In 1778, two armies slugged it out in sweltering heat in these east-central New Jersey fields. Though technically a draw, the Continental Army showed it could finally stand toe-to-toe with the best soldiers in the British Army.
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The Battle of Monmouth Court House was fought on June 28, 1778 between American forces commanded by General George Washington and Major Generals Nathanael Greene, William Lord Stirling Alexander, Charles Lee, and Marquis de Lafayette and British forces commanded by Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis and Lt. Gen. Baron Wilhelm von Knyphausen near Freehold, New Jersey during the American Revolutionary War. The battle was a tactical draw, with both sides exhausted after fighting the longest battle of the war in brutal heat.
After France’s entry into the war on the American side, British Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton withdrew his army from Philadelphia and retreated toward New York City, which was under British control. He sent several thousand Tory volunteers and most of his supplies down the Delaware River, while his remaining 10,000-man army marched overland. General Washington’s 12,000-man army caught up with them at Monmouth Court House.
Washington sent Maj. Gen. Charles Lee and Marquis de Lafayette forward with 5,000 men to attack Clinton’s 1,500-man rearguard. When Clinton turned Maj. Gen. Cornwallis’ forces around to strike Lee’s left flank, the Americans broke and withdrew in confusion. Just then, General Washington arrived ahead of the rest of his army and sharply rebuked Lee. He cobbled together a defensive line, but that also broke under relentless British attacks. Washington’s third line held.
Despite being assailed by disciplined veteran British troops, the Patriot army finally stood fast. During the fighting, Mary Ludwig Hays brought water to the weary soldiers and took her husband’s place at the cannon when he was wounded, inspiring the legend of Molly Pitcher. Washington ordered a counterattack, but his exhausted troops couldn’t advance. Dozens succumbed to heat stroke. At the end of the day, the British lost 147 killed, 170 wounded, and 60 died of heat stroke. The Americans lost 72 killed, 161 wounded, 130 missing, and 37 to heat stroke.
Fought between Great Britain and her Thirteen American Colonies from 1775 to 1883, the Revolutionary War led to a Declaration of Independence and the formation of the United States of America in 1776. The Thirteen Colonies won their independence, at the cost of an estimated 158,000 British, American, French, German, Spanish, and American Indian lives. It was a dynamic and surprisingly international conflict.
After the battle, the area returned to farmland. A 1,818-acre state park wasn’t established until 1978, and then it suffered from poor maintenance. The Friends of Monmouth Battlefield, established in 1990, works with the state park to maintain the grounds and provide educational programs. They also run a small gift shop in the visitors center. There is an annual reenactment at the site on the third or fourth weekend of June.
Monmouth Battlefield State Park is located at 16 Business Route 33 in Manalapan Township, New Jersey. The park is open daily 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the visitor center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free. The museum and visitors center features a variety of displays telling the story of the battle, and you can walk up to 25 miles of trails throughout the battlefield. There are a couple interpretive signs on the battlefield itself, but few monuments.