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James Monroe During the Revolutionary War

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about President James Monroe's service in the Revolutionary War. We will explore the battles he took part in, and we will highlight key themes and developments surrounding his service in the Continental Army and the Virginia Militia.

Who Was James Monroe and What Did He Do?

James Monroe is one of America's ''Founding Fathers'' that we sometimes forget about. It's not that we mean to, but with all the attention lavished upon George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and even James Madison, sometimes we draw a blank when it comes to the last of the ''Founding Fathers''. So what exactly is noteworthy about James Monroe? Well, in addition to being the last of the ''Founding Fathers'', he was also the last of what has been called the ''Virginia Dynasty''. This term refers to the fact that four out of the first five American presidents were from the state of Virginia. As president, Monroe led the nation into what has been called the ''Era of Good Feelings'', in which partisan politics declined as Americans increasing sought national unity. He is probably most well known for the foreign policy position bearing his name: the Monroe Doctrine. This bold doctrine basically stated that the Western Hemisphere (North and South America) was closed to further European colonization.

An engraving of a young James Monroe.
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But what about other aspects of James Monroe's life? Like some of America's other Founders, he too fought in the Revolutionary War. That is the subject of this lesson. Let's dig in and explore Monroe's service in ''America's War for Independence.''

Looting of the Governor's Palace and the Battle of Long Island

Like Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He began his education there in 1774. In 1775, the Revolutionary War broke out following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the war. Sympathetic to the Patriot cause, Monroe was among the men who raided the Royal Palace of Lord Dunmore in Williamsburg. With the Royal Governor fleeing for his life, Monroe and his Patriot comrades succeeded in capturing 200 muskets and 300 swords, which were then donated to the Virginia Militia.

By 1776, Monroe had dropped out of school to join the 3rd Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army. Since he had attended college and came from a respected family he was able to be commissioned as an officer. Monroe left Virginia to join General Washington in New York. But Monroe was not the only one who wanted to be in New York: the British had their eye on this important city as well. In August 1776, the British invaded Long Island in what would be the largest battle of the entire war. The Battle of Long Island proved to be a decisive defeat for the Continental Army. Led by the General Howe, this British amphibious invasion of New York forced Monroe and his regiment to retreat into Pennsylvania.

The Battle of Trenton

You may have heard the story of George Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776 to capture Hessian forces based in Trenton, New Jersey. What you may not know is that James Monroe also took part in the Battle of Trenton. He and some 50 others crossed the Delaware ahead of Washington's main force. Monroe was actually wounded in the battle after he and Captain William Washington (George Washington's cousin) rushed a group of Hessian soldiers preparing to fire a canon. He was struck by a musket ball in the shoulder, resulting in a wound that fortunately did not prove fatal. So what have we learned here? James Monroe was a tough dude and a war hero!

Although James Monroe was not part of the main crossing force, he did fight in the Battle of Trenton, and was actually wounded in battle.
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