retreat without his Knowledge. They carried off all their wounded except four Officers and about Forty11 privates whose wounds were too dangerous to permit their removal.

The extreme heat of the Weather—the fatigue of the Men from their march thro’ a deep sandy Country almost entirely destitute of Water, and the distance the Enemy had gained by marching in the Night, made a pursuit impracticable and fruitless. It would have answered no valuable purpose, and would have been fatal to numbers of our Men, several of whom died the preceding day with Heat.

Were I to conclude my account of this days transactions without expressing my obligations to the Officers of the Army in general, I should do injustice to their merit, and violence to my own feelings. They seemed to vie with each other in manifesting their Zeal and Bravery. The Catalouge of those who distinguished themselves is too long to admit of particularizing individuals: I cannot however forbear mentioning Brigadier General Wayne whose good conduct and bravery thro’ the whole action deserves particular commendation.

The Behaviour of the troops in general, after they recovered from the first surprize occasioned by the Retreat of the advanced Corps, was such as could not be surpassed.

All the Artillery both Officers and Men that were engaged, distinguished themselves in a remarkable manner.

Inclosed Congress will be pleased to receive a Return of our killed, wounded and missing. Among the first were Lieut. Colo. Bunner of Penna and Major Dickinson of Virginia both Officers of distinguished merit and much to be regretted.12 The Enemy’s slain left on the Feild and buried by us, according to the Return of the persons assigned to that duty were four Officers and Two hundred and forty five privates. In the former number was the Honble Colo. Monckton.13 Exclusive of these they buried some themselves, as there were several new Graves near the feild of Battle. How many Men they may have had wounded cannot be determined; but from the usual proportion the number must have been considerable. There were a few prisoners taken.14

The peculiar Situation of General Lee at this time, requires that I should say nothing of his Conduct. He is now in arrest. The Charges against him, with such Sentence as the Court Martial may decree in his Case, shall be transmitted for the approbation or disapprobation of Congress as soon as it shall have passed.

Being fully convinced by the Gentlemen of this Country that the Enemy cannot be hurt or injured in their embarkation at Sandy Hook the place to which they are going, and unwilling to get too far removed from the North River, I put the Troops in motion early this morning and shall proceed that way, leaving the Jersey Brigade, Morgans Corps and other light parties (the Militia being all dismissed) to hover about them—countenance desertion and to prevent their depredations as far as possible. After they embark, the former will take post in the Neighbourhood of Elizabeth Town—The latter rejoin the Corps from which they were detatched. I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, NNebgGW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. This letter was read by Congress on 7 July (see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 11:672). On 4 July, with Congress not in session, Laurens sent a copy of the letter to John Dunlap for publication; it was printed in an extra of Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia) on 6 July and subsequently appeared in other newspapers.

1See GW to Brig. Gen. William Maxwell, 25 May. GW had advised Congress of the detachment in his first letter to Laurens of 28 May.

4See GW to Maj. Gen. Lafayette, 25 June. For some of the intelligence, see Dickinson to GW, 25 June, and Maj. Gen. Steuben to GW, that date. The orders detaching Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne’s troops have not been identified.

5See GW to Lafayette, 26 June (second letter).

7The specific nature of these orders, which GW gave to Lee at a meeting on the afternoon of 27 June, was the subject of testimony at Lee’s court-martial (see Lee Papers description begins [Charles Lee]. The Lee Papers. 4 vols. New York, 1872-75. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 4–7. description ends , 3:2–6).

8See Dickinson’s first letter to GW of 28 June. For the testimony of GW’s aide Richard Kidder Meade about the orders to Lee, see ibid., 3:6–8.

9This order has not been identified.

10At this place in the draft, Robert Hanson Harrison wrote a clause that is not in the LS: “The Troops advanced with great spirit to execute their orders.”

11Harrison wrote “fifty” on the draft.

12The enclosed return, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, reported 8 officers, 1 sergeant, and 60 men killed; 18 officers, 10 noncommissioned officers, 1 adjutant, and 132 men wounded; and 5 sergeants and 127 men missing, noting that “Many of the missing dropt thro’ fatigue and have since come in” (DNA:PCC, item 152). Rudolph Bunner commenced service in January 1776 as a captain in the 2d Pennsylvania Regiment, which was reorganized and redesignated the 3d Pennsylvania Regiment in 1777. He was promoted to major in June 1777 and to lieutenant colonel in August 1777.

13Henry Monckton (1740–1778), a younger brother of Lt. Gen. Robert Monckton, was appointed an ensign in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards in December 1760 and rose to become lieutenant colonel of the 45th Regiment of Foot in July 1771. In May 1776 he was appointed to command the 2d Battalion of Grenadiers.

14The preceding sentence does not appear in Harrison’s draft, which reads instead: “Nor can the amount of the prisoners taken be ascertained as they were sent off in small parties, as they were captured, and the returns not yet made.” British general Henry Clinton reported his casualties in the 28 June battle as 65 killed, 59 dead of fatigue, 170 wounded, and 64 missing (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 13:320).

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