The Battle of Groton Heights & The Burning of New London -- September 6, 1781
"We shall not surrender, let the consequences by what they may"-Col.Wm. Ledyard --Commander of Ft.Griswold
Battle of Groton Heights


(Painting by David Wagner- Groton City Hall)

At about the same time as Arnold and his men landed on the New London side of the Thames River a detachment of 800 men that included two regiments of British Regulars, a battalion of New Jersey Loyalists and a detachment of Yagers and Artillery. The plan was to delay and eventually destroy the ships from New London that were attempting to escape northward to Norwich (birthplace of Arnold) which was a few miles up the river albeit far enough inland that even Arnold feared as he could literally enter the "den of serpents" and never be heard of again. Norwich a town of considerable size could count along with the surrounding countryside bout 2,000 militia and some off duty Continentals. Add this concern to the time it would take the expedition to reach Norwich, the destroy the ships in that area and those that fled would allow Militia and Continental units enough to time to travel to the "rendezvous" as they did at Lexington & Concord in 1775.The "non-truth" is that of these 2,000 men many were already on duty in the Continental Army and the Militia were quite busy harvesting the late summer's crops.

The Groton landing occured at about the tip of Avery Point near the modern day lighthouse. Led by Lt.Col.Edmund Eyre a veteran of many
North American and European Campaigns. His expedition according to intelligence received was to take the high ground the fort that commanded the views above Groton Bank. This would allow his cannoneers an easy opportunity to destroy the fleeing ships and support the New London expedition while delaying or destroying any militia that was arriving from Stonington and Rhode Island.

Avery Point Lighthouse and Branford Mansion in Groton.

As Eyre's men moved through Groton they met almost no defense. The odd farmer would fire a pot shot but the majority had already responded to Col.Ledyard's call to arms and met at the Fort high above Groton Bank. Eyre's became embroiled in local swamp, thick and most difficult to move through. The forest in the area was also relatively dense and caused some delay. The invaders were finally noticed about 1/2 mile from the fort grounds as the forest caused the lines to be broken and the soldiers ran for cover expecting perhaps to be fired on.

Arnold in New London with his aide's now on above the Ancient Burial Ground noticed the fort was better defended and manned than expected. The intelligence he received was mostly faulty and he immediately dispatched a rider to counter command the order to take the fort.

Arnold: "
"I immediately dispatched a boat with an officer to Lieut. Col. Eyre, to countermand my first order to attack the fort, but the officer arrived a few minutes too late.  Lieut. Col. Eyre had sent Capt. Beckwith with a flag, to demand a surrender of the fort, which was peremptorily refused, and the attack had commenced.""

The fort as described by a British Officer:

"The fort was an oblong square, with bastions at opposite angles, its longest side fronting the river in a north-west and southeast direction.  Its walls were of stone, and were ten or twelve feet high on the lower side, and surrounded by a ditch.  On the wall were pickets, projecting over twelve feet; above this was a parapet with embrasures, and within a platform for cannon, and a step to mount upon, to shoot over the parapet with small arms.  In the south-west bastion was a flag-staff, and in the side near the opposite angle, was the gate, in front of which was a triangular breast-work to protect the gate; and to the right of this was a redoubt, with a three-pounder in it, which was about 120 yards from the gate.  Between the fort and the river was another battery, with a covered way, but which could not be used in this attack, as the enemy appeared in a different quarter."

1781 Map of Ft.Griswold


Plan of Ft.Griswold

Fort Griswold as seen today

Cannon of the 6 pound type was on the western side of the fort. The northern side by the main entry was flat and level and would play a major role in the soon to occur battle.

Within the fort one could expect up to 300 men to be stationed here but this was not the case on this day as many were confused or simple did not elect to respond to the alarm.


 
Connecticut Soldier During Rev.War
 & 6th Connecticut-Similar to Local Continental Army Uniforms


Hessian Yagers ca.1780



Upon arriving at the fort Eyre's deployed some of his men to move to the southern side while others followed to the east side and around to the northern side. A small detachment made a move on the western side but appeared to be diversionary as everyone knew it would be a suicide mission.

 
British Units Move on toward fort at 225th & 40th Foot (Montgomery's Men)

Col.Ledyard counted about 150 militia and volunteers that included the odd Continental on break and a couple of Stonington men who were enroute back to Stonington after having held guard duty at the Saybrook fort. The defenders of Ft.Trumbull that survived the escape were also in place and they included Capt.Shapley and Sergent Hempstead of New London among others.


At the 225th Anniversary, Survivors of Ft.Trumbull head to Ft.Griswold

The majority were farmers and local citizens of Groton Bank that had witnessed the first torch in New London or simply responded to the alarm as they could discern the distance in sound between warning shots of the cannon fired to alarm the countryside.


Militia Units March Into Fort at 225th Anniversary

Prior to moving on to the fort grounds Eyre formed his men in tight lines "formation" and gave the orders near the present day burial ground to the southeast of the fort. Major Montgomery and the 40th regiment took a meeting position and took formation a little further afield and to the west of Eyre's men. Both positions were protected by some tree coverage and hills.

At 12 o'clock Capt.Beckwith was sent to demand the unconditional surrender of the fort by Col.Eyre. Being in attack positions Col.Ledyard called a meeting with his officers in a council of war to discuss. They understood the fort was not well enough manned and had many faults and was not in the greatest repair but believe their alarm signals would bring hundreds of militia to their aid soon enough if they could hold out. Ledyard sent Captains Elijah Avery, Amos Stanton and John Williams volunteered to meet the flag and give their response to Eyre's demand.

A surprised Eyre gave his assurance that if obliged to storm the works,  martial law would be put into force which would give no quarter the men. The reply "We shall not surrender the fort, let the consequences be what they was given by Capt.Shapley of New London who just arrived to defend the fort. This statement would resonate through history and would tell the tale of the day. Earlier Col.Gallup of the Groton Militia had visited the fort and left to garner the force needed to defend the fort.
The tunnel-like passage Tunnel leading from southern defense to fort.

Dozens if not hundred of militia from Groton had responded and formed and began to move forward to defend the fort, however at the site of heavily armed British Regiments and the supporting Yagers many noticing the gleaming bayonets opted to stay hidden in the forest, while others pleaded with Capt.Stanton to quit the fort and retire to the countryside where a harassment campaign could be taken from behind trees and stonewalls, barns and house. Others pleaded with Capt.Stanton to draw the men out of the fort to meet the British on a level field one on one where the militia would openly fight and be accorded rights under the laws of war but in the fort they would be put to the sword if they survived. The odds were against the defense of the fort and  many of the local militia opted to retire to the woods and wait and see as they did not want to be slaughtered without hope. Col.Gallup stayed off in the woods with his men and awaited to see the result of the hopeless defense.

One of the few privateers to respond was naval captain Elias Halsey an experienced cannoneer. He would man the main cannon on the wall as the invaders approached. As Eyre's men moved forward a party of about 12 men fired a single discharge from the eastern battery and retired to the walls of the fort. With this the battle had begun...

At this point Col.Ledyard gave orders to hold fire until the first British detachment arrived at a point that would give his men the best chance to kill as many as possible. As the detachment moved on the fort Capt.Halsey fired his lone 18 pounder with  that was loaded with grape shot to cause the greatest damage. BOOM the cannon roared and 20 men of the detachment fell to the ground, some dead, some writing in pain without limbs. This discharge opened a wide hole in the lines and was quickly filled by human fodder. They continued to move on the fort...while many in the front line were now scattered, dragging arms, some wounded and trying to regroup all along still some kind of odd order was kept.


225th Anniversary- Defenders Artillery Firing on British
(Halsey's Position)

With the first rounds fired the entire field surrounding the fort was covered with scarlet uniforms of the regulars and they moved on to the southwest bastion under a deadly fire that ensued. A large crackling sound filled the air as the forts defenders fired on their targets. At appeared each had a target and each ball found its target.


Renderring of Bunker Hill -1775 -- Similar to the storming of Ft.Griswold



To the south and south west side of the fort british officers goaded their men to move on the fort even as they witnessed their comrades falling at the will of the defenders. It is here were Col.Eyre was greeted by a ball and was mortally wounded. He was carried from the field one of only many victims of the day. Major Montgomery came up in solid column formation and moved to the north side of the fort and eventually threw his entire force at the eastern side of the fort taking heavy casualties. Montgomery then approach the eastern redoubt that was abandoned and moved onto the fort walls. Setting up Lodgments on the ramparts the defense was incredible and the attackers could only be respected for facing such hell. The defenders continued pouring fire onto the ever closing in british regulars led by Montgomery. A valiant defense and attack to match were the rule.



New Jersey Loyalists Fire On Defenders




British and Loyalist Units Fire On Ft. Griswold

The defenders led by Halsey fired cannon, rocket and musket ball on their attackers at a fast pace but the scarlet coats only moved closer and closer. The regular begans to scale the 12 foot high pickets and were cut down, others followed orders and followed...As the regulars of the 40th poured over the pickets and to the top of the walls the major was killed by Jordan Freeman with a long pike.



225th Anniversary Portrayal of Jordan Freeman by his decendent killing Major Montgomery

Freeman one of two African-American free men in the fort was then cut to pieces by the regulars that soon enveloped the forts walls. To avenge the obvious death of their commander the British regulars moved onward at an even faster pace. As the regulars poured in over the walls and embrasures, the main flag of the fort was shot from it's stand. This was seen as a sign of surrender by the regulars and they rushed to the main gate only to be greeted with a thunderous volley of fire and cannon. Ever so enraged some made a move to open the main gates to allow the others in. They were greeted with musket fire, however others followed and eventually opened the main gates. The first man it is said to attempt to open the gate was killed instantly by a musket ball to his head.


British Troops at 225th Operating Under Fire

The main gate now open Col-Ledyard ordered resistance to cease and for the defenders to throw down their arms. This was done immediately as the situation was past desperate and only hopeless. There was not any re-enforcement coming nor was there any opportunity to wait. However the enraged regulars were not checked of their rage and this would play a major role in what was to happen.

In the southwest of the fort resistance continued, unaware of what happened at the main gate behind them the regulars took contol of one of the cannon at the north side that they now occupied and fired two successive volleys at the defenders. Capt.Shapley and Lt.Chapman fell at this point. The survivors on this side of the fort quickly threw down their weapons and asked for mercy.


British Artillery at 225th Anniversary

As the regulars came in they formed in platoons and fired on those running to hide in the various officers quarters & barracks, magazine area and around the forts corners. It is said at this point Major Bromfield the only senior officer left standing commanded "Who commands this fort?" with that Col.Ledyard stepped forward, raising and lowering his sword as he said "I did sir but you do now..." as was customary to honor the victor. Bromfield enraged and likely embarassed that so much "rabble" had disabled so much of his force and that they were goaded into believing with the lowering of the flag that they were surrendering... lunged toward Ledyard killing him with one stab through the heart and lungs. Ledyard fell and thus began the massacre of the defenders.



Painting by David Wagner of the Battle of Groton Heights- Murder of Col.Ledyard
(Please click on Picture to Order a Reprint of this famous painting)

Those nearest to Ledyard leaned to support him while Capt.Peter Richards, seriously injured but still standing, noble, confident and strong holding Ledyard, along with others in the vacinity including Col.Ledyard's nephew Youngs moved forward to avenge their commander. All were cut down by bayonet, some having received up to 30 stab wounds.

Chaos had broken loose. There was no escape and no quarter given or expected. The surviving defenders grabbed what they could to defend themselves while platoon after platoon entered the forts grounds first firing on then bayonetting every American they saw regardless of age.

As the regulars poured in they hunted down those hiding under platforms and beds with the edge of the bayonnet. Many of these men had their hands chopped to bits as this was their only defense. Others like a farmer from the area named Malison, big and brauny was stabbed several times in the hands, he finally lunged forward, hopped over the walls and ran into the nearby forest. A platoon fired a round after him but all missed their target.

Hartford native William Seymour visiting the area  was tabbed 13 times after having nearly lost his leg below the knee by a musket ball. Ensign Woodsmansee lay wounded and partially hidden was slashed by cutlass on his hands and arms. Lt.Parke Avery of Groton had hi skull smashed, brain matter on his clothes and lost an eye. He survived 40 more year after pretending to be dead. New London's Lt.Stephen Hempstead who came over from Ft.Trumbull with Capt. Shapley had been several broken ribs and an arm, was stabbed and took nearly 11 months to recover.

17 Year old Thomas Avery, son of Lt.Parke Avery who was killed in the battle followed his father in death. It is reported that while fighting by his father's side Lt.Avery said "
"Tom, my son, do your duty."  "Never fear, father," was the reply, and the next minute he was stretched upon the ground.  "Tis in a good cause,""

Into the barracks and magazine went the platoons hunting down in anger their prey, killing several times over the same men. Upon seeing the slaughter a british commander demanded the butchery stopped and this took some time before the order was heeded. Likely out his own worry for safety as the powder magazine could blow with the first spark and all would be casualties of the day. "Stop! Stop" yelled a british officer..."In the name of heaven I say stop, My soul cannot bear it" he screamed.  Finally the slaughter ended. Small fires were about, blood covered every part of the ground, grunts and groans of the wounded and dying could be heard to a deafening level.

The wounded were arranged in a cart, the dead left in place. Dead British soldiers were hastily buried, legs, arms and faces of some sticking out of their shallow graves. The dead American's were looted of their belongings, some had clothes taken off for use as bandages, others simply had it stolen. Major Montgomery and the officers were buried at the front of the fort where they fell.

The wounded Amercians loaded onto a cart was hastily deployed toward the waterfront. Those mortally wounded and determined not to cause any harm due to their injuries numbering about 35 were paroled and left behind outside of the fort. The non-fatal wounded numbering about 30 were marched toward the river bank to be imprisoned on a ship outside of New York a fate maybe worse than death. 85 defenders lay dead on the fort or very very near death, a handful escaped and the rest already mentioned.

Those, about 20 in number thrown into an ammunitions cart as the fort's magazine was to be destroyed were hastily arranged and pushed forwarded. This was done hastily as British commanders feared the countryside soon would fill with militia looking for avengence. Soldiers pushed the cart almost to a running pace until it broke loose.

As reported by F.M.Calkins:

"
About twenty soldiers wee then employed to drag this wagon down the hill, to a safe distance from the expected explosion.  From the brow of the ridge on which the fort stood, to the brink of the river, was a rapid descent of one hundred rods, uninterrupted except by the roughens of the surface, and by scattered rocks, brushes, and stumps of trees.  The weight of the wagon after it had begun to move, pressing heavily upon the soldiers, they let go their hold, and darting aside, left it to its own impetus.  On it went, with accelerated velocity, surmounting every impediment, till near the foot of the hill, when it came against the trunk of a large apple-tree, with a force that caused it to recoil and sway round.  This arrested its course, but gave a sudden access of torture to the sufferers.  The violence of the shock is said to have caused instant death to some of them; others fainted, and two or three were thrown out to the ground.  The enemy, after a time, gathered up the bleeding men, and carried them into a house near by, belonging to Ensign Avery, who was himself one of the party in the wagon.  The house had been previously set on fire, but they extinguished the flames, and left the wounded men there on parole, taking as hostage for them, Ebenezer Ledyard, brother of the commander of the fort."

Eb.Avery House



The prisoners and soldiers now boarded transports that awaited at the base of the hill on Groton Bank. The houses and buildings in this area were all looted and torched sharing the same fate as those on the New London side. Sometimes it appeared the troops were running to get aboard led by officers dragging fellow officers onboard. The countryside was slowing coming to life again. Men and boys, militia and independent citizens pitchforks, muskets, clubs, and pikes jammed the roadways from Norwich, Stonington and Groton, they arrived by the dozens from Lyme and Colchester, Preston and Lebanon already looking for a fight. Without any organized leadership, this unbeknownst to the british only sporadic defense or aevengence could be the rule.

The prisoners now loaded on the transport ships soon hauled off at sunset, the embers of the fires now extinguished the countryside was grey with ash and black without lights.

The fire to be set to a trail of gunpowder to blow up the magazine and send the dead to heaven or hell was put out either by the blood soaked ground or by the act of a local patriot that ventured in right after to extinguish the flames. No new effort was undertaken to start the fire as the British troops hastily retired to the transports.

Casualties:


American-
85 Killed
39 Wounded
30 Taken Prisoner

British-
48 Killed
145 Wounded

Note:
Of those taken prisoner many were never heard of again and assumed they died in transport on onboard prison ship. Of the British casualties it was reported by a British officer in his report that upon arriving in New York they were  220 men less than when they embarked. This would mean the majority of the wounded were mortal and died on ship. This number also must take into consideration the number killed by sporadic fire in Groton and perhaps along Groton Bank.

 

 

 

 

 

Defenders of
Fort Griswold September 6, 1781

 






Ledyard, Lieut. Col. William, Commanding

Note: Lieut. Col. William Ledyard was killed

 
       

KILLED

   
        Avery, Capt. Elijah Perkins, Luke Morgan, Issac
        Avery, Capt. Elisha Perkins, Asa Rowley, Issac
        Avery, Lieut. Ebenezer Perkins, Elnathan Stow, Lieut. Jabez
        Avery, Ensign Daniel Perkins, Simeon Smith, Corp. Josiah
        Avery, Sergt. Cristopher Richards, Capt. Peter Sanford, Holsey
        Avery, Sergt. Jasper Shapley, Capt. Adam Tift, Solomon
        Avery, Sergt. Solomon Stanton, Capt. Amos Wales, Horatio
        Avery, David Stanton, Lieut. Enos Welles, Thos.
        Avery, Thomas Stanton, Sergt. Daniel  
        Allyn, Capt. Samuel Stedman, Sergt. John K.

Wounded
and
Paroled

        Allyn, Capt. Simeon Star, Sergt. Nicholas Avery, Jr., Lieut. Parke
        Allyn, Belton Sholes, Corp. Nathan Avery, Capt. Ebenezer
        Allyn, Benadam Starr, Jr., Thomas Avery, Amos
        Adams, Nathaniel Seabury, David Daboll, Jr., John
        Burrows, Capt Hubbard. Williams, Capt. John Eldridge, Christopher
        Bailey, Sergt. Ezekiel Williams, Lieut. Henry Eldridge, Ensign John
        Billings, Corp. Andrew Ward, Lieut Patric Eldridge, Daniel
        Baker, Andrew Walworth, Sylvester Edgecomb, Jr., Samuel
        Babcock, John P. Wedger, Joseph Gallup, Andrew
        Billings, John Williams, Thomas Gallup, Robert
        Billings, Samuel Williams, Daniel Hempstead, Sergt. Stephen
        Bolton, William Whittlesey, John Judd, Corp. Jehial
        Brown, John Whittlesey, Stephen Latham, Capt. William
        Butler, Johnathan Woodbridge, Christopher Latham, Capt. Edward
        Chapman, Lieut. Richard Woodbridge, Henry Latham, Jr., Jonathan
        Chester, Sergt. Eldredge   Latham, Jr., Christopher
        Chester, Daniel

ESCAPED

Moore, Frederick
        Chester, Jedediah Bill, Benjamin Morgan, John
        Chester, Frederic Bill, Joshua Pendleton, Joseph
        Clark, John Holdridge, Benajah Perkins, Capt. Solomon
        Colt, Elias Jaques, Samuel Perkins, Lieut. Obadiah
        Comstock, Lieut. James Lester, Amos Perkins, Ebenezer
        Comstock, William Leeds, Cary Prior, Elisha
        Covill, Philip Latham, Jr., William Starr, Lieut. William
        Davis, Daniel Mason, Henry Starr, John
        Eldredge, Daniel Mason, Japheth Stanton, Jr., Daniel
        Freeman, Jordan (colored) Morgan, James Seymour, William
        Halsey, Capt Elias Henry. Mallinson, Thomas Woodmansie, Ensign Jos.
        Hill, Samuel Moxley, Joseph Wiilliams, Sanford
        Holt, Jr., John Morgan, Elisha Woodworth, Asel
        Hulburt, Sergt. Rufus Prentis, John Woodworth, Thomas
        Jones, Eliday   Woodworth, Zibe
        Jones, Moses

PRISONERS
CARRIED
OFF

Stillman, Samuel
        Kenson, Benoni Avery, Caleb Wansuc, Tom (Pequot Indian)
        Kinney, Barney Avery, Sergt. Rufus Stanton, Edward
        Ledyard, Capt.Youngs Abraham, Samuel  
        Leeds, Capt. Carey Baker, Joshua  
        Lewis, Lieut. Joseph Beaumont, Samuel  
        Lester, Ensign John Buddington, Walter  
        Lester, Daniel D. Bushnell, Reuben  
        Lester, Jonas Chester, Charles  
        Lester, Wait Darrow, Nathan  
        Lamb, Thomas Dart, Elias  
        Latham, Lambo (colored) Dart, Levi  
        Moore, Capt. Nathan Edgecomb, Gilbert  
        Mills, Corp. Edward Eldridge, Daniel  
        Morgan, Corp. Simeon Fish, Ebenezer  
        Miner, Thomas Harding, Jeremiah  
        Moxley, Joseph Kilburn, -----  
        Perkins, Jr., Corp. Luke Ledyard, Ebenezer  
        Palmer, David Latham, William  
        Perkins, Elisha Minor, Jonathan  

The national historic site is set on the place of battle 
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