Hamilton: More than a musical – Princeton 3rd January 1777

Death of American Colonel Mercer at the Battle of Princeton

The battle of Princeton took place on 3rd January 1777 as part of the American War of Independence. It was the second of two American victories after a series of defeats in 1776.   General Lord Cornwallis had left 1,400 British troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood in Princeton. Following a surprise attack at Trenton early in the morning of 26 December 1776, General George Washington of the Continental Army decided to attack the British in New Jersey before entering the winter quarters. On 30 December he crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey. His troops followed on 3rd January 3, 1777. Washington advanced to Princeton by a back road, where he pushed back a smaller British force but had to retreat before Cornwallis arrived with reinforcements.

MNY90143 Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) in the Uniform of the New York Artillery (oil on canvas) by Chappel, Alonzo (1828-87) oil on canvas © Museum of the City of New York, USA American, out of copyright

Washington’s army included a company of the New York Volunteer Artillery raised and commanded by 21 year old Captain Alexander Hamilton, later famous for drafted the US Constitution. It is claimed that his guns fired some of the last shots in the battle bombarding Nassau Hall in which British troops had sought cover.  Nassau Hall is the Central building for Princeton University, although it has been rebuilt substantially since 1777. 

Hamilton raised the New York Provincial Company of Artillery of 60 men in 1776, and was elected captain. This unit is considered the ancestor of the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, making it the oldest active unit in the U.S. Regular Army and the only one with credit for the Revolutionary War. It saw service in the War of 1812,  major battles of the American Civil War and as part of the organic artillery of the 1st US Infantry Division saw service in two world wars, Vietnam and in south west Asia.

The American Battlefields Trust has more information about the battle of Princeton and Alexander Hamilton  as well as advice about visiting the battlefield.  Gunnertours  supported the campaign to preserve the battlefield.   

In 1777 the three story sandstone Nassau Hall was the main building for New Jersey College. In front of Nassau Hall is called Cannon Green, from the C18th cannon buried to the breach. This has been a target for raids by students from nearby Rutgers  University for over a century.     Rutgers–Princeton Cannon War (These were American not British cannon before any Brits think of planning a raid to recover them).

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