This tour starts after the 1st Battle of Trenton when Washington and his soldiers crossed an icy treacherous Delaware River on the night of December 25th to surprise, attack and defeat the Hessian soldiers in Trenton on December 26 1777. After Washington’s success he had his men cross back over the Delaware to protect his soldiers against a British response.
Washington decided to take the offensive and on December 30th the Continental Army crossed back over the Delaware into Trenton and setup a defensive position south of the Assunpink River to await a column of British Soldiers lead by Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis who were marching down from New Brunswick. After being delayed by a series of skirmishes lead by Colonel Edward Hand, Cornwallis arrived late in the evening on January 2nd and decided to wait until daylight to confront Washington. In the meantime Washington had his men evacuate their position during the night and marched on to Princeton to confront a smaller group of British Soldiers left there.
On the morning of January 3rd, a small advanced group of the Continental Army led by Brigadier General Hugh Mercer met British Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood in William Clark’s fields and orchards (what is now the Princeton Battlefield). The British had the upper-hand until Washington appeared with the rest of his soldiers and attacked and forced the British to retreat. After a final stand at Nassau Hall, the British soldiers surrendered and Washington won the Battle of Princeton.
Washington knew that Cornwallis and his large army of British regulars were not far behind, so the Continental Army marched that same day on to their winter headquarters in Morristown NJ. This tour has an additional leg that follows Washington’s army from Princeton to Somerset Courthouse and Pluckemin before arriving Morristown. The path we’ve marked follows Washington’s route as best as possible.
Stop a: the south bank of Shabakunk Creek
The site of one of Colonel Edward Hand’s skirmishes with Cornwallis which slowed the British approach to Trenton enough that they only arrived at dusk on January 2.
Stop 1. Battle of Assunpink Creek (the 2nd Battle of Trenton)
After his success against the Hessians, Washington crossed back into New Jersey in anticipation of a large British response from their troops in Princeton and New Brunswick. On December 30th he had his men cross back again into Trenton to setup a defensive position south of the Assunpink Creek and built earthworks while he also sent a detachment of troops under the command of Colonel Edward Hand to wait along the route from Princeton to Trenton to warn of the British advance and delay them while Washington prepared.
Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis led the British forces. He left 1,400 men with Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood in Princeton while Cornwallis marched to Trenton with about 5,000 men.
Cornwallis left early on January 2 to arrive in Trenton to attack Washington that day but during the march Edward Hand’s rifleman staged a series of small attacks/retreats in order the slow the British advance. Cornwallis arrived in Trenton at dusk on January 2 and debated with his leadership team if they should stage a night attack to engage Washington that evening but in the end decided to delay the attack until dawn on the 3rd.
After nightfall Washington quietly led his men away from Trenton to arrive the next morning in Princeton. Washington left 500 of his men behind to make noise with picks and shovels and to keep fires burning through the night to disguise the Continental Army’s retreat. By morning Cornwallis awoke to discover that Washington and his troops had disappeared.
Stop 2. Stony Brook River
As dawn approached Washington and his troops reached Stony Brook River. Washington had wanted to attack the British at Princeton at dawn but was about 2 hours behind schedule. He sent a group of men under the leadership of Brigadier General Hugh Mercer to destroy the bridge over Stony Brook in order to give Washington more time before Cornwallis arrived back from Trenton.
Also at dawn British Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood, whose troops were held in reserve in Princeton, had started to march his troops to Trenton to back up Cornwallis. But Mawhood turned his troops around after they spotted Washington’s army and planned to head them off in Princeton.
Stop 3. Princeton Battlefield
Mercer and Mawhood converged at William Clark’s orchard (what is now the Princeton Battlefield). While the Continental Army fired first, most had rifles which were slower to reload and didn’t have bayonets. The British charged and the Continental Army fled. The British bayonetted General Mercer and left him to die.
Washington soon came on the scene with a fresh group of troops and rallied his troops, forcing the British to retreat.
Stop 4. Nassau Hall
After several smaller skirmishes on the way into Princeton, many of the British soldiers retreated into Nassau Hall, which they had been using as their barracks. Alexander Hamilton had 3 cannons brought up and fired at the building. After some other Americans rushed and broke the door, the British raised the white flag and 194 soldiers surrendered. A popular story states that Hamilton fired a cannonball into one of Nassau Hall’s windows decapitating a portrait of King George II.
Stop 5. John Van Doren House
(Somerset Courthouse, now Millstone Borough)
Even with his success in Princeton, Washington knew that Cornwallis’ large force from Trenton would soon be arriving and would try to engage the Continental Army. Washington therefore had his troops leave Princeton that same afternoon to head to their winter quarters in Morristown. The soldiers marched along the Millstone River until they came to Somerset Courthouse (now Millstone) where Washington headquartered at the John Van Doren house while his soldiers camped in the surrounding fields.
Stop 6. John Fenner House
(Pluckemin , NJ)
The next morning Washington had his troops march on to Pluckemin where they stayed (January 4 to 6, 1777) and rested for 2 nights. Washington setup his headquarters at a local house which became known as the John Fenner House.
Stop 7. Jacob Arnold's Tavern, winter quarters
(20 North Park Place, Morristown, NJ)
Washington and his troops arrived in Morristown NJ on January 6, where they spent the winter of 1777. Washington headquartered at Jacob Arnold's Tavern (20 North Park Place, cross from the Green) while some of his troops encamped on the Green and it is believed that most of the troops stayed in Lowantica Valley which was located between what are now Woodland Ave and Spring Valley Rd, near Lowantaka Brook Reservation
Cornwallis meanwhile retreated back to New York City where the British wintered.