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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Battle of Monmouth

Next weekend, fellow historical author Kathy Fischer-Brown (author of Winter Fire) and I will attend a battle--a reenactment of the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse which took place in New Jersey during late June of 1778. For the last two years we have been happy voyagers to these history fests, first at the scenic Saratoga Battlefield and last year at the historical site at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York.  I love visiting that area, because my mother's family hails from there. This year, however, we chose to sate our thirst for  Revolutionary reenactments--and to have a chance to speak with, and learn from, the dedicated, knowledgeable participants--we're staying a little closer to our own neighborhoods.

Cannon overlooking Lake George at Ft. Ticonderoga

Upon checking into the reenactors' website for Monmouth Courthouse, I found a wealth of primary source in the form of excerpts from letters, official lists, and diaries concerning the battle and its aftermath. Among the testimonies from witnesses of the day and regulation doc army headcounts, I was intrigued by the one borrowed below. This was researched by John U. Rees, who is a member of Friends of Monmouth Battlefield. Further links -- to www.revwar75.com -- contain other eye witness accounts. Many accounts will be understandably conflicting. Current warfare is whole worlds beyond  the man/horse/letter tech of the18th Century. Troops became easily scattered, especially through rough/broken terrain or obscured by a black powder haze. Communication was either by messenger or dumb luck.  

The account that follows made a deeper impression upon me than the stories of battlefield action. I'll reproduce here courtesy of Mr. Rees/Friends of Monmouth Battlefield the account of a Georgia surgeon, Dr. Read, who tells, in some detail of what he encountered on the field after the day was over:
The evening at length came on, and the battle ceased, except some skirmishing at a distance, and some struggles to the left in arranging off prisoners … with the approach of night, both armies lay exhausted by fatigue and the heat of the day - a deep morass lying between them. They lay down, man and horse, just where they halted; Washington and his suit[e] lay upon the field. It was generally understood the battle was to be renewed at the dawn of day. Dr. Read, with his servant, rode on to the left of the line, seeing, in a few instances, regimental surgeons officiating, and administering to some wounded soldiers, and hearing the groans and cries of some men who crawled, or been brought off into the rear. They reached a wagon which stood in an inclined situation, having the fore-wheels shot away; this position afforded a comfortable shelter to the two adventurers … At the dawn of day they heard the shout of victory - ‘the British are gone!’ Dr. Read mounted, and rode down the hill which bounded the morass, and observing several men entering the low ground to cross over, he did so also. The bog was very deep, and required the utmost effort of his and his servant’s horse also, to get through it. As objects became visible, he saw several dead soldiers in the bog, mired to the waist, and probably shot. On the opposite side he saw an officer lying a few yards from the morass, nearly cut in two by a cannon shot; he was alive, and spoke, implored Dr. Read to lift him to a tree which stood near, alleging that he had been all night trying to do so, ‘that he might die easy.’ The clotted blood was piled up several inches on his front, and it had ceased to flow. Dr. Read, with the assistance of his servant, essayed to lift him tenderly, and, stepping backwards, they placed him against the tree. The blood now began to flow perceptibly, and in all probability terminated his life; they heard him utter a few words of thankfulness, and proceeded on. At the summit of the hill, dismal, indeed, was the scene; there lay fifty or sixty British grenadiers - some dead, some alive, calling for ‘help!’ ‘water!’ uttering the most dreadful and severe imprecations on ‘the rebels.’ Dr. Read and his servant ran down the hill, and found plenty of water; with his servant’s hat he administered many draughts of water to these poor, famished soldiers; it was busy occupation for an hour. Dr. Read … now proceeded to dress wounds and apply bandages. Tearing off shirts from the dead, he made bandages, and applied them, to the best of his skill, for remedying hemorrhage. Some country people and Negroes coming to the field of carnage, Dr. Read enlisted their feelings, and hired them to assist in lifting and turning these wounded men, and, at length, in procuring wagons and straw to remove them to the court-house … he was greatly assisted by his servant, Peter Houston … They succeeded in moving twenty-one grenadiers, all with broken legs, or muscles so lacerated as to render them helpless. Dr. Read, seeing no medical aid come to him, proceeded to amputate whenever the patient would consent to the operation. In these operations he was aided by lint and bandages being sent, he knew not from whence, and every article of nourishment. Dr. Read continued to dwell in the court-house, sleeping … in the Judge’s bench. There he was observed by sundry groups of officers, who came riding around on a tour of observation, and his name enquired into … [His servant sometimes informed the visitors that his master was working] ‘at his own expense.’ This explanation must have had an effect, as on the third day he received from the Secretary a special commission, which gave him rank in the medical department, and extra rations and forage...

Then or now, war is hell. With luck, there will be more stories to share after the upcoming weekend. I hope that the weather will be kinder to us than it was at the actual battle, when it ranged into the high 90's. Can you imagine fighting wrapped in all that wool and linen?

~~Juliet Waldron ~ All my historicals :  http://amzn.to/1UDoLAi

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