Friday, October 30, 2009

"A perpetual memorial to coming ages"

Several years ago, my wife and I were dining in downtown Freehold. We were astonished when our young waiter, being a local resident and graduated from local schools, knew nothing of the Monmouth Battle Monument on Court Street in Freehold. He was only vaguely aware of the Revolutionary War battle that it commemorated.

Joel Parker of Freehold, Governor of New Jersey in 1863-66 and 1872-75, suggested erection of a commemorative monument during an address delivered June 28, 1877, at ceremonies marking the 99th anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth. The Monmouth Battle Monument Association was formed in October of that same year with Joel Parker, president, and Major James S. Yard, editor of the Monmouth Democrat, secretary. Three representatives were chosen from each township in Monmouth County and county residents subscribed $10,000 to the project. Monument Park, comprising 3-1/4 acres on a knoll near Freehold's main thoroughfare, was donated by the heirs of Daniel S. Schanck, namely, Mary A. Schanck, Theodore W. Morris, Alice C. Schanck, Andrew H. Schanck, Daniel S. Shanck and George E. Schanck. Governor George B. McClellan laid the cornerstone on the date of the battle's 100th anniversary. The State of New Jersey appropriated $10,000 in 1881 and, a year later, Congress appropriated additional funds for its completion.

Architects Emelin T. Littell and Douglas Smythe designed the Monmouth Battle Monument. Maurice J. Power, of the New York National Art Foundry, designed the gun-metal bronze reliefs, which were executed by sculptor James E. Kelly. The monument was made of polished, New England granite at a cost of $36,000. Three granite spurs form an equilateral triangle at the base of the shaft with cannon at each angle. The sides of these spurs are inscribed: "Monmouth Lost Great Britain America," "One Country," and "One People." Above the base is a large circular step displaying twenty medallion portraits of prominent officers who participated in the battle. Above this step, the drum-shaped base of the shaft bears five bas-relief panels, each five feet high and six feet long, executed by James E. Kelly, illustrating incidents from the battle:

1. The Council of War at Hunt's House, Hopewell. This scene takes place on the morning of June 24, 1778, in a low-raftered room with a tall chimney-piece, it being the southeast room of Hunt's House, Hopewell. Present at the Council were Generals Washington, Lee, Greene, Stirling, Lafayette, Knox, Enoch Poor, Baron von Steuben, Anthony Wayne, William Woodford, John Paterson, Charles Scott, Duportail and Colonel Alexander Scammell. Washington, standing on the far side of the table, listens to Lafayette urge an attack upon the British. The table is covered with an out-spread map of New Jersey. Alexander Hamilton is seated to Lafayette's right, following the proposed plan of attack on the map with a pair of pointers. Colonel Daniel Morgan, dressed in hunter's attire, listens intently. General Anthony Wayne and Brigadier General John Cadwallader stand in the background. Generals Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, chief of artillery, are seated to Lafayette's left. Behind them, General Charles Lee looks on with an air of indifference.

2. Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Ramsey's single-handed combat with British dragoons. Colonel Ramsey of the Third Maryland Regiment promised Washington to hold his position with two cannon, manned by Eleazer Oswald and crew, until the Commander-in-Chief had deployed the main army. The British Light Horse charged, but he stuck to his post. The artist shows Ramsey beside Eleazer Oswald's cannon, about to plunge his sword into a British cavalryman whose horse has fallen under him. The Lieutenant-Colonel tried to mount the fallen Dragoon's horse, but was wounded in the attempt. To the right, another British horseman levels his pistol at Ramsey. The retreat of the American advance corps and the old Monmouth County Court House are depicted on the left of the panel. Lt. Colonel Ramsey killed several British dragoons before being captured; he was returned to General Washington the next day by General Tarleton with a note commending his bravery.

3. Washington Rallies His Troops. Washington's approach at a full gallop is greeted by cheers and the waving of hats. In the distance, artillery pushes forward to check the enemy advance.

4. Molly Pitcher serving the gun. This panel depicts Molly, twenty-two years old, with her wounded husband lying at her feet, taking his place at a cannon, rammer in hand. The sponge-bucket with which she had supplied the crew with water lies discarded on the ground. A soldier with is right arm in a sling, carries a cannonball on his left arm. Another is prepared to fire the piece. In the background, the horses of the field-piece are placed between the gun carriage and the caisson to protect the gunpowder. To the right, General Knox on horseback holds a field-glass to his eye. Freehold Meeting-house stands in the distance.

5. The death of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Monckton of the Second Grenadiers Battalion. The artist depicts the death of Lt. Colonel Monckton who led the Royal Grenadiers' charge against Americans under General Anthony Wayne near the Parsonage. Hand-to-hand combat rages over his fallen form. General Wayne on horseback is shown to the left.

The coats of arms of the thirteen original States, festooned with laurel leaves, are mounted above the historical tableaux. "Monmouth" is incised upon a smaller drum near the base. The column consists of three sections, joined with rings of bay leaves, and crowned with a Composite capital and a statue of the Goddess of Liberty. Governor Leon Abbett unveiled the monument on November 13, 1884, before a crowd of twenty thousand people. It stands close to the spot where the Queen's Rangers encountered the vanguard of the American army, comprised of the Ninth Pennsylvania Regiment commanded by Colonel Richard Butler.

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