Col. Hand’s historic march re-enacted in Lawrence

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The hardy band of marchers who commemorated the 57th annual Col. Hand Historic March stepped off on a rainy Saturday morning – 242 years and 3 days after Col. Edward Hand and his soldiers held off British and Hessian troops on their way to what would become known as the Second Battle of Trenton on Jan. 2, 1777.

The annual march, which began at the Lawrence Township Municipal Building and ends on the banks of the Shabakunk Creek at Notre Dame High School, was held on Jan 5.

The event is a re-enactment of the American patriots’ delaying tactics as they tried to hold off the British and Hessian troops who were on their way from Princeton to re-take Trenton from the Americans during the American Revolution.

Col. Hand and the 1st Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment held the troops at bay as they marched along Route 206 – known in those days as the King’s Highway – to Trenton. The American soldiers engaged the troops in two skirmishes in Lawrence Township.

The First Battle of Trenton, which occurred on Dec. 26, 1776, and the Battle of Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777, are well-known, key battles, but it is the Second Battle of Trenton, which occurred on Jan. 2, 1777 – and in which Col. Hand’s men played a supporting role – that has been overlooked.

Author David Price, the keynote speaker at the Col. Hand Historic March, however, set out to make attendees aware of the importance of the Second Battle of Trenton.

The Lawrence Township resident has written a book – “The Road to Assunpink Creek,” which is the other name for the Second Battle of Trenton – that revisits the military engagement.

The Second Battle of Trenton could be described as “the Rodney Dangerfield of battles,” Price said. The battle, much like comedian Dangerfield – whose catchphrase was “I don’t get no respect” – is under-appreciated and has not received its due, he said.

Following the First Battle of Trenton, Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army returned to Pennsylvania. Three days later, on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30, 1776, the American soldiers re-crossed the Delaware River and returned to Trenton.

Shocked by the Americans’ victory on Dec. 26, 1776, Major Gen. William Howe, the commander-in-chief of the British troops in the North American colonies, sought to punish the Americans. He called for Lord Cornwallis, a major general in the British army, to march to Trenton to take back the small village.

Lord Cornwallis and 8,000 British and Hessian troops left Princeton on the morning of Jan. 2, 1777, for Trenton. Their route took them on the King’s Highway, known today as Route 206, on a warm January day that turned the road to mud.

The British and Hessian troops’ goal was to reach Trenton during daylight to subdue the Americans. But Col. Hand and his riflemen delayed them, shooting at them from behind cover in the woods. The delay meant the troops would not reach Trenton until nearly dusk.

When the troops finally arrived in Trenton near dusk, they tried three times to cross the bridge over the Assunpink Creek, behind which the American soldiers had set up battle lines.

Lord Cornwallis decided to wait until daybreak to resume the fight. But during the night, Gen. Washington and his soldiers left Trenton and set off for Princeton. The Americans met a contingent of British troops in what has become known as the Battle of Princeton.

The Americans defeated the smaller group of British troops in a short but fierce battle, Price said. The victorious American soldiers continued north and settled in winter quarters in Morristown.

Price said the Second Battle of Trenton is significant because, had the Americans been defeated, the victory at the First Battle of Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776, would have been a historical footnote – a minor American victory – and there would have been no victory at Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777. The three battles in a short time invigorated the American cause.

Also, if the Americans had been unable to stop the British and Hessian attack along the banks of the Assunpink Creek, it would likely have resulted in the destruction of the American army and possibly with it the cause of American independence, according to Price.

Lord Cornwallis acknowledged the Second Battle of Trenton’s importance when he surrendered to Gen. Washington at Yorktown, Va., near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, in October of 1781, Price said.

“Fame will gather your brightest laurels rather from the banks of the Delaware than from those of the Chesapeake,” Lord Cornwallis said to have remarked to Gen. Washington after he surrendered.

Lord Cornwallis ran out of time in his march from Princeton to Trenton when his soldiers were detained by a combination of muddy roads and Col. Hand’s riflemen who engaged them in a series of skirmishes.

“It might be said that the weather was guided by the hand of fate, and the defenders by the Hand of Pennsylvania,” Price said, referring to Col. Hand and his Pennsylvania riflemen.