At the end of 1776, the American cause in the Revolutionary War looked to be finished. George Washington’s Continental Army had suffered a series of disastrous defeats as the British drove them out of New York and across New Jersey. Many of Washington’s troops had drifted away as their enlistments ended, and few replacements were stepping forward after the disasters of the recent campaign. Washington reversed his poor fortunes and restored the morale of the cause with a series of small victories against British detachments at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey. To do so, he had to execute his famous crossing of the Delaware (no, he probably was not standing up in the boat). Washington landed at Johnson’s Ferry on the New Jersey side of the river, at the site now preserved as Washington Crossing State Park. From Johnson’s Ferry, Washington marched to Trenton where he defeated Hessian troops in a surprise attack on Christmas Day. Washington followed up with victories in the Second Battle of Trenton on January 2, 1777, and the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. As a bonus. Washington Crossing State Park is also well known for its trails and wildlife habitat. A wide variety of migrating birds use the stream and ravine as a resting place and for nesting. Many bird species also winter in the park.
In many ways, George Washington was not a great battlefield general. He lost more battles than he won, and he had a bad habit of allowing his army to be outflanked in the field. In two of his victories, at Trenton and Princeton, he was fortunate to be able to fight detachments that his own meager forces outnumbered. Nevertheless, Washington caught British regulars by surprise at the Battle of Princeton and inflicted a clear defeat on them. The victory at Princeton, along with the triumph at Trenton just a few days earlier, restored the morale of the patriot cause at the end of an otherwise disastrous campaign in which Wshington had been driven from New York and the Continental Army had nearly been destroyed. The State of New Jersey preserves part of the battlefield as the Princeton Battlefield State Park. The park includes the famous Mercer Oak, which once stood in the middle of the battlefield near the spot where General Hugh Mercer fell. It also preserves the Clarke House, where General Mercer died nine days after the battle. The house contains period furniture and Revolutionary War exhibits. The Princeton Battle Monument, designed by sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, is located at Stockton Street and Bayard Street in the town of Princeton.
Longfellow House has seen a lot more history than your average old house. George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the newly-formed Continental Army, used the house as his headquarters during the Siege of Boston from July 1775 to April 1776. For almost half a century (1837-1882), the house was the home of poet and novelist Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. During that time, the house was a favorite gathering place for many prominent writers, artists, and public figures, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julia Ward Howe, and Charles Sumner. After Longfellow’s death in 1882, his family continued to preserve the property for ninety years until it was transferred to the National Park Service in 1972. As a result, virtually all of the furnishings are original to the house, and most date from Henry Longfellow’s occupancy. Today, the national historic site also houses an extensive museum collection: American and European decorative arts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; important nineteenth century painters and sculptors such as Gilbert Stuart and Albert Bierstadt; Longfellow’s personal library and family papers dating from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries; and an estimated 700,000 manuscript items, including letters from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, and Abraham Lincoln. The following notice is on the National Park Service’s home page for the Longfellow National Historic Site: “Longfellow National Historic Site closed temporarily to visitors beginning October 25, 1998 for an indefinite period. The temporary closure will allow the National Park Service to make critical improvements to fire protection, security, and environmental control systems, collections storage, handicapped access, and education program space. Comprehensive rehabilitation of this popular visitor site, which includes the Longfellow House and its gardens and grounds, is scheduled to begin in Spring, 2000.”
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George Washington was not a great soldier. His great contributions were always more political than military. Washington’s undistinguished military career began at this small fort in western Pennsylvania. On July 3, 1754, 22-year old Colonel George Washington was forced to surrender the fort and the colonial troops under his command to French forces from nearby Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburg). The surrender, although probably inevitable, was certainly hastened by the fact that Washington had built the stockade in a very poor location, close to covering forests and exposed to fire from nearby heights. This action was the opening battle of the French and Indian War, the struggle between Great Britain and France for control of North America. Washington went on to advise British General Braddock prior to his disastrous defeat near Fort Duquesne, and to a Revolutionary War career in which his only major victory, at Yorktown, was due more to his French allies than to his own troops, who were a minority of the forces besieging British General Cornwallis.
George Washington was not a great soldier. As a young man, the French forced him into a humiliating surrender after he built a stockade at an indefensible position in a Pennsylvania meadow. His advice to British General Braddock contributed to the disastrous defeat by the French and Indians near Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh). In the Revolutionary War, he had a bad habit of allowing his army to be outflanked. America’s French allies outnumbered his own troops at his one great victory, the siege of Yorktown. Washington’s great contribution to the country was not military but political: he set a precedent for the United States that still sets us apart from much of the world by peacefully and voluntarily relinquishing executive authority within a constitutional order. It is appropriate, then, that his most important memorial be the working plantation for which he yearned throughout his public service, and to which he returned after retiring from the presidency, Mount Vernon. The private Mount Vernon Association preserves George Washington’s plantation near Washington, D.C. Mount Vernon was the home of Washington and his wife, the former Martha Custis, for over 45 years. (Much of the time, of course, he was away on campaign or serving in office.) Washington inherited the property, which had been in his family since 1674, at the death of his brother’s widow in 1761. The home has been restored to its appearance in 1799, the year of Washington’s death. In recent years, archaeologist have been busy excavating near the mansion, at the communal slave quarters, the grist mill and other sites that were important parts of Washington’s working plantation.
Address: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA 22309