Battle of Princeton and the Ravages of Princetown.

January 3, 2017 was the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Princeton, where HM 17th Regt. of Foot bravely fought General George Washington, Brig. Gen. Henry Knox, and Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer’s troops.  Ultimately the Continental Army prevailed in the conclusion of what would be known as the Ten Crucial Days, a major turning point in the American Revolution.  Several weeks ago, HM 17th Regt. of Foot reenacted the battle.  It was a very snowy and bitterly cold weekend.  But we braved the harsh conditions to produce an extremely successful event!

17th-princeton-3Photo by Wilson Freeman, Driftingfocus Photography.

Princeton is a particularly special and important event for the 17th.  Historically, the Battle of Princeton is “our battle”.  HM 17th of Foot actually received the honor of having an unbroken laurel wreath added to their insignia as a result of their courageous efforts at Princeton.  As such, Princeton has become an annual event for us.  Every year we recreate the battle, complete with a battlefield tour led by Dr. Will Tatum.  This year, the tour and reenactment was January 8, 2017, just days after the 240th anniversary of the battle on that very spot.

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Photo by Wilson Freeman, Driftingfocus photography

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Photo by Steve Alpert

There are accounts from the actual Battle of Princeton that the 17th Regiment of Foot continued to fight even against impossible odds.  They “deliberately pulled off their knapsacks and gave 3 cheers, then broke through the Rebels, faced about, attacked and broke through them a second time.” (from William M. Dwyer’s “The Day is Ours”). That’s a quote from someone at the actual battle.  With primary sources like that, what else would you expect from a progressive unit?  Using these accounts, HM 17th Regt of Foot completed knapsacks for every member who attended the Battle of Princeton this year.  We also made leggings, based on accounts of what the 17th wore on January 3, 1777.  It was amazing to be moving over the same ground that was actually fought over 240 years ago!

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Painting on L features HM 17th Regt of Foot at Princeton.  Photo on Right by Wilson Freeman, Driftingfocus Photography.  Put together by Andrew Kirk.

However, this year, we took the event a step further.  In addition to the Battlefield tour and battle reenactment, the 17th was actually in Princeton the day before, January 7.  Our HQ was Morven Museum and we invited the public to see the “Ravages of Princeton”.

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Photo by Wilson Freeman, Driftingfocus photography

 Our purpose was to show the public what it was actually like for civilians and townfolk when British troops occupied Princeton prior to the battle.  In Palmer Square, local townspeople were “strongly encouraged” to take the Loyalty Oath, administered by Captain Tatum.  Some still chose to refuse.  They were Quakers.  They were women.  They did not see why they would have to take the Oath.  Others willingly signed and swore loyalty to their rightful King, like this wise young lad.

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Photo by Wilson Freeman, Driftingfocus photography.

After administering the Loyalty Oath, the group gathered to warm up around the fire, show the public some Musket Drills, and lunch.

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Lunch at Morven. 17th members gathered around the fire, and yours truly enjoying lunch.  Photos by Wilson Freeman, Driftingfocus Photography 

Later, some of our members went rogue.  Accounts abound of looting, Pillaging, and other ravages by soldiers on both sides of the American Revolution.  As such, no event entitled “Ravages at Princeton” would be complete without a little bad behavior.  Several innocent bystanders were brutally robbed by civilians, drunken soldiers, and even our own camp followers.  There’s also reports that Captain Tatum was even assaulted by a certain camp follower, with a lettuce no less!

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Photo by Wilson Freeman, Driftingfocus photography

Thankfully, all the “nasty pieces of baggage” were arrested and court-martialed.  Some were given lashes.  Others escaped justice due to contradictory testimony and lack of evidence.  One camp follower made the mistake of proudly claiming she was a loyal British subject and therefore should be entitled to the belongings of the local populace who would not take the Oath.  When she was reminded of the lettuce incident, she was quickly drummed out of camp and her marriage dissolved.  Note – all of the “sentences” are actually based in historical fact. 

Justice is served.  Photos by Wilson Freeman, Driftingfocus Photography.

Of course, no battle is complete without an adversary.  The 17th would be incredibly remiss if we did not mention the other side.  While we were ravaging Princeton, a model company of Continental forces were at the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, interpreting their side of the days leading up to the Battle of Princeton. 

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Photo by Richard Patterson, the Old Barracks Museum, Trenton

This amazing group of guys survived sub-freezing temperatures and 5 inches of snow to march 14 miles in the middle of the night from Trenton to Princeton.  They followed the route that Washington’s forces took 240 years ago following the 2nd Battle of Trenton.  This event would not have been the same without their amazing contributions.  Bravo men!  Huzzah!

All in all, this truly was an amazing event.  We had wonderful opportunities to really interact with the public.  Some of our favorite moments actually came from those who didn’t realize the event was happening.  In order to warm up, there were several times in between “vignettes” that members would duck into a coffee shop.  While we often received strange looks, there were many who approached us to ask what was going on.  This offered many opportunities to really talk with people and explain some of their history. 

This event was unprecedented in reenacting in many ways.  We interpreted situations that the public doesn’t normally think about or interact with.  It gave us a chance to bring to life an aspect of military history that in fact has very little to do with battles.  And of course, the battle itself was spectacular. 

Thank you so much to everyone who came together to plan this event, participate, and attend it.  It could not have happened without all of you. 

We look forward to many more “funcomfortable” and successful events this year!

God Save the King!

Katherine Becnel

 

 

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