- Historic Sites
Drill Master At Valley Forge
How Baron von Steuben used a tough winter to make a solid army out of a collection of untrained volunteers
June 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 4
But the complete demonstration of the baron’s training occurred a month later (June 28) at Monmouth Court House, when General Charles Lee’s treachery or faintheartedness had turned a promising attack into something dangerously close to a rout. At Washington’s command the discouraged soldiers, bewildered by Lee’s senseless order to retreat, turned and fought, often hand to hand, a delaying action that gained the necessary time for their main body to deploy and form for battle. Then, on the American left, Stirling’s men repulsed the combined attack of the British light infantry and the 42nd Foot, the Royal Highlanders, and fell upon their flank with the bayonet when they retreated. On the right, Greene’s troops drove back with their fire two regiments of the line, and both battalions of the Guards.
With his attacks stalled everywhere along the whole front, Sir Henry Clinton withdrew his forces a distance of about two miles and went into bivouac. Most of his men had shot away all of their eighty rounds of ammunition. It was about five in the afternoon, and they had been marching and fighting since sunrise in heat that had sent the thermometer to 97 degrees in the shade. The Americans followed them and opened artillery fire on the British lines. But they, too, were exhausted. Darkness was at hand by the time their dispositions for an attack had been completed. They slept on their arms and awoke next morning to discover that the enemy had stolen away.
Sir Henry Clinton always maintained that he had fought a mere rear guard action at Monmouth Court House. But actually the rear guard phase had ended with Lee’s disorderly retirement. What followed was a pitched battle, and victors do not leave the vanquished in possession of the battle ground. Washington wrote truly to Congress: “We forced the enemy from the field and encamped on their ground.”