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1778. there should be very powerful reasons to the contrary * ;/ and acquainted him, that he was marching to support j him, and for doing it with the greater expedition and 'convenience, should make the men disencumber themselves of their packs and blankets. The exceptive clause in the orders rendered them discretionary: they mani1 fested the earnest desire of the commander in chief, that an important blow might be struck which the enemy ihould feel; but Lee could not consider them as requiring him to'risk a general engagement, in direct repugnancy to the spirit of those councils of war that had been repeatedly held upon the subject. While Lee was advancing with his column, he sent forward an aid to <»:der Grayson to push on as fast as possible and attack the enemy. Before the aid overtook him, he had passed Freehold meeting-house with the two brigades. The aid delivered Lee's orders; but gave it as his opinion, jthat Grayson had better not move on, for that he had been informed, that the main body of the enemy was near Monrriouth court-house, and was thought to be marching to attack them, of which circumstance he supposed Lee was ignorant. The aid on his return fell in with Dickinson, who gave him the same information, and charged him with a message to Lee. Lee conformed to it on its delivery, and gave orders for posting two -militia regiments upon a hill for the securing of a particular road, and then pushed forward over a morass or ravine, by the bridge or causeway, to a height where Dickinson was with a few militia. During his stay on j this height, intelligence of the most contradictory nature was continually brought him. Some asserted, that the * General Washington's letter of July 1, 1778, to congress.
enemy had moved off with precipitation, and that it tjjfa was only a covering party which remained; others aver-, red, that the main force was still on the ground, and filing off" in columns to the right and left-—one while the enemy's troops were turning the flanks of the Americans—at another, pushing in front. These opposite reports occasioned Varnum's brigade and part of Scott's, and col. Durgee's brigade of Lee's column, to pass and repass the bridge over the morass several times, as it was universally agreed to be by no means warrantable to risk an action, with a ravine in the rear, over which there was only one good passage. While these marchings and counter-marchings took place, the marquis de la Fayette arrived at the head of the main body of Lee's troops; when the general, having reconnoitred a wood, into which it had been reported a battalion or two of the enemy had thrown themselves, and being satisfied that it was groundless, determined to march on, and ascertain with his own eyes, the number, order and dijsposition of the enemy, and then to conduct himself accordingly. His whole command amounted to about 4000 men, exclusive of Morgan's corps and the Jersey militia; and consisted of gen. Scott's detachment, gen. Wayne's, gen. Maxwell's brigade, gen. Varnum's, gen, Scott's, and col. Jackson's regiment, When they had nearly passed through the woods, with which the country abounds, and were arrived at a point facing the Court-house, and on the edge of a plain about three miles in length and one in breadth, they were formed, but within the skirt of the wood, that the enemy might not discover them. Here they remained while, gens, Lee and Wayue, and a few othew, wstt out yppn ty ::..;, right
17?8- right and rode forward to reconnoitre. From the observations Lee made, and the intelligence he obtained, he concluded that the forces he saw were no other than the enemy's covering party, and entertained hopes of an interval between them and the main body, sufficient to afford him the opportunity of cutting them off. That he might perfect this business, Wayne was appointed to command 700 men, to whom were attached two pieces of artillery. Wayne was to attack the covering party in the rear, faintly so as to halt them, but not with vigor lest that should occasion their retreating with celerity to the main body, or drawing from it so powerful a reinforcement as to defeat the principal design. Mean time Lee was to endeavour by a short road leading to the left, to gain the front of the party. While marching on this road, one of gen. Washington's suite came-up to procure intelligence. Lee with a fixed firm tone of voice and countenance which suggested confidence of success, desired him to inform his excellency, that the enemy did not appear well to understand the roads; that the route he was on cut off two miles; that the rear of the enemy was composed of 1500 or 2000; that he expected to fall in with them, and had great certainty of cutting them off'; and that gen. Wayne and eol. Butler were amusing them with a few loose shot while he was performing the route. Wayne's command was advanced to the right and drawn up. The enemy appeared just in the edge of a wood upon an eminence with their light dragoons. A few of the American light horsemen were advanced upon the right, at a very considerable distance. One of LeeVaids de camp observed the queen's light dr.agooiis-parading as though- they meant to charge "'.-'* these
these American light-horsemen, who had no officer of 117*> eminence to head them; he therefore rode up to and advised them to let the British dragoons come as near as could be done with safety, and then to retreat off to where gen. Wayne was, and let him receive them. The British horse pursued till they came near the general, when receiving a fire from col. Butler's regiment posted on jhe skirt of a wood, they wheeled and gallopped off in great haste to their own body: as they were retiring) the two pieces of artillery fired a few shot at them. .Wayne then advanced, and encouraged his men to follow on, and charge the enemy with bayonets. The aid rode back to Lee, who immediately sent him forward to Wayne, with orders that he should only feign an attack, and not push on too precipitately, as that would subvert his plan, and disappoint his intentions. Lieut, col. Oswald, who commanded the artillery, supposed that the enemy were retreating, and so passed the morass in front over a causeway into a grain field, and began to cannonade. This happened after ten o'clock. About the fame time a part of Lee's troops issued out of a wood, on the left of and about a mile below the Court-house, in small columns, and in an oblique direction with respect . to the royal forces, rather toward their right and, within cannon shot. These were drawn up ready to face the Americans, with their right near a wood; and their left on open ground covered by their cavalry and forming an obtuse angle with the Court-house. The cavalry filed off to the left, as if with design to attempt something on the right of Lee's troops, which occasioned an order to the marquis de la Fayette to wheel his column by his fight, and to gain and attack the enemy's left flank.
I778» Lee having also ordered to the right the three regiments in Wayne's detachment, Wesson's, Stewart's and Livingston's, rode toward Oswald's artillery and reconnoitred the enemy, who appeared . in full view marching back again toward the Court-house, and in greater numbers than was expected, so that Lee said, he believed he was mistaken in their strength. T:
Let us now advert to the' manoeuvres of Sir Henry Clinton. Soon after he had begun with Ws column to follow gen. Knyphausen, reconnoitring parties of the Jersey militia appeared on his left flank. The queen's rangers fell in with, and dispersed some detachments among the woods in the same quarter. His rear guard having descended from the heights above Freehold into the plain, some American columns appeared likewise descending into it, and began the cannonade on his rear, which, was returned by a superior fire. At this instant, intelligence was brought to Sir Henry, that the enemy were discovered marching in -force on both his flanks. He conjectured, that the object of the Americans was the baggage, which at that juncture was engaged in denies that continued for miles. He conceived that the only means of parrying the apprehended blow was by sacing about, attacking the corps which harassed his rear,, and pressing it so hard, as to oblige the detachments to return from his flanks to its assistance. Thinking that the measure might possibly draw on a general action, he sent .for a brigade of British, and the 17th light dragoons from Knyphausen's division, and at the same time 'gave directions, that on their arrival they should take a 'position for covering his right flank. He' then made a