Lessons from the American Revolution
Thursday, September 24, 2009
As I approach Monmouth Battlefield State Park in New Jersey, I see rows of white tents, hundreds of people in 18th-century dress, stacks of muskets, horses, wagons and cannons. I hear a fife and drum, and smell the scents of roasting meat and campfire smoke. It’s as if I have stepped back in time to the American Revolutionary War battle of Monmouth, although I know it’s only a re-enactment. By Ben Anderson
I’m visiting battlefields in Trenton, Princeton and Monmouth, all located in central New Jersey, as well as nearby sites where the Continental Army spent three winters.
New Jersey can justly claim the title of “Crossroads of the American Revolution.” George Washington’s army spent more of the war here than in any other state. And the pivotal “Ten Crucial Days” of the Revolution occurred here. After a series of defeats in 1776 that led to the loss of New York City and a retreat across New Jersey, the American cause had reached its nadir. Then, in 10 days, everything changed. Washington won three
victories—two at Trenton and one at Princeton—and reversed the tide of the war.
The battle of Monmouth, about 30 miles east of the Trenton and Princeton areas, was a proving ground for the restructured American Army. In one of the biggest battles of the war, the patriots proved themselves equal to the British.
The scenery near the Princeton and Monmouth battle sites looks much as it must have more than 200 years ago.
At Monmouth, landscapers are re-creating Revolution-era fences, lanes and fields, and restoring period houses. As a result, I can easily imagine the historic events that took place here.
I sense the rhythms of daily life at the Johnson Ferry House, with its 18th-century furnishings and fruit orchards. The house is one of several historic sites and restored homes you can visit along the battlefield route. At the Old Barracks Museum, a British colonial barracks with restored officers’ quarters, I walk in the boot steps of long-gone redcoats.
At the restored encampment in Morristown, I gain a fresh perspective on the wretched conditions the common soldiers endured. The second winter at Morristown belongs to a period soldiers called the “starving time,” as supplies were extremely scarce.
Here amid the serenity of yesterday’s battlefields and encampments, I reflect on the sacrifices of so many and appreciate the freedoms we so often take for granted today.
Battlefields, encampments, restored 18th-century homes—it’s all here in New Jersey.