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Historian: George Washington Took Gamble During Battle of Princeton

7-4-14

During the American Revolution, New Jersey witnessed a 10-day crisis as battles between the Americans and British occurred. Historian Arthur Lefkowitz told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that during the Battle of Princeton, George Washington took a gamble that resulted in a victory for the Americans.

“Washington took a tremendous gamble. He was a gambler throughout his military career and it was a spectacular victory. He out general-ed, out maneuvered and outfought the enemy,” said Lefkowitz.

Prior and during the 10-day crisis, the British had been chasing Washington, according to Lefkowitz. Washington had crossed the Delaware River on Dec. 7 and Lefkowitz said that it was the low point of the American Revolution both emotionally and militarily as the Americans had lost the city of New York. While on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, Washington gathered his troops and chose his target, then made it to Trenton on Christmas Day.

Following the battle at Trenton, Washington and the American troops who accompanied him recrossed the Delaware River with prisoners through Philadelphia, giving the troops an emotional boost, according to Lefkowitz. Washington and his troops later recrossed the Delaware River and and placed themselves by a small creek near Trenton.

While at the South Creek, Washington left some militia behind to create huge bonfires and noise while planning a maneuver that would take the American troops through back roads of Princeton, which led to the Battle of Princeton.

During the battle in Princeton at what is now known as Nassau Hall in the College of New Jersey, Lefkowitz said there was a sign of a British surrender.

“Legend says that an American cannon shell, a piece of artillery fired a cannon ball that flew off the head of a painting of King George III inside the building and that was the sign for the British to surrender,” said Lefkowitz.

Lefkowitz said that a piece of vacant land by the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton is believed to have been the site where Washignton led a counterattack. Currently historians are working to preserve the area as a landmark.

“A group of dedicated historians want that piece of land preserved because they believe it’s the site of where Washington personally led a counterattack and exposed himself to enemy fire,” Lefkowitz said. “This is an incredible moment in American history that Washington is actually up front leading troops against the enemy and it’s called Maxwell’s Field and right now it’s a court battle to preserve this piece of land as part of the battlefield where the institute wants to build faculty housing.”