Traditions are things that we as individuals, a family, or a community weave into our lives to keep important memories alive. Few things are more important to us as a community and a nation than to remember what prior generations risked to bring our country – with its twin promises of freedom and popular self-government – into being, and how close we came to having that Revolution die before it properly got started. We are fortunate here in the Princeton area to have near at hand places and landmarks that are reminders not only of that long-ago war for American independence but of a time when that struggle survived one of its most challenging tests.
Among these places is Princeton Battlefield State Park on Mercer Road, a location hundreds of area residents pass every day, perhaps not being aware that it was the location of the climax of a short but enormously consequential period that has come to be called “The Ten Crucial Days of 1776-77” – ten days that began with the crossing of the Delaware by Washington’s forces, encompassed the First and Second Battles of Trenton, and ended, after the Battle of Princeton, with a complete reversal of the series of crushing defeats that American forces had suffered in New York and New Jersey from July through December 1776. It is beyond question that these “Ten Crucial Days” saved the American Revolution from premature collapse a bare six months after the Declaration of Independence.
Keeping the memory of this critical period in our nation’s history vividly before the eyes new generations calls for a special kind of remembrance, one that literally brings the action of the time to life. On Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS) will continue its long-standing tradition, marking the 247th anniversary of Battle of Princeton at the State Park with its signature annual historical education event “Experience the Battle of Princeton,” reenacting key moments in the Battle on the same ground as the original clash. The reenactment is structured to depict the back-and-forth conflict of the battle itself, in which initial British success was reversed by timely arrival of American reinforcements that drove their opponents from the field, inspired in part by personal intervention of General George Washington.
Scenes from the 2023 Experience the Battle of Princeton
For those who would like to share in this experience, the details are as follows: the event will begin at 9:45 am with introductions and background on the history of the battle. Visitors are encouraged to arrive at the site around 9 am; introductions will follow at 9:45 and the reenactment itself will take place between 10:00 and 11:00 am and will feature reenactors portraying Crown and Continental forces. After the re-enactment, visitors will have the chance to interact with these living historians and ask questions of those involved.
The 2023 edition of this annual event was attended by over 800 spectators from nine states and from as far away as the United Kingdom, involved nearly 300 reenactors representing both the American and British forces involved in this historic battle – and an even larger turnout is expected in 2024. The enthusiasm and dedication of the reenactors on both sides (themselves drawn from states up and down the Eastern Seaboard) at this event was on clear display and carried over after the reenactment into dozens of conversations with spectators that provided more insight and historic interpretation regarding the fighting units and individuals represented on the field.
Building on the theme of remembrance, following conclusion of the re-enactment, at 11:30 am, the New Jersey Society, Sons of the American Revolution (NJSSAR) will join other hereditary organizations as well as representatives of legacy National Guard and British Army units whose antecedents fought at the battle in a wreath-laying ceremony. This commemorative wreath laying has become an increasingly important part of the event in recent years and will feature participation by a wide range of historical heritage organizations led by the NJSSAR. The ceremony is held at the Memorial Grove on the battlefield, just behind the iconic Colonnade, honoring the soldiers who fought and fell during all the battles of Ten Crucial Days, including the American and British dead interred nearby.
Attendees at the 2023 wreath laying at the Memorial Grove
In addition to these major events, guests will be able to tour the new museum displays at the historic Thomas Clarke House, which is the only on-site building remaining from the time of the battle. Please note that pre-registration for the event is required, and full information is available at www.pbs1777.org and on Facebook.
“Experience the Battle of Princeton” is one aspect of PBS’ annual program of events targeted at historical education and is part of our effort to prepare for 250th anniversary commemoration of the American Revolution that will commence in 2026. A steadily expanding program of events and commemorations is planned for the coming years and coordinated with other hereditary societies focused on a similar mission. In this, PBS is grateful for the backing of sponsors such as the NJM Insurance Group, the George H. and Estelle M. Sands Foundation, the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission, the NJSSAR, the Northfield Bank Foundation, Mr. Mark Herr as well as the generous support of many other donors and partners.
All that said, a particularly gratifying show of support in recent years has come from the increasing numbers of the residents of Princeton and the surrounding area who have joined us at this annual act of remembrance at the Battlefield. We hope readers of this article will join them in adding “Experience the Battle of Princeton” – and all the other commemorations of the Ten Crucial Days at Washington Crossing and Trenton – to their annual holiday season traditions.
Todd Quackenbush is a lifelong resident of the Princeton area, and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University in 1980 and 1986, respectively. He has worked for Continuum Dynamics, Inc., an engineering consulting firm in Ewing, since 1986, where he is currently Co-CEO and Senior Associate. Since 2019, he has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), and he currently serves as Communications Chair of PBS.