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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Castrioti

January 3rd, 1777 - The Battle of Princeton

Combatants: Americans vs. British

Location: Princeton, NJ

Outcome: American Victory

At the end of 1776, American General George Washington had secured a glorious victory at Trenton , but the enlistments of much of his army was still due to expire in the coming days. Despite the hardship and a reluctance to re-enlist for promised bonuses, Washington's honest

and heartfelt pleas convinced an entire Regiment of New Englanders to sign up for

six more weeks. About half of the remaining regiments likewise re-enlisted providing Washington with approximately 5,000 troops.

First Marquis of Cornwallis by an unknown artist

Meanwhile, British General Sir William Howe dispatched General Charles Cornwallis and 7,000

Redcoats from Princeton, New Jersey to trap Washington against the Delaware River. Washington deployed a small contingent of American soldiers along the road as a delaying action. This small force contested the British so fiercely that Cornwallis initially believed he was facing Washington's entire army. Subsequently, Cornwallis did not arrive until nightfall on January 2nd and, against the advise of his men, decided to wait until daybreak to attack Washington's defenses.

While Washington's own advisors were predicting an inevitable defeat, he devised a clever ruse to slip most of his force away in the darkness and attack the now lightly defended British post at Princeton. Leaving behind five hundred Americans to tend bonfires, Washington led about four thousand soldiers quietly through the darkness. They encountered a British force on the road outside Princeton and were briefly routed by artillery and a bayonet charge. But, Washington rallied the fleeing Americans and marched on and seized the town. The British lost some 400 soldiers killed, wounded, and captured; the Americans about 40.

George Washington rallying the troops at Princeton by William Ranney

After looting Princeton for much needed supplies, Washington led his Continentals away before Cornwallis could wheel about and confront the exhausted Americans.

Points of Interest:

  • After the defeat of the Hessians at Trenton, General Howe was flabbergasted that those professional mercenaries had been forced to surrender to a "ragged and undisciplined militia."

  • Cornwallis was boarding a ship back to England to visit his sick wife when news of Trenton arrived. Howe cancelled Cornwallis' leave.

  • After being marched through the streets of Philadelphia as prisoners of war, one Hessian recalled frightfully that "old women screamed fearfully" at the captured mercenaries.

  • The French-born Brigadier General Mathias Alexis de Fermoy leading the American delaying force abandoned his own men. Fortunately, a Pennsylvanian colonel successfully took charge of the action.

George Washington after the Battle of Princeton by Charles Wilson Peale



Dupuy, R. Ernest & Dupuy, Trevor N. (1993). The Harper's Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: HarperCollins.

Eggenberger, David (1985). An Encyclopedia of Battles: Accounts of Over 1,560 Battles from 1479 B.C. to the Present. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Leckie, Robert (1992). George Washington's War. New York: HarperCollins.

McDowell, Bart (1967). The Revolutionary War. Washington D.C., National Geographic Society.

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