“Seemed to arrest fortune with one glance”: The Battle of Monmouth

October 13th marks the birthday of one of America’s most famous folk heroes- Molly Pitcher. Mary Ludwig Hays, as she was really named, is remembered for her alleged actions at the Battle of Monmouth Court House in New Jersey during the American Revolution. How did Hays get her nickname, and why is Monmouth one of the war’s most important battles?

In June 1778, the British army under General Sir Henry Clinton had been ordered to move its troops to New York after spending the winter camped in Philadelphia. After the defeat at Saratoga, the British wanted to secure a position in the north again. Seeing their opportunity, Generals George Washington and Harry Lee launched an attack on the rear of Clinton’s force in Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 28th. The blazing sun beat down on the Continental troops who had been training at Valley Forge to compete as an army on the open field thanks to assistance from Baron von Steuben, a former Prussian officer. Heat was estimated at 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) with high humidity, no weather to fight a battle in.

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Washington ahead of the Continental Line

Lee was ordered to lay in wait along the Middletown Road for the British column to pass by. This would have allowed Washington to assault Clinton’s main force while the reserves were preoccupied. However, Lee’s attack was poorly coordinated and the Americans were smashed back by British forces, outraging Washington. The rest of the Continental troops arrived to support Lee’s broken forces, rallying on the high ridge next to Monmouth Court House. Washington placed Lee’s troops in command of the Marquis de Lafayette. Generals Greene, Wayne, and Sirling’s divisions held the heights while the British forces prepared to attack.

The American artillery stunned the British troops advancing to attack Stirling’s division and they were soon beaten back in a counterattack. An assault on Greene’s troops failed, but Wayne’s division broke. The heat quickly winded many soldiers on both sides as artillery and musketry whizzed back and forth.

As the story goes, William Hays, a member of the 4th Continental Artillery, collapsed of heat exhaustion. His wife, Mary, stepped up and immediately filled his position at the gun, continuing to fire the cannon in his place. Mary was nicknamed “Molly Pitcher” as she and the Continentals kept the battle raging on. A British musket ball zipped through her skirt, missing her body, and she resumed firing. Joseph Plumb Martin, whose diaries survived and recounted the events of an average soldier in the continental army, confirmed the incident. Molly Pitcher went down in history as one of America’s most important and recognizable women.

Molly Pitcher
Mary Ludwig Hays fighting against the British

By 6PM, the British decided to end the day and fall back. Though a few generals wanted to chase them, George Washington refused and held the heights in case of British attack the next day. The Americans had suffered about 700 casualties and the British, the same number. Washington’s trust in Lee severely deteriorated after the battle, and many called for his sacking. Cries of treason tainted Lee’s reputation.

The question arises who actually won the Battle of Monmouth. While the Americans drove the British from the field, they suffered heavy casualties and their line broke in the centre. The early morning failure of Lee did drag in Washington to fight a different battle that intended, and tainted one of the more important generals in the Continental Army. The British suffered as many casualties, and were forced to march off the field. However, they still made their way towards New York and and also managed to defeat Lee’s initial attack. The battle is certainly up for debate, but most credit the victory to the Americans, as this was their first open battle against the British.

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Uniforms of the Ages: Zouaves

The uniform of the zouaves was one of the most flamboyant of the mid to late 19th century, and their influences spread through numerous armies in the world. Zouaves originated in the 1830s after the Zwawa tribe of Algeria helped French soldiers capture Algeria in a war against the Ottoman Empire. The zouaves were originally raised as light infantry regiments because of the Algerians ability to fight in skirmishing warfare, tactics that the French Second Empire was unfamiliar with. Zouave units spread to many parts of the world, including the US, the Papal States, Spain, and even Poland.

This zouave is of the 3rd Zouave Regiment of the French Army. Starting from the head, one notices that the soldier wears a fez. The fez is traditional of North African countries, and offers a flair to the soldier. Some wore turbans wrapped around their fez, and fez tassel colours varied from army to army. Zouaves wore a shirt, varying by regiment, and it was covered by a short, open jacket. The pattern on the jacket is called tombeaux. Zouaves wore sashes under their belts in regimental colours. Their large pantaloons, called sarouel, were a trademark of the zouave units. Zouaves also wore gaiters over their shoes, most commonly white or tan.

The French Zouaves had a standard uniform, just like the one pictured. Pantaloons were red, jackets were dark blue with red piping, sashes were light blue, and fezzes had light blue tassels. The distinctions between French units were the bottom of the tombeaux. This Zouave has yellow colouring, indicating his unit is the 3rd Zouaves. The 1st Zouaves had red colouring, and the 2nd was white.
The United States adopted zouaves in 1861 after a tour of French zouaves introduced the idea to the Americans. The tour was mostly in the North, so most zouave units were part of the US Army rather than the Confederate Army. The US Zouaves had a large variation of uniforms in order to differentiate between units. Two of the many US zouave regiments were the 5th New York, known as Duryee’s Zouaves, and the 155th Pennsylvania. Duryee’s Zouaves wore a uniform very close to that of the French. They had a red fez with a yellow tassel, and a dark blue jacket over a dark blue shirt. The tombeaux were red, as was the piping. Their sash was red but was piped in light blue. The pantaloons and gaiters were of the same colour as the French. The 155th PA wore a more Americanized zouave uniform that resembled the uniforms of the French Turcos. They wore a red fez with a dark blue tassel. The jacket and shirt were a lightish gray-blue, and the jacket had yellow tombeaux and piping. The pantaloons were the same colour of the jacket, and the sash was bright red.

The Papal States raised a regiment of zouaves in 1861 in order to combat the Italian Risorgimento movement led by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. The regiment was made up of many different nationalities including Italian, French, Dutch, Irish, and Belgian. The Papal Zouaves wore a blue kepi with a red band. Their jacket was blue with red piping, as was their shirt. The red sash was worn above blue pants, and the gaiters were white. The zouaves fought in numerous battles until the end of the Italian Wars of Unification in 1870, and even then, the legend of the Papal Zouaves continued as the French soldiers in the unit fought once more in the Franco-Prussian War as the “Volunteers of the West.”

Poland raised a regiment of zouaves, known as the “Zouaves of Death”, during the January Uprising against Russia in 1863. They were raised by François Rochebrune, a French zouave officer who had served in Crimea. The “Zouaves of Death” wore a red fez, a black jacket without tombeaux, and a trademark shirt with a large white emblazoned cross. Their pants were black as were their boots, which were knee-length. This regiment was butchered in the uprising, but Rochebrune survived. He received a “Legion of Honour” for his bravery.

Zouaves were renowned for their bravery and skill in battle, but they are more known for their outlandish uniforms. Their North African style of dress was good for hot weather, as it was designed for fighting in Algeria, and it is evident why other nations raised units.