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Vol. LXV, No. 4
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
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New Evidence Strengthens Society’s Resolve to Augment the Site of the Battle of Princeton

Ellen Gilbert

“We know now that there were two components to the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777,” said Princeton Battlefield Society member Kip Cherry recently. “In the first phase, General [Hugh] Mercer’s Brigade was routed and Mercer suffered fatal injuries. In the second, the counter attack was organized and inspired by General George Washington.” These new findings, the Society believes, add ammunition, if you will, to its on-going arguments against Institute for Advanced Study plans to build new faculty housing on a portion of land where the battle may have taken place.

The new revelations are the results of a just-completed Federal study of the progression of the Battle of Princeton that has been submitted to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Under the supervision of the American Battlefield Protection Program, the research used GPS, GIS and KOCOA (military software) to analyze physical features and events as the battle moved forward.

The Princeton Battlefield Society is a non-profit volunteer organization “dedicated to the enhancement, preservation, and development of Princeton Battlefield State Park and surrounding lands.” Founded in 1970 by local citizens concerned with the potential loss of historic land, the Society has worked with the State of New Jersey in developing park facilities, in the acquisition of additional historic grounds, and in the restoration, furnishing, and interpretation of the 18th century Thomas Clarke House. Members have been active in presenting battlefield tours, lectures, and living history programs.

Based on the use of primary documents including diaries and journals written by participants and observers, the new report details what the Society members describe as “a brilliant daring night march of 18 miles by Washington’s army around the flank of a larger British army.” The march “avoided almost assured destruction by the British army at Trenton,” and ultimately led to the liberation of New Jersey. Artifactual evidence supports this configuration, said Princeton Battlefield Society President Jerry Hurwitz. “We haven’t run into too many people who aren’t sympathetic,” he said in a recent interview.

“We think there are a lot more artifacts to be found, and archeologists agree with us,” added Ms. Cherry.

Mr. Hurwitz believes that the Battle of Princeton was “as important as Valley Forge.” With evidence suggesting that the battle extended beyond the current boundaries of what is currently defined as the state park, Mr. Hurwitz believes that the battlefield — in its entirety — should be restored. He cites the Gettysburg National Military Park as a prototype for the kind of commemorative and educational destination that should be created. “Can you imagine a college wanting to put housing on the Gettysburg site?” he asked.

Current IAS plans include building eight townhouses and seven single-family units of one to two stories, up to 25 feet tall.

“We’re not going to give up easily,” observed Ms. Cherry. The Society plans to present the results of the study in a series of lectures during the coming months that will include the study’s authors as well as historians and scholars. The excitement with which Mr. Hurwitz and Ms. Cherry recounted the sequence of events in light of the new evidence suggest that these will be compelling programs. In the meantime, a hot link from the Society’s website ( details how the IAS “will be encroaching on the Princeton Battlefield State Park.”

“We are aware that the Princeton Battlefield Society received a grant from a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior to fund a report about the Princeton Battlefield State Park, and we have heard that the Society recently has been distributing it and publicizing its interpretation of the report’s conclusions,” said IAS Senior Public Affairs Officer Christine Ferrara in response to a query about the report. “The Institute for Advanced Study’s request for a copy of the report from the Department of the Interior was denied because, we were informed, the report is not final. The Institute believes that it is inappropriate for the document to be distributed before it has been finalized. The Institute is not in a position to comment on aspects of the report until we have been able to review the finalized document.”

Princeton Battlefield Society members and supporters suggest that there is substantial non-battlefield land available for building new IAS faculty housing on the existing campus. “They’ve had their heart set on this project for 15 years,” observed Ms. Cherry. “The IAS doesn’t seem to be concerned about historical interpretation.”

“The Institute has always been committed to fostering a better understanding and appreciation of the Battle of Princeton; without its past efforts the Battlefield Park would not exist in its present form,” countered Ms. Ferrera. “The Institute conveyed 32 acres of its own land to the State of New Jersey in 1973, increasing by 60 percent the size of the Battlefield Park. Much of the surrounding farmland and woods was further protected through the conservation easement granted by the Institute in 1997. The Institute is committed to retaining its strongly residential character and, to this end, is continuing with its plan for faculty housing on seven acres of its private land, land separated from the Battlefield Park that has been approved by the State as an appropriate site for this purpose since the early 1970s.”

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