British Heritage Organizations Urge Preservation of Maxwell’s Field
Two British military heritage organizations have joined a coalition that opposes plans by the Institute to build faculty housing on Maxwell’s Field. The site, adjacent to the Battlefield State Park, is part of the area where George Washington led a charge against the British Army to win the 1777 Battle of Princeton.
The Battlefields Trust, a United Kingdom-based charity dedicated to the preservation, research and interpretation of battlefields as educational and historical resources, campaigns to defend the battlefields of Great Britain from inappropriate development.
The Royal Tigers’ Association, the veteran organization of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, is composed of men from one of the most famous fighting units to ever serve in the British Army. The regiment, then identified as the 17th Regiment of Foot, served throughout the American Revolutionary War.
Both organizations have sent letters to the Institute for Advanced Study urging the Institute to abandon its plans to build houses on what opponents of the project claim is the most historically sensitive part of the 22-acre Maxwell’s Field property. The site has been identified as core battlefield land by the US National Park Service as part of the area where the right wing of George Washington’s counterattack against the 17th Regiment of Foot first struck British lines.
In its letter, the Battlefields Trust said an institution with its own rich history should be mindful of preserving other historic places.
“The Battlefields Trust is therefore disappointed that an organization which cherishes its own history is acting in a way that seemingly ignores the unique historic value of a battlefield site in which it acts as custodian for the people of the US and UK,” reads the letter.
Both organizations have joined the Save Princeton Coalition, an alliance of historic preservation organizations working to protect the Princeton Battlefield. The other Save Princeton organizations are: the American Association for State and Local History, the American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati, the Battlefields Trust, the Civil War Trust, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, the National Coalition for History, the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Maryland, the Princeton Battlefield Society, the Royal Leicestershire Regiment Association, and the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“the right wing of George Washington’s counterattack against the 17th Regiment of Foot first struck British lines”
The site of the counterattack is disputed by historians. Stating definitively that the counterattack took place at this site is biased reporting, because it presents one side’s view as historical fact. There are many uncertainties about where specific action during the Battle took place, including guesses about the positions of landmarks and roads that no longer exist.
So wouldn’t it be worth learning more to determine the “historical fact”? I am curious. Which historians dispute the site of the counterattack? Just saying ‘historians have disputed…’ sounds to me like modern politicians who say “People have said…”. Who? Could you be more specific please? I speak to historians every week. None of the American Revolutionary Military Historians with whom I discuss this matter dispute the site of the counterattack. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a reply I posted back in April which I hope will indicate to everyone the small number of historians who contest the NPS-funded study’s conclusions. More importantly, these individuals are not really qualified to make the assertions that they do.
“It isn’t surprising that there remain those such as “SFB” who are not convinced by the detailed arguments for the importance of Maxwell’s Field in the Battle of Princeton. However, this is not a case of “my professor is more eminent than your professor”, as one could be led to think from SFB’s citation of the opinions of Professors Peterson, Anderson and Shy. These gentlemen have distinguished scholarly achievements in their academic fields, to be sure. However, it seems to me that only one of them can claim to have close to the detailed understanding of the military history of the Revolutionary War, and of the multidisciplinary discipline of battlefield studies, needed to make a detailed critique of the 2010 Milner Report of Military Terrain Analysis and Battle Narrative. He does not make such a critique.
Mark Peterson, Professor of History, UC Berkeley, teaches and writes about colonial America and the American Revolution. “His specialty is Boston and New England. His scholarly interests include the history of ideas about economic life, and the nature of community formation in the early modern Atlantic”. https://blogs.berkeley.edu/auth…. His extensive list of publications and presentations (posted at https://history.berkeley.edu/pe… does not apparently include any items on Revolutionary War military history except one on aspects of the siege of Boston.
Fred Anderson, Professor of History, U Colorado Boulder, has written prize-winning books on the 1756-63 Seven Years War (more commonly called the French and Indian War in the U.S.). As far as I am aware he has not published on the American Revolution.
John W Shy, Professor Emeritus of History, U Michigan, is a military historian whose books Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming of the Revolution (1956), and A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, (1976 and 1990) remain highly regarded. He also taught at Princeton early in his career.
Professor Shy is therefore the one who may have the background necessary to have a good understanding of the complex issues surrounding the Battle of Princeton. These are his comments, as posted by the Institute for Advanced Study:
“I have seen a copy of the Milner report, and found nothing in it to refute the carefully done monograph by Samuel Stelle Smith, The Battle of Princeton (1967)…The battle proper was about fifteen minutes of intense fighting in the area of the present park. After that there was a running fight all the way to Nassau hall. It seems unreasonable to claim that any of this latter territory, which would include most of southwestern Princeton and the central building on the University campus, should become part of the battlefield park.” https://www.ias.edu/about/facu…
Is it reasonable to assert that these sentences amount to a detailed and compelling refutation of the case made in the 438-page Milner report? I don’t think so. Professor Shy has “seen” the report. His statement that the fighting was “in the area of the present park” is ambiguous at best. Are we to imagine that the British and American troops made sure they remained within the essentially arbitrary limits of the modern state park? Or does “area of” include surrounding land such as Maxwell’s Field?
Professor Shy rightly acknowledges the quality of the Smith study of the Battle, but this was completed almost 50 years ago. Smith had access neither to many of the documentary sources used in the Milner report, nor to the GIS and terrain analysis technology and associated sophisticated technology used to such effect there.
Far from being “opinion”, the case made in the Milner report is closely argued, judicious and scholarly. There has, in contrast, been no closely argued, judicious and scholarly rebuttal. Rather we have seen brief, dismissive and unsupported counter assertions made by scholars not involved directly in this field of study. I am sure that a properly constituted peer review of the Milner report would support its conclusions, as indeed do all those who have taken the time to study the report in all its detail.
Rather than arguing over the relative credentials of the Milner historians and the IAS historians, what is your personal knowledge of the Battle of Princeton, Mr. Burrows? Do you have any insights into the battle to share?
We used claims and words like area, and attribution to the National Park Service. Also, as per our comments policy, commenters are not supposed to use multiple screen names, as we have cautioned before. This IP address has been used for more than a dozen screen names. Please read our comment policy here: https://planetprinceton.com/planet-princeton-comment-policy/
You can record my IP address and post any other screen names you find, because there will be none.
William. The little arrow reply thingie is directed from Ms. Knapp to history. Jeez. Touchy!
As an old Princeton historian, with no connection to the IAS or the PBS, I have no vested interest in either. But I’ve become accustomed to being attacked every time I point out an error in the Milner Report- I even contributed an account to it, that of Major John Armstrong, which I donated to the Clarke House in the mid 90s. They denied me any credit, although I am certain my name was on the papers I donated. It was during a visit when I spoke with Mr. Mills. So yes, I get a little touchy because I do get seem to attract the PBS shills whenever I post info on the battle that contradicts the Milner Report.
Oh I should add, the Milner Report states the source as the Clarke House collections; I have since told the Milner Report historians where the account was found, in the NY Historical Society Papers of Joseph Reed. They would still have no clue had I not told them.
For one thing, the British 17th Regiment stated they closed ranks shoulder to shoulder to concentrate fire against the superior American force. Now the Milner Report stretches them out a quarter of a mile.
Set 300 men in a formation on the Princeton Battlefield (or any other) and see how long it is. And that’s assuming one rank- they often formed in sets, one behind another. No military force in linear warfare is going to extend its lines like that. The 17th formed a very compact line along a fence separating the William and Thomas Clarke farms- right in the current Princeton Battlefield Park. The British reported forming in a hollow between two hills- the hills on which the Clarke houses stood.
Another strike against the Milner Report- they use the Narrative of Sergeant Joseph White as part of their reconstruction. It is a work of fiction! Benjamin Frothingham of the Mass. artillery was in Fish Kill NY when the Battle of Princeton was fought. The entire book was a fictional account for the amusement of schoolboys.
This issue regarding the location of the 17th line is only relevant insofar as where Washington launched the counterattack to that line. You are correct that the 17th was along the fence separating the two farms. Washington rallied a wide swath of regiments all across the current site of the battlefield – that included Hitchcock’s and Hand’s men – so the counterattack in question advanced right across what we know today as Maxwell’s field.
Since you seem to be so savvy about the specifics of the battle, I would welcome a conversation. Email me at email@example.com. Enlighten me.
Hand’s riflemen turned the British left flank, but that does not place Washington anywhere near Maxwell’s Field. Mercer’s men retreated in the direction from which they came, trying to reach the American column- which was nowhere in sight as the 17th routed Mercer’s Brigade. It was after that phase of the battle that the Americans emerged. Had they been deployed along Maxwell’s Field, they would have been visible the entire time. Unless the American column had a cloaking device, the Milner Report is dead wrong.
All these organizations, and almost as many people, convinced that the Institute should give over its land to open space at a reduced price . . . Are they willing to pay market price for this property, and/or allow the Institute to develop and build housing on other proximate land.
Or, should the “King” take their property without due compensation, the way “Kings” and governments frequently do, with edict and force?
ummm…the Civil War Trust has offered to purchase the land from the institute for over 1 million dollars more than market value. No eminent domain issues here.
You seem to be forgetting that the IAS existed before the Battlefield Park and they donated land to the park; the housing controversy goes back to 1970! They already gave up plans for housing on the Weller Tract, on the opposite side of the park. And another fact lost in this dispute- the Battlefield Park was supposed to be considerably larger (3xs) but was scaled back. Gone was the site of the first phase of the battle – 17th vs. Mercer- where the IAS built housing in 1959-1963. (The site was already dissected by the Mercer Road). When the Battlefield Park was laid out in its current form, they sought to preserve the site of Washington’s counterattack, which they did. Now we have the Thomas Clarke House is a state of disrepair. There is no excuse for this neglect.
I feel the same way about the Princeton people who want to put restrictions on the type of house I – or a remote grantee of mine – would put on my real property. The nerve!
If they feel that strongly about it, they should pay me the diminution in value to my property, which their demanded restrictions would impose.
And my ancestors fought the Revolutionary War for what?
The Institute has been offered way over the market value by the Civil War Trust. There is no question of “taking”.
They do realise they lost the battle, and have no say about the properties adjoining the battlefield?
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