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Battle of Princeton


On January 3, 1777, the “Winter Patriots” struck another blow against the Crown. At the Battle of Princeton, General George Washington led the Continental Army to victory against British forces, marking the end of a 10-day campaign that Fredrick the Great described as “the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements.” Washington’s leadership, along with the sheer resilience of his soldiers, gave new life to the American Cause.

Washington’s campaign began on December 25, 1776. On that fateful Christmas night, he ferried his army across the Delaware River to strike at the Hessian Garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. The following day, Washington’s warriors did not disappoint, achieving a remarkable victory that was desperately needed. After returning to camp on the Pennsylvania side of Delaware River, General Washington was ready to move again. On December 29, his forces ventured across the river once more for further action in New Jersey.

Battle of Trenton by H. Charles McBarron Jr. (Photo: U.S. Army Center of Military History)

To deal with the resurgent Continentals, British General William Howe sent one of his top commanders, General Charles Cornwallis from New York City to remedy the situation. On January 2, 1777, Cornwallis’ troops attacked Washington’s forces positioned along the Assunpink Creek. The Americans managed to hold their position, but that night, Washington’s council of war determined that it was impractical to continue defending the creek. Information reached Washington that the British had failed to guard the road to Princeton. Sympathetic residents of the small college town provided detailed information about the British defenses. The area was open to attack and the Continentals decided to take advantage of it.

In order to slip away from Cornwallis, a handful of American sentries maintained campfires, making it appear that the Continental army was still in camp. The deceptive tactic worked, allowing the majority of Washington’s men to silently march off to the northeast.

General Washington’s leadership shined during the Battle of Princeton as he shouted, “It is a fine fox chase my boys!” The Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army helped turn the tide of the engagement, routing the Redcoats to the south. With their main force compelled to retreat, the British troops in Princeton also fled. The price of victory came at the expense of some 25 Patriots killed and 40 wounded. On the opposing side, Crown forces suffered an estimated 20 killed, 60 wounded, and had nearly 200 soldiers captured by the Continental Army.

General Washington’s charge at the Battle of Princeton. (Photo: britishbattles.com)

Washington’s brilliant 10-day campaign, culminating at the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, saved his army from ruin. Despite all of the hardships that his troops had faced, the Winter Patriots proved that they could meet the British on a field of battle and win. The fight for liberty would endure.

Sources

Civil War Trust: Princeton.

George Washington's Mount Vernon: Battle of Princeton.

George Washington's Mount Vernon: The Trenton-Princeton Campaign.

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