Collateral Damage from Indepence

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

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Artist Bio by: Maria Burgee

John Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut on June 6,1756. During his childhood his father greatly unsupported his desire to pursue art as a career, seeing manual crafts as something beneath their family’s dignity. He went to Harvard college at the age of 15, ideally pursuing a career in law, but eventually switched to art. He then went on to serve in the American Revolutionary War where he got the inspiration for many of his paintings, including The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton. After a successful career in art and doing apprenticeships for many other famous artists, as well as selling several paintings to various institutions such as Yale University, he eventually passed away in New York City at the age of 87 on November 10, 1843.

Art Critique by: Eric Lee

The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton by John Trumbull is an effective and dramatic portrayal of the war for independence. The first thing that appeals to the viewer is the stark red of the british war coats. Red, as a color of extremes, reflects of the severity of the British view from the colonists’ perspective. This stark shade of red is not the only use of color in this work. The second quality that comes to the viewer’s attention is the contrast of light and dark separated into three parts of the painting: left, middle and right. The light in the middle works almost as a spotlight on the British soldier ending the life of captain Mercer. It literally puts into light the flagrant British murder in the minds of the revolutionaries. Similarly,the lighting keeps the dying colonists in the darkness representing loss and death to the left while it also contains the British shooters at the right in the dark that’s signifying evil. These qualities come together to support the colonists’ view on how they thought that the British were murderers who put faithful revolutionaries to their deathbed. But hatred for the British and the mourning for the deaths of colonist aren’t the only symbolism present in this painting. The American flag in the back reminds the view of the colonist’s position as underdogs of the battle and the way the flag is situated in the light while most of the dying colonists were thrown into the darkness effectively shows how the early Americans believed that despite their loss in the number of men, their faith for the steadfast standing of their nation, the United States of America, did not sway in even the slightest manner.

Story Truth by: Emily Tsai

In The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, a scene in a gruesome battle is portrayed by John Trumbull. Hugh Mercer, an American general in the Revolutionary War, has been knocked onto the ground in front of his injured horse. Even though he is at a disadvantage, he is still defending his horse against a British soldier who has a bayonet. This action portrays Mercer’s goodness, even in his last moments, and makes the viewer feel a sense of urgency at Mercer’s imminent death. In the background, the war is still raging, which also adds to the suspense. Further contributing to the apprehension, George Washington himself is riding onto the scene from the background, presumably to win the battle and save Mercer, giving the viewer a false sense of hope.

Happening Truth by: Aparna Surya

Washington sent men under General Mercer to destroy the bridge over Stony Creek in order to delay Cornwallis's army.Mercer, while trying to join with Sullivan’s troop, was walking through an orchard when British light troops appeared. Mercer’s troops pushed the Redcoats back, and the Americans took up place behind a fence. Mawhood brought up his troops and his artillery. The Americans opened and exchanged fire with the British. Mawhood ordered a bayonet charged because the Americans had rifles, which took longer to load. The Americans were overrun and Mercer was surrounded by British soldiers and told to surrender. However, Mercer chose to resist instead. Since the British thought they had found Washington, the bayoneted him nine times and left him dead. The painting portrays Mercer’s death as heroic in order to inspire courage within the Continental Army.

War Story by: Eric Lee

The red coats were here. It all happened so quickly that it was impossible to process anything. We were unprepared. They were. They dragged us by our ankles and we were helpless against them. Our general on horseback stood proud and tall while trying to remain undisturbed. Despite the chaos, our flag was held up proud. However, we were overtaken quickly. The red coats soon got the better of our general and he was sound lifeless on the ground. Many of our faithful gay men we dead on the battlefield alongside their general. Smokes from guns and cannons covered the cloud, blocking out the sun along with our hopes of victory or even survival. One by one we fell to the sound of the muskets.