The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Princeton, Battle of
PRINCETON, Battle of. After the surrender of the Hessians at Trenton, Dec. 26, 1776, Cornwallis resumed his command of the British in the Jerseys, concentrated his forces at Princeton, and advanced (Jan. 2, 1777) with nearly the whole body to Trenton, then occupied by the American army. It was nightfall before the British had established themselves on the W. bank of the Assanpink, a small stream fordable in many places, and crossed by a bridge commanded by the Americans, and Cornwallis postponed the decisive attack till next day. Washington, finding himself opposed by an army superior in discipline and numbers to his own, and cut off from retreat by the Delaware, filled with ice, and impassable within the time available for escape, projected a diversion toward Princeton, where, by attacking and defeating the remaining troops, he could seize upon the supplies and munitions stored there, and thence proceed to capture the British magazines at Brunswick. Gen. Leslie with the rear guard of the British army was at Maidenhead, about half way between Trenton and Princeton, and three regiments of infantry and three troops of dragoons were still at the latter place. Aware of Leslie's position, Washington determined to make a detour by the Quaker road, which within 2 m. of Princeton joined the main road; but it was not in good condition, and it was sunrise before he reached the bridge at Stony Brook, about 3 m. from Princeton. Here he took a shorter and more concealed road, and ordered Gen. Mercer to proceed by the brook and take possession of a bridge at the main road. Thus far the enemy were unaware of his movements. A detachment left at the Assanpink to make a show of preparing for defence was ordered to hasten after the main army at daybreak. The baggage had been quietly removed to Burlington. The British remaining at Princeton had commenced their movement toward Trenton, and Col. Mawhood at the bridge came upon Mercer's brigade. At once both made for a piece of rising ground. It was gained by the Americans, who opened a sharp fire on the enemy, which they vigorously returned, and immediately charged with the bayonet, a weapon of which the Americans were destitute. After a short struggle, during which Gen. Mercer received mortal wounds, they gained the position and drove the Americans before them. But the pursuit was soon checked by the American regulars and a detachment of Pennsylvania militia, under command of Washington. The British opened their artillery on the reënforcement, and attempted by a charge to capture two pieces of artillery manned by the Pennsylvania militia. The action was brief, lasting not more than 20 minutes, but was fiercely contested; Col. Mawhood fought with the most desperate bravery, and, eventually forcing his way by the bayonet to the main road, retreated toward Trenton, leaving two brass field pieces on the ground. Washington distinguished himself by his personal daring. The 55th British regiment was routed and retreated toward Brunswick. The 40th regiment, not having come up in time to participate in the engagement, divided, a portion retreating toward Brunswick and the rest taking refuge in Nassau hall, which for some time had been occupied by the British as a barrack. On the approach of the Americans most of them escaped, and the remainder surrendered after receiving a few shots. The American loss was not more than 30 men, besides Gen. Mercer, Cols. Haslet and Potter, Major Morris, and Capts. Shippen, Neal, and Fleming. The British lost about 200 killed and wounded, and 230 prisoners, including 14 officers. Washington moved on to Morristown, destroying the bridges on his march, and for some time pursued a system of persistent annoyance, which drove the enemy out of nearly the whole of New Jersey.