Marines with Washington at Princeton 3 January 1777
Encouraged by his success against the Hessian garrison at Trenton on Christmas night 1776, General George Washington determined upon a further stroke. Crossing the Delaware River again on 30 December, he reoccupied Trenton. General Charles Cornwallis, who commanded a large British force occupying the town of Princeton, at once responded by marching toward Trenton to give battle. After a rather indecisive skirmish at Assanpink Creek on 2 January 1777, W ashington withdrew a short distance to the eastward and set up camp. Full of confidence, the British commander made his camp, believing that at last he had caught the elusive American general, and that with the dawn of the next day, he would be able to scatter or crush the opposing army. Washington, however, had other ideas. When night had fallen he gathered his forces, leaving guards to keep his camp fires burning throughout the night, and set out to force his way through the rough country to his rear, around to the Princeton road. At sunrise on the 3rd, the British 17th and 55th Regiments just outside Princeton on their way to reinforce Cornwallis were startled to see an American army rapidly approaching. Quickly ordering up the 40th, the guard at Princeton, British Colonel Charles Mawhood opened up with his cannon and sent the 17th forward with fixed bayonets. The violent charge hurled the Americans under General Hugh Mercer back in disorder. Pennsylvania troops under General John Cadwalader and Marines under Captain Samuel Nicholas quickly took over the fight, but they too were repulsed. Washington, fearing a rout, rode up and personally reformed the Virginians, Pennsylvanians, and Marines.
Appealing to their patriotic fervor, Washington led the Americans in an extended line to within 30 yards of Mawhood’s redcoats. “Fire,” he shouted. An American volley, then a British volley. Smoke enveloped both forces. But the Americans had the better of it, and as the red line broke and scattered, Washington urged his men on, exclaiming, “It’s a fine fox chase, my boys!”