From the Journal of Captain Thomas Rodney
January 3d 1777
At two o'clock this morning, the ground having been frozen firm by a keen N. West wind, secret orders were issued to each department and the whole army was at once put in motion, but no one knew what the Gen. meant to do. Some thought that we were going to Princeton: the latter proved to be right. We went by a bye road on the right hand which made it about 16 miles. During this nocturnal march I with the Dover Company and the Red Feather Company of Philadelphia Light Infantry led the van of the army and Capt. Henry with the other three companies of Philadelphia light Infantry brought up the rear. The van moved on all night in the most cool and determined order, but on the march great confusion happening in the rear. There was a cry that they were surrounded by the Hessians and several corps of Militia broke and fled towards Bordentown, but the rest of the column remained firm and pursued their march without disorder, but those who were frightened and fled did not recover from their panic until they reached Burlington. When we had proceeded to within a mile and a half of Princeton and the van had crossed Stony Brook, Gen. Washington ordered our Infantry to file off to one side of the road and halt. Gen. Sullivan was ordered to wheel to the right and flank the town on that side, and two Bridgades were ordered to wheel to the right and flank the town on that side, and two Brigades were ordered to wheel to the left, to make a circuit and surround the town on that side and as they went to break down the Bridege and post a party at the mill on the main road, to oppose the enemy's main army if they should pursue us from Trenton. The third Division was composed of Gen. Mercer's Bridge of Continental troops, about 300 men, and Cadwalader's brigade of Philadelphia Militia to which brigade the whole of our Light Infantry Regiment was again annexed. Mercer's brigade marched in front and another corps of infantry brought up the rear. My company glanced the whole brigade on the right in an Indian file so that my men were very much extended and distant from each other; I marched in front and was followed by Sarjeant McKnatt and next to him was Nehemiah Tilton. Mercer's Brigade which was headed by Col. Haslet of Delaware on foot and Gen. Mercer on horseback was to march straight on to Princeton without turning to the right or left. It so happened that two Regiments of British troops that were on their march to Trenton to reinforce their army there, received intelligence of the movements of the American Army (For the sun rose as we passed over Stony Brook) and about a mile from Princeton they turned off from the main road and posted themselves behind a long string of buildings and an orchard on the straight road to Princeton. The two first Divisions of our army therefore passed wide to the right and left, and leaving them undiscovered were in to Princeton. Gen. Mercer's Brigade, owing to some delay in arranging Cadwalader's men, had advanced several hundred yards ahead and never discovered the enemy until he was turning the buildings they were posted behind, and then they were not more than fifty yards off. He immediately formed his men, with great courage, and poured a heavy fire in upon the enemy. But they being greatly superior in number returned the fire and charged bayonets, and their onset was so fierce that Gen. Mercer fell mortally wounded and many of his officers were killed, and the brigades being effectually broken up, began a disorderly flight. Co. Haslet retired some small distance behind the buildings and endeavored to rally them, but receiving a bullet through his head, dropt dead on the spot and the whole brigade fled in confusion. At this instant Gen. Cadwalader's Philadelphia Brigade came up and the enemy checked by their appearance took post behind a fence and a ditch in front of the buildings before mentioned, and so extended themselves that every man could load and fire incessantly; the fence stood on low ground between two hills; on the hill behind the British line they had eight pieces of artillery which played incessantly with round and grape shot on our brigade, and the fire was extremely hot. Yet Gen. Cadwalader led up the head of the column with the greatest bravery to within 50 yards of the enemy, but this was rashly done, for he was obliged to recoil; and leaving one piece of his artillery, he fell back about 40 yards and endeavored to form the brigade, and some companies did form and gave a few vollies, but the fire of the enemy was so hot, that, at the sight of the regular troops running to the rear, the militia gave way and the whole brigade broke and most of them retired to a woods about 150 yards in the rear: But two pieces of artillery stood their ground and were served with great skill and bravery. At this time a field officer was sent to order me to take post on the left of the artillery, until the brigade should form again, and, with the Philadelphia Infantry keep up a fire from some stacks and buildings, and to assist the artillery in preventing the enemy from advancing. We now crossed the enemy's fire from right to Left and took position behind some stacks just on the left of the artillery; and about 30 of the Philadelphia Infantry were under cover of a house on our left and little in the rear. About 150 of my men came to this post, but I could not keep them all there, for the enemies fire was dreadful and three balls, for they were very thick, had grazed me; one passed within my elbow nicking my great coat and carried away the breech of Sarjeant McKnatts gun, he being close behind me, another carried away the inside edge of one of my shoe soles, another had nicked my had and indeed they seemed as thick as hail. From these stacks and buildings we, with the two pieces of Artillery kept up a continuous fire on the enemy, and in all probability it was this circumstance that prevented the enemy from advancing, for they could not tell the number we had posted behind these covers and were afraid to attempt passing them; but if they had known how few they were they might easily have advanced while the two brigades were in confusion and routed the whole body, for it was a long time before they could be reorganized again, and indeed many, that were panic struck, ran quite off. Gen. Washington had rallied both Gen. Mercer's and Gen. Cadwalader's brigade, they moved forward and when they came to where the Artillery stood began a very heavy platoon fire on the march. This the enemy bore but a few minutes and then threw down their arms and ran. We then pushed forwards towards the town spreading over the fields and through the woods to enclose the enemy and take prisoners. The fields were covered with baggage, which the Gen. ordered to be taken care of. Our whole force met at the Court House and took there about 200 prisoners and about 200others pushed off and were pursued by advanced parties who took about 50 more. In this engagement we lost about 20 killed, the enemy about 100 men killed and lost the field. This is a very pretty little town on the York road 12 miles from Trenton; the houses are build of brick and are very elegant especially the College which has 52 rooms in it; but the whole town has been ravaged and ruined by the enemy. As soon as the enemy's main army heard our cannon at Princeton (and not 'til then) they discovered our manouvre and pushed after us with all speed and we had not been above an hour in possession of the town before the enemy's light horse and advanced parties attacked our party at the bridge, but our people by a very heavy fire kept the pass until our army left the town. Just as our army began our march through Princetown with all their prisoners and spoils the van of the British army we had left at Trenton came in sight, and entered the town about an hour after we left it, but made no stay and pushed on toward Brunswick for fear we should get there before him, which was indeed the course our General intended to pursue had he not been detained too long in collecting the Baggage and Artillery which the enemy had left behind him. Our army marched on to Kingston then wheeled to the left and went down the Millstone, keeping that river on our left; the main body of the British followed, but kept on through Kingston to Brunswick; but one division or a strong party of horse took the road on the left of the Millstone and arrived on the hill, at the bridge on that road just as the van of the American Army arrived on the opposite side. I was again commanding the van of our army, and General Washington seeing the enemy, rode forward and ordered me to halt and take down a number of carpenters which he had ordered forward and break up the bridge, which was done and the enemy were obliged to return. We then marched on to a little village called Stone Brook or Summerset Court House about 15 miles from Princeton where we arrived just at dusk. About an hour before we arrived here 150 of the enemy from Princeton and 50 which were stationed in this town went off with 20 wagons laden with Clothing and Linen, and 400 of the Jersey militia who surrounded them were afraid to fire on them and let them go off unmolested and there were no troops in our army fresh enough to pursue them, or the whole might have been taken in a few hours. Our army now was extremely fatigued not having had refreshment since yesterday morning, and our baggage had all been sent away the morning of the action at Trenton; yet they are in good health and high spirits.
From "The Battles of Trenton and Princeton" by William S. Stryker