Case 7

Historical Books versus Historical Romance:
The Battle of Monmouth

The Battle of Monmouth was a significant event in the history of the Revolutionary period. Following the cruel winter of Valley Forge that forced deplorable conditions upon the Continental army, the Battle was a genuine testing of the spirit, temper, and strength of a new nation.

When recreating historical events of this magnitude, there are two basic approaches: first, the pure historical approach, which concentrates on significant facts, maps, and documents; and second, the act of historical re-imagining, where the realities of the battle are revised, rethought, reanalyzed—recreated by writers. Historical studies aim at objectivity; historical novels and romances aim at something more, sparking their texts with adventure, intrigue, and love.

Detailed and largely objective historical accounts of the Battle of Monmouth are found in books such William S. Stryker’s Battle of Monmouth (1899). Stryker gives a full and exhaustive account with maps, troop movements, sworn testimonies of officers, numerous documents and diaries, and numbers of soldiers killed and wounded during the battle. Samuel Stelle Smith’s The Battle of Monmouth (1964) is an outstanding historical piece, drawing on eyewitness accounts which give the reader a chance to recreate the battle hour-by-hour and step by step.

Historical accounts present facts, maps, and statistics, but such details do not always provide satisfying depth. Writers of Historical Romances attempt to rethink, re-visit and re-analyze the history of Revolutionary war. While most of the important points are historically accurate, many of the connecting links have been supplied by imaginative conjecture that hopes to reveal unknown intentions and motivations and to present reasonable (if not entirely detail-supported) interpretations.

The historical novel, Drums of Monmouth, by Emma Gelders Sterne, presents a vivid cross-section of Revolutionary life. This story is told from the point of view of the young and neglected poet Philip Freneau. This lively historical novel depicts the clash between the sensitive poet and the world of revolution into which he is born.

Monmouth is a historical novel by Charles Braden Flood. It is the story of the long winter of suffering and training by the continental army at Valley Forge. The story is told through the adventures of Nicholas Burk, one of the officers, and of Charity Avery, the beautiful widow who loved him and risked her life as a spy in Philadelphia. The historical and sentimental romance The Spur of Monmouth by Henry Morford provides more details about love and intrigues, the violence of savage war, and the imaginative interpretations of actions and motives by General George Washington and General Lee.

Stryker, William S. The Battle of Monmouth. Edited by William Starr Myers, Princeton Univ. Press, 1927.

Smith, Samuel Stelle. The Battle of Monmouth. Monmouth Beach: Philip Freneau Press, 1964.

Sterne, Emma Gelders. Drums of Monmouth: A Story of the Revolution. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1963.

Flood, Charles Bracelen. Monmouth: A Novel about the Turning Point of Hope in the American Revolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.

[Morford, Henry.] The Spur of Monmouth: or, Washington in Arms. Philadelphia: Claxton, Remson & Haffelfinger, 1876.