Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The First Civil War

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The First Civil War

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: An Evenly Balanced County: The Scope and Severity of Civil Warfare in Revolutionary Monmouth County, New Jersey" by Michael S. Adelberg, in The Journal of Military History, Jan. 2009*

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION was not a simple matter of downtrodden colonists rising up as one against their British oppressors. Revolutionary fervor was a minority sentiment. President John Adams later estimated that the population split into thirds: one-third loyalist, one-third revolutionary, and one-third neutral. Throughout the colonies, neighbor was pitted against neighbor in a series of local civil wars.

An analysis of thousands of records in a single New Jersey county by historian Michael S. Adelberg has produced a somewhat different picture of the split, with considerably more residents trying to be neutral than Adams estimated, some of them "trimmers" or "flip-floppers" who changed sides during the course of the conflict. Among the committed, supporters of the Revolution outnumbered Loyalists in Monmouth County, a relatively prosperous jurisdiction of about 12,500 people along the Atlantic coast. It was a military frontier, only nominally under patriot control, and close enough to British encampments that Loyalists had ready access to supplies and sanctuaries. The last great battle of the war in the North was fought at Monmouth Courthouse in 1778, when a British general marched his troops and their 12-mile-long baggage train across the county to reach the safety of New York. After a dramatic battle waged inconclusively in 100-degree heat, the British escaped under cover of night, but the colonists had fought them to a standoff. …

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