1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trenton and Princeton, Battles of

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TRENTON AND PRINCETON, BATTLES OF (1776–1777). These battles in the War of American Independence are noted as the first successes won by Washington in the open field. Following close upon a series of defeats, their effect upon his troops and the population at large was marked. After the capture of Fort Washington on Manhattan Island, on the 16th of November 1776, the British general, Sir William Howe, forced the Americans to retreat through New Jersey and across the Delaware into Pennsylvania. Howe then went into winter quarters, leaving the Hessian general, Rahl, at Trenton on the river with a brigade of 1200 men. Although Washington's army had dwindled to a mere handful and was discouraged by the year's disasters, it could still be trusted for a promising exploit. Ascertaining that the Hessians at Trenton were practically unsupported, the American general determined to attempt their capture. On the night of the 25th of December 1776 he recrossed the Delaware through floating ice to a point 9 m. above the enemy, whom he expected to reach at dawn of the following day, the 26th. Dividing his force of 2500 men into two divisions under Generals Sullivan and Greene, he approached the town by two roads, surprised the Hessian outposts, and then rushed upon the main body before it could form effectively. The charge of the American troops and the tire of their artillery and musketry completely disconcerted the enemy. All avenues of retreat being closed and their general mortally wounded, the latter to the number of 950 quickly surrendered and were marched back into Pennsylvania on the same day. The American loss was five or six wounded.

Elated by this success and eager to beat up the enemy's advanced posts at other points, Washington again crossed the Delaware on the 30th of December and occupied Trenton. Hearing of this move Lord Cornwallis at Princeton, 10 m. north of Trenton, marched down with about 7000 troops upon the Americans on the 2nd of January 1777, and drove them across the Assanpink, a stream running east of the town. The Americans, who encamped on its banks that night, were placed in a precarious position, as the Delaware, with no boats at their disposal at that point, prevented their recrossing into Pennsylvania, and all other roads led towards the British lines to the northward. Washington accordingly undertook a bold manœuvre. Fearing an attack by Cornwallis on the next morning, he held a council of war, which confirmed his plan of quietly breaking camp that night and taking a by-road to Princeton, then cutting through any resistance that might be offered there and pushing on to the hills of northern New Jersey, thus placing his army on the flank of the British posts. His tactics succeeded. At Princeton (q.v.) he came upon three British regiments which for a time held him at bay. The 17th foot especially, under Colonel Mawhood, twice routed the American advanced troops, inflicting severe loss, but were eventually driven back toward Trenton. The other regiments retreated north toward New Brunswick, and Washington continued his march to Morristown, New Jersey. He had broken through Howe's lines and placed himself in an advantageous position for recruiting his army and maintaining a strong defensive in the next campaign. These two affairs of Trenton and Princeton put new life into the American cause, and established Washington in the confidence of his troops and the country at large.

See W. S. Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton (Boston, 1898).