George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Charles Lee, 30 June 1778

To Major General Charles Lee

Head Quarters English Town [N.J.] June 30. 1778


Your letter by Colo. Fitzgerald and also one of this date have been duly received.1 I have sent Colo. Scammel, the Adjutant General to put you in arrest, who will deliver you a copy of the charges on which you will be tryed.2 I am Sir Yr most obt servt

Go: Washington

Copy, in James McHenry’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1See Lee’s second (misdated 28 June) and third letters to GW of this date.

2A twelve-man court-martial presided over by Major General Stirling convened on 1 July and charged Lee with “disobedience of orders, in not attacking the enemy on the 28th of June, agreeable to repeated instructions”; “misbehaviour before the enemy on the same day, by making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat”; and “disrespect to the Commander-in-Chief, in two letters dated the 1st of July and the 28th of June” (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). After almost six weeks of testimony, on 12 Aug. the court found Lee guilty on all charges and sentenced him “to be suspended from any command in the armies of the United States of North America, for the terms of twelve months” (ibid., 3:208). Lee never returned to the army. For the entire record of the court-martial, see ibid., 3:1–208; for a detailed discussion of the dispute by a historian sympathetic to Lee, see Theodore Thayer, The Making of a Scapegoat: Washington and Lee at Monmouth (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1976); see also John Richard Alden, General Charles Lee, Traitor or Patriot? (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1951).

Brigadier generals Charles Scott and Anthony Wayne wrote a memorandum on this date and sent it to GW, apparently with a court-martial of Lee in mind. Dated at Englishtown, it reads: “We esteem it a duty which we owe to our Country, ourselves, and the officers and Soldiers under our command, to state the following facts to your Excellency.

“On the 28th instant, at 5 OClock in the Morning, we received orders to march with the following detatchments vizt Scotts and Varnums Brigades Colonels Butler and Jackson in front, amounting to seventeen hundred Men. Colonels Wesson, Livingston and Stewart with one thousand Men commanded by Genl Wayne. A select detatchment of fourteen hundred Men Rank and file under Genl Scott with ten peices of Artillery properly distributed among the whole.

“About 8 OClock, the Van under Colo. Butler arrived on the left of Monmouth Court House, on the rear of the left flank of the Enemy, who were in full march, moving in great haste and confusion. At this time, our main body under Genl Lee were formed at the Edge of a Wood about half a Mile distant from the Court House.

General Wayne, who was in front reconnoitering the enemy, perceiving that they had made a halt, and were preparing to push Colo. Butler with their Horse and a few foot, gave direction for him to form and receive them. At the same time sent Major Biles to Genl Lee requesting that those troops might be advanced to support those in front, and for the whole to form on the edge of a deep Morass which extends from the East of the Court House on the right, a very considerable distance to the left. The troops did arrive in about an hour after the requisition, and were generally formed in this position. About the same time, General Scott’s detatchment had passed the Morass on the left, and the Enemy’s Horse and Foot that had charged Colo. Butler were repulsed. The number of the Enemy now in view might be near two thousand, tho’ at first not more than five hundred exclusive of their Horse. The Ground, we now occupied, was the best formed by nature for defence, of any perhaps in this Country, the Enemy advanced with Caution, keeping at a considerable distance in front. Genl Scott having viewed the position of the Enemy, as well as the Ground where about twenty five hundred of our troops were formed, repassed the Morass, and took post on the left, in a fine open wood covered by the said Morass in front. Whilst this was doing, Genl Wayne perceiving that the troops on the Right from the Wood to the Court House were retreating, sent Major Fishbourne to Genl Lee requesting that the troops might return to support him. In the interim, Genl Wayne repassed the Morass, leaving Colo. Butlers Regt to keep post on the right flank of the Enemy. Generals Wayne and Scott then went together along the Morass to the Court House when Major Fishbourne returned, and said that Genl Lee gave no other answer than that he would see Genl Wayne himself, which he never did. The Enemy, having now an opening on the Right of Genl Scott, began to move on, when General Wayne and General scott sent to General Lee to request him at least to form to favr General Scotts retreat, but this requisition met with the same fate as the last. The troops still kept retreating, when General scott, perceiving that he would not be supported, filed off by the left. Genl Wayne ordered Colo. Butler to fall back also. Thus were these several select detatchments unaccountably drawn off without being suffered to come to action, altho we had the most pleasing prospect from our numbers and position of obtaining the most glorious and decisive Victory.

“After this we fortunately fell in with your Excellency, you ordered us to form part of those troops whose conduct and bravery kept the Enemy in play untill you had restored order. We have taken the liberty of stating these facts, in order to convince the World that our Retreat from the Court House was not occasioned from the want of Numbers, position or wishes of both Officers and Men to maintain that post. We also beg leave to mention that no plan of Attack was ever communicated to us, or notice of Retreat untill it had taken place in our Rear as we suppose by Genl Lee’s order” (DLC:GW).

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