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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2005

EBay yields slice of U.S. history

 •  Postal Service teaches eBay 101

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Janet Sing, a Big Island resident and longtime member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was perusing eBay about a month ago when a listing caught her eye.

Janet Sing, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, shows The Gentleman's Magazine containing an article by Gen. George Washington about the battle of Monmouth. Sing bid $211 on eBay for the magazine, which was published in September 1778, but said , "I was ready to pay anything."

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Someone was selling an old publication called The Gentleman's Magazine. In it was an article about the battle of Monmouth in what is now Freehold, N.J.

Sing was captivated. One of her two Revolutionary War ancestors fought in Monmouth. She clicked on the entry.

Articles about the battle aren't necessarily rare. Historians have been writing about Monmouth for more than 200 years. Although considered a draw, the battle proved a band of revolutionaries could hold their own on a traditional battlefield. It also cemented the reputation of Mary Hays, who became better known as Molly Pitcher after she took water to soldiers on the hot fields at Monmouth, then took over as gunner at her husband's cannon after he fell.

The Gentleman's Magazine article, however, seemed to stand a little closer to history than most. It was published in September 1778, more than 226 years ago and barely three months after the battle.

The author had a firsthand view and insider knowledge of its strategies, at least on the American side. The article was written by the commander of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington.

The magazine in which it appeared, interestingly, was published in the country the colonists were revolting against.

"In the present important Crisis," the magazine's British editors explained in a preface, "it may not be unacceptable to lay before our Readers General Washington's Account of the late Action in the Jerseys, between Gen. Clinton's and the American Army."

The magazine had obtained Washington's letter to Congress after it was first published in an American publication, the editors wrote. The editors did not indicate whether permission had been sought or obtained to use Washington's work on enemy turf.

Sing bid $211 on eBay and won the bid. She wanted to hold her breath as she waited for the document to arrive in the mail. It took 10 days.

"Holy cats," she said during a recent visit to Honolulu. "I was ready to pay anything."

Sing knew the basics about the battle.

She knew Gen. Charles Lee, one of the officers serving under Washington, had been opposed to meeting Gen. Sir Henry Clinton's troops on the battlefield. Lee preferred the guerrilla tactics the Continental Army had been using to harass the British in the early stages of the conflict.

Washington disagreed. In his view, the time to attack Clinton had come on the morning of June 28. He sent a message by aide de camp to Lee, ordering him "to move on and attack them, unless there be powerful reasons to the contrary; acquainting him, at the same time, that I was marching to support him."

Washington started his march, closing the distance between his troops at the rear and Lee's at the front. It took less time than he anticipated.

"After marching about 5 miles," the general wrote, "to my great surprise and mortification, I met the whole advance corps retreating, and, as I was told, by Gen. Lee's orders."

Washington and other officers under his command succeeded in rallying the American troops and attacking Clinton's. As the day wore on, the Americans began to gain confidence.

"The enemy, by this time, finding themselves warmly opposed in front," Washington wrote, "made an attempt to turn our left flanks, but they were bravely repulsed and driven back by detached parties of infantry. They also made a movement to our right, with as little success."

The two armies fought through the afternoon. When night came, the battle ended. The wounded were collected and the colonists rested.

"In the meantime the enemy were employed in removing their wounded, and about twelve o'clock at night, marched away in such silence that tho' Gen. Poor lay so extremely near them, they effected their retreat without his knowledge," Washington wrote.

Washington decided not to send his troops after the fleeing British that morning.

"The extreme heat of the weather," he wrote, "the fatigue of the men from their march through a deep sandy country almost entirely destitute of water, and the distance the enemy had gained by marching in the night, made a pursuit impracticable and fruitless, and would have been fatal to number of our men, several of whom died the preceding day with heat."

Washington did dispatch his troops after Clinton on the morning of July 1, the day he wrote to Congress.

Before ending his letter, Washington turned to the subject of Lee.

"The peculiar situation of Gen. Lee at this time requires that I should say nothing of his conduct," he wrote. "He is now in arrest. The charges against him, with such sentence as the court-martial may decree in his case, will be transmitted for approbation or disapprobation of Congress as soon as it shall be passed."

Sing, who dons white, acid-free librarian gloves to pull the document from its wrappings, said she will send the original article to the Daughters of the American Revolution museum in Washington and keep copies to show students in Big Island schools.

"It may appear to some to be a little old-fashioned," she said. "But to me, you just can't do without an organization like the DAR. We've got to hold on to our past."

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.