The Battle of Princeton (January 3, 1777) was a pivotal battle of the Revolutionary War in which General George Washington's army of Continental soldiers and militia defeated British regular forces.
On the night of January 2, 1777, George Washington’s army repulsed a British attack at the Battle of the Assunpink Creek in Trenton (also known as the Second Battle of Trenton). That night, General Washington evacuated his army of about 5,000 men from its position, circled around the flank of General Lord Cornwallis' army, and went to attack the British 4th Brigade garrisoned at Princeton and under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood.
As Washington approached Princeton from the southeast he did not realize that Mawhood had been given orders to reinforce Cornwallis still in Trenton and was leading a column on the Trenton to Princeton Road. From a hill on this road just south of Stony Brook, Mahwood spotted the Continentals approaching the Princeton garrison. He reversed his column, and engaged the center of the American army’s left flank at sunrise on January 3, 1777 one mile south of Princeton on the Quaker farms of William Clarke and his brother Thomas. At first the British gained the advantage against General Hugh Mercer’s Virginia brigade, and Washington sent militia units under Brigadier General John Cadwalader in support. The militia, on seeing the flight of Mercer's men, also began to flee. Washington rode up with reinforcements and rallied the fleeing militia, personally leading a counterattack on Mawhood's troops that placed him directly in the field of fire. Washington’s counterattack resulted in an organic double envelope maneuver and Mawhood's 17th Regiment of about 450 men was nearly surrounded. Mawhood gave the order for a general retreat, scattering the British to the north, south and west.
The victorious Washington then approached the town of Princeton where Brigadier General John Sullivan had forced some 200 to 300 British troops who had taken refuge in Nassau Hall to surrender. After the battle, Washington moved his army to Morristown, having won a third victory in just ten days. Humiliated, Cornwallis withdrew his army north to Brunswick, Staten Island and New York. With the victory at Princeton, morale rose dramatically among the Americans. More citizens rallied to the cause of liberty and the British would never again occupy the “Jersies.” Today, this battle is honored on the hallowed grounds that are Princeton Battlefield State Park, a National Historic Landmark.
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