Princeton, Battle of

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PRINCETON, BATTLE OF (3 January 1777). Leaving three regiments at Princeton, New Jersey, the British general Charles Cornwallis arrived at the Delaware River near sunset on 2 January 1777 to avenge George Washington's defeat of the Hessians at Trenton. Cornwallis found Washington's army of five thousand men occupying a precarious position along Assunpink Creek. Ignoring Sir William Erskine's counsel to attack immediately, Cornwallis decided to "bag" Washington in the morning.

Advised by General Arthur St. Clair, Washington executed a brilliant military maneuver. At midnight, leaving his campfires burning, he quietly withdrew the main body of his army along an unpicketed road and gained the British rear. Approaching Princeton at daybreak, the Americans encountered a force, under Colonel Charles Mawhood, just leaving the village to join Cornwallis. General Hugh Mercer's brigade engaged Mawhood's troops but was driven back. Rallied by Washington and joined by new arrivals, the continental patriots drove the British from the field and village. British losses were between four hundred and six hundred killed, wounded, or captured. Cornwallis, outmaneuvered, withdrew his entire army in feverish haste to New Brunswick to save a £70,000 war chest. Washington, his army wearied, took up a strong position at Morristown, having freed most of New Jersey and infused new hope into a cause that appeared all but lost.


Bill, Alfred Hoyt. Campaign of Princeton, 1776–1777. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1948.

Stryker, William S. The Battles of Trenton and Princeton. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898. Reprint, New Jersey Heritage Series, no. 3. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1967.

C.A.Titus/a. r.

See alsoDelaware, Washington Crossing the ; Revolution, American: Military History ; Trenton, Battle of .

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