Book Review: Mark Maloy. Victory or Death: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, December 25, 1776-January 3, 1777. Emerging Revolutionary War Series. (El Dorado Hills, California: Savas Beatie LLC, 2017).
Almost entirely covered by modern development, urbanized Revolutionary War battle sites such as Brooklyn or Germantown are tough to locate and visualize. In a new book, National Park Service Historian Mark Maloy takes on this challenge for the pivotal battles of Trenton and Princeton during the period of December 25, 1776 through January 3, 1777.
Victory or Death is more comprehensive than the freely available tour guides and less detailed than a full scholarly account of the battles (Maloy suggests several excellent comprehensive accounts of the Trenton-Princeton campaign in his appendix). Maloy’s book is best used by historically inquisitive visitors seeking to retrace Washington’s brilliant campaign plan or by a reader new to the subject seeking a cogent overview of the battles. After setting the context, the book is organized around two battlefield tours:
Tour 1 – Preparatory staging, crossing the Delaware River and the First Battle of Trenton – nineteen stops
Tour 2 – Battle of Assunpink Creek (or Second Battle of Trenton) and the Battle of Princeton – seventeen stops
To facilitate touring, there are three easy to read maps depicting the tour routes via present-day roads. One of the book’s best features, the author provides GPS coordinates (in addition to written directions), which can be entered into a smartphone map application to facilitate traveling from tour stop to tour stop. Other nice features include five easy-to-follow battle maps depicting Rebel, Hessian and British troop movements over colonial-era roads and terrain.
Cleary reflecting the author’s interest in Revolutionary-era reenactment and his love for historic preservation, the book contains more pictures than pages with two hundred photographs of oil portraits and battlescapes by renowned artists as well as the author’s photos of contemporary scenes. Unfortunately, several pictures of the iconic oil paintings are either too dark or too small to do justice to their heritage. While recognizing publishing constraints, the limits on size and color significantly detract from reader’s ability to experience several compelling historical documents. For example, the historically significant 1777 map prepared by a British officer on page 49 is too small to adequately understand, and on page 103 a fascinating hand-sketched map used by George Washington to guide the first Trenton attack cannot be interpreted as it is too dark.
While Maloy’s well-narrated account of the battle is highly consistent with our modern understanding of the battle, at times, the author overemphasizes atrocities committed by Hessians and the British and the role that these incidents played in motivating New Jersey residents to support the rebellion. Not disputing the reported incidents, both sides committed gross brutalities in the disputed territories and New Jersey Loyalists, though fewer in number, were equally aroused. Also, Maloy repeats as undisputed fact the debunked John Adams story of one-third of the colonial population being committed Patriots, one-third Loyalists, and one-third neutral.
Creatively, the author is planning to provide a technologically advanced innovation by placing the book’s footnotes on a website for easy access. This is an outstanding use of web resources, and the reader’s experience could be even further enhanced with more integration with the web to provide larger, color pictures and a smartphone application to use while touring.
As a public historian, Maloy links the Trenton and Princeton battle sites to notable nearby locations such as the oft-overlookTomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldierin Philadelphia and the 1779 Continental Army winter encampment at Jockey Hollow south of Morristown, New Jersey. Maloy ends with calls to preserve remaining undisturbed Revolutionary battlefields from future development and to support the two new Revolutionary War museums in Yorktown and Philadelphia. All are worthy causes!