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The Battle of Princeton (January 3, 1777) was a battle in which General Washington's revolutionary forces defeated British forces near Princeton, New Jersey. The site is administered as a state park operated and maintained by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forest

Battle Of Princeton

The Death of Hugh Mercer.


January 1777

March 12, 1777

Extract of a letter from General Sir William Howe to Lord George Germaine, dated New York, January 5, 1777.

In consequence of the advantage gained by the enemy at Trenton, on the 26th of last month, and the necessity of an alteration in the cantonments, Lord Cornwallis deferring his going to England by this opportunity, went from hence to Jersey on the first instant, and reached Princeton that night, to which place General Grant had advanced, with a body of troops from Brunswick and Hillsborough, upon gaining intelligence that the enemy, on receiving reinforcements from Virginia, Maryland, and the militia of Pennsylvania, had repassed the Delaware into Jersey.

On the 2d, Lord Cornwallis having received accounts of the rebel army being posted at Trenton, advanced thither, leaving the 4th brigade, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mawhood at Princeton, and the 2d brigade with Brigadier General Leslie at Maidenhead. On the approach of the British troops, the enemy forward posts were driven back upon their army, which was formed in a strong position, behind a creek running through Trenton. During the night of the 2d, the enemy quitted this situation, and marching by Allentown, and from thence to Princeton, fell in, on the morning of the 3d, with the 17th and 55th regiments, on their march to join Brigadier General Leslie at Maidenhead.

Lieutenant Colonel Mawhood, not being apprehensive of the enemy strength, attacked and beat back the troops that first presented themselves to him, but finding them at length very superior to him in numbers, he pushed forward with the 17th regiment, and joined Brigadier General Leslie. The 55th regiment retired by the way of Hillsborough, to Brunswick, and the enemy proceeding immediately to Princeton, the 40th regiment also retired to Brunswick.

The loss upon this occasion to his majesty troops is 17 killed, and nearly 200 wounded and missing; Captain Leslie, of the 17th, is among the few killed, and for further particulars I beg leave to refer your Lordship to the enclosed return. Captain Phillips, of the 25th grenadiers, returning from hence to join his company, was on this day beset between Brunswick and Princeton, by some lurking villains, who murdered him in a most barbarous manner, which is a mode of war the enemy seem, from several late instances, to have adopted, with a degree of barbarity that Savages could not exceed.

It has not yet come to my knowledge how much the enemy has suffered, but it is certain there were many killed and wounded, and among the former a General Mercer, from Virginia.

The bravery and conduct of Lieutenant Colonel Mawhood, and the behavior of the regiments under his command, particularly the 17th, are highly commanded by Lord Cornwallis. His Lordship finding the enemy had made this movement, and having heard the fire occasioned by Colonel Mawhood attack, returned immediately from Trenton; but the enemy being some hours march in front, and keeping this advantage by an immediate departure from Princeton, retreated by Kingtown, breaking down the bridge behind them, and crossed the Millstone river at a bridge under Rocky hill, to throw themselves into a strong country.

Lord Cornwallis seeing it could not answer any purpose to continue his pursuit, returned with his whole force to Brunswick, and the troops upon the right being assembled at Elizabeth town, Major General Vaughan has that command.

Return of the killed, wounded and missing, of the following corps of his Majesty forces in the Jersies, Friday, January 3, 1777.

17th Regiment, 1 Captain, 12 rank and file, killed; 1 Captain, 1 Lieutenant, 1 Ensign, 4 serjeants, 46 rank and file, wounded; 1 serjeant, 1 drummer, 23 rank and file, missing. 40th Regiment. 1 Lieutenant wounded; 1 Ensign, 3 serjeants, 1 drummer, 88 rank and file, missing. 55th Regiment. 1 Serjeant, 4 rank and file, killed; 1 Ensign, 1 serjeant, 2 rank and file, wounded; 1 Captain, 1 Lieutenant, 1 Ensign, 1 serjeant, 2 drummers, 66 rank and file, missing. Total. 1 Captain, 1 serjeant, 16 rank and file, killed; 1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 2 Ensigns, 5 serjeants, 48 rank and file, wounded; 1 Captain, 1 Lieutenant, 2 Ensigns, 5 sergeants, 4 drummers, 187 rank and file, missing.



Battle of Princeton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Battle of Princeton
Part of the American Revolutionary War

A painting of George Washington rallying his troops at the Battle of Princeton
Date January 3, 1777
Location Princeton, New Jersey
Result Decisive American victory[1]
United States Great Britain
George Washington Charles Mawhood
35 guns[2]
6–9 guns[2]
Casualties and losses
25 Killed
40 Wounded[3]
100 Killed
70 Wounded
280 Captured[4]

The Battle of Princeton (January 3, 1777) was a battle in which General Washington's revolutionary forces defeated British forces near Princeton, New Jersey. The site is administered as a state park operated and maintained by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry.

On the night of January 2, General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, repulsed a British attack at the Battle of the Assunpink Creek. That night, he evacuated his position and went to attack the British garrison at Princeton. General Hugh Mercer, of the Continental Army, clashed with two Regiments under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood of the British Army. Mercer and his troops were overrun and Washington sent some Militia under General John Cadwalader to help him. The Militia, on seeing the flight of Mercer's men, also began to flee. Washington rode up with reinforcements and rallied the fleeing Militia. He led the attack on Mawhood's troops, driving them back. Mawhood gave the order to retreat and most of the troops tried to flee to Cornwallis in Trenton.

In Princeton itself, General John Sullivan forced some British troops who had taken refuge in Nassau Hall to surrender, ending the battle. Washington moved his army to Morristown, and with their third defeat in 10 days, the British evacuated New Jersey. With the victory at Princeton, morale rose in the ranks and more men began to enlist in the army. The battle was the last major action of Washington's winter New Jersey Campaign.


 Victories at Trenton

On the night of December 25, 1776 General George Washington, Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, led 2,400 men across the Delaware River.[5] After a nine mile march, they seized the town of Trenton, killing or wounding over 100 Hessians and capturing 900 more. Soon after capturing the town, Washington led the army back across the Delaware into Pennsylvania.[6] On the 29, Washington once again led the army across the river, and established a defensive position at Trenton. On the 31, Washington appealed to his men, whose enlistments expired at the end of the year, to stay for just six more weeks for an extra bounty of ten dollars. His appeal worked, and most of the men agreed to stay.[7] Also, that day, Washington learned that Congress had voted to give him dictatorial powers for six months.[8]

General Lord Cornwallis left Princeton in command of 8,000 men who were sent to attack Washington's army of 6,000 troops.[9][10] Washington sent troops to skirmish with the approaching British and delay their advance. Indeed, it was almost nightfall by the time the British reached Trenton.[11] After three failed attempts to cross the bridge over the Assunpink Creek, beyond which were the American defenses, Cornwallis called off the attack until the next day.[12]



During the night, Washington called a council of war and asked his officers whether they should stand and fight, attempt to cross the river somewhere, or take the backroads to attack Princeton.[13] Although the idea had already occurred to Washington, he learned from Arthur St. Clair and John Cadwalader that his plan to attack Princeton was indeed possible. After consulting with his officers, they agreed that the best option was to attack Princeton.[14]

Washington ordered that the excess baggage be taken to Burlington where it could be sent to Pennsylvania.[15] Because there was a drop in temperature, the ground had frozen making it possible to move the artillery without it sinking into the ground. By midnight, the plan was complete, with the baggage on its way to Burlington and the guns were wrapped in heavy cloth to make less noise and prevent the British from learning of the evacuation.[15] Washington left 500 men behind with two cannon to patrol, keep the fires burning, and to work with the picks and shovels to make the British think that they were digging in. Before dawn, these men were to join up with the main army.[15]

By 2:00 Am the entire army was in motion and the men were ordered to march with absolute silence.[15] Along the way, a rumor was spread that they were surrounded and some frightened militiamen fled for Philadelphia. The march was difficult, as some of the route ran through thick woods and it was icy, causing horses to slip and men broke through ice on ponds.[16]


 Plan of Attack

As dawn came, the army approached a stream called Stony Brook.[17] The road the army had been following followed along Stony Brook for a mile farther where it intersected with the Post Road, which ran from Trenton to Princeton. However, off to the right of the road there was an unused road which went across the farmland of a man named Thomas Clark.[17] The road was concealed from the Post Road and ran through cleared land to the back of Princeton from which the town could be entered at any point because the British had left it undefended.[17]

However, Washington was running behind schedule as he had planned to attack and capture the British outposts before dawn and capture the garrison shortly afterward.[17] By the time dawn broke he was still two miles from the town.[17] Washington sent 350 men under the command of Hugh Mercer to destroy the bridge over Stony Creek in order to delay Cornwallis' army when he found out that Washington had escaped. Shortly before 8:00 Am, Washington wheeled the rest of the army to the right down the unused road.[18] First in the column went General John Sullivan's division consisting of Arthur St. Clair's and Isaac Sherman's brigades. Following them were John Cadwalader's brigade and then Daniel Hitchcock's.[18]


 Mawhood's Reaction

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood was following orders from Cornwallis to bring the 17th and 55th British regiments to join Cornwallis' army when they climbed the hill south of Stony Brook and sighted the main American army.[18] Unable to figure out the size of the American army due to the wooded hills, he sent a rider to warn the 40th British Regiment which he had left in Princeton and then wheeled the 17th and 55th Regiments around and headed back to Princeton. That day, Mawhood had called off the patrol which was to patrol the area from which Washington was approaching.[19]

Mercer received word that Mawhood was leading his troops back across the bridge and back to Princeton.[19] Mercer, on orders from Washington, moved his column to the right in order to hit the British before they confronted Washington's main army.[20] Mercer moved towards Mawhood's rear but when he realized he would not be able to cut off Mawhood in time, he decided to join Sullivan. When Mawhood learned that Mercer was in his rear and moving to join Sullivan, Mawhood detached part of the 55th Regiment to join the 40th Regiment in the town and then moved the rest of the 55th, the 17th, fifty cavalry and two artillery pieces to attack Mercer.[21]



 Mawhood overruns Mercer

Mawhood ordered his light troops to delay Mercer, while he brought up the other detachments.[21] Mercer was walking through William Clark's orchard when the British light troops appeared. The British light troops' volley went high which gave time for Mercer to wheel his troops around into battle line. Mercer's troops advanced, pushing back the British light troops.[22] The Americans took up a position behind a fence at the upper end of the orchard. However, Mawhood had brought up his troops and his artillery up.[22] The American gunners opened fire first and for about ten minutes, the outnumbered American infantry exchanged fire with the British. However, many of the Americans had rifles which took longer to load than muskets.[23] Mawhood ordered a bayonet charge and because many of the Americans had rifles, which could not be equipped with bayonets, they were overrun.[24] Both of the Americans cannon were captured, and the British turned them on the fleeing troops.[23] Mercer was surrounded by British soldiers and they shouted at him "Surrender you damn rebel!". The British, thinking they had caught Washington, bayoneted him, smashed his head with a musket, and then left him for dead.[23] Mercer's second in command, Colonel John Haslet, was shot through the head and killed.[25]


 Cadwalader's Arrival

Fifty light infantrymen were in pursuit of Mercer's men when a fresh brigade of 1,100 militiamen under the command of Cadwalader appeared.[25][26] Mawhood gathered his men who were all over the battlefield and put them into battle line formation. Meanwhile, Sullivan was at a standoff with the detachment of the 55th Regiment that had come to assist the 40th Regiment, neither daring to move towards the main battle for risk of exposing their flank.[25] Cadwalader attempted to move his men into a battle line but they had no combat experience and did not know ever the most basic military maneuvers. When his men reached the top of the hill and saw Mercer's men fleeing from the British, most of the militia turned around and ran back down the hill.[27]

 Washington's Arrival

As Cadwalader's men began to flee, the American guns opened fire onto the British, who were preparing to charge, and the guns were able to hold them off for several minutes.[28] Cadwalader was able to get one company to fire a volley but they fled immediately afterwards. At this point, Washington arrived with the Virginia Continentals and Edward Hand's riflemen.[29] Washington ordered the riflemen and the Virginians to take up a position on the right hand side of the hill and then Washington quickly rode over to Cadwalader's fleeing men. Washington shouted, "Parade with us my brave fellows! There is but a handful of the enemy and we shall have them directly!".[30] Cadwalader's men formed into battle formation at Washington's direction. When Daniel Hitchcock's New England Continentals arrived, Washington sent them to the right, where he had put the riflemen and the Virginians.[29]

Washington, with his hat in his hand, rode forward and waved the Americans forward, while he road ahead on his horse.[29] At this point, Mawhood had moved his troops slightly to the left to get out of the range of the American artillery fire. Washington gave orders not to fire until he gave them the signal, and when they were thirty yards away, he turned around on his horse, facing his men and said "Halt!" and then "Fire!".[31] At this moment, the British also fired obscuring the field in a cloud of smoke. One of Washington's officers, thinking he was dead, as he was in between both lines, exposed from fire on both sides, pulled his hat over his eyes, but when the smoke cleared, Washington appeared, unharmed, waving his men forward.[31]


 British Collapse

On the right, Hitchcock's New Englanders fired a volley and then advanced again, threatening to turn the British flank.[31] The riflemen were slowly picking off British soldiers while the American artillery was firing grapeshot at the British lines. At this point, Hitchcock ordered his men to charge, and the British began to flee.[31] The British attempted to save their artillery but the militia also charged, and Mawhood gave the order to retreat. The British fled towards the Post Road followed by the Americans and Washington, who shouted "It's a fine fox chase my boys!".[31] Some Americans had swarmed onto the Post Road in order to block to British retreat across the bridge, but Mawhood ordered a bayonet charge, and broke through the American lines, escaping across the bridge.[32] Some of the Americans, Hand's riflemen among them, continued to pursue the British, and Mawhood ordered his Dragoons to buy them some time to retreat, however, the Dragoons were pushed back. Some Americans continued to pursue the fleeing British until nightfall, killing some and taking some prisoner.[32] After some time, Washington turned around and rode back to Princeton.[32]

At the edge of town, the 55th Regiment received ordered from Mawhood to fall back and join the 40th Regiment in town.[32] The 40th had taken up a position just outside of town, on the North side of a ravine. The 55th formed up to the left of the 40th. The 55th sent a platoon to flank the oncoming Americans, but were cut to pieces.[33] When Sullivan sent several regiments to scale the ravine, they fell back to a breastwork.[34][35] After making a brief stand, the British fell back again, some leaving Princeton, and others taking up refuge in Nassau Hall.[36][34] Alexander Hamilton brought some guns up and had them blast away at the building. Then some Americans rushed the front door, broke it down, and the British put a white flag outside one of the windows.[34] The British walked out of the building and laid down their arms.[34]



The Princeton Battle Monument in Princeton Borough, NJ

After entering Princeton, the Americans began to loot the abandoned British supply wagons and the town itself.[37] With news that Cornwallis was approaching, Washington knew he had to leave Princeton. Washington wanted to push onto New Brunswick and capture a British pay chest of 70,000 pounds but Henry Knox and Nathanael Greene talked him out of it.[38] Instead, Washington moved his army to Somerset Courthouse and in the following days, to Morristown, arriving on January 6, at 5:00 Pm.[38][3]

After the battle, Cornwallis abandoned many of his posts in New Jersey, and ordered his army to retreat to New Brunswick. The battle at Princeton cost the British some 100 men killed, 70 wounded and 280 captured and greatly boosted the morale of the Continental troops.[39] The Americans, meanwhile, suffered just 25 killed and 40 wounded.[3] The British viewed Trenton and Princeton as just minor victories, but with these victories, the Americans believed that they could win the war.[38]

American historians often consider the Battle of Princeton a great victory, on par with the battle of Trenton, due to the subsequent loss of control of most of New Jersey by the Crown forces. Some other historians, such as Edward G. Lengel consider it to be even more impressive than Trenton.[3] A century later, British historian Sir George Otto Trevelyan would write in a study of the American Revolution, when talking about the impact of the victories at Trenton and Princeton, that "It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world."[40]


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