To the Editor:
“Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing the new constellation.” —The Second Continental Congress, on the passage of the Flag Act, June 14, 1777.
With this resolution, the Congress not only authorized a new flag, but engrained in our collective mindset an unshakable truth — that we are one nation, united and free. And just five months before our American flag was formally created, General George Washington stood on the fields of Princeton, New Jersey, and made this vision a reality.
In the latter half of 1776, just months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, our liberty was far from assured. Washington’s novice army endured a series of brutal defeats in New York, which led to the British capture of New York City. In the words of Thomas Paine that winter, “These are the times that try men’s souls … tyranny, like, hell, is not easily conquered.”
Washington realized that only he and his dwindling fighting force could revive the flickering flame of American independence. Embarking on an audacious campaign easily decried as foolish, Washington secured surprising victories at both Trenton and Assunpink Creek, New Jersey. Eager to capitalize on the momentum begun by his improbable Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River, Washington then dared to confront seasoned British soldiers at nearby Princeton.
In the frigid morning hours of January 3, 1777, citizen soldiers faced trained British regulars and engaged in furious fighting. Many American patriots fell. But, it was at that moment that “a tall man on a white horse could be seen galloping towards the scene of battle.” George Washington had arrived. Rallying his troops, Washington ordered the advance, driving the British from the field and securing a greatly-needed victory.
The valor witnessed at Princeton is a testament to the symbolism of the flag colors themselves: white for purity and innocence, red for hardiness and valor, and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
Today, we have an opportunity to save the land where Washington secured this victory at Princeton and honor the resolute American flag. In 2016, the Civil War Trust, through its Campaign 1776 initiative to preserve Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields, signed a landmark agreement with the Institute for Advanced Study to preserve 15 acres where Washington’s storied counterattack occurred.
This agreement allows the State of New Jersey and the Trust to transform this property into an outdoor classroom that can inspire all Americans to learn more about Washington and the purity, valor and vigilance of the American flag. Saving the Princeton battlefield – what better way to commemorate Flag Day?
Secretary of the board for the Princeton Battlefield
Society, Committee member of TenCrucialDays.org and The Spirit of Princeton