Item of the Day: The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War by Charles Stedman (1794)

Full Title:  The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War by C. Stedman, Who Served under Sir W. Howe, Sir H. Clinton, and the Marquis Cornwallis.  In Two Volumes.  Vol. II. London: Printed for the Author, 1794.

Chap. XXII.

The Evacuation of Philadelphia — General Washington prepares to impede and harass the British Troops in their Retreat — Sir H. Clinton pursues his March to New York by Sandy Hook — Disposition of the American Army — And of the British — Battle of Freehold Court House in the County of Monmouth — The British Army arrives at New York.

 . . The conduct of general Lee on this day, which was so severely arraigned, and unjustly punished by the Americans, was worthy of applause and admiration.  He had been betrayed across some narrow passes of marsh by the persuasion that he had to deal with a rear-guard of only two or three battalions.  When he suddenly perceived six thousand men, including the British light-infantry and grenadiers, forming to receive him, he retired with such quickness of decision, though not attacked, that he had repassed the marsh before our line was in readiness to move.  Had he, in expectation of support, maintained his ground on the plain, until the British had attacked him, he must have been overpowered, and would not have had any retreat.  On the other hand, the conduct of the commanders in chief of the contending armies, though each of them claimed a victory, was made the subject of animadversion.  Why, it was asked, did general Clinton encumber himself with so enormous a train of baggage?  Why, when a rapid retreat was his object, did he halt the army, without being fatigued by long marches, for two days at Freehold?  It was undoubtedly his business to gain a communication with the fleet as quickly as possible; as it was of Washington again to cut it off.  At no time on the march did general Clinton shew any other disposition than that of retreat to New York.  General Washington’s caution is therefore censurable.  He ought to have attacked so encumbered an army with all his light troops, and, in spite of partial defeats, contended, in such favourable circumstances, for ultimate victory.  The check that the advanced guard of the American army sustained did not, it was said, appear to be so great as to justify a declination of all farther attempts against the British army, even at that very time.  Having come up with the main body of his army, fresh and untired troops, he should have endeavoured to turn one of general Clinton’s flanks.  Had he succeeded, that part of the British army must have been destroyed, as, immediately after quitting the plain, any regular mode of retreat would have been impracticable; for, on one side, the road was commanded by a pine barren precipice; while below, on the other, it was frightfully intersected and cut up by frequent gullies and ravines.  these, continued on both sides for five or six miles, precluded the action of flanking parties, at the same time that the summit of the precipice, open to an assailing army, would have poured easy destruction on a retreating enemy.  success in this quarter would have secured equal success on the part of the army that was encumbered with baggage.  And to all these circumstances, so much in favour of the American general, was added the almost immediate appearance of a French fleet on the coast of America.

Yet, in such a conjuncture of affairs, it was observed the British general risked, and even courted an action, while the American suffered the important occasion to pass by, when he might have terminated the war by one great decisive effort.

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Filed under 1770's, American Revolution, Military, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

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