A message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust president
We turned back the bulldozers on a critical portion of the Princeton battlefield — site of George Washington's charge that turned the tide of the Revolution — and spared it from destruction in an unprecedented agreement a year ago! Now, I ask for your help to join the final charge to raise the last dollars needed to preserve this irreplaceable American treasure forever!
As you look at the battle map that I have sent to you, I must be perfectly frank with you: the historic campaign to save the Princeton Battlefield, the very ground where General George Washington personally led the charge that saved the American Revolution, needs your help right now.
As you may recall, last year, that hallowed ground was being cleared by bulldozers and backhoes, in preparation for a faculty housing complex for a private independent academic institution.
Located on the eastern boundary of the battlefield, this institution owns 21 acres known locally as Maxwell’s Field, over which the right wing of Washington’s heroic attack charged during the January 1777 Battle of Princeton.
In December, they agreed to sell us the most-important 15 acres of this hallowed ground – some of the most historically significant land this organization has ever attempted to save – for $4 million.
15-acre target property to save at Princeton shown in yellow.
Today, I have two urgent, key updates for you:
First, as you may recall, the updated closing date on the property was December 15, 2017. Due to some extra time being needed by the seller to secure some neccesary regulatory approvals, that deadline has obviously come and gone!
The terrific news is that the closing date has now been extended to February 28, 2018.
That’s important, because we still have a significant amount left to raise to make sure we can pay for this land.
So far, we have raised $3.6 million in gifts and another anticpated grant towards the $4 million purchase price. (We also need to raise an additional $100,000 to pay for badly needed restoration of the property, including removal of a house.)
Last year, we felt felt very confident that there would be another funding source that would help us bridge that final gap, and the property would be saved.
Le me be clear: That source may still come through for us, but it could just as easily fall through, leaving us with a significant hole to fill. (And even if the funding were to come through for the full amount, we would not receive it for many months, meaning we will have to bridge hundreds of thousands of dollars to save the property).
But if we can raise the final $400,000 we need to close, and then we do get the full government funding amount (or any part of it), we can cover the restoration costs and redeploy the extra funds to other crucial projects!
As I am writing this letter to you on the 241st anniversary of the Battle of Princeton, let me quickly remind you what happened on that frigid January morning in 1777.
General George Washington was eager to follow up on his improbable victory at Trenton, after famously crossed the Delaware River, and before the expiration of 90-day enlistmetns threatened to dissolve his small army completely.
Evading Cornwallis’s main army, Washington and his outnumbered rag-tag force stole a 15-mile night march to attack the British reserve troops and baggage train, headquartered at Princeton.
It was daring maneuver on par with “Stonewall” Jackson’s more famous flank march at Chancellorsville, and it took the British completely by surprise.
But as Washington’s forces approached the town, the British commander stationed there spotted the American vanguard, and fighting flared. Lines of infantry blazed away at each other from a mere 40 yards, until finally the Redcoats launched a furious bayonet attack, causing the Americans to break. American General Hugh Mercer – fighting off the British blows with his sword – was bayoneted seven times and left for dead, as were many other American officers and men.
Into this chaos, with his army, the hope of American independence, and the very cause of freedom on the brink of destruction, “a tall man on a white horse could be seen galloping toward the scene of battle,” wrote noted historian Richard M. Ketchum. Washington had arrived on the Princeton Battlefield.
One Patriot soldier later recalled, “I looked about for the main part of the army which I could not discover, discharged my musket at part of the enemy, and ran for a piece of woods at a little distance where I thought I might shelter. At this moment, Washington appeared in front of the American army, riding toward those of us who were retreating, and exclaimed, ‘Parade with us, my brave fellows! There is but a handful of the enemy, and we will have them directly.’ I immediately joined the main body, and marched over the ground again.”
With his men rallied behind him, Washington gave the order to advance across Maxwell’s Field, and led them to within just 30 yards of the British line, ordering them to fire.
A few Redcoats fell, but the main line of several hundred men loaded their muskets, aimed and fired a volley that sent a wave of lead flying toward the Americans, and especially the close and prominent officer on his white horse.
Historian W.J. Wood writes that a horrified “Colonel John Fitzgerald of [Washington’s] staff covered his eyes so that he would not see his commander blasted from the saddle. Yet when the smoke began to clear, there was Washington, standing in his stirrups, calmly waving his men forward.”
It was too much for the British, and now it was their turn to break and run, with Washington gleefully shouting, “It’s a fine fox chase, my boys!” as he led the pursuit.
Some British soldiers retreated all the way to Nassau Hall (now Princeton University) in the town, until a young artillery captain named Alexander Hamilton fired a few shots into the grand building. The 194 British defenders finally waved a white flag, ending the Battle of Princeton.
My friend, please reflect on this: If the Continental Army had been destroyed – or if just one of those lead balls had hit and killed George Washington – on that day at Princeton, just imagine how different our country, if we even had one, would be today.
If the Continentals had been routed that day, the army might have dissolved away, and with it, all dreams of our independence.
Washington’s rallying charge across Maxwell’s Field, which secured the Continental Army’s first true battlefield victory over British Regulars, was THE moment that saved the Patriot cause and marked a decisive turning point in our War for Independence.
Historian David Hackett Fischer has said, “This land is as central to the Battle of Princeton as the field of Pickett’s Charge is to Gettysburg and as Omaha Beach is to D-Day.”
My friend, the battlefield at Trenton is gone. Washington’s Crossing is a nice park, but it isnot a battlefield. Princeton is the only battlefield remaining from the military campaign over these ten crucial days that helped ensure our freedom.
If you and I can save this land, we will substantially complete the Princeton battlefield, turning it into one of the nation’s greatest preserved battlefields.
Now, the really hard work begins. The possibility of losing a key matching source of funds is like a surprise flank attack that we must turn and meet. Raising the final $400,000 in the next few weeks won’t be easy.
This is clearly one of the biggest challenges this organization has ever faced. That’s why I ask you to make the most generous gift you can today to Campaign 1776 to help us fund the preservation of this most-hallowed ground forever, even if you have previously made a gift to this effort.
You will be able to bring your children and grandchildren to this spot and show them that you played a major role in saving this historic landmark.
P.S. I obviously don't expect you to donate the full $400,000 to close the gap, but I do ask you to consider doing all that you can today, so that we can move one step closer to declaring this hallowed ground saved forever. Thank you very much!
P.P.S. I hope you will agree that, on behalf of the ragged American Patriots who charged across this field, inspired by the sight of General Washington, we cannot fail. Those Princeton Patriots of 1777 were not assured of victory, but they put their lives on the line to give us the nation we have today. Can we turn our backs on their sacrifice, and let them be forgotten? I can’t, and I hope you can’t either! Please visit our website at www.civilwar.org/give/save-battlefields/save-princeton for more information, and to make your gift securely! You can be the hero of this story – and I hope you will! Thank you again!
The Institute for Advanced Study and the Civil War Trust today jointly announced an agreement that would preserve 15 acres of battlefield land associated with the 1777 Battle of Princeton and enable the Institute to construct new housing for faculty on its campus. The compromise ends a decade-old controversy over Maxwell’s Field, a 21-acre tract owned by the Institute and located adjacent to the Princeton Battlefield State Park.