Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture (2011)
* Harlow Giles Unger. The Last Founding Father - James Monroe
and a Nation’s Call to Greatness (2009)
While Monroe became a Revolutionary War hero, Webster was actually pressed into service, mostly due to the fact that Yale (and much of Connecticut) was in shambles due to the proximity of British redcoats, and that his adult family members were already serving. Webster, while never seeing any actual combat (he wasn't nearly as capable a soldier as Monroe), was near Saratoga at the end of that pivotal battle.
After finishing his commitment during the Revolutionary War, Webster looked for his first job as a Yale graduate in 1778, but the economic landscape was treacherous, in that hyperinflation created a very tight job market. Webster was lost and confused but he knew that he wanted to keep doing what the Revolutionary War interrupted: reading and writing, since he loved intellectual discovery. Webster held fast to his literary ambitions, but felt hopeless about achieving them, largely due to the fact that there weren't any American professional writers as of yet. When Webster graduated from Yale, he became separated from everything he held dear . . . Webster was afloat in the world at the age of 20 without any prospects, and without any aid.
For Webster, non-stop obsessive intellectual labor was the tonic; long before there was any treatment, Webster suffered from what was almost-certainly obsessive-compulsive disorder, which was a blessing and a curse all-at-once, as later years would confirm. Webster eventually joined the bar, but with the Revolutionary War dragging on, it was impossible for him, as a new untested lawyer, to get cases. On 17 January 1782, Webster was apoplectic that some editorials were promoting reunification with Great Britain. Webster wrote "Observations on the Revolution", plus three more editorials, supporting independence . . . soon the break with Great Britain would become permanent.
Webster started a "classical" school in Upstate New York for the children of prominent families. Webster was paid in silver dollars, a rare advantage in an economy that featured hyper-inflated currency and "imaginary money" (e.g. certificates of Western lands or IOU's). But Webster yearned to earn a better living as a lawyer, and he felt like a fish-out-of-water in Upstate New York . . . his "happy place" was home in Connecticut.
After the British/Hessian route on NYC, Monroe and the Virginia militias vowed to never run like the militias from Connecticut. Outnumbered 2:1, the Virginia militias, now part of Washington's main army, forced 1500 British redcoats to retreat, which was the first time that occurred in the Revolutionary War. But men from the Connecticut militias kept disappearing, which forced Washington to relocate his army to White Plains, NY. On 24 October 1776, a nighttime raid by the British was squashed by the VA militias, of which Monroe was part; no Virginian was killed/injured repelling the British attack. On 26 October 1776, the British approached Washington's position in far-greater numbers, and Washington (who had largely learned his lesson after New York City (don't let the British capture the army), divided his army into three parts, trying to give the British pause.
Washington and about 5000 men (including Monroe) crossed the Hudson River into New Jersey. Still being pursued by the British, Washington and his men crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania in early-December 1776. Desertions had reduced the number of soldiers under Washington's direct command to 3000. Only 200 of the 700 VA militia men were able to fight; Monroe was only 1 of 5 VA militia officers still active-and-able. Washington ordered his men to grab all of the boats on either side of the Delaware; the British and the Hessians were forced to remain on the New Jersey side of the river.
Monroe and the other attackers were able to take and keep the Hessian artillery, and after the battle, Washington promoted Monroe to captain for "conspicuous gallantry". The daring advance attack of Monroe and the others were key in taking Trenton, since the Americans held the advantage in artillery. The success at Trenton led to a greater (and more costly) victory at
Princeton against the British; Trenton and Princeton led to not only higher morale, but also kept the number of soldiers with Washington at a decent level.
Monroe needed 10 weeks to recover from his wounds. Monroe soon discovered, as a captain, that he was expected to recruit his own men, which he was unable to do in Virginia due to the sheer scarcity of volunteers. Monroe's wealthy uncle, a judge, helped Monroe become an aide-de-camp with the rank of major to Lord Stirling. The still-teenage Monroe came to know many quality people from different regions, including Washington's top aide, Colonel Alexander Hamilton.
By then, Monroe had become a passionate Francophile and an Anglophobe; he celebrated the Treaty of Alliance (1778) with France. As a result of the treaty, Britain was convinced that a French invasion was real enough to abandon Philadelphia and consolidate forces in NYC. Washington decided the time was right to attack the British at Monmouth (NJ); after the cowardly retreat by General Charles Lee, Washington rallied his men, and Lord Stirling's forces rushed up in support, providing just enough soldiers to stop the British advance on their position.
Although Monmouth was at best a draw (the Redcoats slipped away at night), Washington claimed a victory, mostly for political reasons. Monmouth would be Monroe's last direct action of the Revolutionary War, since stalemate had largely set in for the rest of 1778 into 1779.
Monroe, facing the prospect of no battlefield command, resigned his commission and position on Lord Stirling's staff on 20 December 1778. When Virginia created new regiments in reaction to British forces concentrating in the Chesapeake, Monroe thought he would finally become a battlefield commander (Monroe even had a rare letter of recommendation from General Washington).
Monroe was named Lieutenant Colonel, but the Virginia Assembly refused to supply the necessary funds to raise and equip the new militias, and in any case, recruits were still incredibly scarce. Monroe assailed the VA Assembly for their cowardliness, and went back to his uncle, who advised his nephew to abandon the military and focus on public service in government for his future.
In the spring of 1780, the British took Charleston (SC), and Virginia freaked-out in response. Jefferson named Monroe a full colonel, and placed him in charge of the Virginia Southern Army. As Banastre Tarleton approached Richmond, even Governor Jefferson discovered that he was unable to raise men for the defense of Virginia. Monroe was sent to northern Virginia to continue his education, and to be "on deck", waiting for his call-to-action.
On 23 May 1781, Tarleton seized Richmond, and Lafayette's army was in full flight back north. At Fredericksburg (VA), General "Mad Anthony" Wayne arrived with 1300+ troops, reinforcing Lafayette . . . General Cornwallis (Tarleton was under his command), far away from his supply base, decided to retreat from northern Virginia.
Monroe met with Lafayette, and Lafayette gently told Monroe that he had enough officers, and went south towards Cornwallis. Monroe continued to try and find ways to get directly involved, all the way through Yorktown (1781), but failed. On 14 October 1781, Monroe's friends Hamilton and Lafayette executed a night-time bayonet charge on the remaining key British positions to end the siege at Yorktown.
On 17 October 1781, Cornwallis sent Washington a message proposing a cease-fire, and on 19 October, Cornwallis, Washington, and Rochambeau signed the articles of capitulation. Monroe was all-but-despondent at missing out on a chance at military glory, and finally became serious on following the advice from his uncle and Jefferson . . . serve his nation in peace as a public servant.