The famous Beaux Arts sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, with the help of architectural designer Thomas Hasting, created the Princeton Battle Monument, located in Princeton, New Jersey area, to honor the soldiers who fought at the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777.
The 50-foot sculpted monument was inspired by the Arc de Triomphe and shows General Hugh Mercer, a personal friend of George Washington’s, being killed as Washington leads his army to victory. There is a commemorative plaque of Rochambeau’s camp and three smaller monuments honoring Colonel John Haslet, Captain Daniel Neil, the Continental Marines, and the Battle of Princeton. It was in 1922 that President Warren G. Harding dedicated the finished Princeton Battle Monument.
Finding a suitable spot for the memorial was challenging, with initial plans centered on the plot of land at the intersection of Mercer and Nassau Streets. The Princeton War Memorial was constructed on a triangular space that had been cleared of structures in 1913.
The Princeton Inn Company made a donation in 1914 of a piece of land. Formerly occupied by an inn, the site of the Princeton Borough Hall now sits on donated land spanning 500 feet from Stockton Street to the row of chestnut trees in front of the inn on Bayard Lane. This land was ideal because it was large enough to accommodate both the monument and a park, and since it was situated at the end of a long view from Nassau Street.
The central figure of the MacMonnies design is George Washington on horseback, rendered in a light grey bas-relief. Washington is shown firmly rejecting defeat and rallying his weary soldiers to victory. A young woman representing Liberty stands under Washington, encouraging the troops to continue their march. She is wearing a Phrygian cap and clutching a banner. She is given the “Alked” treatment by some Continental Army soldiers and a drummer kid. The tragic end of General Mercer, whose name would be given to the county nearby, is depicted below. The building was supposed to be made of metal and granite, but by 1918, it was thought that Indiana Limestone would be more appropriate.
In 1922, President Warren G. Harding dedicated the monument that had been sculpted on the spot by the Piccirilli Brothers. The Right Reverend Paul Matthews, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey, gave the invocation, and the Princeton University Field Artillery ROTC fired a 21-gun salute to kick off the celebrations. On the same day, the President was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Princeton.
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