Prelude – December 14-25, 1776

After punishing defeats in New York and a desperate retreat across New Jersey, General Washington’s freezing men camped on the west bank of the Delaware River, many without tents. Fewer than three thousand when they arrived, more straggled in: nearby militias, then Continentals formerly led by General Charles Lee, captured by the British due to what Washington called “folly and imprudence.” Without a new army, Washington wrote, “the game is pretty near up.” Congress abandoned Philadelphia for Baltimore, calling over its shoulder for new enlistments as it fled. Tories collaborated with British and Hessian forces. General Nathanael Greene called it “the dark part of the night,” adding hopefully, “which is generally just before the day.” The American soldiers shivering on the riverbank largely stood alone.

To raise the spirit of the army, and of the people, Washington had to conjure a victory. The enemy was nestled into winter quarters in widely separated posts in New Jersey. Harassment by militia kept them isolated. At a council of war on December 22, Washington suggested that the ragtag Americans attack across the river. Late that night, the decision was made to chance everything on that single throw of the dice.

Widely read by the soldiers the next day, Tom Paine’s The American Crisis appealed to the cause of liberty in “times that try men’s souls.” To anyone who shrank from the fight, Paine declared that their children “will curse his cowardice [when] a little might have saved the whole.” The true course, Paine added, was not to seek peace, but to say, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” Brave words could not conceal the peril. For December 24, the commander-in-chief chose the passwords, “Victory or Death.” ~ David O. Stewart, author of THE SUMMER OF 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution. www.davidostewart.com.

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As our guest historians and authors relive these special, critical days in securing our independence, we welcome your support of our efforts to inform, educate, and involve people in programs and services focused on the American Revolution, the ten crucial days of 1776-77, and the heritage of what happened at Princeton and afterwards.   

The Princeton Battlefield Society requests and welcomes your partnership.  Our History & Heritage Fund furthers our efforts to bring the American Revolution to life through new exhibits, displays, and informative materials.  Our goal is to turn the historic Thomas Clarke House into a first-class, living history museum and to expand an understanding and appreciation of our American history and the heritage of the ten crucial days.  Exploring our military victory is important; so is the human drama of British and American soldiers, civilians and slaves, women and children. They were all part of the ten crucial days. Our History & Heritage Fund will focus on the Battle of Princeton, but it will also tell human stories through exhibits, displays and informative materials.  We ask you to help us achieve our goal with a donation today.

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