January 3, 2024

Experience the Battle of Princeton At Annual Battlefield State Park Event

BATTLE COMES TO LIFE: The annual reenactment of the Battle of Princeton at Princeton Battlefield State Park is expected to be bigger than ever this year, with participants representing both sides. (Photo by Al Pochek)

By Anne Levin

Judging from the statistics, interest in local history is big.

The crowd at the annual Christmas Day reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware is said to have included some 10,000. And registration for the 247th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Princeton in Princeton Battlefield State Park, set for Sunday, January 7, is well above the previous year.

“We’re preparing for bigger and bigger attendance,” said Todd Quackenbush, communications spokesperson for the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS). “We’re going to have about 300 reenactors on the field, with artillery on both sides, giving a more realistic feel for how the battle proceeded.”

The Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777 was a victory that rescued the Patriot cause from one of its darkest hours. Excitement is already building for the 250th anniversary of the event, just three years away. The Ten Crucial Days began with the crossing of the Delaware by Washington’s forces, continued with the First and Second Battles of Trenton, and ended after the Battle of Princeton. They formed “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,” according to a PBS release. “It is beyond question that they saved the American Revolution from premature collapse a bare six months after the Declaration of Independence.”

“People are getting more tuned into the history and the onset of the 250th,” said Quackenbush. “We’re certainly ascribing to do that. There is actually a ridiculously rich history of the American Revolution in our immediate vicinity, and we want to make people aware of that. Really consequential activity went on. It’s important for folks in the Princeton area to be mindful of the fact that the Revolution was rescued right here in our backyard.”

More than 800 spectators, some from as far away as the United Kingdom, attended last year’s event. State Sen. Andrew Zwicker and Mayor Mark Freda are expected to be on hand. This year’s activities start at 9:45 a.m. with introductions and comments on the Ten Crucial Days. Onlookers are advised to arrive by 9:15 a.m. A narrated reenactment begins at 10 a.m., with reenactors portraying Crown and Continental forces.

Following the battle at about 11 a.m., attendees can interact with living historians and the reenactors. At 11:30, the New Jersey Society, Sons of the American Revolution will join other hereditary organizations as well as representatives of legacy National Guard and British Army units whose ancestors fought at the battle in a wreath-laying ceremony behind the colonnade on the battlefield.

“This is becoming a bigger feature,” said Quackenbush. “It will be attended by representatives from the U.K. military, whose units are very attentive to their ancestry. The units descended from the ones that fought at Princeton keep track of that, and they come.”

Tours of the Thomas Clarke House, the only building on site remaining from the time of the battle, will also be offered after the reenactment. “We have the new displays in the Clarke House, documenting the events of the battle and featuring many Revolutionary War era artifacts — a very nice addition,” said Quackenbush.

The PBS has stepped up its efforts on social media, adding to awareness of the upcoming reenactment.

“The logistics of getting people to and from the battlefield are challenging, but parking at the Dinky train station is available, with buses ready to transport people to the site,” said Quackenbush. “We are adding a sound system so people can more clearly hear the narration. There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle we are trying to put together. Let’s hope the weather cooperates.”

Princeton Battlefield State Park is at 500 Mercer Road. Pre-registration is required. Visit pbs1777.org.