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Connecting Collections: The Battle of Trenton and Princeton

During the winter of 1776-1777, two key battles became an important turning point for George Washington’s Continental Army and the American struggle against the vaunted British Empire. In this blog post we will explore three maps that depict the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, all from different collections in the division and drawn by various nations: Andreas Wiederholdt’s Sketch of the engagement at Trenton; Colonel John Cadwalader’s Plan of Princeton, 1776; and William Faden’s Plan of the operations of General Washington against the King’s troops in New Jersey. The first two maps are eyewitness accounts of engagements while the third map documents movement of both the Continental and British armies in the struggle to control New Jersey.

The first map, Sketch of the engagement at Trenton, a battle taking place on the 26th of December between the American troops under command of General Washington, and three Hessian regiments under command of Colonel Rall, was produced by Lieutenant Andreas von Wiederholdt (1752-?), a Hessian officer present at the battle. The map recounts in great detail the movement of the Continental Army from its crossing of the Delaware River at “Johns Ferry” to the actual engagement at Trenton. Von Wiederholdt also denotes the location of each Hessian regiment, the roads into Trenton, the “Road to Princeton,” as well as the location where General George Washington coordinated the attack.

The manuscript map was acquired as part of the Papers of Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, commander-in-chief of the French army in North America, in 1883 following an act of Congress authorizing the purchase from Eugène Achille Lacroix de Vimeur, Marquis de Rochambeau. In addition to manuscript and archival materials, the purchase included 122 manuscript maps which were transferred to the Library’s Geography and Map Division. It is interesting to note that this map, prepared by a Hessian engineer for a British audience, came into the possession of the Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French Army in North America!

Sketch of the engagement at Trenton, given on the 26th of December betwixt the American troops under command of General Washington, and three Hessian regiments under command of Colonell Rall, in which the latter a part surrendert [sic] themselves prisoner of war. Map by Wiederholdt, Andreas, 1776. Rochambeau Collection. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Sketch of the engagement at Trenton… Map by Wiederholdt, Andreas, 1776. Rochambeau Collection. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

A second, and somewhat related, map from the collections is entitled Plan of Princeton, December 31, 1776 and was produced by Colonel John Cadwalader (1742-1786), a commander of the Pennsylvania militia. Following the success of the Battle of Trenton, General George Washington led another attack on the city of Princeton, New Jersey in the hope of capturing much needed supplies. To prepare for the engagement, General Washington sent a spy into Princeton to gather intelligence. The spy, likely a student at the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University), made eyewitness observations and relayed that information for Colonel Cadwalader. On December 31, 1776, Cadwalader prepared a map of Princeton based on those observations and sent it along with a letter to General George Washington. The hand drawn map is housed in the collections of the Geography and Map Division while the letter is housed in the Papers of George Washington in the Library’s Manuscript Division.

Plan of Princeton. Map by John Cadwalader, 1776. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Plan of Princeton. Map by John Cadwalader, 1776. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence: John Cadwalader to George Washington, December 31, 1776. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence: John Cadwalader to George Washington, December 31, 1776. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

The third and final map in our review was published in London in April 1777, four months after the eight day period depicted on the map. Entitled Plan of the operations of General Washington against the King’s troops in New Jersey, from the 26th of December to the 3d of January 1777, the map depicts the Battles of Trenton and Princeton as well as the British response by moving forces led by General Cornwallis westward across New Jersey. It should be noted that information about the war in North America was somewhat scarce in London and this “after action report” intended for a British audience, filled that void by depicting movements of both the Continental and British armies. The map is part of the William Faden Collection which consists of 101 manuscript maps and plans of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution assembled by Faden, geographer to King George III. The collection was acquired by the Library in 1864.

Plan of the operations of General Washington against the King's troops in New Jersey, from the 26th of December to the 3d of January 1777. Map, January 1777. Faden Collections. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Plan of the operations of General Washington against the King’s troops in New Jersey, from the 26th of December to the 3d of January 1777. Map, April 1777. Faden Collections. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The three maps discussed here graphically illustrate the intersection between history and geography. Equally important, the maps were produced by the three nations present in the battle, Germany, America, and England. The maps not only show the different viewpoints of each army but are also an excellent example of connecting material within different collections of the division together!

Washington at the Battle of Trenton. Engraving by Illman Brothers from the original in the possession of Charles J. Peterson, 1870. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Washington at the Battle of Trenton. Engraving by Illman Brothers from the original in the possession of Charles J. Peterson, 1870. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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