PRINCETON, N.J.—What began as a retreat from battle-hardened, bayonet-wielding British soldiers 240 years ago, Gen. George Washington reorganized into a counterattack after arriving with well-armed reinforcements in a place known as Maxwell’s Field.

This battleground in Princeton, New Jersey, is where the U.S. War of Independence reached a critical turning point.

“Parade with us, my brave fellows!” Washington is said to have called out to his troops, “and we will have them directly.”

A tall and imposing figure even by today’s standards, Washington was “an easy mark for any British soldier” while mounted on his white horse, historian David Hackett Fischer recounts in his book “Washington’s Crossing.”

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But the British didn’t hit Washington. He rallied two broken brigades back into offensive positions, where they concentrated musket fire on British soldiers and forced them to clear the field.