"What is this you have been about to day?"
The New Jersey Brigade at the Battle of Monmouth

John U. Rees
© 2003


Return to Table of Contents


“The canopy of heaven for our tent”:
Soldiers' Shelter on Campaign, June 1778

(Several articles on tentage and makeshift shelters in Revolutionary North America, 1775-1783, are available online.)

British and German Troops

Tents were the preferred covering for Revolutionary War armies, but in the field they were sometimes unavailable or undesirable because of the enemy’s proximity or for other reasons. British troops and their German allies often used makeshift brush or plank structures (termed “wigwams”) in lieu of tents. Interestingly, British commanders purposefully used ad hoc constructs during several campaigns to reduce baggage and make their forces more mobile.

Crown forces soldiers began building brush huts soon after they passed over the Delaware River from Philadelphia at the beginning of the 1778 Monmouth Campaign, Captain John Peebles, 42nd Regiment, noting, "Thursday [June] 18th [1778] ... the Troops march'd to within 2 miles of Haddonfield where they Encampd in the usual manner, vizt. Wigwams ..."1 German lieutenant John Charles Philip von Krafft left a detailed account of shelters on the march across New Jersey, using huts on nine of the eleven days, tenting on another, and one night sleeping in the open.

[15 June 1778] It may have been 7.30 P.M. when we arrived there [at a place two and a half miles past Coopers Ferry]. As we had no tents and it was too late to build huts, I lay down under a tree to sleep.

[16 June] In the morning order was given to erect huts, because we were to remain here until all had overtaken us from Philadelphia.

[18 June] ... we passed through the little town of Hottenfelt [Haddonfield], where, at about 8 o'clock, we who were on the extreme right camped under huts on a fallow field.

[20 June] At 3 A.M. we marched away again ... during a heavy rain. Towards noon we built huts in a meadow near the town of Morristown [Moorestown] ...

[21 June] From 3 in the morning until noon I had the rear guard of our and the English regiment, again in the heavy rain. In the afternoon we marched during the terrific heat ... Our Grenadiers and the English, which were in front got into camp about 6.30 P.M., on the right in front of the town [of Mount Holly], in bush [huts], again in the wheat ... This night there was a terrific thunderstorm and the rain poured down so hard that we in our bush-huts got very wet.

[22 June] About noon we again pitched our hut-camp on a meadow at Black Horse [Tavern] ...

[23 June] At 4 A.M. we moved again, in the middle of the army, till towards evening when we again pitched our camp in a fallow field at Racklestown [Recklesstown] ... [After leaving the encampment for a short time] we hastened toward our camp and [met] ... in the woods that extend nearly up to our huts, some soldiers of our Company who were in search of wood ...

[25 June] At 7 in the evening we reached ... Frehold Township ... and pitched our tents on a fallow field.

[26 June] At noon we ... were near the little town of Freholdt ... at a short distance away from the place ... we pitched our camp in a fallow field ... That evening there was a terrific thunderstorm ... I lay in my hut, on account of the rain, leaning on my left arm, together with my orderly, when there was a fearful thunderclap, so that I could not help thinking my hut had been struck. But it struck at a distance of only 15 paces behind my hut ...

[28 June] At 8.45 P.M. we camped at Notchwarb, in the midst of woods and on an elevation in a field of beautiful wheat. We postponed building our huts until the next day on account of our fatigue.

[30 June] At 7 A.M. we broke up our camp and marched through the borough of Mittletown ... until we reached, two miles further on, quite a large hill where we pitched our camp ... Huts were built, but owing to the heat, it was almost impossible to breath underneath them.2

Through much of the march tents were kept to a minimum, particularly among the rearguard detachments. American Major-General Friedrich de Steuben reported on British forces camped around Monmouth Courthouse the day before the battle. The rearguard then consisted of the 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. Steuben was positioned “about 2 Miles on the left of the Court house 27 June [at] ½ past 12 oClock, and informed General George Washington, “we have advanced our parties so near as to fire a Pistol at their Horsemen whilst feeding their Horses - they now lay encamped (one line) on the main Road by the Court House & another Line extended on their Left from the head of their Column which is not advanced One hundred & fifty paces beyond the Court house - they have some Tents pitched … & have not the least appearance of moving.” The remark “some tents” indicates the British troops had very few tents with them, relying instead on huts or laying in the open.3

Continental Army

The Valley Forge camp ended in mid-June 1778 when General Washington received word that the British army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton, had evacuated Philadelphia after a nine-month occupation. Jeremiah Greenman, an ensign in the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, recorded the Continental Army's shelter, or lack thereof, as it pursued the enemy across New Jersey. A single comment by Dr. Samuel Adams is inserted in parentheses.

[16 to 18 June] ... this day [the 17th] we hear that the ennemy is left philidelphia ... last night about twelve OClock att the beet of the Genl. struck our tents / marcht about 4 milds [on the 18th] & incampt in a large field.

[19 June] ... marcht fore or five milds ... halted about one oClock & piched our tents ...

[20 June] ... marcht a bout 7 milds & made a halt ... then pushed on in the rain / Crost the diliware / pushed on about 5 milds to Amwell ware we piched our tents in a large field ...

[21 June] this morn att the beet of the Genl struck our tents, march about a mild then was order'd to march back in to the field ware we incampt ware we continued all day ... very hott whether ...

[22 June] Continuing in amwell / wraining wether ...

[23 June] this morn started from amwell ... marcht about ten milds & stopt [at] hopewill ... we marcht in to a field ware we fixed our arms, & lay on the Ground in the field / misty wraining wether.
(Dr. Adams: “23rd … Cloudy - the Army marched on to Hopewell left our Tents & heavy baggage in the rear & slept the Night in an Ammunition waggon.”)

[24 June] ... Continuing in hope will ...

[25 June] this morn the Genl beet / we peraded the Rijt. & slung our packs [and] marcht ... very hot sultry wether ... att Sun down marcht into a field ware we grounded our arms & order'd to stay by them ... then marcht 5 milds and halted in a flax field ...

[26 June] ... pushed on 6 milds as far as a small town cal'd Crambury ... hear we stayed three owers ... our Division was order'd forrid under the Command of Genl Lee / we went about 6 milds & made a halt / Sum very heavy Shower of wrain & Thundr.

[27 June] this morn turn'd out from amung the wett grass ... pushed on 6 milds near Englishtown ... [after some further marching and halting] we marcht half a mild into a Medow ... whare I took quart[er]s. under a huckel bury buch. for it was very hot indeed / in the Night it wrain'd & cold.

[28 June, Battle of Monmouth] ... after We retreated [at the end of the day] we went back to the ground ware we left in the morning att English town ...4

Greenman makes no mention at all of brush huts, only that he slept in tents, lay on the ground, or "under a huckel bury buch." Following the Monmouth battle, it was not until 2 July that he recorded "our bagage came to us / we pitched our tents."

Given the speed of the pursuit it is not surprising to find only two mentions of soldiers building brush shelters. Bernardus Swartout was a gentleman volunteer with the 2nd New York Regiment; he belonged to a "detachment ... ordered out to act as light infantry ... in the Brigade commanded by Gen. Scott & Regt: under Col. [Joseph] Cilley of New Hampshire."5 On June 24th Scott's light troops marched "till very late at night, then halt[ed] in the woods three or four miles west of Princeton." Swartout recorded the detachment's progress towards Monmouth Courthouse:

[25 June] The Horn blowed (a substitute for a drum in the [light] infantry corps) we marched about four miles-halted & put ourselves in a fighting position--the enemy were close by-we moved to Allentown and halted for the day.

[26 June] At the sound of the horn we marched eight miles and halted, owing to a heavy shower of rain which lasted some time--After it abated marched two miles and halted in a wood.

[27 June] Early this morning, at the sound of the horn we marched three miles and were ordered back to our old ground, then filed off in a bye road, on the left flank of the enemy-marched within one mile of English Town and made brush huts.6

Joseph Martin also served under General Scott in Colonel Cilley's provisional battalion. Martin recalled that while pursuing the enemy he and his comrades "passed through Princeton and encamped on the open fields for the night, the canopy of heaven for our tent" (this was on 24 June). On the night of the 26th the American light troops "turned into a new ploughed field, and I laid down between two furrows and slept as sweet as though I had laid upon a bed of down." The next day Martin and his fellow soldiers arrived at "a place called Englishtown. It was uncommonly hot weather and we put up booths to protect us from the heat of the sun, which was almost insupportable. Whether we lay here one or two nights I do not remember ... We were early in the morning [of the day of the Battle of Monmouth] mustered out and ordered to leave all our baggage under the care of a guard (our baggage was trifling), taking only our blankets and provisions (our provisions were less), and prepare for immediate march and action."7

Ebenezer Wild's regiment marched with the main body of Washington's army after the light troops were sent ahead; he also made no mention of brush shelters. On 23 June, the day before Scott's picked force was detached, Wild noted, "Our tents did not come up this night, but what little time we had to sleep we slept in the open field, which was from 11 o'clk at night till 4 in the morning." The main body of troops lay still on the 24th, but were up early the day after leaving "all our tents standing & our heavy baggage behind us." Later that day, long after sundown, Wild and his comrades halted and slept "in the road all night." On June 26th it rained till late in the evening, after which "we took our lodgings in the road without anything to cover us, or anything to lodge on but the wet ground ..." On the night of June 27th "We lay in the open field"; the Battle of Monmouth began on the morning of the following day. Following the battle Wild “lay here all night in the field,” as did all of Washington’s men.8

Let us close by seeing how General Washington and his staff fared on the march. Aide de camp Dr. James McHenry related of the Monmouth Campaign, "I cannot say that the fatigues of our late march has been of any disservice to my constitution - in sleeping in the open fields - under trees exposed to the night air and all changes of the weather I only followed the example of our General ... When I joined his Excellency's suite I gave up soft beds - undisturbed repose - and the habits of ease and indulgence ... for a single blanket - the hard floor - or the softer sod of the fields - early rising and almost perpetual duty."9

McHenry recorded headquarters locations and interesting events on the road to Monmouth Courthouse,

19th. [June 1778] The whole army in motion - March to Norringtown Township, Encamp on Stony run. Head Quarters at a Doctor Shannons. A good farm house - good cheer - and a pretty situation …

20th. March at 4 o’clock in the morning. - Hault at Mordecai Moors, about 7 miles from Shannons … The army encamps for the night 8 miles from Moors and 25 from Philadelphia. Head Quarters at Jonathan Fells.

A rainy evening. Let me see, what company have we got within doors. - A pretty, full-faced, youthful, playfull lass. - The family quakers, meek and unsuspicious. - [Alexander] Hamilton, thou shalt not tread on this ground - I mark it for my own. Enter not this circle.

The pretty girl gives me some excellent milk, and sits and chats with me till bedtime. - She was too innocent a subject for gallantry, so I kissed her hand - telling her that we should be all gone before she got up - but not to forget that one man is often more dangerous to a woman than a whole army …

[June 21st] 10 o’clock. Additional waggons ordered for the tents which were weat and heavier in consequence.

A rapid morning’s march. The heat excessive … Reach Coryels ferry. Encamp on the Pennsylvania side.

The General crosses … Headquarters at one Holcombs in the Jersey. Here are some charming girls - But one of the drums of the guard more a favorite than Hamilton.

23d. The army takes the road from the Stone Schoolhouse to Rocky hill. Hault near Sourland hights - Hopewell. 4 miles from Princetown ...

25th. March to Rocky hill. Cross the Millstone by a bridge, and hault at Kingston.

Breakfast at Mrs. Berians - good tea and agreeable conversation.

A dinner in the woods …

26. March to Cranberry, and hault 7 miles from Laurence’s farm. - A heavy rain …

27. March early in the morning 6 miles on the road to English Town …10

Dr. McHenry’s description of the 28 June Battle of Monmouth closes with, “at evening the two front lines of the two armies within musket shot of each other rest upon their arms ... we [Washington and his staff] composed ourselves to sleep behind the line of battle under a large tree.”11


1. John Peebles Journals (microfilm edition), Papers of Lt., later Capt., John Peebles of the 42d. Foot, 1776-1782; incl. 13 notebooks comprising his journal; book #6, 1778 Monmouth Campaign, Cunninghame of Thorntoun Papers (GD 21), Scottish Record Office, Edinburgh.

2. "Journal of Lieutenant John Charles Philip von Krafft, of the Regiment Von Bose, 1776-1784," Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1882 (New York, New-York Historical Society, 1883), 40-49.

3. Friedrich Wilhelm de Steuben to George Washington, 27 June 1778, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm, (Washington, DC, 1961), series 4, reel 50 (hereafter cited as GW Papers).

4. Robert C. Bray and Paul E. Bushnell, eds., Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution: An Annotated Edition of the Military Journal of Jeremiah Greenman, (DeKalb, Il., 1978), 120-124. "Samuel Adams's Private Miscellaneous Diary Ann: Dom: 1778. Kept partly in the Town of Dorchester and partly in his Excellency General Washington's Camp at Valley Forge, White Plains, Fredericksburgh, &c ...," Samuel Adams [surgeon] Diaries, Manuscript Division, New York Public Library.

5. 24 June 1778, Diary of Bernardus Swartout, 2nd New York Regiment, 10 November 1777-9 June 1783, Bernardus Swartout Papers, New-York Historical Society.

6. 24-27 June 1778, ibid.

7. Joseph Plumb Martin, Private Yankee Doodle: A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier. (New York, N.Y., 1962), 124-125.

8. Ebenezer Wild, "Journal of Ebenezer Wild," Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2nd series, vol. VI (Boston, Ma., 1891), 109, 111.

9. Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland Oh., 1907), 23-24.

10. James McHenry, Journal of a March, a Battle, and a Waterfall, being the version elaborated by James McHenry from his Diary of the Year 1778, begun at Valley Forge, & containing accounts of the British, the Indians, and the Battle of Monmouth, Helen and Henry Hunt, eds. (Greenwich, Ct.: privately printed, 1945), 1-5.

11. Ibid., 8.

Return to Table of Contents