January, 1777: Battle of Princeton Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In late December, 1776, George Washington recrossed the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey and concentrated 5,000 soldiers in Trenton, having destroyed a Hessian force there several days earlier. Skillfully eluding a British army under General Lord Charles Cornwallis with a night march on January 2–3, Washington struck a lone brigade near Princeton that morning. The disciplined British regulars scattered the first American units on the field with heavy volleys of musketry and a bayonet charge. Washington, however, brought up reinforcements, restored order, and counterattacked. This routed one British regiment. Two others quickly retreated as the Americans advanced on the town. The Americans inflicted approximately 500 casualties, taking 300 prisoners in this sharp, forty-five-minute fight, at the cost of 44 killed and wounded. Washington had hoped to then seize the British magazine at New Brunswick, but his troops were exhausted. Therefore, he marched to Morristown and went into winter quarters.

In late December, 1776, George Washington recrossed the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey and concentrated 5,000 soldiers in Trenton, having destroyed a Hessian force there several days earlier. Skillfully eluding a British army under General Lord Charles Cornwallis with a night march on January 2–3, Washington struck a lone brigade near Princeton that morning. The disciplined British regulars scattered the first American units on the field with heavy volleys of musketry and a bayonet charge. Washington, however, brought up reinforcements, restored order, and counterattacked. This routed one British regiment. Two others quickly retreated as the Americans advanced on the town. The Americans inflicted approximately 500 casualties, taking 300 prisoners in this sharp, forty-five-minute fight, at the cost of 44 killed and wounded. Washington had hoped to then seize the British magazine at New Brunswick, but his troops were exhausted. Therefore, he marched to Morristown and went into winter quarters.

The victory at Princeton, coupled with the one at Trenton, greatly revitalized the American effort after the disastrous New York campaign of 1776. They also caused the British to evacuate most of New Jersey, undoing much of what the British had accomplished during the previous year.

George Washington at Princeton. From an 1853 lithography by D. McLellan. (National Archives)

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