When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
January 5, 1777 Battle of Princeton
Preparing to crush Washington’s Army at Assunpink Creek, Cornwallis ordered reinforcements brought down to his position at Trenton. This left only a small garrison in Princeton. Behind schedule, Washington sent a small detachment under the command of Hugh Mercer to seize and destroy the Stony Brook bridge along the Post Road. It was this detachment that was viewed by scouts attached to the column of British reinforcements. Now aware of a new threat near Princeton, this column immediately wheeled about and approached Mercer on the Clarke Farm.
During the opening phases of the battle, a bayonet charge by the British forces broke Hugh Mercer’s American line near an orchard fence line on the Clarke Farm. After a brief struggle, Mercer was bayonetted repeatedly and left for dead. Given that Mercer was well-attired (as opposed to the rags worn by most American soldiers), a high-ranking officer, and refused to surrender, many British soldiers believed they had killed Washington himself.
Moving to reinforce Mercer’s broken line a brigade of Pennsylvania militia, Delaware and Philadelphia light infantry, and a small unit of marines engaged the British. Despite their numerical superiority, the inexperienced Americans began to fall back under the steady fire from the British regulars. At this point, Washington arrived on the battlefield and personally led the militiamen forward from the front. Despite proximity his to the enemy line, Washington remained uninjured and his presence stabilized the American line at a critical moment in the battle.
After the American victory on the Clarke Farm, the final military actions of the Battle of Princeton shifted towards the town itself. Roughly 200 British Regulars had fortified Nassau Hall at the center of what is Princeton University today. The Americans positioned cannon around the building and soon began firing on the building and its occupants. Legend has it that one of the American cannonballs decapitated the portrait of King George II hanging inside the building. Eventually the British garrison to surrendered. Having captured Cornwallis’ supply chain and its store of critically needed military supplies, Washington’s Army continued it retreat and eventually encamped at Morristown.