Trenton and Princeton, Battles of

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Trenton and Princeton, Battles of (1776–77).When George Washington's army captured the Hessian garrison of Trenton, New Jersey, on 26 December 1776, and parried the British relief column at Princeton on 3 January 1777, it won victories that marked the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Since August, Gen. William Howe had forced the American army out of New York and hounded it across northern New Jersey in November, and might have destroyed it altogether, had not Washington crossed to the western shore of the Delaware River in mid‐December, seizing all available boats as he went. Nearly destitute of food, clothing, and ammunition, with enlistments expiring and men abandoning what looked like a lost cause, the Continental army was about to fade away. But Washington, unwilling to let the cause die without one last effort, was able to keep together a force large enough to attack a vulnerable part of the overextended British army as it settled down for the winter.

On Christmas night, in a storm of rain, hail, and snow, Washington led his remaining 2,400 men back across the Delaware, and just as dawn broke on the 26th, surprised and captured the 1,000‐man Hessian garrison at Trenton.

Careful not to attempt too much with too little, Washington's army retraced its steps back across the Delaware, only to appear on 3 January 1777 at Princeton, ten miles northeast of Trenton, outflanking British forces that had advanced to reclaim the town. The American army, reduced to 1,600 men, attacked 1,200 disorganized British troops at Princeton with modest success. Washington risked his life leading a charge against a British position, but kept his head and broke off the engagement before British reinforcements under Charles Cornwallis arrived from Trenton. The Continentals withdrew to the northwest and went into winter quarters at Morristown in mid‐January. Washington and his little army had foiled the British conquest of northern New Jersey and showed the world that the rebellion was not dead yet.
[See also Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


William S. Stryker , The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, 1898.
Alfred H. Bill , The Campaign of Princeton, 1948.
Douglas S. Freeman , George Washington, Leader of the Revolution, 1951.

Harold E. Selesky