Veterans for Princeton organization formed to oppose construction on historic field
Over 70 veterans, historians and preservationists gathered at The Nassau Inn Monday morning to announce the creation of Veterans for Princeton, an organization dedicated to opposing the construction proposed by the Institute for Advanced Study. The construction plans involve building 15 faculty housing units on historic Maxwell’s Field.
The event was timed to coincide with George Washington’s 284th birthday.
Lieutenant General Richard Mills, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, stated during the ceremony that he sees Maxwell’s Field as “sacred ground consecrated by those who fought there.
Additionally, Mills expressed that the significance of the Battle of Princeton cannot be judged by its 20-minute duration.
“For [those] who say the fight was short, they’ve never been in a battle… when there are people shooting at you, when you have incoming rounds, I don’t care if that battle lasts two minutes, that’s like a lifetime for the soldiers and marines on ground,” Mills said.
According to Mills, the Battle of Princeton also saw the first casualty of the Marine Corps.
O. James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust and leader of Campaign 1776, a national organization dedicated to the preservation of important battle sites that has become involved in the Maxwell’s Field disputes, stated during the ceremony that the Maxwell’s Field is an important classroom for future generations.
Mills expressed that preserving Maxwell’s Field has a particular significance at a time when fewer than one percent of Americans is in active service.
“[The field is] a reminder of our predecessors' sacrifices,” Mills said.
Lighthizer further noted that the Trust acknowledges IAS’s property claims but remains dedicated to preserving the battle site.
“We believe it’s their ground, they own it, they have title to it, but we also believe that in this case, what happened in that ground 240 years ago belongs to America… and all we’re asking is to allow us to pay you a fair price and pay your 15 housing units somewhere else,” Lighthizer said.
The trust will pay more than what the land is worth and give the site to the American people, he added.
“The [IAS] is famous for saying ‘Albert Einstein is here.’ Well, I’ve got news for you. A long time before Einstein, with all due respect to that genius, George Washington was there… if George Washington and those troops hadn’t risked their lives and won that battle, I doubt whether Einstein would be here,” he said.
According to Lighthizer, the Society of the Cincinnati, America’s oldest veteran’s organization, is also taking part in the campaign to oppose the construction.
He said that the IAS continuously refused to participate in negotiation talks and recently rejected an appraisal from the Trust meant to cause a relocation of the housing site. The rejected appraisal, according to Lighthizer, was worth over $1 million.
The proposed construction site rests on Maxwell’s Field, the location of a critical engagement in the 1777 Battle of Princeton that ultimately turned the course of the Revolutionary War, according to Mike Miller, historian for the Marine Corps History Division and a member of the leadership council for Veterans for Princeton.
According to Miller, the US continental army suffered a series of major defeats in 1776, including the Battle of New York, which resulted in significant casualties and attrition. By 1777, the Continental army, weakened in morale, was at most 2000 men in size.
“If there were times that tried man’s souls, there were the times,” Miller said during the ceremony.
When the Continental army scored a surprise victory against the British at Trenton, Washington made a strategically important but uneasy decision to recapture Princeton with very little ammunition and resources at hand.
“Think about standing in line for battle all day in Trenton in 20 degrees weather, then you sleep on the frozen ground, get up at 2 a.m., march up 18 miles at night and get to Princeton by dawn. And then, that’s when the battle starts,” Miller noted.
Alexandra Altman, communications associate for the IAS, noted earlier that that the housing project meets a critical need for the IAS and that remaining artifacts and 14 acres of the field would be preserved.
In early February, the IAS alleged that trespassers had entered the property without permission.
"The Institute for Advanced Study has filed a report with Princeton Township Police regarding an incident that took place on the Faculty housing building site on Sunday, February 7,"Altman wrote in a press statement.
The incident involved individuals working on behalf of the Princeton Battlefield Society who took several soil samples from the site, she noted.
"This activity was unauthorized and is illegal, and we are very surprised and disappointed that it took place," she wrote in a press statement.
Altman did not respond to a request for comment.
Christine Ferrara, Director of Communications at IAS, declined to comment.