The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777

The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777 is the title of an oil painting by the American artist John Trumbull depicting the death of the American General Hugh Mercer at the Battle of Princeton on Friday, January 3, 1777 during the American Revolutionary War. The painting was Trumbull’s first depiction of an American victory.[1] It is one of a series of historical paintings on the war, which also includes the Declaration of Independence and The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776.[2]

The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777
The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton January 3 1777.jpeg
ArtistJohn Trumbull
Yearc. 1787c. 1831
Mediumoil on canvas
Dimensions51.1 cm × 75.9 cm (20.125 in × 29.875 in)
LocationYale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

The artist expressed his great admiration for General George Washington in this painting as he wrote in the catalogue for his exhibited works at Yale University in 1835:

Thus, in the short space of nine days, an extensive country, an entire State, was wrested from the hands of a victorious enemy, superior in numbers, in arms and in discipline, by the wisdom, activity and energy of one great mind.[3]

It was a personal favorite of Trumbull himself. When asked by Benjamin Silliman which paintings he would save from destruction in the Trumbull Gallery at Yale, he said this one.[1][4]

Trumbull used the General's son, Hugh Jr., as a model for the painting.[5]


The picture displays several different events of the battle as if they occurred simultaneously.[1][4]

At the center, American General Hugh Mercer, with his dead horse beneath him, is shown mortally wounded. Mercer was commanding the leading division of the Continental Army when attacked by British Colonel Charles Mawhood near Princeton, New Jersey. Mercer's horse was killed and he was attacked by two grenadiers. The British were in control of the battle at this moment.[3] Mercer would be treated for his wounds by Dr. Benjamin Rush the next day, January 4, but died on January 12 as a result, Dr. Rush believed, of a concussion caused by a musket butt to the head[6]

At the left, American Daniel Neil[a] is shown bayoneted against his cannon. Capt. Daniel Neil was the Captain of Artillery and began his service in the Revolutionary War as Captain-Lieutenant in the East New Jersey Artillery in Knox's Battalion March 1st, 1776. He was appointed Capt on May, 9th 1776. Captain Neil died on the battlefield by an excessive number of saber wounds by the British.[1]

At the right, British Captain William Leslie is shown mortally wounded. Leslie died during the battle and was put on a wagon by the British that was later taken by the Americans. Rush also learned of his death on January 4. He would be buried at Pluckemin, New Jersey the next day, January 5.[8]

In the background, American General George Washington and Dr. Benjamin Rush enter the scene. After Mercer became a casualty, Washington needed to lead the charge to overtake Mawhood's troops and win the battle.[7] On the far left, American General Thomas Mifflin is shown leading a cavalry charge.[9] American Colonel John Cadwalader and British Colonel Edmund Eyre are also depicted.[10]

Other versionsEdit

Trumbull worked on this painting for many years and created several sketches and final oil paintings. A collection of sketches is located at the Princeton University Library.[11]

A large scale version (72+14 inches (184 cm) x 108 inches (270 cm)), painted in 1831, is owned by the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.[12]

The Yale University Art Gallery also owns an unfinished version titled The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, 3 January 1777 and dated c. 1786c. 1788.[13]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ misidentified by art historians as American Lieutenant Charles Turnbull[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Cooper, Helen A. (2008). Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery. pp. 90–91. ISBN 978-0-300-12289-3.
  2. ^ "The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776". Yale University Art Gallery.
  3. ^ a b Trumbull, John (1835). Catalogue of Paintings, by Colonel Trumbull; Including Eight Subjects of the American Revolution, with Near Two Hundred and Fifty Portraits of Persons Distinguished in That Important Period. Painted by Him from the Life. Gallery of Yale College. pp. 19–22.
  4. ^ a b "The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777 (Descriptive data)". Yale University Art Gallery.
  5. ^ "Hugh Mercer, Jr. (Study for "The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777")". The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  6. ^ Rush, Benjamin (1905). A Memorial containing Travels Through Life or Sundry Incidents in the Life of Dr. Benjamin Rush. Made at the Sign of the ivy leaf. pp. 97–98.
  7. ^ a b Fischer, David Hackett (2006). Washington's Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 333–338. ISBN 0-19-517034-2.
  8. ^ Hawke, David Freeman (1971). Benjamin Rush: Revolutionary Gadfly. Ardent Media. p. 180.
  9. ^ Caldwell, John; Rodriguez Roque, Oswaldo (1994). "Thomas Mifflin". American Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 214–215.
  10. ^ Dexter, Franklin Bowditch (1892). A Catalogue, with Descriptive Notices, of the Portraits, Busts, etc. Belonging to Yale University. Yale University. p. 128.
  11. ^ Mellby, Julie L. "The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton". Graphic Arts Exhibitions, acquisitions, and other highlights from the Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University Library.
  12. ^ "The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777, (painting)". Inventory of American Sculpture, Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. Smithsonian American Art Museum. IAP 06910061. Owner: Wadsworth Atheneum
  13. ^ "The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, 3 January 1777 (unfinished version) (unfinished version)". Yale University Art Gallery.

External linksEdit