Best Answer

Cornwallis had obtained a leave of absence and was about to depart for England to see his dying wife when word came that Washington had again crossed the Delaware. This was a week after Washington had crossed at Christmas and won his amazing success at Trenton. Up to that time the British, having harried Washington's disintegrating army all the way through New Jersey, thought they had the war won, which was why Cornwallis had been granted his leave. This was now canceled and Cornwallis never saw his wife again. Washington had again crossed the Delaware in the vicinity of Trenton, and had taken up a position behind Assunpink Creek southeast of town. This was not a very strong position as the creek could be forded at many places, which could not all be strongly guarded. Advance parties were sent up the main road toward New York. Princeton is about halfway between Trenton and New York. These advance parties fought a series of sharp delaying actions as Cornwallis, with what troops he had quickly collected, advanced southward toward Trenton. Each of these was protracted long enough to force the British to halt and deploy into line of battle. Enough hindrance was thus made that it was late in the day when Cornwallis reached Trenton. Washington was now in a serious spot. He could not escape back to the Pennsylvania side of the River in the presence of such a large British force. His position behind Assunpink Creek was very vulnerable, and Washington knew it, but so did Cornwallis. If Washington tried to retreat farther into south Jersey the British would only pursue as he trapped himself between the sea and the Delaware Estuary. Cornwallis knew all this as well, and felt confident enough that he ignored the advice of some of his officers to press on despite the approaching darkness, and wrap things up that evening. Cornwallis felt he needed that night to rest his men and reorganize, and said "We've got the old fox safe. We'll bag him in the morning." Washington knew very well that this would be exactly what happened if he stayed where he was and did nothing. A person came in to Washington's headquarters and gave information on the situation at Princeton. Cornwallis had left three regiments there under Colonel Mawhood on his march south. Washington's informant told of the disposition of these troops, their strong points and so on. Washington was also able to obtain information as to secondary byroads, which decided him on his course of action. He would march that night, by the roundabout route of the Quaker Bridge Road, and enter Princeton from the southeast and the south. The weather cooperated and a hard freeze set in after darkness fell, firming the dirt roads to frozen stiffness instead of mud, so the cannon wheels would not sink. The wheels of the cannon and wagons were wrapped in rags to muffle their noise. Men were detailed to build large fires on the south side of the Assunpink, and to stay behind and keep these fires fed after the main force departed, to give the appearance that Washington was still in camp there. Despite the precautions some among the British heard noises and suspected a movement by Washington, which they duly reported to Cornwallis' headquarters, which reports were discounted and ignored. So Washington slipped away, got around Cornwallis' flank and pressed on to Princeton in an all night march. Just after dawn, as Washngton's vanguard was nearing Princeton, the road they were on came within just over a mile of the main road between Princeton and Trenton. Colonel Mawhood had been summoned by Cornwallis and was marching south with two of his regiments to join Cornwallis, and these two columns spotted each other. A meeting engagement ensued on the farm between the two roads. General Hugh Mercer, who looked something like Washington, was mistaken for Washington by the British in the first of this, and was bayoneted about fourteen times. He lingered for fourteen agonizing days before finally dying. Cadwallader's militia joined in on the American side, but Mawhood's regulars got the better of them too. Then Washington arrived with the rest of his force, and dispersed or captured the British. Pressing on quickly to Princeton, General Sullivan was able to persuade the remaining force there, much of which was holed hp in Nassau Hall (which still stands on the campus of Princeton University) to surrender to the Americans. Washington then continued on northward for ten miles or so, then veered off the main road to the west and went to Morristown, where eventually he spent the rest of the winter. Cornwallis had started north early in the morning after discovering Washington gone, but arrived too late to take any part. Dismayed by these events the British evacuated south Jersey, which they had thought they held securely. None of this would have been possible except that Washington was able by appealing to his men to stay after their enlistments had expired at midnight of New Year' Eve to retain a sufficient force to make this move. Washington told the assembled men "You have done all we asked of you, and more than could be expected, but we know not how to spare you. If you will stay, you will have the chance to render such service to your country as you will never have again". Washington's appeal was fortified by an emergency collection from Robert Morris in Philadelphia, whom Washington wrote that a supply of "hard money" (actual coins, not worthless Continental paper) was absolutely necessary to keep the army from dissolving, and Morris came through, which let Washington pay any man who would agree to stay six more weeks $10. This being the first pay many had seen in months, and they being so broke as to have no idea of how to feed themselves as they walked home, kept the ranks full. Plus some of the force from the Hudson Highlands, which had been under Charles Lee, also came in. Lee had been dawdling, ignoring Washington's repeated urgent letters urging him to hurry south and unite their forces, thinking that after Washington met with disaster Congress would at last have to give Lee his due and make him the commander. But then Lee foolishly got himself captured by Tarleton, and his men then moved south and finally joined up with Washington.

User Avatar

Wiki User

10y ago
This answer is:
User Avatar

Add your answer:

Earn +20 pts
Q: How did the Americans defeat Cornwallis at Princeton?
Write your answer...
Still have questions?
magnify glass
Related questions

What date did George Washington defeat Cornwallis's forces at the Battle of Princeton?

Washington defeated Cornwallis at Concord on April 19, 1781

When did the Americans defeat the British in Yorktown?

The Americans defeat the British in Yorktown in 1715.

Who lead the defeat of the british?


Who lead the final defeat of the british?


Which battle did George Washington and troops inflict heavy casualties on General Cornwallis and troops?

battle of Princeton

What were the advantages of the Americans in the Battle of Princeton?

The British troops were tired from fighting the other battles so it made it easier for the American troops to win therefore it pushes us toward winning independence.

Where did General Washington defeat Cornwallis?


Which foreign troops helped defeat Charles Cornwallis?


Important people of the Battle of Princeton?

BATTLE OF PRINCETON!!! 1777Generals: General George Washington against Major General Lord CornwallisSOME ARMY COMMANDERS OF THE BATTLE OF PRINCETON-Americans* General George Washington* Brigadier General Hugh Mercer* 4,500 menBritish* Major General Lord Charles Cornwallis* Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood* 1,200 men

Where did charles Cornwallis surrendeedr which ended in the defeat of the british?

Yorktown Virginia

What battle broke the will of the British to defeat Americans?

the british surrendered to Washington at Yorktown but the were defeated many other times. a truly demoralizing battle was probably the crossing of the Delaware.

Who won the Battle of Princeton?

The Americans won the Battle of Princeton.