Testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Harrison of the Continental Army at the court-martial of General Lee.
On the 28th of June, as one of His Excellency's [General Washington's] suite, I marched with him till we passed the Meetinghouse near Monmouth.
When we came to where the roads forked, His Excellency made a halt forty minutes, in order to direct a disposition of the army. The wing under,General Greene was then ordered to go to the right to prevent the enemy's turning our right flank.
After order was given in this matter, and His Excellency
was proceeding down the road, we met a fifer, who appeared to be a good deal frighted. The General asked him whether he was a soldier belonging to the army, and~the cause of his returning that way; he answered that he was a soldier, and that the Continental troops that had been advanced were retreating. On this answer the General seemed to be exceedingly surprized, and rather more exasperated, appearing to discredit the account, and threatened the man, if he mentioned a thing of the sort, he would have him whipped.
We then moved on a few paces forward (perhaps about fifty yards) where we met two or three persons more on that road; one was, I think, in the habit of a soldier. The General asked them from whence they came, and whether they belonged to the army; one of them replied that he did, and that all the troops that had been advanced, the whole of them, were retreating. His Excellency still appeared to discredit the account, having not heard any firing except a few cannon a considerable time before. However, the General, or some gentleman in company, observed that, as the report came by different persons, it might be well not wholly to disregard it.
Upon this I offered my services to the General to go forward and to bring him a true account of the situation of matters, and requested that Colnol Fitzgerald might go with me. After riding a very short distance, at the bridge in front of the line that was afterwards formed on the heights, I met part of Colonel Grayson's regiment, as I took it, from some of the officers that I knew. As I was in pursuit of information, I addressed myself to Captain Jones of that regiment and asked him the cause of the retreat, whether it was general, or whether it was only a particular part of the troops that were coming off I do not precisely recollect the answer that he gave me; but I think, to tht best of my knowledge, he said, "Yonder are a great many more troops in the same situation."
I Proceeded and fell in with Lieutenant-Colonel Parke.These troops rather disordered. The next officer that I was acquainted with was Lieutenant-Colonel William Smith. I addressed myself to Colonel Smith and asked him what was the cause of the troops retreating, as I had come to gain information? who replied that he could not tell, that they had lost but one men I then proceeded down the line, determined to go to the rear of the retreating troops, and met with Colonel Ogden. I asked him the same question whether he could assign the cause or give me any information why the troop; retreated. He appeared to be exceedingly exasperated and said, "By God! they are flying from a shadow."
I fell in immediately after with Captain Mercer, who is aid-de-camp Major-General Lee, and, expecting to derive some information from him,i put the same question to him. Captain Mercer seemed, by the manner of hi' answer (as I addressed myself to him, saying, "For God's sake, what is the cause of this retreat?"), to be displeased; his answer was, "If you will proceed I you will see the cause; you will see several columns of foot and horse." I replied to Captain Mercer that I presumed that the enemy was not in great force than when they left Philadelphia, and we came to that field to meet col umns of foot and horse.
The next field-officer I met was Lieutenant-Colonel Rhea, of New Jersey who appeared to be conducting a regiment. I asked him uniformly the same question for information, and he appeared to be very much agitated, expressed his disapprobation of the retreat, and seemed to be equally concerned (or perhaps more) that he had no place assigned to go where the troops were ta halt.
About this time I met with General Maxwell; and, agreeable to the Generals direction to get intelligence, I asked him the cause. He appeared to be a much at a loss as Lieutenant-Colonel Rhea or any other officer I had met with; and intimated that he had received no orders upon the occasianed and was totally in the dark what line of conduct to pursue.
I think nearly opposite to the point of wood where the first stand was made, I saw General Lee. I do not recollect that anything passed between us, but General Lee's asking me where General Washington was, and my telling him that he was in the rear advancing.
I then went to the extreme of the retreating troops, which were formed of Colonel Stewart's regiment, and found them in the field where the enemy retreated to, just beyond the defile. I addressed myself to General Wayne, General Scott and, I believe, to Colonel Stewart, and to several other officers who were there; and asked General Wayne the cause of the retreat, who seemed no otherwise concerned than at the retreat itself, told me he believed it was impossible to tell the cause; and while we were standing together, which I supposed might be three or four minutes, the enemy's light infantry and grenadiers came issuing out of the wood, pressing very hard upon us at about two or three or four hundred yards distance. The troops that had been halted were put in motion.
I had some conversation with General Wayne relative to a disposition of the stoops, if nothing could be done to check the advance of the enemy, who seemed to consider the matter exceedingly practicable, provided any effort or exertion was made for the purpose, alleging that a very select body of men had been that day drawn off from a body far inferior in number. General Wayne then told me that as General Washington might not be perfectly well acquainted with the country, it might be well to advise him of a rosa, if I met him, that led by Taylor's Tavern, on which it would be necessary to throw a body of troops, in case the enemy should attempt to turn our right flank.
1 upon this, left General Wayne and galloped down the line to meet General Washington, to report to him the state of our troops and the progress of the enemy. I met General Washington at the point of wood, or near it, where the first stand was made, and reported to him what I had seen, adding that the enemy; was pressing hard and would be upon him in a march of fifteen minutes; which (I have since understood) was the first information he received of thc enemy being so close upon our retreating troops. We remained there a few minutes until the extreme rear of our retreating troops got up.