Monmouth, 28 June 1778

On 18 June 1778, Sir Henry Clinton evacuated Philadelphia and with 10,000 men set out on a march to New York. Washington followed closely, but on 24 June a council of his officers advised him to avoid a major engagement, though a minority favored bolder action. A change in the direction of the British line of march convinced the Continental Commander he should take some kind of offensive action, and he detached a force to attack the British rear as it moved out of Monmouth Court House. General Charles Lee, who had been the most cautious in council, claimed the command from Lafayette, who had been most bold, when he learned the detachment would be composed of almost half the army.

One of the most confused actions of the Revolution ensued when, on the morning of 28 June, Lee's force advanced to attack Clinton's rear over rough ground that had not been reconnoitered. The action had hardly begun when a confused American retreat began over three ravines. Historians still differ over whether the retreat and confusion resulted from Lee's inept handling of the situation and lack of confidence in his troops, or whether the retreat was a logical response to Clinton's quick countermoves and the confusion a product of the difficulties of conducting the retreat across the three ravines.

In any case, Washington, hurrying forward with the rest of his Army to support an attack, met Lee amidst his retreating columns and irately demanded of him an explanation of the confusion. Lee, taken aback, at first only stuttered "Sir, sir." When Washington repeated his question, Lee launched into a lengthy explanation but the Commander-in-Chief was soon too busy halting the retreat to listen very long.

The retreat halted, Washington established defensive positions and the Continental Army beat off four British assaults. During the night the British slipped away. Monmouth was the last major engagement fought in the north. However inconclusive its result, it did show that the Continental line, thanks to the training of Von Steuben, could now fight on equal terms with British regulars in open field battle. It also led to the court martial of Charles Lee and his dismissal from the Continental service.