On this date in 1777, a British fleet consisting of two sloops, (Senegal and Swan), the brig Halifax, a dozen transports, a hospital ship, and upwards of ten smaller vessels lay off the coast of Connecticut. More than 2,000 British and loyalist troops came ashore on the beach at Cedar Point near the mouth of the Saugatuck River and assembled on nearby Compo Hill. Their objective was the Continental supply depot at Danbury, some 25 miles inland, and their leader was New York's colonial governor William Tryon who held the the local rank of Major General. Tryon's Danbury Raid would prove to be the largest engagement in Connecticut during the American War of Independence.
During the next three days, Tryon's raiding force would lay waste to Danbury and fight two sharp engagements with the patriot forces: first at Ridgefield and back again at Compo Hill. Along the way, Benedict Arnold would earn a belated second star for his heroism, patriot General Wooster would become another of the revolution's martyrs, and a young girl from neighboring New York would ride into legend.
Commemorations of the the Danbury Raid and subsequent memory have sometimes obscured the actual history. Both the British and the Patriots claimed success, though the near term results clearly favored the invaders. The descendants of two of my revolutionary ancestors - Ebenezer Olmsted of the 5th Connecticut Continentals and Thadeus Thompson of Lamb's Artillery - subsequently claimed these forebears were involved in repulsing the British invasion, but the evidence exists for only one of them to have done so. On this 231st anniversary of Tryon's Danbury Raid, we will study this event and see whether we can clear up some of the ambiguities in how it is remembered.
We'll begin with the Bfritish order of battle. We can be far more confident about the composition of the British forces involved than the continental and militia units that rallied to oppose them as the raid progressed.
The corp of Tryon's invasion force consisted of between 200-250 men taken from each of six British regiments, the better part of two brigades from Sir William Howe's army in New York. The First Brigade was under the command of Brigadier General James Agnew, who was later wounded at the Battle of Brandywine and killed shortly thereafter at Germantown. When Howe planned the raid, Agnew had been considered second in command, but that role was ultimately given to the Quartermaster General of the British Army in America, Sir William Erskine.
Agnew's Brigade for this expedition included several companies of the His Majesty's 4th Regiment of Foot (Kings Own), the 15th Regiment of Foot, and the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers (shown below in a painting by Don Troiani). The other British brigade consisted of detachments from the 27th Inniskillings (whose flags appear at left) and the 44th and 64th regiments of foot. The two royal regimentswere old and venerable units that had seen hard fighting during the return to Boston from Lexington and Concord. Their light and grenadier companies were in the thick of the fight at Bunker Hill. The 15th were among the reinforcements sent from Ireland in 1776 for the invasion of New York. They were issued short jackets, gaiter coveralls and parred down hats for their American service, and along with the rest of their brigade fought at Long Island, Harlem Heights and White Plains. The 44th had served under Braddock during the French and Indian War and carried the memory of the massacre at Monongahela. The 64th (illustrated at right) wore black uniform facings and their Grenadier company was part of the detachment that took part in Tryon's raid. They had been part of the Boston garrison as early as 1768, and under its Colonel Alexander Leslie shed first blood at Salem Mass in February, 1775, three months before the shot heard round the world. They, too, had served through Long Island, and just a month before been involved in another British raid on colonial supplies, this time at Peekskill, New York.
The rest of Tryon's force included 300 loyalists: the Prince of Wales American Regiment in their new green jackets with white facings. They had been recruited from several states and were led by Monfort Browne, the Royal governor of New Providence, who had been held prisoner in Connecticut for a time until exchanged for a Continental general taken at Long Island. There were also a dozen troopers from the 17th Light dragoons under a subaltern, with the death's head embroidered on their plumed caps. Significantly, and unlike the expedition to Lexington and Concord, the British brought with them a detachment of the 4th battalion, Royal Artillery with six cannon. These would play a significant part in the raid. There is some disagreement as to the type of ordinance used - anything from 3 to 12 pound cannon have been mentioned by later historians. Considering that a cannonball remains in the corner post of the Keeler tavern in Ridgefield that was fired during the battle that was fought there on April 27th, this ought to be something I can confirm on my next drive downstate.
Contrary to later accounts and claims that two Hessians were mortally wounded at Ridgefield, I am unaware of any contemporary evidence to confirm that British force included German mercenaries. Ridgefield's Hessian Drive was so called because two skeletons thought to be those of Hessians were unearthed in sandpit in that vicinity in 1874.
The British landed in the early evening and were on the road to Danbury by 10 that night. As their destination became apparent, express riders fanned out to the north, east and west to raise the alarm and turn out the militia in defense of the state. We will discuss the British route of march, how far the alarm traveled, and the patriot response in tomorrow's post.