When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
September 6, 1780 New London Burnt and Fort Griswold taken
In September 1781, one of the British Army’s newest generals — Benedict Arnold — was eager to prove himself after defecting the year before. On the morning of September 6th, a combined force of 1,700 British regulars, loyalist soldiers, and Hessian Jaegers landed on each side of the mouth of the Thames River; the western party headed north towards New London while the eastern party marched north to attack Fort Griswold, the large, star-shaped fortification primarily responsible for protecting New London harbor.
Arnold himself led the western raiding party into New London, where they were met with virtually no resistance as local militia had spread the alarm early enough for most residents to evacuate the city. There, Arnold and his men put the torch to over a hundred homes, businesses, warehouses, and docked ships. Meanwhile, the patriots in Fort Griswold under the command of Colonel William Ledyard put up a valiant defense. Ledyard’s men were ultimately forced to surrender after being overwhelmed by the British attack party’s superior numbers. According to numerous eyewitnesses, the British proceeded to storm the fort and slaughter most of the American soldiers, including Colonel Ledyard, after they had surrendered. In total, 85 out of an estimated 150 – 170 defenders at Fort Griswold were slain before the British spiked the American cannons and returned to their boats.
Even though the Battle of Fort Griswold and simultaneous raid on New London were tactical British victories, Arnold was criticized by his superiors for the high casualty rate incurred by the men under his command (about a quarter of which were killed or wounded) and for the controversial behavior of the British soldiers at Fort Griswold.
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