Fort Mercer Walkabout – Red Bank Battlefield Park – National Park, Gloucester County, NJ
Distance: 1 mile
Type: Fairly close to a loop
Difficulty: 2 of 10 – stairs are rough.
Total score: 6 of 10.
Terrain – Riverside hills.
Trailheads – 39° 52.114’N, 75° 11.354’W
Directions: 100 Hessian Avenue, National Park, N.J. 08063
Parking – two large parking lots, one next to the battle monument, the other in the park section.
Standouts – One of the largest battles fought in South Jersey during the Revolutionary War, plus views of the Navy Yard and Philly across the Delaware River.
Markings – None.
Website – Red Bank Battlefield Park – Gloucester County Park System
My brother-in-law was visiting last week and looking for some adventure. The Pres was a little too sleepy to come out, so we headed to Red Bank Battlefield Park, home of Fort Mercer and the Battle of Red Bank way back on October 22, 1777. It rained the whole time, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway.
BACKGROUND STORY: In 1777 after some hard fought battles at Brandywine and Germantown, the British captured the colonial capital at Philadelphia. Their ships had trouble getting up the Delaware to resupply them due to a pair of forts on either side of the river, Fort Mifflin in Pennsylvania and Fort Mercer (named for the Continental Army General who was a hero at the Battle of Trenton and killed at the Battle of Princeton). To fix this problem, British and Hessian troops sailed from Philadelphia to Cooper’s Ferry (today Camden), marched to Haddonfield where they spent the night, then hurried south to surprise Fort Mercer from behind. A local fellow named Jonas Cattell, an 18 year old apprentice blacksmith (who was upset the British had arrested him the night before), ran all the way from Haddonfield to Red Bank and warned of the attack. The Continental Army turned their cannon from the river to the land side of the fort and waited. The Hessians and British under Von Donop soon arrived and launched a fierce attack. Although the Hessians had a much larger army and managed to capture part of the fort early in the battle, the Americans defended it bravely, killing Von Donop and hundreds of his men and forcing them to retreat. The attacking force limped back to Philadelphia, a win for the good guys. The victory, along with the one at Saratoga a few weeks earlier, helped to rally the Americans and bring France into the war. Hooray!
End history lesson!
Anyway, we didn’t have to march ten miles to get here. We parked in the picnic area lot and headed toward the Whitall House, which we mistakingly thought was open until 4, but closed as we were walking up to it. Instead, we made a loop on the pathways through the picnic areas and down to the river. The path, which they seem to be doing repairs on, runs alongside the Delaware River with views of Philadelphia and the Navy yard straight ahead.
When it leaves the river, it curves right until it reaches the base of the big hill. Climb the 7,000,000 stairs (I may have counted wrong) until you reach the top. You have made it into the fort, better than most of the British or Hessians did. Head left.
You’ll loop around to the edge of the park. The dips are the remains of some of the earthworks and trenches. You’ll make a loop and head back toward the parking lot. Check out the first battle monument that was placed on this site (under the canopy). You’ll then hit the main attraction, the large monument dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the battle. Head for the parking lot and you’ll see some more memorials along the way, one to Thaddeus Kosciuszko for having the hardest name to spell of any of the men who fought in the Revolutionary War (haha, it’s actually because he designed the fort – a national memorial and museum is dedicated to him in Philly and is free), Hugh Mercer (who the fort was named after), and the other men who fought the battle.
Walk back toward the house. In front of the house, along the road, is a small building. In front are old mile signs from all over the county, check them out!
Overall recommendation: It’s free, the views are nice, the walk is easy with both scenic and historical payoff, and they have a playground, why not go?