South Trails – Monmouth Battlefield State Park – Manalapan/Freehold, Monmouth County, NJ
Distance: 15 miles of hiking trails for the park. About 7 miles in the southern part of the park. (We did about 3 miles)
Type: Interconnected web
Difficulty: 2 of 10.
Terrain – rolling fields and hills, forest, farmland
Trailheads – At the visitor’s center – 40°15’48.44″N, 74°19’11.81″W. Northern trails have lots on the other side of Rt 33.
Directions: 16 New Jersey 33 Business, Manalapan Township, NJ 07726
Markings – Woods trails have blazes. Farm trails (which double as farm roads) are unblazed.
Map – Click here for the map from the state park service.
Description: 1777 was not a good year for George Washington and his army. After barely keeping the war going at Trenton and Princeton, they lost some big battles and couldn’t defend Philadelphia, which was captured by the British. They set up for the winter at Valley Forge, where unstable temperatures (warm, freezing, warm, freezing, repeat), major illnesses, and a severe lack of supplies made for an absolute miserable existence for the Continental Army. They did, however, get some excellent training from foreign army officers, notable Friedrich von Stueben.
When the weather warmed up and June 1778 rolled around, the British decided that Philadelphia wasn’t such a hot place to be, with it being surrounded by patriot territory in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey (also, France had declared war on Britain). They made the decision to head back to the safety of New York, which they had captures two years early and was serving as the base for all British forces in the 13 colonies. Washington decided that this was perfect – time to put his army’s new training to work.
As the British army advanced across New Jersey, they found blocked roads, burned bridges, and all sorts of other obstacles thrown up by the patriots of this great state. General Charles Lee led an advance force of 5,000 patriots, which caught General Charles Cornwallis on June 28th. The day was horrible for battle, over 100 F! Lee had not liked Washington’s plan (or, to be honest, Washington) from the beginning, and refused to press the attack. He ordered a retreat, which turned into more of a run very quickly.
At this point, Washington rode up to Lee’s troops, found Lee, had some unkind words for him, and fired him on the spot. Washington personally rallied Lee’s troops and set up a new defensive line. Cannon were hauled up, and an artillery duel began. While “Mad Anthony” Wayne attempted to attack British lines, the battle didn’t break wide open until cannon were hauled up to the location of today’s visitor center, catching the British between two lines of fire. They made a run for it. (This is the section of the battlefield we’d be walking).
There was more fighting to be had, but the end was really not in question anymore. Around midnight, the British continued on to New York City, lucky to have escaped destruction. The Americans had shown that they could win a stand-up brawl with the British army even while using standard European battle tactics.
Of course, the real contribution to American culture from this battle came from Mary Ludwig Hayes. She was carrying water to soldiers while her husband worked one of the cannon. Legend tells us that, when her husband passed out from heatstroke, she took over his spot in firing the cannon. This, of course, was Molly Pitcher.
Anyway, the Scouts and I were out for a fun December weekend of camping (of course we camp in December. What cold?) and exploring when we headed up to the visitor’s center, where the trails at the southern half of the park begin. The Scouts opted for the red leg of the Comb’s Farm Trail, which is 1.7 miles. It’s a nice stroll through the woods. The trail is marked, but gets a mite confusing at times, so keep an eye out for the trail blazes. We spotted some deer tracks and old beehives along this route, so keep your eyes peeled!
The Red trail eventually joined with the white and green trails before all three ended in a small field at the base of the hill that the visitor’s center sits on. We turned left here and crossed the footbridge into the thick of where the fighting took place – The Hedgerow and Parsonage Farm.
Here on the other side of the bridge, you’ll be walking on small roads used by hikers and farm equipment. Looking from the bridge, the Continental army was to your left. The British were to the right. There would have been farm buildings in front of the British line that Mad Anthony Wayne and his men used as cover. To your back, where the visitor center now stands, was the second location for Washington’s cabin. The trail will take you in a loop, past apple orchards. I suggest heading left first and working your way back around to the British lines.
Eventually you’ll arrive at the British position behind split rail fences. Here is where Cornwallis faced Washington’s men. The fight here lasted for hours, but eventually the British had to withdraw and make a run for it.
From here, finish the loop, crossing one of the two bridges across the stream (either one) and walk up the hill to the visitor’s center. They have some nice displays, well worth ducking in to check it out.
NOTE: They have a really good, cheap gift shop, but it’s cash only. Come prepared! I totally would have come away with more than
BONUS: During our visit, Civil War reenactors were there to help celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War (despite this being a Revolutionary War battlefield). More learning! Yay!
Overall recommendation: Very nice walk on a not-too-terrible December day. Go back in the deadly heat of summer to see what it was like for the soldiers. Or head back in June for the reenactment! The Pres and I are going to try to make it this year for some reenacting and maybe a separate time for some more hiking. There’s a lot more to see and do here than we covered!
Save the date – June 20th and 21st, 2015 – Reenactment time! (it’s in June every year)
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Site of one of the largest battles of the American Revolution, bajillions of miles of trails, really nice visitors center, reenactment each year that's well worth attending.
It's not in South Jersey. No where is perfect.