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June 6, 2008 / howardmestas

Day 3 All About Princeton

Nassau Hall

Princeton’s only building in 1777

“Parade with me my brave fellows, we will have them soon”—George Washington

Today, as with General Washington, we traversed the Delaware River a couple of times.  Except that our movements were extremely less eventful and not as heroic as those made by the father of our country and the brave soldiers who followed on that bitter cold morning of January 3, 1777.  Washington’s crossing may have saved our country and  “this day in history”  ranks second in American importance only to my birthday, which also took place on January 3 a couple hundred years later.  But I digress…

The Battle of Princeton was a pivotal point in the war, because it gave beleaguered American forces a new confidence that victory against the mighty British forces was actually possible; something that until that point was doubted by most, including Washington himself.  The victory at Trenton just days before came at a crucial time for Washington since desertions were plentiful and many enlistment periods would be ending at the start of the new year.  Washington came up with a bold plan or “strategery,” as G.W. Bush would say, with hopes of engaging the enemy with the element of suprise.  Knowing British forces were stationed in, and around Princeton, Washington ordered his forces their direction on the evening of Jan. 2, leaving a small distractive force at Trenton as decoys to throw the British off.  At dawn the next morning the Americans engaged the enemy in a fierce battle with Washington leading the charge through the center of the battlefield, disappearing and reemerging back from the cannon smoke.  In the battle General Hugh Mercer was wounded and bayonetted repeatedly until assumed dead after refusing to surrender, however, he died 9 days later in the home of Thomas Clarke near the battle site.

The firefight continued all the way to the town of Princeton and to where British troops were hiding at Nassau Hall, which at that time was the only building at Princeton University.  It was reported that Alexander Hamilton took particular delight at bombarding the structure since he was denied admission to the institution a few years earlier.  The decisive victories at Trenton and Princeton eliminated British forces under General Charles Cornwallis from New Jersey and had the much desired effect of inspiring 8,000 new troops to enlist in the Continental Army.  Of course many hardships would still follow with the next winter’s encampment at Valley Forge.

Our interpreter at the Clarke House was masterful at describing the battle and the troop positions leading up to the combat.  With just a little imagination you could sense the panic in the air, feel the thundering of hoofbeats, and smell the burning gunpower from cannon and musket fire.  He also corrected a couple of false legends of the events noting that the Hessians were not drunk and helpless at Trenton and General Mercer did not die at the trunk of a giant oak tree which was named after him.

Later in the day we had a walking tour of the University of Princeton and the community itself.  Among the most intriguing sites was the deliberately inconspicuous an modest home of Albert Einstein pictured below.


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