The Crossroads of the American Revolution
New Jersey is the site of a number of critically important battles during the Revolutionary War. In fact, it was the Battles of Trenton and Princeton that began to turn the tide for the Continental Army.
Until then, British forces had won key fights in New York and had driven the Continentals out of Fort Lee, forcing their retreat all the way into Pennsylvania. After these defeats, morale among the Continental forces was low and deserters were leaving the ranks each day, many signing papers of allegiance with the British.
If not for Gen. George Washington’s daring crossing of the ice-filled Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776 and the uplifting victories in Trenton and Princeton that soon followed, chances were slim that he would have been able to keep the Army together and rally the political and public opinion needed to support the effort.
New Jersey is known as the “Crossroads of the American Revolution.” Major Revolutionary War battles were fought here and Washington and his main Army spent more time in New Jersey than any other place.
Those visiting the Delaware River Region will have the opportunity to experience some of the most important Revolutionary War sites that played a vital role in America’s quest for freedom and independence from English rule. Visitors can relive and retrace the Ten Crucial Days at sites that preserve the importance of three monumental battles that changed the course of the war.
This critical period – Dec. 25, 1776 through Jan. 3, 1777 – began on Christmas night 1776, when Washington took the bold initiative of mounting an attack on British-hired Hessian troops stationed in Trenton. On that frigid and stormy Christmas night, Washington’s force of about 2,400 Continentals boarded boats to cross the icy Delaware River from Pennsylvania for the march on Trenton.
Two other elements of the Continental Army were to cross the river south of Trenton to block any Hessian escape. The storm and ice prevented them from landing in New Jersey, leaving Washington’s troops to assault the city alone.
Washington’s plan had been to launch a pre-dawn attack on the morning of Dec. 26. The storm delayed Washington’s arrival in Trenton until 8 am. But the storm also aided the Continentals. The Hessians standing guard at the outpost thought the first Continentals they saw coming out of the mists were their relief party.
The Hessians did not believe the Americans could mount a large attack and were ill prepared for the assault. The surprise of the attack and the speed at which American forces moved into and around the town completely disrupted the Hessian efforts to form their troops for a counter-attack.
Visitors can relive the Delaware River crossing at Washington’s Crossing State Park, in Titusville. In Trenton, visitors can also walk through the impeccably restored Old Barracks Museum that housed some of the Hessian troops that faced Washington.
Nearby is the Trenton Battle Monument – the site where Continental artillery units shelled the Hessians during the 90-minute battle on Dec. 26. A week later the British launched a counter-attack intended to crush the Americans.
Following a day of fighting and defending their positions in the second battle of Trenton, Washington quietly slipped his troops out of Trenton and using back roads he headed north to Princeton where on Jan. 3 the American’s engaged and, for the first time, defeated regular British forces.
The two Battles of Trenton were pivotal in keeping the Revolution alive. Each year Patriot’s Week offers authentic reenactments through the streets of Trenton plus there are debates, films, lectures and much more. Even more interesting is that the Trenton reenactment is in the streets so visitors will be very close to the action.
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