Extreme Weather History: The Battle of Monmouth

On this day in weather history The Battle of Monmouth was fought in Monmouth County, New Jersey in dangerously hot temperatures that exceeded 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Historically this battle is known for causing more fatalities due to heat exhaustion than actual battle wounds!

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According to historical accounts, the weather of the week leading up to the Battle of Monmouth was sweltering, most likely due to a strong high pressure ridge over the East Coast. With several days over ninety degrees, surely a heat wave by our criteria today, soldiers fought the battle to exhaustion--heat exhaustion! With both the British and American armies having to adjust to the effects of the heat, there are accounts of commanders ordering their troops to shed uniform and gear.  Uniforms were made of heavy cotton, with wool or burlap jackets, wool tricorne hats for the Continental Army, wool and even bearskin hats for the British Army, and in the case of the German Hessian soldiers who bolstered the British ranks, a copper clad tall hat which was unbearable in the hot Summer sun.

Historical accounts of the weather (including strong storms on June 26th, 1778) leading up to the battle highlight the concern for the soldiers’ well-being. Routes were changed in order to alleviate the stress of marching in the hazardous heat. Continental General George Washington crossed the Schuylkill River at Swede’s Ford then headed east then north to Doylestown, then east again.
Mount Vernon.org
George Washington, a man known for his calm demeanor under the most pressing circumstances, may himself have even been affected by the sweltering heat. It was recorded that upon learning of General Lee's retreat Washington rode his horse into the lines of his retreating army, finding Lee and exploding in rage because of the retreat. Washington encouraged his hot and weary army again and again to press the fight. The Americans eventually turned the tide of the battle from what began as an apparent British route into an American victory. Even during the midday, temperatures climbed to over one hundred degrees! The heat combined with the smoke from gunpowder likely contributed to poor air quality which could have accelerated the crippling of the army’s health. It has been noted that even Washington’s horse was so overcome with heat exhaustion he died on the battlefield.
Saint Mary's University

Another legendary tale to come from the battle was that of Mary Hays, more famously known as Molly Pitcher, a nickname given to her by the soldiers in the field because she brought pitcher after pitcher of water to the soldiers in battle, braving bullets and cannon balls just to keep the soldiers hydrated.

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