On the morning of September 6, 1781, notably a warm morning New London awoke as it did on most mornings. The wharf houses along the Bank were teaming with activity already. Stuffed with the cargo of prizes like those of the Hannah dockworkers and merchants alike began their daily dance. A large british fleet had left New York harbor a little more than a day earlier enroute to New London with the mission to seize goods and destroy the rebels penchant for privateering. As the british navy sailed up the Long Island Sound Colonel Ledyard, the commander of American Forces in the region was busy making his rounds insuring the forts on both sides were in usuable shape.
The British Fleet headed by Adm.Thomas Graves now anchored off Long Island since the night before waiting for the large flotilla including troop transports to assemble, and not more than 10 miles from New London went un-noticed. With more than 32 sail a fleet of this size would have been hard not to notice, this leads to a suggestion that the various Sea Coast Guards were asleep while on duty or simply enough not present. Warning was given according to New London County's foremost expert on history Frances Manwaring Calkins as it is believed that so many false alarms had sounded in the war that the local militia never took notice.
(Adm.Thomas Graves ca. 1798)
The fleet closed in on the mouth of the Thames River around 9am. By 10am the first of the transport boats landed on the New London side about 3 miles from the center of town. It is said that on the New London side the troops landed dozens of transport boats near the light house about 1/2 mile from Ocean Beach then known as Brown's Gate. From this area of New London which was mostly farmland and a simple road called Town Hill Road dotted with a handful of homes, very reminiscent of "Battle Road" in Concord, MA of which the seasoned veteran troops were very well aware of.
At this landing the alarm was sounded from Fort Griswold it consisted of two regular guns at fixed intervals -- this was the signal to call in assistance from the neighboring country, while three guns was the signal of rejoicing, to give notice of a victory or a prize. It was evident that these signals had been communicated to the enemy, for when the two distress guns were fired, one of the large ships in the fleet added a third, so as to alter the import. This stratagem had some influence in delaying or cancelling the arrival of militia. It is also believed that Arnold whom knew the signals ordered a third shot fired to cancel the alarm. There is some belief that Lyme 2nd Society resident Elisha Beckwith a known Tory gave this information as well as the plans of the town and defenses to the british command to help execute their plan.
As the troops comprised of the 38th Regulars, The American Legion, Loyal Americans, Refugees, and about 60 Hessian Yagers (Jågers) all totaled at 800 landed and offloaded cannon (field pieces), supplies commanded by Norwich Native Benedict Arnold who just one year before turned coat in West Point, NY. Arnold well known in these parts and previously a hero who led these very people into battle against British Gen.John Burgoynes troops at Saratoga now would face his friends. Arnold known for his hunger for fame and credit proudly set forth the plan of the raid.
Benedict Arnold in Continental Army Uniform ca.1775 (Conn.Historical Soc.)
Some local militia, likely local homeowners began to engage the invaders and opened a sporadic fire on the British Troops. However not at the same verocity as at Lexington and Concord it was however well noted by Benedict Arnold himself in his report to Sir. Henry Clinton on September 8, 1781. Even though the alarm was altered townspeople sprang of their "slumber", men grabbed their muskets and a great chaos was laid on the town. As the sound of musketry filled the quiet morning towns in New London began to hastily pack their personal items and flee for the northern parish (north) and local militia units, homeowners and Continental Soldiers off duty began to rise for a defense.
As Arnold's men moved forward reaching about 700 yards of Ft.Trumbull at 11am they encountered a heavy fire from a small redoubt known as (Fort Nonsense) to their left and on a rise above their positions. Arnold who had sent Yagers to skirmish with the sporadic resistance he met now sent 4 companies of his crack 38th regulars under the command of veteran Captain Millet to "snuff out" the resistance on the rise. This resistance had fired upon Arnold*s men for some time finally dispersing at the approach of Capt.Millet and his 4 companies. At this redoubt 4 cannon mounted and 2 unmounted were seized. Much to the happiness of Arnold this "hot fire" was put out.
Captain Millet was then joined by a company of American Legion commanded by a Captain Frink and they headed toward Fort Trumbull.
Fort Trumbull was a simple blockhouse with cannon facing the river and the sound. Built in honor of the Governor John Trumbull Trumbull was not yet complete and offered no defense of a land attack. At Fort Trumbull was New Londoner Capt. Adam Shapley a well respected military mind in New London and a veteran of many campaigns including White Plains and Long Island. Shapley's home was just off the Bank and was within a brisk walk to the fort. In the fort was Shapley and about 23 militia and off duty continentals. Shapley had met with Colonel Ledyard earlier in the morning and was given orders to fire a respective round in defiance, spike the cannons and flee to Groton to help man the defense there.
Ft.Trumbull Block House Renderring ca.1795
Map of Ft.Trumbull-British Officer
As soon as Captain's Millet and Frink marched up a side road, slightly closer to the river bank and arrived within site of the cannons that were turned to defend they organized in tight rows and received a shot of grape causing about 5 casualties (killed or wounded). The defenders spiked the cannons, fired a round and headed for several row boats that were set up near the eastern side of the fort. As the British fell on the fort and the defenders scurried to their boats Arnold and his men continued to move on to New London's waterfront. Under orders from Arnold one company was left to guard Ft.Trumbull and one at the redoubt taken earlier. The other two moved in double time to meet up with Arnold as he approached the town.
The men of Ft.Trumull hurried across the Thames River to join the men stationed their, possibly unbeknownst to them that another 800 of the enemy had landed on the Groton side near Avery Point. Some of the ships in the Thames of the British Navy were able to fire on the row boats taking some prisoners and killing or wounding some of the other men. Capt. Shapley and his number made it safely to land on the Groton side and hurried up that hill to join Col. Ledyard. The wounded from Ft.Trumbull and from the move across the Thames River were carried up the hill to the fort and numbered about half the men.
As Arnold neared New London town he paused to survey the town that he would soon fall on. He continued to receive sporadic fire from independent militiamen but not enough to slow their movement forward. Arnold then continued on led by the 60 Hessian Yagers and 100 New Jersey Loyalists in addition. Upon arrival at the corner Town Hill Road and The Bank Arnold came under fire from a battery on a hill to their left again. A single field piece manned by 4 independent and resolute citizens, likely a 6 pounder used for celebrations offered the last line of resistance to Arnold. With this "Hot fire" Arnold sent a detachment up Blackhall Street (off The Bank) and the defenders fled. However as this detachment moved onto the former position of the defenders they came under an increasing amount of random fire from local militia hidden behind the stone walls and trees. In this area formerly called Manwaring Hill a single house stood, the Manwaring House. Taking so much random fire the detachment fell onto the house and began to throw out the china, broke the furniture and in a summary... they ransacked this sole house.This house was then given the torch as it was suspected of housing some of those firing upon them.
The detachment likely in fear of being "harassed" like Battle Road left the house and returned to their units. The house now on fire was saved as likely the local militia men entered and poured some soap onto the flames this extinguishing the flames.
According to F.M.Calkins the story goes that when the owner later returned to this house he found a dying young british soldier, wounded and left for dead by his comrades on the side of the road. Calling for water and bleeding profusely he was carried into the house, nursed back enough to give his name and information and a note for his parents now exiled and living in Nova Scotia. He was but 18 years old and was later buried on modern day Williams Street a few yards fro the house along with three other British Soldiers that were killed in action by the militia.
As Arnold moved onto The Bank his units came under some additional resistance. Lt.Col.Upham commander of the New Jersey Loyalists noted in his letter to Governor Franklin( loyalist) in New Jersey; "We proceeded to the town of New London, constantly skirmishing with rebels, who fled from hill to hill, and stone-fences which intersected the country at small distances. Having reached the southerly part of the town, the general requested me to take possession of the hill north of the meeting-house, where the rebels had collected, and which they seemed resolved to hold. We made a circle to the left, and soon gained the ground in contest. Here we had one man killed and one wounded. This height being the outpost, was left to us and the yagers. here we remained exposed to a constant fire from the rebels on the neighboring hills, and from the fort on the Groton side, until the last was carried by the British troops."
Arnold then sent detachments to various parts of the town. One half of the units would follow the Bank and destroy the wharf houses ,supply businesses and burn any ships in range while the other half would head toward the center of the town conducting raids on various known military and patriot "rebel" leaders homes. This second unit would also squash any resistance and would offer a defense to those who were putting the torch to the waterfront in case the militia was to fall in on their positions.
The New Jersey Loyalists under Col.Upham moved far into New London and entered the outskirts of the town center near the Colchester Road(Vauxhall Street) via Cape Anne Street and Lewis Lane . Here they ransacked houses especially that of Picket Latimer which was filled with possessions of those that left the town and burned the contents when possible. While conducting this business they again came under fire from a group of militia/citizens that arranged on a hill above Vauxhall Street. They were half armed, likely awakened by the sound of the morning's cannon and many were without arms. They kept up a brisk fire on Upham's men from a position above the Olde Burial Ground. Upham ordered the Heesian Yagers to fire on these men and they did dispersing them into the countryside.
From this point Col.Upham established a field piece, taken from Fort Nonsense on the hill and began to fire at the American ships on the River that were attempting to head northward to Norwich as the wind was originally light and against them they had great difficulty in fleeing but about the same time as the field piece was set up on the hill by Upham the wind shifted and allowed the ships to set sail and flee northward to safer waters.
One note from their firing on the ships is that a cannon ball went through the door of local militia commander Capt.Robert Hallam near the ca. 1650 Grist Mill by the modern day Gold Star Bridge according to F.M.Calkins-New London County 19th century historian.
Col.Upham's detachment provided a lead cover for Arnold's men who slowly moved forward through modern day Hempstead Street. A handful of citizens became eyewitnesses to history as they witnessed Arnold continue forward to a high point of ground with an excellent view of Groton Bank and the fort on that side. This height of land is just above the Ancient Cemetery and this is where it is suggested that Arnold changed his mind in seeing the the fort was well manned and a frontal assault would be reminscent of Bunker Hill in Boston. From here he gave his orders to stop the attack on Groton Heights but it was too late, he would watch the events on that side before continuing destruction in New London. With spyglass in hand on horseback Arnold and his party moved down Richards Street behind part of the force that split from them earlier providing some degree of security.
The detachment that earlier went along the waterfront now entered the North part of the town at Winthrop Cove and eventually Winthrop Neck where several homes were. The cover was where ships were built and docked. The torch was now placed on several craft that was tied up as well as to the old Grist Mill and some houses that were in this area. The homes of the Plumbs family and the estate of Gen.Gurdon Saltonstall whose son Dudley would play a vital role in the fight for freedom along with several other fine estates were burned to the ground. In this area it is said only the Merril House escaped the torch. Slightly further afield was the Richards House on Richards Street spared likely because the daughter of militia Captain Guy Richards was lying ill inside. Marked for the torch it was spared by a considerate act of a British Officer. An act too barbarous that would cause the death of a sick female in it. The troops moved on...
The invaders moved back down along Water Street (The Bank) and began to set the torch to several private homes and the local customs house. Also some storage buildings, merchant shops, a mill, a mechanic shops and eventually the wharehouses that were stuffed with the prizes of their privateering captures. A long line of destruction from Winthrop Cove down to the heart of New London at the Bank. Arnold pointed his sword and yelled "Soldiers do your duty" and they began to set the torch to the ships and wharehouses yet to be fired and this they did with a fever and wreckless abandon.
Here lay the Hannah, Sir Henry Clinton's prize ship. Taken in the summer by the Minerva of New London at Shaw's Cove & Wharf it is likely they thought to refit her and return her to Sir Henry Clinton however it was decided likely out of utter disgust and fear for rendevouzing militia units that were massing on the outskirts of New London it was best to burn and set her adrift which they did like a viking ship with its hold of an expired viking king. The Hannah engulfed in flames slowly floated toward Winthrop Cove and eventually sank burned to the waterline. The wharfhouse and wharf of the Shaw family was set a fire and all contents destroyed.
Oliver Cromwell of Essex, Ct. & HMS Rose similar to the Minerva & HMS Hanna
The torch was then set to anything in place... from piles of lumber/firewood to coils of rope and rigging, hogsheads were smashed in and contents trampled and burned if and when possible. There was little resistance of any kind at this point. Citizens had fled and the men who remained were either too old or too sick to defend even their own homes. It is said that some opted to die in their beds under the torch than be taken away by the marauding invaders of Arnold.
Anrold directed his men to set the torch to the court house and jail, it is not known whether any of the prisoners remained in the jail but it too located near the modern day parade was burned to the ground. The episcapalian church was then torched perhaps by a loyalist with so much disdain for his fellow countrymen who had turned against the king... this in turn led to the neighboring dwellings many here since the founding of the town were now enflamed. The city streets were thick with smoke and the sound of embers hitting their new marks.
As a detachment headed toward Bradley Street off Main the torch was denied as this row of houses held one that was " a friend to the local government" and someone whom had given intelligence to Arnold. This row of homes was spared and was coined "Widows Row". The troops moved on setting fire, destroying belongings and so on... Near Green Street stood a Tavern, well known by locals and it was spared the torch as Hessian Yagers and Loyalists entered drinking rum and ale to their glory. Her table was set for her husband a sergeant in the local militia was in the area harassing the invaders with random fire that began as the militia organized. As she escaped by the skin of her teeth on horseback. However it was later understood that she set the table for her Tory brother who was with the party that invaded New London. Oddly enough F.M.Calkins wrote that the same Tory captain later in life applied and was given leave as his health was failing... he returned to New London and died in the same house.
The western side of Main Street was spared, this included the Timothy Green printing shop and several homes and a handful of buildings. It is likely that the torch was meant for known militia member houses and storage facilities and not "all property" however in history it is seen as the latter.
The Timothy Green Print Shop on State Street (Main Street)
Arnold's men continued to do their duty as they torched all in sight including buildings of their friends and sometimes family. As Arnold and his officers decided to enjoy a meal at a home of an acquaintance that home near The Bank also caught fire and Arnold escaped in the nick of time.
Having received intelligence on who the defenders of the fort were Arnold marked out the dwellings and property of those men for complete destruction. Homes and fishing smacks in the south of the town were leveled by the torch. As the torch was being set to fishing craft too small to play any act against the king other than feeding its owner an old man ventured out of his hiding place of a tree and stonewall and asked the soldiers to spare his boat as this was all he had. They apologized but went about their duty and burned his craft to the waterline. In a small house near the Shaw Wharf at Shaw's Neck a small house stood, a woman still inhabiting the house came out with her gackle of children and begged the soldiers to spare her house as her husband had been dead for many years and she had nothing... The officers obliged and spared her house.
As the soldiers moved up the loop on the Bank they burned everything in site. They arrived at Nathaniel Shaw's Stone house and lit if on several sides as this rare house would be a challenge to torch. Soldiers ran in and looted the property, breaking china and furniture as they moved. All buildings in the yard were consumed and if not for the acts of a neighbor who hid behind the house the stone mansion of the Shaw family would have been leveled as well. The neighbor approached as the soldiers left, using a pipe he broke open a barrel of vinegar and began to extinguish the flames via a cleaver method of pouring the liquid down the roof until the flames were out. He used the same method to spare other homes below the Shaw house from the same fate.
The destruction of the The Bank continued. The northern side was filled with fine stately homes of ships captains and merchants, anything that appeared of value were destroyed. Warehouses full of provisions, ships, and more burned to the ground. It is here that a store of gunpowder used by the colonial militia and the Continental Army was set in flames and thus exploded causing additional fires to sweep through the town. Although it is said that Arnold himself played by the rules of war and spared private homes of those who had nothing to do with any harassment of his troops, several obnoxious homeowners remained to protect their property and were either burned to death in their homes or were dragged out to the street to witness the destruction of their property. Now destruction was complete.
Instances of "odd" kindness did occur. Arnold himself it said to have spared the life of several people who could not leave their homes. In one instance he met with a lady who was in the house with her decrepit and dying father. She dragged her father out with walking stick, retreated to rear garden and met with an officer (aide to Arnold). She begged for his mercy and he stood there protecting her house. Other acts including arresting a culprit (loyalist) who had looted a house of fine clothing. He arrested the culprit and forced him to return the property. That house was also spared.
Other acts of butchery in the likely fever of war occured. After an old man met with some of the soldiers begging to spare his home as he was old and ill. They agreed and moved on. The old man retired to his garden possibly awaiting for the torch anyway... another detachment walked by, spotted the man and fired at him thinking he was militia. The man dropped dead on the spot.
Militia units responding to the several cancelled alarms arrived by the dozens from Norwich and Colchester, Lyme and Saybrook all looking for orders. While no one was there to organize a response several "groups" of militia responded by setting up positions along the outskirts behind trees and stonewalls. These men took positions along Town Hill road, the road that would take Arnold and the raiders back to their transports. Some incident of random fire was noted, and some prisoners were taken as some of the loyalists and Yagers enjoyed the spirits that were taken a little too much. In one instance there were six Yagers drunk and almost passed out. They were taken prisoner and probably did not even realize it. However the majority of the militia, now numbering perhaps 500 too no part in the response. Possibly awaiting orders from a commander or too afraid to respond as they were outnumbered.
Several of the townspeople were taken away with the British as they lurked to near to the marauding troops possibly looking for a days loot or excited to see the action of the day. No true number has been assigned to this.
Upon their return to the transport boats awaiting near the lighthouse there was some light harassment of the troops but nothing considerable to delay their return. According to F.M.Calkins..."A single anecdote will suffice to show the spirit of the inhabitants, male and female. A farmer, whose residence was a couple of miles from he town-plot, on hearing the alarm-guns in the morning, started from his bed and made instant preparations to hasten to the scene of action. He secreted his papers, took gun and cartridge-box, bade farewell to his family, and mounted and put spurs to his horse. When about four or five rods from the doors, his wife called after him -- he turned to receive her last commands-- "John! John! " she exclaimed, "don't get shot in the back!""
Those who did assemble took a couple prisoners fired an odd pot shot at the departing regulars but no organized resistance was given to them. Without a commander it was impossible for groups of farmers with some militia to engage a professional army to any degree of success.
65- Private Dwellings
9- Public & Other Buildings
Unknown- Number of smaller buildings of different kinds too numerous to account for.
Total: 143 Buildings Accounted for as "burned to the ground".
All in all 97 families were left homeless.
12 Ships were burned to the waterline of these 4 were armed.
50 cannon were destroyed on shore and unknown number onboard ships that were burned.
Complete destruction of the Wharves and wharfhouses
While it is not known via recorded data for the number of total casualties civilian and military it is estimated based on reports of the more contemporary sort that less 20 civilians were killed.
Military losses may have been combined with those from the Groton Heights Attack. These numbers for the New London side are best guess estimates.
Militia- 6 killed & 12 Wounded
British- 6 killed & 12 Wounded
8 taken Prisoner (1 Hessian officer & 6 Yagers & 1 American Legion)
Civilians- Unknown number taken away as prisoner
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
30 Taken Prisoner
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.
Avery, Capt. Elijah
Avery, Capt. Elisha
Avery, Lieut. Ebenezer
Stow, Lieut. Jabez
Avery, Ensign Daniel
Smith, Corp. Josiah
Avery, Sergt. Cristopher
Richards, Capt. Peter
Avery, Sergt. Jasper
Shapley, Capt. Adam
Avery, Sergt. Solomon
Stanton, Capt. Amos
Stanton, Lieut. Enos
Stanton, Sergt. Daniel
Allyn, Capt. Samuel
Stedman, Sergt. John K.
Allyn, Capt. Simeon
Star, Sergt. Nicholas
Avery, Jr., Lieut. Parke
Sholes, Corp. Nathan
Avery, Capt. Ebenezer
Starr, Jr., Thomas
Daboll, Jr., John
Burrows, Capt Hubbard.
Williams, Capt. John
Bailey, Sergt. Ezekiel
Williams, Lieut. Henry
Eldridge, Ensign John
Billings, Corp. Andrew
Ward, Lieut Patric
Edgecomb, Jr., Samuel
Babcock, John P.
Hempstead, Sergt. Stephen
Judd, Corp. Jehial
Latham, Capt. William
Latham, Capt. Edward
Chapman, Lieut. Richard
Latham, Jr., Jonathan
Chester, Sergt. Eldredge
Latham, Jr., Christopher
Perkins, Capt. Solomon
Perkins, Lieut. Obadiah
Comstock, Lieut. James
Latham, Jr., William
Starr, Lieut. William
Stanton, Jr., Daniel
Freeman, Jordan (colored)
Halsey, Capt Elias Henry.
Woodmansie, Ensign Jos.
Holt, Jr., John
Hulburt, Sergt. Rufus
Wansuc, Tom (Pequot Indian)
Avery, Sergt. Rufus
Leeds, Capt. Carey
Lewis, Lieut. Joseph
Lester, Ensign John
Lester, Daniel D.
Latham, Lambo (colored)
Moore, Capt. Nathan
Mills, Corp. Edward
Morgan, Corp. Simeon
Perkins, Jr., Corp. Luke