A hardy band of marchers commemorated the 61st annual Colonel Edward Hand historic march as they stepped off on a sunny Saturday morning – some 245 years and five days – after Hand and his band of Pennsylvania riflemen delayed British and Hessian troops on their way to what became known as the Second Battle of Trenton on Jan. 2, 1777.
The annual march begins at the Lawrence Township Municipal Building and ends at the bank of the Shabakunk Creek on the Notre Dame High School campus. The event was held Jan. 7.
The march is a reenactment of the American soldiers’ delaying tactics as they tried to hold off the British and Hessian troops from reaching Trenton, which was occupied by Gen. George Washington’s army. The troops were on their way from Princeton to retake Trenton from the Americans.
The Col. Edward Hand Historic March event was created by the late Robert Immordino, who was the official Lawrence Township historian. It is an official position whose occupant is appointed by the Lawrence Township Council.
Author David Price, the keynote speaker at the march, said Hand may have been the most “unsung patriot military hero” of the American Revolutionary War. Price cited Hand’s “remarkable” defensive actions against the numerically superior British and Hessian troops on Jan. 2, 1777.
“Hand delayed the enemy’s advance long” enough that it left them without enough daylight to launch a full-scale attack against Washington’s troops arrayed behind the Assunpink Creek (in Trenton). In the process, Hand may very well have prevented the destruction of Washington’s army,” Price said.
Once the British and Hessian troops arrived in Trenton at dusk, they tried three times to cross the bridge over the Assunpink Creek to reach Washington’s army. The Americans repelled them each time.
Lord Charles Cornwallis, who commanded the British and Hessian troops, decided to wait until daybreak Jan. 3, 1777 to mount another attack on the Americans in what became known as the Second Battle of Trenton, Price said.
But during the overnight Jan. 2-3, 1777, Washington’s soldiers marched around the British and Hessian encampments to counterattack a contingent of British troops stationed at Princeton – the capstone of a 10-day winter campaign, he said.
The Second Battle of Trenton has generally been downplayed by historians, especially relative to the First Battle of Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776 and the Battle of Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777, Price said. All were part of what has become known as the “Ten Crucial Days” winter campaign.
The impact of the middle engagement – the Second Battle of Trenton – on the outcome of the Continental Army’s 10-day winter campaign was at least as significant as the First Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton, Price said.
“The Second Battle of Trenton ensured that the initial engagement one week earlier – the First Battle of Trenton – was not a ‘one-day wonder,’ but the beginning of a chain of events that altered the whole character (of the Revolutionary War),” Price said.
The “lightning sequence of events” – the first and second battles of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton – reversed the momentum of the conflict, just when it seemed that the quest for independence from Britain was on the verge of total defeat, he said.
Hand’s delaying tactics and the fighting at the Second Battle of Trenton on Jan. 2, 1777 were as important as the better-known battles at Saratoga, which occurred later in 1777, and Yorktown in 1781, Price said.
In fact, a defeat at the Second Battle of Trenton would likely have meant the destruction of the American army and the end of the cause for American independence, Price said. It also would have meant the end for Washington – either on the battlefield or at the end of a British rope for treason against the King of England, he said.
“As for Edward Hand, his defining moment will always be that January day when his outnumbered force – and the unusually mild temperatures and rain that turned the road from Princeton to Trenton into a muddy morass – impeded the advance of a formidable adversary,” Price said.
“As has been written elsewhere, one might say the weather that day was guided by the hand of fate, and the defenders by the Hand of Pennsylvania,” Price said as he wrapped up his talk.
Then, the marchers set out for the banks of the Shabakunk Creek – the site of one of several skirmishes between Hand’s soldiers and the British and Hessian troops. They walked on the sidewalks on Route 206, known in 1777 as the King’s Highway.
At Notre Dame High School, Cub Scouts raised the replica flag of Hand’s 1st Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment, bearing its motto of “Domari Nolo” – “I will not yield” – on a flagpole near the creek.
A trio of historical reenactors fired off several volleys of blanks from their replica rifles, and then a cannon crew set off several charges from their small replica cannon, filling the air with smoke.