On January 3rd, 1777, George Washington led a large American force in an attack on Princeton, a principal British outpost in southern New Jersey, completing a successful excursion which he had started on the night of December 25th, 1776 at the crossing of the Delaware. Before the battle of Princeton, numerous soldiers enlistments in their local state militias were expiring in the new year, yet Washington was able to impress the gravity of the situation on many troops, and he persuaded 5,200 to continue to fight with him in New Jersey.
Before the battle, Washington devised a brilliant hoax, leaving 400 men to tend fires and make entrenching sounds in their positions outside of Trenton, making the British think they were digging in for the night. All the while, Washington’s main body was circumventing Cornwallis, and moving to seize Princeton farther up the road. Washington did not expect that the British force holding Princeton was also moving towards him.
The continental vanguard, led by Hugh Mercer, engaged British forces under Charles Mawhood, stationed as a holding force in Princeton. Mercer was killed in the engagement, and his men began to retreat, even though they outnumber the British on the field. Then Washington arrives, bringing reinforcements with him. He rides to the front of his line to rally his troops. While Washington is rallying his men, both sides exchange volleys, the smoke clears, and the American general still sit atop his horse unharmed. He subsequently orders a charge against an already breaking British line, and temporarily seizes Princeton.
The attack on Princeton was less a victory for US forces (they were forced to retreat shortly thereafter, since Cornwallis was in close pursuit) and more of a proving ground that the colonials could stand, albeit weakly, and be victorious on a European battlefield. French support was secured. I was fortunate this last year (2013) to visit PA and NJ and visit the crossing as well as Princeton/University, seeing Nassau Hall, where 194 British soldiers hid until Alexander Hamilton, a young officer in the Continental Army, fired at the structure and forced the enemy to capitulate. A wonderful battlesite to visit, as well as the college.