George Washington Rallies The Troops At Princeton

William Ranney - Princeton University Art Museum - Washington Rallying the Americans at the Battle of Princeton

Today on January 3, 1777, George Washington bravely rallies the troops at the Battle of Princeton, leading to another decisive victory.

The Battle of Princeton was a small, yet significant victory during the American Revolution. It was only a week before that Washington famously crossed the icy Delaware River on Christmas night. He masterfully succeeded in surprise attacking the British at the Battle of Trenton. His first taste of success motivated him to cross the river again before retiring for the winter. The British forces were under the command of Charles Cornwallis, and he was in no mood for further embarrassment. Cornwallis left a contingent of 1,200 soldiers at Princeton before marching south to intercept with the Continental Army. His objective was to strike the rebels before they could launch another surprise attack.

However, Washington knew better than to engage with 8,000 highly trained British regulars, especially in an open pitched battle. Rather than openly retreat, he ordered his soldiers to leave their defensive positions during the middle of the night. The troops silently moved away from their camp with the campfires still burning. A small contingent stayed behind to continue making noise. The trick worked as the British scouts falsely believed they were still sleeping in their tents. Under the cover of darkness, he outflanked the British camp and marched north to attack Cornwallis’s rearguard at Princeton. The colonials outnumbered the enemy force by almost five-to-one.

Brigadier General Hugh Mercer led the initial charge against the two British regiments. However, he was wounded early on during a counter-bayonet charge. The defenders managed to repel the initial assault. The continental soldiers began to waver and turn back. At this critical junction, Washington personally charged forward on his iconic white horse to rally the soldiers. He remarkably avoided being shot in the crossfire and reformed his troops back into a stable attacking line. They charged forward, and the British swiftly surrendered. For the first time in the revolutionary war, the continental army achieved two back-to-back victories.

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