A fascinating study conducted by The Princeton Battlefield Association under contract with the historic preservation consulting firm John Milner Associates has produced this new map and an 800 page report that together reinterpret the Revolutionary War battle that took place here in 1777 in very significant ways. According to an article in The Princeton Packet:
"One of the tasks for the year-long study was to delineate the geographical boundaries for the battle, which required looking at a lot of first-hand accounts of the battle, said Dr. Robert Selig, an independent project historian from Michigan who contributed to the report.
'We tried to find as many maps, deeds and roadways and tried to do a timeline of the participants,” he said. “It changes the interpretation (of the battle) and we know more detail. Someone seriously counted the numbers (of soldiers), details like that is what this study has done. It’s an 800-page study on an event that took an hour and a half or so.'
Another finding from the first-hand accounts is Gen. Mercer was on the newly discovered Saw Mill Road.
Gen. Mercer was originally thought to have been on Quaker Road, heading to the Stony Brook Bridge. With new evidence, the consultants concluded that Brig. Gen. Thomas Mifflin, in charge of a Pennsylvania brigade, was sent to destroy the Stony Brook Bridge so the British couldn’t turn around in Trenton and come back to Princeton, not Gen. Mercer as previously thought.
'Finally placing Gen. Mercer where he was and finding out what he was supposed to do,' was one of the most significant finding of the study,' said Mr. Selig. “Based on collecting and interpreting these sources we have a much better idea of who was where on the battlefield.' Previous accounts have troops in the wrong direction on the wrong roads, he said.
The evidence included original battle accounts from soldiers that were given to the government in order to collect a military pension. There are 130 American solider accounts and 20 British accounts, including one court marshal case, said Kip Cherry, a longtime-member of the Princeton Battlefield Society.
'Some of these accounts have never been looked at before,'said Ms. Cherry.
'Nobody put them all together,' added Mr. Hurwitz."
The technique of treating pension application narratives as artifacts has been used in other groundbreaking studies of Revolutionary War battlefields, most notably by Lawrence E Babits and Joshua B Howard in their analysis of the Battle of Guilford Court House and earlier work conducted by Babits for the Battle of Cowpens. Combining the skills and perspectives of historians and archaeologists can produce dramatic new interpretations, as appears to be the case with the Princeton Study, which I would be greatly interested in reading.
As has been discussed here before, pension accounts were written often 50 years after the events they recall, and their purpose was to provide evidence substantiating a veteran's service to secure financial support for him in old age and often his dependants. Babits and Howard developed a weighting system for the more than 300 pension applications they reviewed for the Guilford Court House study, and I would be interested to see how John Milner Associates treated the archival testimony material they found.I would also like to see a side by side comparison of the prevailing historical understanding of Crown and Patriot troop movements and the new map,