This is the first part of what will be a running series that will highlight the 240th anniversary of the events surrounding Benedict Arnold’s treason.
The story of Benedict Arnold’s treason during the Revolutionary War is one of the most infamous, yet tragic, in our nation’s history. He was the “American Hannibal,” the most brilliant battlefield commander during the conflict’s early stages. His patriotism, sacrifice, and commitment to the cause of independence were matched by few in the American high command, so too were his battle honors. Fort Ticonderoga, Quebec, Valcour Island, Ridgefield, the relief of Fort Stanwix, and the battles of Saratoga—he was always in the thick of things.
Arnold’s treason was not something that was pre-determined. His ultimate defection to the British in 1780 was a result of many factors that continued to pile up as the war progressed, but it can be rooted in a long-running feeling of being underappreciated and a growing distrust in America’s political leaders.
Following his grievous leg wound at Saratoga on October 7, 1777, Arnold was appointed military governor of Philadelphia, never to command American troops on the battlefield again. While stationed there, his downward spiral towards treason began to accelerate. An open feud with Joseph Reed and Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council led to a court martial and reprimand from George Washington, something beyond correction for a man with the personal honor of Benedict Arnold. The slippery slope became even more slippery. Continue reading “Arnold’s Treason: 240 Years Later”→
The lead elements of Sir Henry Clinton’s army trudged into the village of Monmouth Court House, New Jersey throughout the day on June 26, 1778. There, the British force remained until the morning of the 28th, when it continued onward toward the safety of New York City.
Upon arriving in the area during the afternoon of June 26, General Clinton established his headquarters just southwest of town along the Allentown Road in the home of Elizabeth and William Covenhoven. The sight of thousands of British and Hessian troops marching by the front of her property must have been spectacular, but terrifying, for the elderly Elizabeth, who was in her seventies and alone when the general and his military family arrived (her husband’s whereabouts are unknown). Fearful that her home, animals, and other possessions would be in danger, Mrs. Covenhoven begged Sir Henry to spare them. Very gentlemanly, he promised her, “on his honour that every thing she had should be protected and nothing injured.” Elizabeth was satisfied with the general’s promise.
For the next two days, her home became the nerve center of the British army then making its way across New Jersey, and the personal quarters of the General in Chief of His Majesty’s Forces in North America. On June 28, as General George Washington’s pursuing Continental Army caught up with Clinton’s rearguard, the battle of Monmouth commenced, further scarring the surrounding landscape. Everything had changed for those who lived in the tiny courthouse village. Some were spared the hard hand of war, but others, including Elizabeth, suffered greatly. A little over a month later, she delivered her deposition to the court reagrding her experiences during the British occupation of present-day Freehold:
Trenton, August 12, 1778
Be it remembered, that on the 30th day of July, Anno Domini 1778, personally appeared before me, Peter Schenck, one of the Justices of Peace for the County of Monmouth, Mrs. Elizabeth Covenhoven, who being duly sworn on the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God, deposeth and saith, That on the 26th of June last, when the enemy came into that county, General Sir Henry Clinton, with his suite, made his quarters at her house, and promised on his honour that every thing she had should be protected and nothing injured; That some time after they had been there, she saw a soldier driving her horses away, upon which she applied to them to perform their promises, and one of the General’s Aids said she should be paid for them;she answered she could not spare them; he then took down the marks, and declared they should be returned; but she heard no more of them. Some little time after she perceived all her cattle, including her milk cows, driving by in the same manner; she then made a like application and said, the must go without milk themselves if their cows were taken away; they then gave orders to have them stopped; but before they went off they killed and took every one of them, not leaving her a single hoof. This deponent further saith, That the General and his Aids finding her furniture chiefly sent away, were exceedingly urgent to have them sent for, declaring it likely they would be destroyed where they were concealed, but if they were in the house they should be safe; she told them she had no way to send for them; upon which they ordered a wagon and guard to go with the Negro wench to bring the goods, and they brought one wagon load home and placed a guard over it, and refused absolutely suffering her to have any thing out of it; That the next morning she found almost every thing of value was taken out of the wagon, and only a bible and some books, with a few trifles, left, which were scattered on the ground; she then applied to the General himself to have liberty to take these few things his Honour had left her—he ordered one of his Aids to go to the guards and suffer her to have them—she followed him, and he said, here you damned old rebel, with one foot in the grave, take them. This deponent also saith, That, though a very old woman, she was obliged to sleep on a cellar door in her milk room for two nights, and when she applied for only a coverlet it was refused her; That by the time they went away her house was stripped of her beds, bedding, the cloaths of her whole family, and every thing of any value. The farm was also left in the same situation; and that at a moderate computation, her loss amounted to 3000 £. And that she lost this in trusting to the personal honour of Sir Henry Clinton, which threw her off her guard, and made her perfectly easy, having solemnly engaged to protect or pay for every thing they used; and this deponent declares that the sum of 5£. 2s. which one of the officers gave her for 50 pounds of butter he had, was all the money or satisfaction she received for any thing she lost. And further saith not.
For more information on the home of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, William and Elizabeth Covenhoven, please visit: https://www.monmouthhistory.org/covenhoven-house. The house is preserved by the Monmouth County Historical Association and is open to the public for tours and living history programs.
 “Deposition of Elizabeth Covenhoven, taken July 30, 1778 (thirty-two days after the Battle of Monmouth)” New Jersey Gazette Vol. 1, No. 36, August 12, 1778.
It was New Years’ Eve, 1775. An American army, divided into two wings, assaults the lower town outside the walls of British-held Quebec, Canada. Through a blinding snowstorm, Col. Benedict Arnold led 600 men along the northern edge of the city’s walls, while Gen. Richard Montgomery advanced to the southeast with roughly 300 Continentals. The attack was a disaster. Outnumbered nearly 2 to 1, the Americans were cut to pieces and close to 400 men, including Capt. Daniel Morgan, were taken prisoner. Arnold was wounded early in the offensive, his left leg (the same that would be shattered at Saratoga less than two years later) struck by an enemy ball. Montgomery, the commander of the expedition, was cut down at the head of his column by a blast of grapeshot at near point-blank range. With his heroic death, Montgomery would become one of the first high-profile martyrs of the American cause, and the Continental Congress would memorialize him by commissioning a monument in his honor less than a month later. This monument, now situated at the front of St. Paul’s Chapel along Broadway in New York City, was the first ever commissioned by the American government.
Following the news of his death, the public was quick to eulogize Montgomery through orations, sermons, songs, and poems. He became a symbol of American service and sacrifice in the great struggle for liberty. On January 25, 1776, the Continental Congress approved appropriations for a monument to be built in his memory to “transmit to Prosperity a grateful remembrance of the patriotism conduct enterprize & perseverance of Major General Richard Montgomery.” This monument would not be placed above the general’s grave as it is today—Montgomery’s body was still buried in Quebec. In fact, his remains would not be disinterred and transported to New York City until 1818.
The story of the Montgomery monument does not end yet. Jean-Jacques Caffieri, King Louis XVI’s personal sculptor, was commissioned by Benjamin Franklin in Paris on behalf of Congress to make the idea a reality. Upon its completion, the finished product was set to be shipped to Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Departing from the port in Le Havre, it journeyed to Edenton, North Carolina, where it was placed in storage. The war made its transfer to Philadelphia almost impossible, and the stone was seemingly lost and forgotten until after the conflict ended.
With peace came a renewed resolve to have one of the nation’s “first” heroes memorialized. Rediscovered, the Montgomery monument (after a long campaign of letter writing by both Franklin and the general’s wife, Janet) was installed in St. Paul’s Chapel in June 1788, over twelve years since it was first commissioned. Thirty years later, the New York State legislature approved to transport Montgomery’s remains to New York City and entomb them beneath the monument. On July 4, 1818, the general lay in state in the capital building in Albany, and four days later he was finally interred on American soil, his adopted home he had died in the service of.
Last week during Emerging Revolutionary War’s annual getaway, we made our way north along the western shore of Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Our destination was Fort Ticonderoga. The group made a quick stop at a new historical marker placed near Sabbath Day Point (about twenty miles or so north of the lake’s southern shore), which explained the military activity the site witnessed during the French and Indian War. The area was a strategic landing spot along the western shore of the lake and was constantly being utilized by the British and their French adversary. One tragic event in particular transpired here during late July 1757.
The summer of 1757 was an active month for British and French operations along the Lake Champlain-Lake George-Hudson River corridor—one of the most significant water highway systems in North America. The French and their Indian allies, under the command of the Marquis de Montcalm and situated at Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) to the north of Lake George, were preparing to launch a campaign to besiege and destroy Fort William Henry along the southern shore. Patrols in this area were constant as both sides attempted to collect intelligence on enemy movements, numbers, and logistics.
At Fort William Henry, Lt. Col. George Monro of the 35th Regiment of Foot was in command of the British garrison of 2,500 regulars and provincials. Throughout July, word from prisoners and escapees from Canada continued to come in that Montcalm was amassing a force of 8,000 French regulars, Canadians, and Indians to march on his position. Desiring more intelligence, Monro ordered Col. John Parker of the 1st New Jersey Regiment (the “Jersey Blues”) to conduct a reconnaissance north towards Carillon with 350 men from his own unit and some from the 1st New York Regiment. The mission was simple on paper: gather intelligence on the enemy and cause as much damage to him as possible to hamper any advance.
On July 23, Parker and his detachment sailed north from Fort William Henry in twenty-two whaleboats. For many of the men, they would never step foot on land again. Waiting in ambush for them near Sabbath Day Point were hundreds of Canadians and Indians. The French were prepared to oppose any patrols along the northern end of the lake.
After spending the night on an island south of Sabbath Day Point, the British reconnaissance force continued onward during the morning of July 24. Sources are conflicting in regard to what happened next, but three of the boats, either separated from the group or ordered forward as an advanced party, were attacked by the Indians at the point. The boats were pulled up along the shore to serve as a decoy to lead Parker’s men closer to land. When the rest of the British column came rowing towards the ambush site, the entire shoreline was set ablaze with musket fire.
The New Jerseyans’ and New Yorkers’ fates were sealed as the French Indians began to push their canoes into the water and encircle the panic-stricken detachment, cutting off their escape. Many of the British were shot dead or pulled into the lake as their boats were overturned. “The Indians jumped into the water and speared them like fish…,” recorded Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, Montcalm’s aide-de-camp, “The English, terrified by the shooting, the sight, the cries, and agility of these monsters, surrendered almost without firing a shot.” The fighting, which was most likely over in a matter of minutes, left over 100 of Parker’s force dead. Another 150 were taken prisoner and brought to the French camps outside of Fort Carillon. Col. Parker and the men onboard four of the whaleboats managed to escape the terror and reported back to Monro the following day.
For the prisoners, the horrors of that day continued when they reached Carillon, dragged onshore by ropes tied around their necks. Along with the captured Jerseymen, the French allied Indians had also taken another prize—the detachment’s rum supply. In the Ottawa camp outside the fort, the drunken Indians performed a cannibal ritual, cooking and eating three of the prisoners. Father Pierre Roubaud, a Jesuit missionary with the Abenaki at Carillon, watched in horror as the Ottawa indulged in “large spoonfuls of this detestable broth… The saddest thing was that they had placed near them about ten Englishmen, to be spectators of their infamous repast.” Roubaud attempted to stop the horrid supper, but a young Ottawa refused and told him, “You have French taste; I have Indian. This is good meat for me.” Eventually, the wretched act ceased, and preparations were made for the prisoners to be transported to Montreal where they would be ransomed back to the British.
Nine days after the action at Sabbath Day Point, Father Roubaud returned to the site of the ambush as Montcalm’s army marched and rowed along the western shore on its way to capture Fort William Henry. Seeing the dead of Parker’s command strewn about the trees and shoreline, the priest recalled, “Some were cut into pieces, and nearly all were mutilated in the most frightful manner.” This was the true nature of warfare in North America during the French and Indian War, and a tragic chapter in New Jersey’s colonial history.
This is a post from September 2016. It focuses on a critical military action that occurred during the Battle of Lake George, 264 years ago, today:
When analyzing the key actions of a military engagement in order to pinpoint a decisive moment or turning point, one does not usually come across a retreat and/or rout that actually attributed to the success of an army. However, during the late morning of September 8, 1755, roughly three miles south of Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, a contingent of men from Connecticut and Massachusetts, and their Mohawk allies conducted quite possibly the first ever organized fighting retreat in American military history – one that would turn the tide of battle and save their army from potential destruction. It is easy for a maneuver like this to be overlooked, but without the crucial time bought for William Johnson’s provincial army at its encampment along the southern shore of the lake by Lt. Colonel Nathan Whiting’s courageous New Englanders, Baron de Dieskau’s French army may well have emerged victorious during the Battle of Lake George and subsequently pushed their way to Albany’s doorstep.
Around eight o’clock in the morning, September 8, 1755, a column of men 1,200 strong was marched out of William Johnson’s camp at the southern end of Lake George. The column’s destination was Fort Lyman, roughly fourteen miles to the south located beside the Hudson River (present-day Fort Edward, NY). There, intelligence gathered by Johnson’s army had placed the 1,500 strong French force led by Jean-Armand, Baron de Dieskau, which was believed to be preparing an assault against the 500 man garrison of New Hampshire and New York provincials.
The contingent of reinforcements dispatched from the English camp was under the overall command of Colonel Ephraim Williams, 3rd Massachusetts Provincial Regiment, and was comprised of his own regiment, 200 Mohawk Indians, and another 500 men of the 2nd Connecticut Provincial Regiment led by Lt. Colonel Nathan Whiting. The column marched south down the military road with the Mohawk at its head, followed by the Massachusetts men, and Whiting’s regiment taking up the rear.
Nathan Whiting, born in 1724 and a resident of Windham, was 31-years-old in 1755 and one of William Johnson’s youngest field officers. He was a graduate of Yale and a veteran of the Louisbourg expedition during King George’s War – service which earned him a lieutenant’s commission in His Majesty’s Forces. When hostilities between England and France erupted in 1754 he was commissioned as the 2nd Connecticut Provincial Regiment’s lieutenant colonel and was sent to Albany to serve as part of the Crown Point Expedition, an offensive designed to oust the French from the Lake Champlain-Lake George-Hudson River corridor. The regiment’s colonel, Elizur Goodrich, was ill and bedridden during the Battle of Lake George, so Whiting served as the unit’s field commander during his absence. Whiting was a loyal officer and earnestly dedicated to the cause in which he was fighting for. Before reaching the southern shore of the lake on August 28, he penned a heartfelt letter to his wife that epitomized his character: “… [P]ray make your Self as easy as possible[.] I know your D[aily] prayers are for my preservation[.] Let it be an article of them that it not be obtained by any unworthy means, but in the prosecution of the Duty I owe at this time to my Self, my Country & my God.”
About two hours or so and three miles into the march to Fort Lyman, the forward ranks of Ephraim Williams’s column of reinforcements were ambushed by Dieskau’s native allies, Canadian militia, and regular grenadiers of the Regiments of Languedoc and La Reine. The French outside of Fort Lyman had earlier uncovered dispatches from a dead courier that was sent to inform the English outpost that reinforcements were going to be sent from the lake encampment to assist it in case of an attack. Using this intelligence, Dieskau marched his army up the military road towards Lake George and prepared an ambush to surprise the oncoming party of reinforcements. Although the ambuscade was initiated prematurely before the entire column could march into Dieskau’s hook-like formation, it still succeeded in throwing the English force into confusion and sent it scurrying back up the road to Lake George. Both Ephraim Williams and Chief Hendrick (commanding the Mohawk contingent) were killed during the confrontation and all order was lost, leaving Whiting, who was now the highest ranking officer on the field, to try to prevent a disaster.
Two-hundred and forty one years ago, today, one of the most famous, yet controversial, exchanges between two commanding generals on a battlefield occurred in a field west of Monmouth Court House (present-day Freehold), New Jersey.
George Washington had arrived in Englishtown roughly an hour and a half ahead of the Continental Army’s main body and sat down for breakfast sometime around ten in the morning, June 28, 1778. Six miles away, Major General Charles Lee’s vanguard of roughly 5000 men was just about to throw itself at the British rearguard north of Monmouth Court House.
So recently I have been working on a Monmouth Court House project. Last night an alternate scenario popped into my head. I wanted to ask you, the readers, your opinion. During the spring of 1778, what if Charles Lee, recently exchanged from a year and a half imprisonment, had been appointed as military governor of Philadelphia instead of Benedict Arnold? What if Arnold had then been ordered to join Washington’s army? He obviously would have never gotten the chance to fall in love with Peggy Shippen (we know what happened next), but his widely known aggressiveness and leadership capabilities also could have played a significant role in the upcoming Monmouth Campaign. What do you think may have happened? Would Arnold have influenced Washington’s decision making? Could he have potentially commanded the Continental Army’s vanguard that opened the fighting at Monmouth like Lee did? How would he have behaved if he once again commanded American troops in the field? This is all counterfactual history, of course, but just something to have fun with and think about.
While visiting home in New Jersey this past week I was able to travel to many different sites associated with the Monmouth Campaign of June 1778. One of those sites in particular was Coryell’s Ferry (or Landing), which straddled the Delaware River in present-day New Hope, Pennsylvania and Lambertville, New Jersey.
France’s official entrance into the war on the Americans’ side in early 1778 forced the British to alter their overall military strategy. His Majesty’s Forces began withdrawing from the American interior and were consolidated along the coast between New York City and Newport, Rhode Island. From there, reinforcements were ordered to be dispatched to Florida and the Caribbean to counter France’s impending threat in that region. Philadelphia, which had been occupied since the previous September, was deemed unnecessary to hold any longer. By June 17, 1778, British Lt. Gen. Henry Clinton’s army of over 20,000 men had crossed the Delaware at Cooper’s Ferry (present-day Camden, New Jersey) and was marching northeast towards New York City.
Three days later the Continental Army was in full pursuit with Washington’s advanced column being led across the river by Maj. Gen. Charles Lee at Coryell’s Ferry (some thirty miles northeast of Philadelphia). By June 22, Washington and the last elements of his army were in New Jersey as well. What exactly was to happen next was not yet known. Clinton could either transport his army to New York City via South Amboy or from Sandy Hook. Until it could be discerned what the British general’s intentions were, Washington planned to “govern ourselves according to circumstances.” In six days the two armies would collide in desperate battle near the small village of Monmouth Court House.
Two-hundred and sixty-three years ago, July 9, 1755, Britain suffered one of the country’s most humiliating military defeats along the banks of the Monongahela River in western Pennsylvania. Only miles away from its objective – Fort Duquesne – Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock’s army of some 1,400 men was attacked and cut to pieces by a detachment of Canadians and their Indian allies. In several hours of vicious fighting, Braddock’s force sustained over 900 casualties and was sent fleeing from the Ohio River Valley. Among the dead was the commanding officer of the 44th Regiment of Foot, Col. Peter Halkett.
Three years following Braddock’s Defeat, another British Army trudged its way west with its crosshairs set yet again on Fort Duquesne. Accompanying General John Forbes’ expeditionary force was an officer of the 42nd Regiment of Foot, Maj. Francis Halkett – Sir Peter’s son. He had attached himself to Forbes’ command with the desire to return to the battlefield of 1755 and locate the remains of his father and younger brother, James, who served as a subaltern and was also killed in action that day. Because of the army’s hasty retreat, the British dead and dying that could not be carried from the field were left behind. It would be a near impossible task to identify the remains if any could be found, but Halkett was determined to try. Continue reading ““It is my father!”: Francis Halkett’s Mission to the Monongahela Battlefield”→
They waded ashore during the morning of July 6, 1758. Full of confidence, the vanguard of Major General James Abercromby’s massive army of over 16,000 men had completed its nearly thirty-mile trek northward across the waters of Lake George. They began pushing inland – men from Thomas Gage’s 80th Regiment of Light-Armed Foot, Phineas Lyman’s 1st Connecticut Regiment, and of Robert Rogers’ famed rangers – scattering small pockets of French resistance. By early afternoon the entire army had debarked at the designated landing site and formed into four columns to begin its advance towards the primary objective: Fort Carillon. Moving forward into the thick wilderness with the rightmost column of mixed regular and provincial units was Abercromby’s second-in-command, Brigadier General George Howe. 
George Augustus, Third Viscount Howe, was born in Ireland in 1725. Like his younger brothers, Richard and William, George was destined for a career in His Majesty’s Forces and to serve in North America. His father, Emanuel Scrope, Second Viscount Howe, was a prominent member of parliament and served several years as the Royal Governor of Barbados before dying there of disease in 1735. Upon his father’s death, George assumed the title of Third Viscount and in 1745, at age twenty, was made an ensign in the 1st Foot Guards. Subsequently serving as an aide-de-camp to William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, Howe fervently studied the strategies and tactics employed by his own commanding officers and the enemy, and witnessed firsthand the carnage of the War of Austrian Succession. Just ten years later, when the world was set ablaze by war yet again, George was ordered to Halifax, Nova Scotia with a commission as colonel of the 60th Regiment of Foot (Royal Americans) that was set to take part in a failed operation to capture Fortress Louisbourg in 1757. He was later made colonel of the 55th Regiment of Foot, and in December, appointed Brigadier General by William Pitt. The following summer, he accompanied the largest field army ever assembled in North America up to that time as its second-in-command. Continue reading ““The soul of General Abercromby’s army seemed to expire”: The Death of George Howe, July 6, 1758”→