The Danbury Raid and the Battle of Ridgefield
Ed established the background of the Danbury raid by giving a short synopsis of the Revolutionary War up to the raid with particular emphasis on British troop positioning, Benedict Arnold’s accomplishments and injuries and all armies’ inability to fight during winter months. He also pointed out that the British raid on Lexington was similar to the later raid on Danbury except that the British learned from their earlier mistake in Lexington of fighting where they didn’t know the land.
In April, 1777, General Howe directed William Tryon, royal governor of New York to destroy a magazine of American stores and provisions at Danbury, Connecticut. Tryon was to be assisted by Generals Agnew and Erskine. Around two thousand British forces together with some loyalists familiar with the territory set sail on April 23 and landed at Compo Beach in the evening of the 25th. Their landing was unopposed and the British, after some delay, set out for Danbury.
The British march continued unopposed, except for some minor skirmishing with seventeen rebel militiamen near country road, throughout the night until they reached the site of the Episcopal Church in Redding, CT. At that point, Episcopal loyalists identified farmers who were rebel supporters and some British troops took some time to arrest the rebels while the main force went on to Danbury where they burned the supply magazine and most of the town.
During the time the British initially landed and their march up to Danbury the word spread to elements of the rebel militia, some Continental troops. Word also reached Benedict Arnold who was recovering from a wound in New Haven. Arnold had been in a bad frame of mind due to five generals who had accomplished little or nothing getting promoted over him. Nevertheless, when word reached him of the British efforts he rode to Redding where he found Generals Wooster and Silliman with about 500 militiamen and one hundred Continentals. Together they marched to Bethel where they ascertained that Danbury had been torched. Hoping to catch the British on their return they split forces with Arnold and Silliman taking men to Ridgefield while Wooster trailed the British.
Wooster made first contact with the British and attacked them with a flanking movement that inflicted heavy British losses. He then attempted a subsequent flanking attack where he was mortally wounded by a sniper and his forces retreated. At this point, the British were near Ridgefield and came on to Arnold’s position. Arnold and Silliman had thrown up a makeshift barricade of carts, logs, stones and earth. The Patriots also had been reinforced by about one hundred additional militiamen who were responding to the news of the British invasion. Tryon attacked the position, but was rebuffed several times. Tryon then had flanking parties attack from both sides, General Agnew, leading one up a rock ridge. Arnold retreated unable to hold the flanks against superior numbers. The British then camped for the night resuming their march at sunrise while taking fire from aroused citizenry who supported the rebels.
Meanwhile, Arnold had collected his forces and secured some fieldpieces. He posted his force to command both roads that Tryon might use to regain access to his ships. But a loyalist showed the British a ford across the river he needed to cross and thus avoided Arnold’s forces. The British then marched until reaching Compo Hill where they set up a defensive position. The Americans attempted to attack the hill, but were repulsed by General Erskine who led a bayonet charge against the attack and broke it.
Arnold was disgusted by the militiamen’s fighting capabilities demonstrated during these series of fights and vowed never to fight with militia again. But in spite of the Danbury losses, Arnold’s reputation was enhanced and he received a promotion to Major General. However, Arnold did not outrank the five generals who had previously been promoted over him, which continued to be a personal sore spot. Later Arnold defeated the British at Saratoga, which was sufficient to bring the French in on the Patriot side.
Questions and Answers
Q. Did the British have any Hessians with them?
A. No. But about one-third to one-half of the British troops had fought at Lexington and/or Concord.
Q. When did the British finally leave the Colonies?
A. The Yorktown battle in 1781 was the last major battle fought in the war.
Q. Isn’t it true that after the Danbury raid the British never went inland again?
A. The British were surprised at how quickly the militia and the rebels were able to respond to an attack and never again felt secure enough to leave the sight of their ships.
Q. Could the Americans have won the war without the aid of the French and some Germans?
A. Probably not, but the inability of the British to fight the Americans inland might have resulted in a long guerilla warfare.