A message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust president
A critical portion of the Princeton battlefield — site of George Washington’s charge that turned the tide of the Revolution — spared from destruction in an unprecedented agreement seven months ago! Now, I ask you to join the charge to preserve this irreplaceable American treasure forever!
As you look at the battle map that I have for 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, the original closing date on the property was June 30. Obviously, that has come and gone; the new closing date has now been extended to December 15, 2017.
That’s good news, because we still have a significant amount left to raise to make sure we can pay for this land.
Update #2: Of the $4 million purchase price (plus another $100,000 estimated for property restoration), we have already raised approximately $1.7 million from patriots like you. Plus, we now estimate that we may receive about $900,000 from federal and state grant sources – money that, last December, we were not even planning on receiving.
I know we are in the middle of summer, but let me quickly remind you what happened on that frigid January morning 240 years ago, as General George Washington executed a bold stroke – eager to follow up on his improbable December 26 victory at Trenton, after he famously crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night, and before the expiration of 90-day enlistments 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 General Norman Schwarzkopf’s “left hook” assault that destroyed the Iraqi Army during Operation Desert Storm in 1992. 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 – 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 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 is not a battlefield. Princeton is the only battlefield remaining from the military campaign over these ten crucial days that helped ensure our freedom.
If we can save this land, we will not only have won the most difficult fight we have ever been involved with, we will substantially complete the Princeton battlefield, turning it into one of the nation’s greatest preserved battlefields.
Now, the really hard work begins. Raising the final $1.5 million in five months won’t be easy. We’re actively pursuing foundation grants, new donors, even members of the United States Marine Corps, as the first Marine land battlefield death was suffered at Princeton.
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.
As it has been 240 years since the Battle of Princeton, would you consider sending $240 to help save this priceless land? If so, it will be my honor to include your name on the very first special Roll Call of Honor donor display that will stand at a Revolutionary War battlefield, at Princeton, just as the Civil War Trust has done at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Appomattox and many other sites across the country.
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.
If you can give even more to this effort, it will be my honor to increase the size of your name as it appears on the Roll Call of Honor. I hope that you will seriously consider how large you would like your name to appear on this marker. It’s going to be there a long time.
Your generosity right now is the only thing that gives us a chance to save the Princeton battlefield today, as well as all of our nation’s threatened battlefields. Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible, and thank you for acting today to save our nation’s history.
Very sincerely yours,
P.S. Remember that Washington’s Charge at the Princeton battlefield will be lost if we cannot raise the money to save it. I obviously don’t expect you to donate the full $1.5 million 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! 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.