In a stroke of strategic genius, General George Washington manages to evade conflict with General Charles Cornwallis, who had been dispatched to Trenton to bag the fox (Washington), and wins several encounters with the British rear guard, as it departs Princeton for Trenton, New Jersey.
Deeply concerned by Washington’s victory over the British at Trenton on December 26, 1776, Cornwallis arrived with his troops in Trenton on the evening of January 2 prepared to overwhelm Washington’s 5,000 exhausted, if exuberant, Continentals and militia with his 8,000 Redcoats. Washington knew better than to engage such a force and Cornwallis knew Washington would try to escape overnight, but he was left to guess at what course Washington would take.
Cornwallis sent troops to guard the Delaware River, expecting Washington to reverse the route he took for the midnight crossing on December 25. Instead, Washington left his campfires burning, muffled the wheels of his army’s wagons and snuck around the side of the British camp. As the Continentals headed north at dawn, they met the straggling British rear guard, which they outnumbered 5 to 1.
Forty Patriots and 275 British soldiers died during ensuing Battle of Princeton. After the defeat, the Howe brothers (General William and Admiral Richard) chose to leave most of New Jersey to Washington. Instead of marshalling their significant manpower to retake New Jersey, they concentrated all of their forces between New Brunswick and the Atlantic coast.