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Days 7 and 8 – December 31, 1776-January 1, 1777
On December 31, 1776, with temperatures in the 30s, Washington completed his efforts of the past several days to convince his Continentals to extend their one-year enlistments, which ended that day, for an additional six weeks. He had troops at Trenton and also at several other locations, including Crosswicks, so other officers had to help with this effort. On January 1, his army then consisted of the remaining veteran Continentals who had extended and also a large number of militia, especially from Pennsylvania, with much less combat experience. Washington’s scouts obtained evidence that Lord Cornwallis expected to consolidate about 8,000 British and Hessian troops at Princeton and then make an attack on Trenton. Washington also obtained a sketch map, known as the spy map, showing British positions at Princeton and a little-used back road that could give him unopposed access to the town.
Planning to entice Cornwallis to attack him at Trenton, Washington established his troops and a large number of artillery pieces on Mill Hill, opposite the main town of Trenton across the Assunpink Creek. This gave him the high ground advantage and the creek as a defensive moat with only one bridge to defend. To delay the battle at Trenton itself until late in the day, he sent about 1,000 troops toward Princeton on the main road to set up defensive ambush positions at several creek crossings and ordered the troops to delay the British to give him time to prepare and then fight the main battle late in the day. Advance squads of British and Americans at points near Princeton skirmished briefly. Towards the end of the day on January 1, the temperature climbed into the low 50s, and Washington planned to bring all his troops to Trenton overnight ready to face Cornwallis the next day. ~ William L. Kidder, author of TEN CRUCIAL DAYS: Washington’s Vision for Victory Unfolds. www.wlkidderhistorian.com