The Battle Of Princeton

A painting of George Washington rallying his troops at Princeton

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 Washingtons 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 Washingtonapproached 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 ofStony Brook, Mahwood spotted the Continentals approaching the Princeton garrison.  He reversed his column, and engaged the center of the American armys left flank at sunrise on January 3, 1777 one mile south of Princeton on the Quakerfarms of William Clarke and his brother Thomas. Atfirst the Britishgained the advantage against General Hugh Mercers 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. Washingtons counterattack resulted in an organic double envelope maneuver andMawhood's17th Reg of about 450 men was nearly surrounded. Mawhoodgave the order for a general retreat, scattering the British to the north, south and west. 

The victoriousWashington then approached the town of Princeton whereBrigadier 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.  

Facts about The Battle of Princeton

  • General George Washington at Trenton on the night of January 2, 1777
    by John Trumbull

    After its darkest days, Princeton revived the flagging patriot spirits and changed the course of the American Revolution! 

  • Washingtons First Victory over the British on a Battlefield (Trenton was fought against the Hessians just 8 days before on December 26, 1776). 
  • US Marines suffer their first battlefield death at the Battle of Princeton. 3 companies of marines came with Washington from Philadelphia, including one African American Marine named Orange. 
  • A brilliant daring night march of 18 miles by Washingtons army around the flank of a larger British army which was positioned just yards from his front lines to attack its rear. By marching his army around the flank of the British army he avoided almost assured destruction by the British army at Trenton while demonstrating his ability to pick off British outposts and threaten British supplies and communications. His victory ultimately leads to the liberation of New Jersey. 
  • Washingtons leadership abilities and personal bravery are demonstrated by his rallying of two broken brigades and leading them back into battle and facing a British volley at 30 paces. Washington threatens a double envelopment of the main British force and drives them off the field. 
  • Washington threatens the British payroll 20 miles up the road from Princeton in New Brunswick and guarded by a mere 100 men. Washington places his own army between British army and their payroll which panics the British. 

For an excellent video on the Ten Crucial Days Campaign,click here

For a lecture on the Battle of Princeton by famed historian, Tom Fleming,click here



Phases I and II 7:40am to 8:30am
Map courtesy of
Phases III and IV 8:30 am to 8:45am
Map courtesy of
The Caldwalader "Spy" Map
Map courtesy of

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.