"Gather every available man and march in pursuit to intercept and give battle." This was the message carried throughout western Connecticut and nearby New York in response to Tryon's Danbury Raid in late April, 1777. Some, like Benedict Arnold and David Wooster, were fast on the heels of the British and their Loyalist allies. Others marched from farther afield. As with the Lexington alarm two years previously, many militia units and individuals turned out, but not all of them arrived in time to drive the British back.
The alarm reached Sharon, Connecticut, deep in the northwest corner of the state, sayting that the British were burning Danbury. More than 100 men set off down the Housatonic Valley, among them, Lieutenant Samuel Elmore, Jr., on leave from the Northern Department where he served in the Continental Regiment of his father, Colonel Samuel Elmore. Young Elmore arrived home on the very day that word of Tryon's raid reached Sharon. He must have had a swift horse, because he reached the shore on April 28th in time to participate in the final attack on the withdrawing British and where unfortunately he lost his life.
The most famous recipient of the Danbury alarm, however, resided in the Fredericksburgh section of what is now Patterson, New York. Colonel Henry Ludington of the 7th Dutchess County militia (Patterson was then in the south precinct of Dutchess) received an exhausted express rider at about 9:00 p.m. on April 26th when the British were already in Danbury. A biography of Colonel Ludington , published privately by his descendants in 1907 and styled a memoir , makes a claim that has gone down in legend:
"His regiment was disbanded, its members scattered at their homes, many at considerable distances. He must stay there, to muster all who came in. The messenger from Danbury could ride no more, and there was no neighbor within call. In this emergency he turned to his daughter Sibyl, who, a few days before, had passed her sixteenth birthday, and bade her to take a horse, and ride for the men, and tell them to be at his house by daybreak. Imagination only can picture what it was a century and a quarter ago, on a dark night, with reckless bands of 'Cowboys' and 'Skinners' abroad in the land. But the child performed her task, clinging to a man's saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter, as she rode through the night, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury. There is no extravagance in comparing her ride with that of Paul Revere and its midnight message. Nor was her errand less efficient than his. By daybreak nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father's house at Fredericksburgh, and an hour or two later was on the march for vengeance on the raiders."
The "memoir" goes on to tell how the regiment reached Redding in time to join up with Arnold and Silliman and fought at Ridgefield, but this cannot be, as Arnold and Silliman spent the night of the 26th at Bethel, not Redding, and moved out in the morning to intercept the British at Ridgefield. Redding is East of Ridgefield, so the Dutchess men need not have gone there to meet up with the defenders of Ridgefield. Henry Noble MacCracken in his 1956 history Old Dutchess Forever!, describes Sibyl Ludington's forty mile ride on the 26th but adds "This, at least, is the tradition of the family (pg. 386)." He also has the Dutchess men at the Battle of Ridgefield, but notes; "It must be added that Connecticut records at Ridgefield make no mention of Ludington's aid." J. L. Bell of the blog Boston 1775 is skeptical about Sibyl's ride, observing that there is no record that she made it, nor that the Dutchess Regiment fought at Ridgefield, written before the 20th century. In researching this post I did find one mention slightly older than the 1907 "memoir" that was written in 1896, but Bell's point still stands.
I believe it is quite likely that Ludington's regiment did march early on April 27th, but not that it reached Ridgefield, more than 20 miles distant, in time to take part in the battle early that afternoon. As for Sibyl's ride, it could have happened, and many people believe it did. I can shed no more light on the matter.
So who did oppose the British at Ridgefield? To answer that, we must return to April 26th and the rain-soaked encampment at Bethel, three miles from Danbury of Major General David Wooster, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, Brigadier General Gold Selleck Silliman, and between 500-600 militia. General Wooster decided to split his forces to intercept the British should they return by Ridgefield rather than the Redding road, and so sent Arnold and Silliman across country with about 400 men from the Fairfield militia for this purpose. He kept 200 men with him, and planned to strike the rear of the enemy column when the opportunity offered.
Arnold and Silliman reached Ridgefield about 11:00 a.m. on April 27th and heard firing to the north along the road to Danbury that told them of the British approach. Here they found Captain Ebenezer Jones with several dozen raw recruits from the 1st Ridgefield militia. There were some New York militia there as well but these were from nearby North Salem, New York - a company of 50 men from Colonel Samuel Drake's 3rd Regiment of Westchester Militia under Captain Samuel Lawrence. Finally, there were some continental troops under Ridgefield's own Colonel David Burr Bradley, the dark haired cousin of Aaron Burr and commander of the newly re-established 5th Connecticut Continental Line. This was a three year's regiment and recruiting had been very slow to fill its quota. There were not more than 50 men with Bradley, but among them was my ancestor, and Ridgefield native, Lt. Ebenezer Olmsted. This was all the force at hand, and Arnold set about erecting a barricade of wagons and ox carts across Ridgefield's broad main street to wait for the British.
Tryon, meanwhile, had left Danbury still in flames early that morning, electing to return to the ships via the Sugar Hollow Rd. toward Ridgefield. The Ridgefield, Conn 1708 - 1908 Bi-centennial Celebration says; "After the conflagration, pork fat was deep in the streets" following the British raid on Danbury. The colum included 5 ox teams, 50-60 cattle and about the same number of sheep. The rearguard were the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers in their high bearskin headgear, and this may be the reason that some in Ridgefield took them for Hessians in mitre caps. The end of the column had reached Ridgebury when Wooster swooped out the woods about three miles north of Ridgefield and crashed into Tryon’s rear guard as it paused briefly for breakfast. Killing at least two redcoats, Wooster took about fifteen prisoners in this first engagement, then vanished back into the trees.
With Wooster using hit and run, swarming tactics, Tryon ordered three of the expedition's six cannon to the rear, served by the 4th Battalion, Royal Artillery. A mile down the road General Wooster attacked again, but this time the cannon made the difference. As he rallied his men, Major General Wooster was struck in the groin and fell from his horse. His inexperienced militia broke, though his men had the forethought to strip off his General's sash as they bore him away to Danbury where he died five days later. Captain Stephen Rowe Bradley eventually pulled the militia together and continued the pursuit.
The British pushed on down Ridgefield's mile-long center street in a solid column with the other three cannon up front and flankers to either side. It was a little after noon. They found a strong force of 500-600 men opposing them. There were a number of excellent American officers at the barricade as well, and they had posted additional men to guard their flanks. The British tested the defenders and were pushed back, then began a sharp engagement including close combat and the cannon which blasted the barricade and several nearby homes. The British advanced on three sides and hurled a 600-man column under the command of Sir William Erskine against the barricade. Lt. Colonel Alexander Gold ,who lead the Fairfield militia to Ridgefield, was shot from his horse defending the barricade and fell dead "with bloody sword." The British broke through but at the cost on each side of more than a dozen killed and twice that wounded.
The Patriots gave way but under Arnold's direction made a running fight down the broad street. The General was characteristically brave to the point of recklessness, but finally a volley of nine bullets struck and killed his horse, pinning him to the ground. As he struggled to untangle himself, one of the Royalists rushed forward with the bayonet shouting "Surrender, you are my prisoner!" Arnold replied "Not yet", and freeing one of his pistols shot the other dead and managed to escape unscathed into some nearby bushes.
Arnold and Silliman withdrew to the south of Town and the third and final phase of the Battle of Ridgefield ended. The British burned half a dozen buildings in Ridgefield, but though it had been pierced by seven cannonballs (one of which remains embedded to this day) and was initially set alight, they spared Timothy Keeler's tavern when a Tory neighbor feared the flames would spread to his property. Later this loyalist told his townsman; "You may thank me that your house is safe." Keeler retorted; "No sir! I will not thank a Tory for anything. I thank the Lord for the North Wind."
The British camped south of Town that night, burning a house to signal the ships waiting for them in the Sound. Engineer officier Captain Robertson recorded their losses in the three parts of the battle as "50 or 60 men Killed and Wounded and 4 or 5 Officers, Major (Henry Hope, Captain Rutherford, etc." All around them, the countryside was marching. Arnold and Silliman and their men would be joined by others, and already were planning how next to block the British. We will discuss the final act of Tryon's Danbury Raid tomorrow, the anniversary of the concluding fight at Compo Hill.