Diary

Postscript – January 3-6, 1777

The British high command initially acknowledged losses for the day of 276 men; as more reports filtered in, the tally eventually grew to 450, or a third of the Princeton garrison. About half had been killed or wounded; the other half were headed to jails in Connecticut or Pennsylvania. American casualties, although imprecisely recorded, likely numbered 60 to 70, about half of them killed. Several dozen dead, British and American, were subsequently buried in a stone quarry. Others were interred, an American major reported, “by hauling them on sleds to great holes and heaping them in.” Few went to their graves with the dignity of Colonel Haslet, laid in the yard of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Philadelphia with a sixteen stanza elegy reciting his virtue. . . .

At dusk on Friday, Cornwallis led his column onto the road north from Princeton. Fearing that Washington would pillage the New Brunswick cantonment before he could get there, he abandoned some of his sick and wounded, as well as much baggage. With provisions gone, the army battered, and enemies lurking in every glade, New Jersey no longer seemed secure, much less hospitable. The fifteen-mile journey would take sixteen hours, slowed by disheartened men, knackered horses, and the wrecked bridge at Kingston. “I never experienced such a disagreeable night’s march in my life,” wrote Lieutenant Martin Hunter. . . .

The American army scuffled into Morristown at sunset on Monday, January 6, three days after leaving Princeton. Captain (Charles Willson) Peale noted that his men had “feet covered with ice,” and other commanders pleaded for mittens, blankets, and shoes. The Philadelphia Council of Safety had instead sent twenty hogsheads of rum. Blacksmiths repaired wagons and shoed horses, armorers fixed dilapidated firelocks, and filthy, smoke-stained men washed themselves and their tattered raiments. For the first time in months, they felt secure enough to breathe deep and sleep well. “Our late success has given our troops great spirits and [they] seem determined to endure every hardship like good soldiers,” Captain Nathan Peters wrote his wife, Lois, who was still tending their saddlery in Massachusetts, as she had since Lexington. A chaplain wrote, “How sudden the transition from darkness to light, from grief to joy.” ~ From Rick Atkinson’s THE BRITISH ARE COMING: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777. Used with the permission of the author. All Rights Reserved © 2019 Henry Holt and Co. www.revolutiontrilogy.com

 

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