When 28 June 1778
Strength British – 14,000 – 15,000 Americans – 11,000
With the French entering the war after the Battle of Saratoga, the British had to adjust their strategy to fight a global war. Consequently, Major General Sir Henry Clinton was ordered to send troops to protect British territory in the Caribbean and in West Florida. With too few soldiers to protect the Philadelphia, Clinton planned to withdraw from the city and return to New York City. Lacking sufficient transport ships, the British were forced to travel overland through New Jersey.
Major General Charles Lee, Washington’s second-in-command, did not wish to commit the Continental army against British regulars. Washington, however, was keen to test his troops after six months of rigorous training and drilling at Valley Forge under the watchful gaze of European officers, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben and the Marquis de Lafayette who improved American morale, discipline, and effectiveness. Washington and his officers were divided on how to best attack the British column. Eventually, Washington chose to send an advance force of 4,000 men to intercept the British rearguard and delay them until the rest of his army could catch up.
Washington gave command of his advanced force to Lee who initially turned it down but insisted on the command when Washington offered the position to the Marquis de Lafayette. Lee failed to give his junior officers proper orders, allowing them to devise their own strategy, which resulted in a piecemeal and disorganized attack on 28 June against the British rearguard led by General Charles Lord Cornwallis. After several hours of fighting, some American units began to retreat and following a British counter-attack, Lee was ordered a withdrawal. As the Americans retreated, Clinton sent his redcoats to pursue the Americans.
As Washington led the bulk of his army up the road to Monmouth Courthouse, he was angered to find Lee’s troops in retreat. After a heated exchange of words, Washington relieved Lee of his command and then rode forward to rally his men. Following Washington’s orders, the retreating Americans turned and held their position long enough to delay the pursuing British and allow the Continental army to take up positions with artillery on nearby Comb’s Hill to direct fire on the approaching redcoats. As the British came up they attacked the American line multiple times, but the Continentals held their position. By 6 p.m. the British fell back to a position beyond the ravine. Washington wanted to mount an attack and pursue them, but darkness ended the battle.
The British rested and then withdrew to Sandy Hook, NJ during the night where they boarded boats and were escorted by the Royal Navy to New York City.
The battled ended in a draw; the Americans won the field but the British successfully withdrew with their supplies to New York City. The battle proved that properly trained, American forces could stand up to British regulars.
The battle of Monmouth essentially ended the campaign in the North as fighting shifted to the South the following year.
General Charles Lee was later court-martialed, where he was found guilty and relieved of command for one year which was approved by Congress by a close vote.
British – 65 killed* / 170 wounded / 64 captured
Americans – 69 killed* / 161 wounded / 132 missing
* Several men on both sides (not included in these numbers) died of heat-stroke
Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth by Emanuel Leutze, c. 1851.