- Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle by Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone
The battle of Monmouth Court House does not inspire the American imagination in the way that Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Yorktown, and other Revolutionary War battles do. Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone attempt to add Monmouth to this pantheon in Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle. By providing detailed battlefield analysis and extensive discussion of Continental politics, Lender and Stone have done just that—if one accepts George Washington as the indispensable man in the early American nation.
Fatal Sunday suggests that the battle of Monmouth is an underappreciated event in the development of the United States. The battle has long been considered to be a glorified draw, but the authors argue that preexisting political competition made the outcome of the clash critical to Washington's future as commander of the Continental army, if not as president of the United States. [End Page 399] Outside of Boston, Trenton, and Princeton, the battlefield results of the early years of the Revolution had left some skeptical of Washington's fitness to lead the Continental army. Washington's failures created detractors, competitors, and, as the overblown Conway Cabal seemed to indicate, conspirators all bent on his removal from command. Fatal Sunday exposes the rift between Washington and a newly repatriated Charles Lee. While Washington favored a professionalized army, Lee proposed an irregular force to confront the British. Although Washington won the debate, the authors argue that Monmouth represented the first litmus test of Washington's preference. Set against the backdrop of Washington's opposition, Monmouth consequently assumes an importance transcending its battlefield results.
Lender and Stone do not refute previous assessments of the battle—it was a draw that allowed both sides to derive some satisfaction. The battle's significance, therefore, results from the performance of the Continental army and the public perception of both Washington and Lee after the engagement. Despite the inconclusive outcome, Continental soldiers demonstrated in-creased discipline and ability, while officers exhibited an improved capability to handle troops in the field. These improved performances reflected the training regimen installed by Washington during the previous winter at Valley Forge. Monmouth consequently suggested that the Continental army might, with time, realize the professional bearing envisioned by Washington. In addition, Lee's struggles during the early part of the battle, followed by Washington's arrival, provided the Washington camp with a narrative that solidified his command and undermined his critics. Throughout their coverage of these developments the authors maintain an even keel. Washington is not a demigod, devoid of reproach. Nor is Lee a bumbling idiot, deserving unmitigated condemnation. Instead the rich battlefield narrative assigns blame and awards praise evenly. Only after the battle, with Washington's young and enthusiastic supporters leading the way, was the general able to solidify his position as the undisputed and unassailable commander of the Continental army.
The authors' intimate knowledge of the battle has allowed them to take a single day in the Revolution and weave into it a broader narrative about the rise of Washington. Their interpretation is not entirely new; many Revolutionary War studies discuss the general's ascension above his political enemies. Lender and Stone, however, have tied this ascension to one singular event, and have done so with deep knowledge and extensive research. Fatal Sunday will consequently find its place as an accessible read for students and scholars of the American Revolution alike.