"What is this you have been about to
The New Jersey Brigade at the Battle of Monmouth
John U. Rees
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“Charge, Grenadiers, never heed forming.”
British Accounts of the Monmouth Battle
Andrew Bell, secretary to General Sir Henry Clinton
Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton, K.B.
William Hale, lieutenant, 45th Regiment
John Peebles, captain, 42nd Regiment
(NOTE: A forward slash ( / ) is used in some documents to delineate sentences where punctuation is missing in the original.)
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Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton, K.B., to Lord George Germaine, 5 July 1778.
I have the honor to inform your Lordship, that pursuant to his Majesty’s instructions I evacuated Phila. On the 18th June, at three o’clock in the morning, and proceeded to Gloucester Point, without being followed by the enemy. Every thing being from thence passed in safety across the Delaware through the excellent disposition made by the Admiral to secure our passage / the army marched at 10 oclock and reached Haddonfield the same day. A strong corps of the enemy having, upon our approach, abandoned the difficult pass of Mount-Holly the army proceeded without any interruption from them, excepting what was occasioned by their having destroyed every bridge on our road. As the country is much intersected with marshy rivulets, the obstructions we met with were frequent, and the excessive heat of the season rendered the labour of repairing the bridges severely felt.
The advanced parties of our light troops arriving unexpectedly at Crosswicks on the 23d, after a trifling skirmish, prevented the enemy from destroying the bridge over a large creek at that village, and the army passed over it the next morning. One column, under the command of his Excellency Lieut Gen. Knyphausen, halted near Emlay’s-town, and the provision train and heavy artillery were stationed in that division / the other column, under Lieut. Gen. Earl Cornwallis took a position at Allen’s town, which covered the other encampment.
Thus far, my Lord, my march pointed equally towards the Hudson’s River and Staten Island by the Raritan. I was now at the juncture when it was necessary to decide ultimately what course to pursue. Encumbered as I was by an enormous provision train, &c to which impediment the probability of obstructions and length of my march obliged me to submit, I was led to wish for a route less liable to obstacles than those above mentioned.
I had received intelligence that Gens Washington and Lee had passed the Delaware with their army, had assembled a numerous militia from all the neighbouring provinces; and that Gates with an army from the northward, was advancing to join them on the Raritan. As I could not hope that after having always hitherto so studiously avoided a general action Gen. Washington would now give into it against every dictate of policy: I could only suppose that his views were directed against my baggage &c, in which part I was indeed vulnerable. This circumstance alone would have tempted me to avoid the passage of the Raritan, but when I reflected that from Sandy Hook I should be able, with more expedition (and greater secrecy) to carry out his Majesty’s further orders into execution, I did not hesitate to order the army into the road which leads through Freehold to the Neversink. The approach of the enemy’s army being indicated by the frequent appearance of their light troops on ur rear, I requested his Excellency Lieut General Knyphausen to take the baggage of the whole army under the charge of his division, consisting of the troops mentioned in the margin [17th Light Dragoons, 2nd Battalion of Light Infantry, Hessian Jaegers, 1st and 2nd British Brigades, Sterne’s and Loos’ Hessian Brigades, Pennsylvania Loyalists, West Jersey Volunteers, and Maryland Loyalists]. Under the head of the baggage was comprised, not only the wheeled carriages of every department, but also the bat horses, a train, which as the country admitted but of one route for carriages, extended near twelve miles. The indispensable necessity I was under of securing these, is obvious, and the difficulty of doing it, in a most woody country, against an army far superior in numbers, will, I trust, be no less so.
I desired Lieut. Gen. Knyphausen to move at day break on the 28th and that I might not press him in the first part of the march … I did not follow with the other division [16th Light Dragoons, 1st and 2nd Battalions of British Grenadiers, 1st Battalion of Light Infantry, British Guards, Hessian Grenadiers, 3rd, 4th, and 5th British Brigades] till near eight o’clock. Soon after I had marched, reconnoitering parties of the enemy appeared on our left flank. The Queen’s Rangers fell in with and dispersed some detachments among the woods in the same quarter. Our rear guard having descended from the heights above Freehold, into a plain near three miles in length, and about one mile in breadth; several columns of the enemy appeared likewise descending into the plain, and about ten o’clock they began to cannonade our rear. Intelligence was at this moment brought me, that the enemy were discovered marching in force on both our flanks. I was convinced that our baggage was their object; but it being in this juncture engaged in defiles, which continued for some miles, no means occurred of parrying the blow, but attending the corps which harrassed our rear, and pressing it so hard as to oblige the detachments to return from our flanks to its assistance.
I had good information that Gen. Washington was up with his whole army, estimated at about 20,000, but as I knew there were two defiles between him and the corps which I meant to strike, I judged that he could not have passed them with a greater force than what Lord Cornwallis’s division was well able to engage; and had I even met his whole army in the passage of those defiles, I had little to apprehend, but his situation might have been critical.
The enemy’s cavalry, commanded it is said by M. La Fayette, having approached within our reach, they were charged with great spirit by the Queen’s light dragoons. They did not wait the shock, but fell back in confusion, upon their own infantry.
Thinking it possible that the event might draw a general action, I sent for a brigade of British and the 17th light dragoons from Lieut. Gen. Knyphausen’s division, and having directed them on their arrival to take a position effectually covering our right flank, of which I was most jealous, I made a disposition of attack on the plain, but before I could advance, the enemy fell back and took a strong position on the heights above Freehold Court House. The heat of the weather was intense, and our men already suffered from fatigue. But our circumstances obliged us to make a vigorous exertion. The British Grenadiers with their left to the village of Freehold, and the Guards on the right of the Grenadiers began the attack with such spirit, that the enemy gave way immediately. The second line of the enemy stood the attack, with greater obstinacy, but were likewise completely routed. They then took a third position, with a marshy hollow in front, over which it would have been scarcely possible to have attacked them. However part of the second line made a movement to the front, occupied some ground on the enemy’s left flank, and the light infantry and Queen’s Rangers turned their left.
By this time our men were so overpowered with fatigue, that I could press the affair no further; especially as I was confident the end was gained for which the attack had been made. I ordered the light infantry to rejoin me; but a strong detachment of the enemy having possessed themselves of a post, which would have annoyed them in their retreat, the 33rd. Regiment made a movement towards the enemy, which, with a similar one made by the first grenadiers, immediately dispersed them.
I took the position from whence the enemy had been first driven, after they had quitted the plain, and having reposed the troops till ten at night, to avoid the excessive heat of the day, I took advantage of the moonlight to rejoin Lieut-Gen. Knyphausen, who had advanced to Nut-swamp, near Middletown.
Our baggage had been intercepted by some of the enemy’s light troops, who were repulsed by the good dispositions made by Lieut Gen. Knyphausen and major Gen Grant, and the good countenance of the 40th Regt whose pickets alone were attacked, and one troop of the 17th light dragoons. The two corps which had marched against it, (being as I learn a brigade on each flank) were recalled, as I had suspected, at the beginning of the action.
It would be sufficient honour to the troops, barely to say, that they had forced a corps, as I am informed of near 12,000 men, from two strong positions; but it will, I doubt not, be considered as doubly creditable when I mention that they did under such disadvantages of heat and fatigue, that a great part of those we lost fell dead as they advanced, without a wound.
Fearing that my first order had been miscarried, before I quitted this ground, I sent a second for a brigade of infantry, the 17th light dragoons, and 2d battalion of light infantry to meet me on the march, with which additional force, had General Washington shewn himself the next day, I was determined to attack him, but there not being the least appearance of the enemy, I suspected he might have pushed a considerable corps to a strong position near Middletown; I therefore left the rear guard on its march, and detached Major Gen. Grant to take post there, which was effected on the 29th. The whole army marched to this position the next day, and then fell back to another near Neversink, where I waited two days, in the hope, that Mr. Washington might have been tempted to have advanced to the position near Middletown, which we had quitted; in which case I might have attacked him to advantage.
During this time the sick and wounded were embarked, and preparations made for passing to Sandy hook by a bridge, which by the extraordinary efforts of the navy was soon completed, and over which the whole army passed in about two hours time; the horses and cattle having been previously transported.
Your Lordship will receive herewith a return of the killed, wounded, missing, &c. of his Majesty’s troops on the 28th of last month: That of the enemy is supposed to have been more considerable, especially in killed.
The loss of Lieut-Col. Monckton, who commanded the 2d battalion of grenadiers is much to be lamented.
I am much indebted to Ld. Cornwallis for his zealous services on every occasion; and I found great support from the activity of Major Gen. Grey, Brigadier General Matthew, Leslie, and Sir William Erskine …
I have the honor to be, &c.
NOTE: Appended to the letter is the return of Crown forces wounded found in Appendix K.
There are a number of order books, British and German diaries covering the Monmouth Campaign. Perhaps the most compelling account comes from William Hale a lieutenant in the 45th Regiment Grenadier Company. Hale served in the 2nd Grenadier Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Monckton, 45th Regiment commander.
Neversunk, 4 July 1778
General [Sir Henry] Clinton's dispatches will acquaint you of an action on the 28th June, of which our Battalion bore the principal part. Lee, acquainted with the temper of our present Commander, laid a snare which perfectly succeeded. The hook was undisguised with a bait, but the impetuosity of Clinton swallowed it. A few Light Troops began a desultory kind of attack on the flank of our rear guard, composed of the Grenadiers and Light Infantry and Rangers, in which the Rangers were chiefly engaged, and [Colonel] Simcoe received a flesh wound in the arm. Larger bodies were then seen quitting the woods, and filing off towards some heights in our rear, passing within cannon shot of our Battalion. Through my glass I plainly saw from their variegated cloth[e]s they did not belong to our Army, but Col. Monckton asserted them to be provincial troops; fatally for him we were not long deceived, the firing became every moment hotter; several cannon shot were fired without effect, and the Grenadiers were ordered to the right about and march to the heights of which the Rebels were already possessed; such a march I may never again experience. We proceeded five miles in a road composed of nothing but sand which scorched through our shoes with intolerable heat; the sun beating on our heads with a force scarcely to be conceived in Europe, and not a drop of water to assuage our parching thirst; a number of soldiers were unable to support the fatigue, and died on the spot. A Corp[oral]. Of the 43rd Grenadiers, who had by some means procured water, drank to such excess as to burst and expired in the utmost torments. Two became raving mad, and the whole road, strewed with miserable wretches wishing for death, exhibited the most shocking scene I ever saw. At length we came within reach of the enemy who cannonaded us very briskly without doing much damage, and afterwards marching through a cornfield saw them drawn up behind a morass on a hill with a rail fence in front and a thick wood on their left filled with their light chosen troops. We rose on a small hill commanded by that on which they were posted in excellent order notwithstanding a heavy fire of Grape[shot], when judge of my inexpressible surprise, General Clinton himself appeared at the head of our left wing accompanied by Lord Cornwallis, and crying out 'Charge, Grenadiers, never heed forming'; we rushed on amidst the heaviest fire I have yet felt. It was no longer a contest for bringing up our respective companies in the best order, but all officers as well as soldiers strove who could be foremost, to my shame I speak it. I had the fortune to find myself after crossing the swamp with three officers only, in the midst of a large body of Rebels who had been driven out of the wood by the 1st Battalion of Grenadiers, accompanied by not more than a dozen men who had been able to keep up with us; luckily the Rebels were too intent on their own safety to regard our destruction. Lt. [Joseph or William] Bunbury of the [49th Regiment] killed one of them with his sword, as we all might have done, but seeing a battalion running away with their Colours, I pushed for them with the few fellows I had, but to my unutterable disppointment they out ran us in a second. Col. Monckton was shot through the heart at the first charge, to the unspeakable loss of the Regt. … his body which could not be found in the spot where he fell by a party I sent to bury it, was intered by the Rebels the next day with military honours. Lt. Kennedy of the 44th Grenadiers … was killed by the same fire. The Column which we routed in this disorderly manner consisted of 4000, the force on our side not more than 800, during the whole our left flank was left entirely exposed and commanded by the hills of which they afterwards availed themselves. In the mean time the pursuit of this column brought us on their main Army led by Washington, said by deserters to be 16,000. With some difficulty we were brought under the hill we had gained, and the most terrible cannonade L[or]d. W. Erskine says he ever heard ensued and lasted for above two hours, at the distance of 600 yards; on our side two medium twelves, as many howitzers and 6 six-pounders which were answered by fourteen pieces, long twelves and french nines; our shells [i.e., howitzers] and twelves, which were admirably conducted by a Capt. Williams, did most horrible execution among their line drawn up on the hill. The shattered remains of our Battalion being under cover of our hill suffered little, but from thirst and heat of which several died, except some who preferred the shade of some trees in the direct range of shot to the more horrid tortures of thirst. Capt. Powell of the 52nd Grenadiers, one of these [seeking shade] had his arm shattered to pieces … At length finding we did not take possession of the hills [Combs Hill] on their right, they brought some cannon on them and obliged us to move through the wood to a hill at a greater distance, and some [British] brigades coming up both kept possession of their field from which they moved that evening, and we in the night. Our battalion lost 98, 11 officers killed and wounded, Major Gardner shot very badly through the foot … P.S. … our wounded left behind, among them [Captain Thomas] Wills [23rd Regiment] of Plym[outh]. who was [formerly] in the 45th, his thigh shattered by a cannon ball … I am told the General has expressed his approbation of the ridiculous behaviour of the four sub[altern]. officers I before mentioned who had got foremost, among these was my Bro[ther]. Officer who received a painful but not dangerous wound in the neck; the action happened at Freehold. All friends well. [Conway] Courtenay [lieutenant, 15th Regiment] and myself lay under the hill together during the cannonade, and swallowed a canteen of water which a tempting dollar from my pocket prevailed on an artillery driver to creep on all fours through the fire to fetch …
Hale gave further details in a 14 July letter from New York:
I escaped unhurt in the very hot action of the 28th last month, allowed to be the severest that has happened, the Rebel’s Cannon playing Grape and Case upon us at the distance of 40 yards and the small arms within little more than half that space; followed by a most incessant and terrible cannonade of near three hours continuance; you may judge from the circumstances of our battalion guns, 6 pounders, firing 160 rounds, and then desisting only lest ammunition should be wanting for Case shot; of the roar kept up by our twelves [12 pound cannon] and howitzers, answered by near twenty pieces from their side on a hill 600 paces from ours … Our Comp[any]. which I commanded lost 3 killed and one wounded, supposed mortally … The General [Clinton] by his rashness in the last action has totally lost the confidence both of the Officers and soldiers, who were astonished to see the Commander of an Army galloping like a Newmarket jockey at the head of a wing of Grenadiers and expressly forbidding all form and order; the method too of dismissing the flank companies [lights and grenadiers] to their respective regiments [after returning to New York] gave no small disgust. After slightly thanking us for the ardour we had shewn, he reprimanded us for disorder and plundering which never existed but among the followers of the Army, and sent us about our business without even allotting boats to those whose Regiments were not on the spot … The loss of the gallant Colonel Monckton is one of the greatest misfortunes that could befall our regiment; no man was ever more sincerely and generally regretted. Major Gardner is yet in a doubtful situation, the ball cannot be extracted, and the loss of his leg is extremely feared. Colonel Trelawney who was left with the Rebels is here in a fair way of recovery; of the other wounded officers the Reports are various and uncertain. Willis is said by some to be dead, and by other doing well, the former is most likely, the thigh being shattered too high for amputation.2
Captain John Peebles, Grenadier Company, 42nd Regiment
(Note: Excerpts from the Peebles Diary for the march to Monmouth is in Section A - Jump to there).
Sunday 28th June  a fight - Genl Kniphausen with his Division& provision & Baggage train marched between 3 & 4 o’clock on the road leading to Middletown Our Division moved after 5 o’clock on the same road, observing the same order of march as the two days past - Between 9 & 10 oclock when our Brigade was about 4 miles advanced from the Village of Monmouth, (the Rear of the Division I suppose about 2 miles behind) the Enemy made their appearance in force near the Rear; the General rode back & ordered the troops to face about and march back with all speed to attack the Rebels; as our Troops approach’d their van, a Cannonade began about the East end of the Villlage, but the enemy soon retired to their more solid Column as the flank Corps moved up, about 2 miles to the westwd. Of the Village the Gr[enadie]rs. attack’d, & the Light Infy. Were sent to the righ[t] The 1st. Battn. Light Infantry & Queen Rangers were dispatch’d to the right to try to gain the Enemy’s left flank, but meeting swamps & much impediment in the Woods they did not get up in time, mean while the Brigade of Guards & two Battalions of British Grenrs. After a very quick march moved up briskly & attack’d the Enemy in front receiving a heavy fire as they approach’d of both cannon and musketry & when within a short distance they pour’d in their fire & dashing forwards drove the enemy before them for a considerable time, killing many with their Bayonets but seeing a fresh line of the Enemy strongly posted on t’other side [of] a Ravine & Swamp & well supplyed with Cannon & having suffer’d much both from the fire of the Enemy & fatigue & heat of the day, they were order’d to retire till more Troops came up to their Support - The 3d. Brigade came up after a very quick & fatiguing march of six or 7 miles, and leaving their Packs at the edge of the wood on their right, they dash’d thro’ that wood & a deep swamp, and came upon a Scatter’d Body of the Rebels whom the left of the 42d. drove before them, and coming to a rising ground saw the enemy in force on a hill about 7 or 800 yards in front playing a good many pieces of Cannon as Briskly as they could on everything within their reach, whilst our Cannon were playing upon them with I’m told tollerable success; while this was going on, part of the 42d. cross’d a very deep swamp & took possession of a hill on their right, & were soon followed by the 44th. regt / but seeing no appearance of the Enemy there they were order’d back to the Hill they left being Flank’d by the Enemys Cannon. These several maneuvers & rapid marches with the excessive heat & the difficult passes they met with had so fatigued & knock’d up the men yt. a great number of the several Corps died upon the Spot; while the 3d. Brigade halted a little while to breathe the 1st. Light Infantry & Queens Rangers came up on their right & finding themselves likewise much fatigd. & having drop’d a good many men, it was thought improper to advance any farther upon the Enemy who were strongly posted, & the Troops were accordingly order’d to retire to cover the Village of Monmouth where the Wounded & Sick were brought to in the Evening - where we remained till near 12 oclock at night, & leaving those of the wounded that were too ill to remove, with a Surgeon & flag we march’d forwards to join the other division of the Army whom we overtook near to Middletown about 9 o’clock of the morng. of the 29th. in this action the Grenrs. suffer’d considerably having 13 officers killed & wounded and about 150 men killed wounded & missing Colo: Monckton among the slain - The Guards likewise lost above 40 - and the several other Corps that came up lost some men either by the Enemy or the heat & fatigue of the day, which was very distressing - The total of killed wounded & missing [was] near 400 - 358 The line of Baggage was likewise attack’d by a small party about 10 or 12 miles from Monmouth, & had a few men kill’d & wounded. 3
Andrew Bell, secretary to General Sir Henry Clinton
Col. Monckton and Lt. Vaughn of Artillery were killed, Major Gardiner, Capt. Powell, Capt. Bellow, Capt Deighton, and Lieutenants Gilchrist and Willis wounded~ about 200 killed and wounded~ the weather destroyed more than the Action~ Tis generally thought the Rebels have lost 2000, as Gen. Clinton was master of the field and had an opportunity of observing. Tis said Lee is Killed and a French General~ we took 60 prisoners from them we learn the Rebels had 25000 men in the field this day, and Gen. Washington was there. The Army remained in the field till 12 at night when the General withdrew them and pursued his march to Middletown. About 50 of our wounded were obliged to be left at Freehold for want of Waggons, and all the Rebels wounded giving their parole as Prisoners. Gen. Knyphausen encamped within 3 miles of Middletown ~ 1
1. Andrew Bell diary, Bell Mss, WG45, New Jersey Historical Society, Newark.
(A copy of a Journal found among the Papers of Andrew Bell dec. at one time confidential Secretary to Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, in his own handwriting with no other writing or memorandum attached~ Perth Amboy 24 July 1843 S.V.R. Paterson An edited version of this diary appeared in the Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society (September 1851), 15-19.)
2. William Hale letters, 4 July and 14 July 1778, Walter Harold Wilkin, Some British Soldiers in America (London, Hugh Rees, Ltd., 1914), 257-264.
3. Ira D. Gruber, ed., John Peebles’ American War: The Diary of a Scottish Grenadier, 1776-1782 (Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1998), 193-194.
4. The Lee Papers, vol. II, 1776-1778, Collections of the New‑York Historical Society for the Year 1872 (New York, 1873), 461-467.
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