IAS Destroys Battlefield Editorial Cartoon (Obrion)
(December 23, 2015 | Princeton, N.J.) – Earlier this month, the Institute for Advanced Study, a world-renowned organization of higher learning, began construction work on Maxwell’s Field at Princeton, one of the most historic unprotected battlefield properties in the nation. It was on this site, on January 3, 1777, that Gen. George Washington’s threadbare Continentals launched a daring charge on British lines that secured victory and saved the American Revolution.
This week marks the 239th anniversary of the beginning of the campaign that culminated with Washington’s successful charge at Princeton. Starting with his famous crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day 1776, Washington engaged in a remarkable series of maneuvers that included multiple river crossings, bold night marches, and battlefield victories at Trenton and Princeton. The daring campaign saved an American cause that seemed all but lost just 10 days previously.
In an effort to save Maxwell’s Field from the bulldozer’s blade, the Civil War Trust, through its Campaign 1776 initiative, has repeatedly asked to meet with the Institute to purchase the property or explore other alternatives. Earlier this month, the Trust offered to buy property from the Institute for $4.5 million – a price nearly 40 percent higher than the appraised value of the property. All purchase offers and meeting requests have been rejected by Institute leadership.
“This anniversary seems destined to be remembered – not for the heroism of America’s first citizen soldiers – but for the backhoes and bulldozers destroying the site of Washington’s Charge,” said Trust President James Lighthizer. “The land over which Washington personally led his counter attack at Princeton is being scraped, molded and changed forever for the Institute’s faculty housing plans.”
Recognizing the extraordinary historic significance of this property, on December 21 the New Jersey Senate’s Environment and Energy Committee held a public hearing to investigate the Institute’s construction plans. More than eight witnesses, including Lighthizer and State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, provided testimony. As a result of the hearing, committee chairman Bob Smith, along with vice chairman Linda Greenstein and ranking member Kip Bateman, sent a letter to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, urging the agency issue a temporary stay to stop the construction.
In October, the Institute celebrated its own unique history with the centennial commemoration of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein spent the final 20 years of his life as a resident scholar there. It is hard to imagine how an institution so conscious of its own contributions to history could just weeks later proceed with destruction of another historic site of national importance.
Despite the Institute’s construction work, the Civil War Trust and the Princeton Battlefield Society will hold a sunset ceremony on January 2 to commemorate the 239th anniversary of the Battle of Princeton and Washington’s Charge. As darkness falls, the glow of more than 500 luminaries will memorialize the casualties of the battle. Then, early on January 3, a real-time guided tour will retrace the steps of the opposing armies.
These events commemorate the remarkable campaign that ended with American victory at Princeton. By December 1776, the British Army had captured New York City and occupied nearly all of New Jersey. Washington’s army was demoralized and shrunken to a wisp of its former strength. But in the year’s waning days, Washington repelled a British counter attack at Assunpink Creek and executed one of history’s most famous flanking maneuvers, boldly night-marching his threatened army out of danger and moving to Princeton. There, it seemed the Continental Army would be stopped until Washington’s historic charge on Maxwell’s Field.
“Washington’s winter campaign instilled fresh hope and resolve in the army, and in the American people. It kept alive the dream of the United States of America,” remarked Lighthizer. “Now, the Institute threatens to erase that hope and dream for which Washington and his men fought so valiantly.”
Campaign 1776 is a project of the Civil War Trust, America’s largest and most effective battlefield preservation organization. Its purpose is to protect the battlefields of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, and to educate the public about the importance of these battlefields in forging the nation we are today. Learn more: www.campaign1776.org.
For aerial video explaining how the Institute for Advanced Studies is destroying hallowed ground at Princeton, visit: https://vimeo.com/149685668.