From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
June 29.—His Excellency General Washington, having early intelligence of the intended movement of the enemy from Philadelphia, detached a considerable body of troops under the command of Major-General Lee, in order to support General Maxwell’s brigade of continental troops already in New Jersey, and the militia under Generals Dickinson and Heard. These troops were intended to harass the enemy on their march through the State to Amboy, and retard them till General Washington, with the main body, could get up. In the mean time several small skirmishes happened between the enemy and General Maxwell’s troops, joined by the militia, but without any considerable execution on either side.
The march of the enemy being by this means impeded, and the main army having crossed the Delaware at Coryell’s ferry on the 20th and 21st ultimo, proceeded by the way of Hopewell, Rocky Hill, Kingston, and Cranbury, and on the 27th overtook the enemy at Monmouth Court House, whither they retired from Allentown on the approach of our troops, leaving their intended route to Amboy.
It having been previously determined to attack the enemy on their march, a suitable disposition was made the same evening. General Lee, with a detachment of picked men, consisting of about fifteen hundred, and reinforced by a strong body of Jersey militia, advanced to English Town, (about six miles from Monmouth Court House;) the militia then proceeded to the meeting-house, the main army, under General Washington, being about four miles in the rear of English Town. In this position the whole halted until advice could be received of the enemy’s motion.
At three o’clock yesterday (Sunday) morning, their first division, under General Knyphausen, began their march, of which we had intelligence in about two hours, when General Lee had orders to advance and begin the attack, the main army at the same time advancing to support him. About half a mile beyond the Court House, General Lee began his attack, and drove the enemy for some time, when they being reinforced, he was obliged to retreat in turn, till met by General Washington with the main army, which formed on the first advantageous ground. In the mean time two field-pieces, covered by two regiments of the detachment, and commanded by Colonels Livingston and Stewart, were advanced to check the enemy’s approach, which they performed with great spirit and considerable loss on both sides. This service being performed, they retired with the pieces to the front line, then completely formed, when the severest cannonade began that it is thought ever happened in America. In the mean time, strong detachments marched and attacked the enemy with small arms, with various success. The enemy were finally obliged to give way, and we took possession of the field covered with dead and wounded. The intense heat of the weather, and the preceding fatigue of the troops, made it necessary to halt them to rest for some time;1 the enemy, in the mean time, presenting a front about one mile advanced beyond the seat of action. As soon as the troops had recovered breath, General Washington ordered two brigades to advance upon each of their flanks, intending to move on in front at a proper time to support them, but before they could reach their destination, night came on, and made any further movements impracticable.
The British left on the field the Honorable Colonel Monckton with several other officers, and a great number of privates, which cannot yet be ascertained with precision. About twelve o’clock last night they moved off with great precipitation, towards Middletown, leaving at the Court House five wounded officers, and above forty privates. They began the attack with their veteran grenadiers and light infantry, which renders their loss still more important. On our side Lieutenant-Colonel Bonner, of Pennsylvania, and Major Dickinson, of Virginia, are slain. Colonel Barber,2 of New Jersey, is wounded by a musket ball, which passed through the right of his body; but it is hoped will not prove mortal. Our troops behaved with the greatest bravery, and opposed the flower of the British army. Our artillery was well served, and did amazing execution. Before, during, and after the action, deserters came over to us in great numbers, and still continue so to do. Of the enemy’s dead many have been found without any wound, but being heavily clothed, they sank under the heat and fatigue. We are well assured the Hessians absolutely refused to engage, declaring it was too hot. Their line of march from the Court House was strewed with dead, with arms, knapsacks, and accoutrements, which they dropped on their retreat. They had the day before taken about fifteen prisoners, whom in their haste they left behind. Had we been possessed of a powerful body of cavalry on the field, there is no doubt the success would have been much more complete, but they had been employed in harassing the enemy during the march, and were so detached, as to give the enemy a great superiority in number, much to their advantage. Our success, under Heaven, is to be wholly ascribed to the good disposition made by his excellency, supported by the firmness and bravery of both officers and men, who were emulous to distinguish themselves on this occasion. The great advance of the enemy on their way, their possession of the strong grounds at Middletown, added to the exhausted state of our troops, made an immediate pursuit ineligible; and the American army now remains about one mile advanced from the field of battle, having been since employed in collecting the dead and wounded, and burying the former.3
1 The heat of the weather proved fatal to many in both armies. A correspondent in a letter to London, says, “A major-general, high in command, lost three horses during the engagement from the intense heat of the weather, the thermometer having been at the astonishing height of ninety-two.”—Upcott, v. 143.
2 Francis Barber.
3 New York Journal, July 13. Gaine gives the following account of this action:—”On Sunday morning, the 28th instant, the rear of the royal army, under the command of General Sir Henry Clinton, was attacked by the rebel army, commanded by Generals Washington, Lee, Gates, Wayne, and La Fayette, about one mile and a half west of Freehold Court House, in Monmouth county, New Jersey, when the grenadiers, light infantry, and Queen’s Rangers distinguished themselves in a particular manner, having opposed the whole of Mr. Washington’s army and pursued them several miles. Their loss we know not, but it is said to be great.
“The following officers are amongst the killed, in the royal army:—Lieutenant-Colonel Monckton and Captain John Gore of the 5th.* The wounded are, Lieutenant-Colonel Trelawney of the Guards; Lieutenant-Colonel Abercrombie, 87th; Major William Gardner, 10th; Captain Andrew Cathcart, 15th; Captain William Brereton, 17th; Captain Harry Ditmass, 15th; Captain Baldwin Leighton, 46th; Lieutenant Mungo Paumier, do.; Lieutenant Disborough of the marines; Captain John Powell, 52d; Captain Thomas Wills, 23d; Lieutenant Patrick Belley, Guards; Captain Stephenson, Queen’s Rangers, (before the action;) Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe, Queen’s Rangers; Captain Lloyd, 46th; Lieutenant Kennedy, 44th. We are informed that the following is an exact return of the loss of the royal army: killed, 110; wounded, 172; missing, 56; total 338.
“It is certain the rebels have not suffered so heavy a loss as on this occasion, in any engagement since their defeat on Long Island.”—New York Gazette, July 6.
* A private letter from an officer in the guards to his friend in London, mentions, that in the affair between the American rebels and the royal army on the 28th of June, General Clinton behaved with the greatest coolness and intrepidity; that his manoeuvres were highly capital, but that he narrowly missed being killed by a musket ball, which passed within a few inches of his head and knocked down a sergeant who stood near him.— Upcott, v. 148