Corrections or additions?
This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann
was prepared for the December 19, 2001 edition
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Invasion of the Redcoats and Hessians
While real warfare dominates today’s headlines, Mercer
County is preparing to welcome over 1,000 civilian "soldiers"
to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Battles of Trenton and
The "Ten Crucial Days" celebrations, which take place Saturday
and Sunday, December 29 and 30, will pit determined reenactors from
the United States, Canada, and Germany portraying Patriots, Redcoats,
and Hessians. One thousand men, women, and children will follow the
historic path of George Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware, march
to and wage war at the two Battles of Trenton, then march to fight
the good fight at Princeton Battlefield. This important anniversary
observance marks the pivotal Revolutionary War events that took place
during "Ten Crucial Days," from December 25, 1776, to January
Over 80 units of tireless "weekend warriors" will become
Washington’s "rag, tag and bobtail" rebel soldiery. Members
of national reenactment organizations will portray individual rebel
colonists whose character they have researched in depth. They maintain
their character not only in battle, but also during their interactions
with the public. All sport authentic uniforms — crafted of
material right down to the buttons. They shoulder true muskets and
rifles, wield swords, sabers, and the bayonets that wreaked silent
havoc in the New Jersey battles.
This year’s special anniversary weekend is preceded by the customary
Christmas Day reenactment at Washington Crossing Historic Park,
December 25, at 1 p.m. St. John Terrell originated this annual
in 1953 and performed George Washington’s role for 25 years.
For the "Ten Crucial Days" festivities, Saturday and Sunday,
December 29 and 30, reenactors will row, march, fight hand-to-hand
along original Trenton city streets, camp, cook, eat and sleep as
did the patriots who birthed our country. Children will be present
— portraying offspring of soldiers, as well as orphans, who would
have followed the troops. Women portray play camp followers who acted
as laundresses, seamstresses, and nurses. Not cooks — the men
cooked for themselves. Authenticity will extend to entertainment after
the Trenton victories that includes an authentic Punch and Judy show
and music of fife and drum.
In Revolutionary times, being close to the action was not an option.
This year, it will be. Beginning at 6 a.m., December 29, the public
can watch Washington’s March from Washington Crossing, New Jersey,
to Trenton. At 7 a.m., Washington and his troops reenact the December
25 Delaware crossing aboard flatboats, visible from both sides of
the river. Reenactors and spectators can then drive or be bused to
join the march to Trenton, already in progress.
Participants will re-live the most important nine-mile
journey in this nation’s history. At 11 a.m. in Trenton — amidst
a swirl of cannon and musket fire — today’s Hessian reenactors
will assume positions as sitting ducks, still groggy from their
revels. Both Battles of Trenton will unfold in a matter of hours,
not days, on and near the Assunpink Creek, scene of our country’s
first victories. The second battle is scheduled for 3 p.m., with a
Grand Illumination of the Old Barracks, Trenton, beginning at 5 p.m.
That night, the troops march on toward Princeton Battlefield, where
hostilities open on Sunday, December 30. Word is that some will march,
and some will be bused: "They’ll be tired." Reenactors
on the battlefield at 1 p.m. for the third of Washington’s triumphs,
which took place January 3, 1777. Parking and shuttle service to
Battlefield is provided at Bristol-Myers Squibb on Route 206 in
When the organizations supporting "Ten Crucial Days" began
their plans, they little thought that their country would find itself
in the throes of a real war by the time of the 225th anniversaries.
Old Barracks Museum, Princeton Battlefield State Park, Trenton
and Visitors Bureau, Washington Crossing Historic Park, Pennsylvania,
and Washington Crossing State Park, New Jersey, are the godfathers
of this re-creation. Their revels have been sobered by the events
of September 11. The title of their celebration has been given new
meaning, as that "One Crucial Day" altered history forever.
The importance of the "crucial" battles cannot be
The rebels’ cause then was very nearly lost. Few now realize what
a myth was the highly touted "Spirit of ’76." In actuality,
desertion was the norm. Barefoot, ill-fed, unpaid soldiers, and a
public wary of relatives and neighbors — 1776 patriots weren’t
all that patriotic. War interfered with the harvest, then with the
Christian holidays. Defeatism was rife, even among the
military colleagues. But Washington dared surprise the haughty Brits
(whose General Howe had vowed to "bag him like a fox"); waxed
bold to trample upon their feast day; even to dislodge the enemy from
the first of many seized towns in New York, Pennsylvania, and New
Another little-known reality is that approximately 75 percent of
Battles were fought in New Jersey. This state bore more than half
the Revolutionary damage, half the losses. And of all the counties,
it could be said that none was more pivotal than Mercer during those
Ten Crucial Days. Had weather not come to Washington’s assistance
(mud to slow the British escape, freezing to speed the Princeton
we might be paying taxes to the House of Windsor to this day.
The David-and-Goliath triumph of Washington’s Trenton and Princeton
campaign absolutely stunned General Howe, General Cornwallis, and
King George III. Our "forces" (our enemies would have mocked
the word) were seen as rabble, no match for the richly caparisoned
Redcoats, let alone for the fierce Hessian mercenaries. Pillage and
destruction, looting, and worse was the reputation they earned.
would not allow these tactics among his own men, quickly restoring
any goods that inappropriately found their way into Continental
As the original Ten Crucial Days unfolded, our Commander-in-Chief
seemed miraculously protected. Many a first-person account still
General Washington, brightly visible upon his white charger. Despite
bullets, cannonballs, sword thrusts, and smoke, he remained unscathed,
forever rallying his fighting corps. At Princeton he urged: "There
is but a handful of the enemy. Turn and we will have them
Washington’s personal courage was no fiction. His reward: laurels
of victory were snatched from the mud of the Assunpink banks and
burnished in the orchards around Princeton’s Clarke House.
Weather was Washington’s ally that winter of 1776 and
’77. Sleet and ice slowed but did not prevent the crossing of the
Delaware, so that muffled troops landed, not around midnight, but
closer to 3 a.m. Otherwise, later conditions of mud and ice played
into the General’s hands and plans. It is interesting that the river
he crossed to victory had become a symbol of failure, so many towns
along and near it being under English control. Weather will be a
for the reenactments, as well. Under recent drought conditions,
the Delaware in 2001 may become a matter of rubber boots rather than
Even the Brits unwittingly served the wily Washington. Moving south
from their New York triumphs, pouring in and around New Brunswick,
the Redcoats were flush with pride, yet lazy in victory. Even now
historians puzzle that the British were so eerily haphazard in their
pursuit of our rebels along the Raritan and Delaware. General Howe
had retired smugly to winter quarters in New York. General Cornwallis
had retired in other, more human fashion. This left Trenton’s fate
to leaders more lusterless. Celebrations billed as Christmas feasts
were actually premature victory fetes, only to become impediment to
Revolutionary fervor can also be sampled (through February 24) at
the New Jersey State Museum in the exhibit, "George Washington
and the Battles of Trenton: The Evolution of an American Image."
"It would be hard to exaggerate the impact of the
campaign," says exhibit consultant Mark Lender. "These
restored morale and braced the will to fight on." Almost as soon
as the smoke cleared from the crucial battles, artists took brush
in hand to memorialize General Washington. Leutze’s "Washington
Crossing the Delaware" (a later memorial) is in the exhibit, along
with legendary oil portraits by Philadelphia’s Peales (some of whom
fought alongside General Washington) and Gilbert Stuart. These images
can be seen as the first visual "PR" — Washington
from leader to icon. Yet Washington was still considered controversial
in the eyes of others jockeying for position, such as the amorous
and ambitious General Charles Lee, and the dandy, Alexander Hamilton.
We know where Washington stands "in the hearts of his
New Jersey’s first Constitution is on display, as well as currency
that changed as we moved from colony to state.
As ecologists are now beginning to link greenways for public
so historians are lobbying to link historic sites. And no place is
more historic than the acreage where the Ten Crucial Days unfolded.
Congress has directed the Secretary of the Interior to study the
of a significant portion of Central New Jersey as a National Heritage
Area for its unique contribution to the American experience. And
were not all that was crucial. New Jersey proffered cornfields and
orchards, churches, ironworks, and twisting rivers that gave nighttime
passage for provisions and spies and manpower. (For more on this,
contact Linda Mead, Natural Heritage Area, 609-924-4646.)
The original Ten Crucial Days succeeded partly because they took place
at holiday time. So it is appropriate to pause in family festivities,
walk in the monumental footsteps of the father of our country, his
valiant sons and daughters. What greater gifts, on the heels of the
tragic loss of life and livelihood at the World Trade Center, than
the unalienable rights, "life, liberty and the pursuit of
In the words of Richard Patterson, executive director of the Old
Museum: "The Ten Crucial Days festivities may prove to be just
the tonic we all need. It has been done before (snatching victory
from the jaws of defeat) and we’ll come through all this all
— Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Historic Park , Routes 32 and 532, Washington Crossing, PA,
Visitors Center opens 11 a.m., crossing begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday,
Website: tencrucialdays.com Saturday and Sunday, December 29 and
march from Washington Crossing to Trenton. At 7 a.m.,
of George Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware. At 11 a.m. and
3 p.m. , the two Battles of Trenton are fought on the original sites
in downtown Trenton. Saturday, December 29, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Battle of Princeton. Armies begin their advance at noon; battle
reenactment begins at 1 p.m.
lot, Route 206, Lawrenceville. Portions of Mercer Street will be
closed for the event. Call for handicap information.
"The Hessians are Coming! The Hessians are Coming!"
of the (2) Battles of Trenton, the (1) Battle of Princeton, 12/29
and 12/30, 2001
Among those who will recreate these pivotal battles will be New York
City policemen, fresh from real heroism, from all too real scenes
of smoke and death. People who lived through Ground Zero will trek
to the zero ground of the 13 original colonies to celebrate on the
heels of grief.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.