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"Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, " Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 11:23 a.m. PST

…and the Politics of Battle.

"Historians have long considered the Battle of Monmouth one of the most complicated engagements of the American Revolution. Fought on Sunday, June 28, 1778, Monmouth was critical to the success of the Revolution. It also marked a decisive turning point in the military career of George Washington. Without the victory at Monmouth Courthouse, Washington's critics might well have marshaled the political strength to replace him as the American commander-in-chief. Authors Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone argue that in political terms, the Battle of Monmouth constituted a pivotal moment in the War for Independence.

Viewing the political and military aspects of the campaign as inextricably entwined, this book offers a fresh perspective on Washington's role in it. Drawing on a wide range of historical sources—many never before used, including archaeological evidence—Lender and Stone disentangle the true story of Monmouth and provide the most complete and accurate account of the battle, including both American and British perspectives. In the course of their account it becomes evident that criticism of Washington's performance in command was considerably broader and deeper than previously acknowledged. In light of long-standing practical and ideological questions about his vision for the Continental Army and his ability to win the war, the outcome at Monmouth—a hard-fought tactical draw—was politically insufficient for Washington. Lender and Stone show how the general's partisans, determined that the battle for public opinion would be won in his favor, engineered a propaganda victory for their chief that involved the spectacular court-martial of Major General Charles Lee, the second-ranking officer of the Continental Army.

Replete with poignant anecdotes, folkloric incidents, and stories of heroism and combat brutality; filled with behind-the-scenes action and intrigue; and teeming with characters from all walks of life, Fatal Sunday gives us the definitive view of the fateful Battle of Monmouth."


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Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 2:01 p.m. PST

Have it. Reading it now.

historygamer23 Oct 2017 3:01 p.m. PST


Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member23 Oct 2017 3:16 p.m. PST

Disagree with the conclusion that Monmouth was a strategic victory for Washington because Clinton failed to destroy the Continental army (and as to where the authors get the idea that it was ever Clinton's plan to do so……). I would have thought it should be the other way around, given what was said at all of Washington's councils of war.

Otherwise, a very good book.

Major Bloodnok24 Oct 2017 5:22 a.m. PST

Lets see. Clinton is retreating to New York, Washington tries to capture Clinton's baggage and more. Washington is stopped cold and Clinton continues to retire back to NY without any further molestation. However since he left the battlefield Washington declares victory…

historygamer24 Oct 2017 5:47 a.m. PST

My take away was that it was a strategic political victory, not a battlefield one. The "affair" was puffed up in the write-ups to Congress and secured Washington's position for the duration of the war. In warfare, there are all kinds of victories. The unintended consequence was the eventual removal of General Lee from the group for his post-battle antics.

I do think that Clinton was hanging around looking for an opportunity as he sure had a lot of men standing by for a fight. It might have developed into something bigger if the terrain hadn't been so unfriendly for an attack.

Bill N24 Oct 2017 9:19 a.m. PST

I haven't read this book but hope to if my library acquires it.

However since he left the battlefield Washington declares victory…

Until then, when the bulk of the British army had chosen to stand and fight, that had not been the norm. My take on Monmouth is that it vindicated Washington's decisions at Valley Forge. Washington wanted an army that he could take into a pitched battle with the British on something approaching equal terms, and rely on it to stand and fight. Monmouth showed the army was approaching that goal. Getting rid of Lee was an extra. The main challenger to Washington's leadership remained Gates.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2017 11:17 a.m. PST



dantheman Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2017 1:20 p.m. PST

I read the book and historygamer got it right regarding the book's conclusions. In the end the author clearly stated that the battle was at best a draw with no military advantage gained by anyone.

The author drew the conclusion that it resulted in a strategic POLITICAL victtory for Washington. Lee was eliminated as a contender and Washington cemented his role as leader of the Revolutionary fight. The book opened with a review of the Conway Cabal to set the background.

As always you need to take the marketing spin of any book such as the one above with a grain of salt until you read the book. I highly recommend the book.

42flanker25 Oct 2017 1:15 a.m. PST

Surely, the military advantage to Clinton and the British was, after the interruption of the American attack, to be free to continue their withdrawal from Philadelphia to the coast with their baggage columns intact.

historygamer25 Oct 2017 7:45 a.m. PST

The appearance was that the British counterattack stalled out in front of the drawn up American army. Now the terrain had as much to do with that as anything as it blocked flanking movements and there was little to be gained from a frontal assault over swampy ground.

My own view is that the American army put up a better fight at Birmingham Hill, but optics being what they were, the Crown Army abandoned the rebel capital of Philadelphia and slunk back to NYC where, for all intense and purposes, the war was over in the North.

Of more interest is that Lord Howe had one more go at the French fleet, out maneuvered it, but a storm intervened to stop the battle before it began. He then left shortly after as well.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member25 Oct 2017 2:20 p.m. PST

I'll take another look, but I don't recall the authors talking about "political" victory – very definitely a military one – that was predicated on Clinton "failing" to destroy the Continental Army.

My own view is that Washington's generalship was distinctly "ordinary" (a polite way of saying awful) given that his plan was to sucker Clinton into giving battle with half his force (the other half being pinned by Morgan and various militia groups) and drawing him into a trap with the much larger Continental Army. He was much too far away from Lee for that to work and ended up having to seek refuge behind an impregnable ridge. Getting rid of the (personally obnoxious) Lee was the one bright thing for the Continentals.

42flanker25 Oct 2017 3:50 p.m. PST

I remember the authors' conclusions being moe measured than that. It will be interesting to see what you glean from your second reading. Didn't Washington's plan suffer from Morgan being off on a flank and either he was not fully informed or failed to understand what his role was. Either this was the result of sclerotic communications or Washington did not making his purpose clear.

historygamer25 Oct 2017 5:29 p.m. PST

I agree the plan was rather vague and not his best. That idle cavalry sure would have been useful.

Morgan got murky orders after midnight that said, "attack tomorrow." He wasn't sure if that meant in the morning or next full day. He went with the later interpretation and missed the battle.

historygamer25 Oct 2017 5:30 p.m. PST

I'm betting you've both gamed this. Near impossible for Lee to do much but fall back.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2017 10:33 p.m. PST

The propaganda value of Washington "driving the British from the field" was immense.
Never mind that they were leaving anyway.
Had the British intent been to drive Washington from the field, Things may have been different.
Washington achieved several important things.
1. He "drove the British from the field". That silenced his critics.
2. His men fought well. Valley Forge paid off.
3. He got rid of Lee.

It's just as well he didn't have to fight any more battles before Yorktown.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP26 Oct 2017 5:15 a.m. PST

Chapter 19 provides the summary conclusions by the authors. He gives his analysis and in the end states:

"But it was on the political front that Monmouth had the greatest significance. There the victory was decisive." (P426).

I never got the impression throughout the entire book that it was a military victory for the Americans. Indeed, chapter 2 which details the Conway Cabal set the groundwork for claiming Washington's political victory.

historygamer26 Oct 2017 5:16 a.m. PST

It's kind of ironic that given what a great horseman Washington was, his cavalry never really jelled during the war. Equally ironic that it was one of his subordinate's (Light Horse Harry Lee) son who used cavalry so effectively during the Civil War.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP26 Oct 2017 5:31 a.m. PST

It is also worth noting the book claims, that from a military standpoint, Lee did better than tradition passes down. It was Lee's personality that sunk him. He unwittingly gave the pro Washington faction a chance to take him down. They hated him.

I believe the authors are working on a book to analyze the Lee courtmartial. There was definitely the hint of a witch hunt.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP26 Oct 2017 5:38 a.m. PST

It is also worth noting the title of the book.

Fatal Sunday
George Washington,
The Monmouth Campaign,
And the POLITICS of Battle (My emphasis)

historygamer26 Oct 2017 7:09 a.m. PST

Well put on both posts. I believe you are correct as Gary spoke about doing another book on the courts martial last time I saw him.

Fatal Sunday actually credits Lee with putting together a good defense until the main line of battle has been assembled.

Virginia Tory26 Oct 2017 11:45 a.m. PST

It was more a glorified skirmish, in a lot of ways. Bits of both armies were heavily engaged at times, but nothing like Brandywine, since that was brought up by comparison.

And certainly no decisive outcome.

42flanker27 Oct 2017 1:35 a.m. PST

It was more a glorified skirmish,

Well, a running fight, certainly; neither a set-piece nor an encounter battle.

Bill N27 Oct 2017 10:20 a.m. PST

I can see an argument that it wasn't as intensive a action as Brandywine, but not that it was a glorified skirmish. Care to elaborate VT.

Virginia Tory27 Oct 2017 11:24 a.m. PST

Agreed, 42flanker.

Bill N: The reason I say it, as it was mostly a running battle, involving relatively small number of men actually in contact at any given time.

The morning engagement saw some skirmishing with the Queen's Rangers and rebel militia. Once the British advanced guard turned, Lee's forces began falling back. Not a lot of contact there.

The most intense fighting was at the Parsonage, where the Grenadiers got excited and attacked (more or less) spontaneously, with Clinton egging them on.

Erskine's attempt to turn the US left was stillborn, once he figured out there was no open flank.

Finally, the fight between the Picked Men and the 42d, again, did not involve a large number of troops.

The artillery bombardment was impressive, but I don't think it inflicted that many losses.

Clinton stopped attacks once he realized how strongly posted Washington's line was, and with Greene dominating his left flank from Comb's Hill.

Compare this to the assault on Birmingham Hill at Brandywine, or even when Knyphausen stormed Chadd's Ferry and that is more what I'm getting at.

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