When Gen. Hugh Mercer,  a close friend of George Washington's, was surrounded by British soldiers on the battlefield at Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777, he sought to defend himself with his short, triangular sword, a brutish instrument designed to poke or jab an opponent, said R. Scott Stephenson, a vice president at the Museum of the American Revolution.

But the small sword wasn't enough to save Mercer's life. After putting up a fight that day, the general died nine days later from wounds inflicted by British bayonets.

The sword, on loan to the museum from the St. Andrew's Society of Philadelphia, is also depicted in a painting of the Princeton battlefield rendered by Mercer's son Billy, who could neither hear nor speak. The painting, on loan from the Philadelphia History Museum, hangs nearby. In the same poignant gallery, a British bayonet, possibly one used on Mercer, is also on display.