Connecticut Coast Raid

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Connecticut Coast Raid

CONNECTICUT COAST RAID. July 1779. George Germain's 8 March 1778 instructions to Sir Henry Clinton establishing the "southern strategy" also directed him to use the forces remaining in the north to carry out amphibious raids on American ports in order to disrupt commerce. The following year, after the expedition that set up Stony Point as a forward outpost returned to New York City, Clinton turned his attention to Long Island Sound. In addition to the goal of destroying merchant ships and docks, Clinton hoped to stop raiders using small craft from harassing Long Island and to increase the political pressure placed on Washington by states seeking more Continental troops to defend their coasts. Major General William Tryon, the royal governor of New York, received command of a task force which he assembled at the end of June. Part of the force came from the garrison just withdrawn from Rhode Island and were still on their transports. Embarkation of the rest began on 29 June and lasted until 3 July, with the task force sailing the next morning. Commodore Collier used a frigate as his flagship and picked the three other escorts because they could operate close inshore: a sloop, a brig, and a galley. The expedition arrived off New Haven the night of 4 July and landed without opposition the next morning.

Tryon assigned the task of capturing the town of New Haven to Brigadier General George Garth and gave him two infantry regiments (Seventh and Fifty-fourth Foot), the four flank companies of the Guards Brigade, a jäger detachment, and four guns. About 150 militia, and some Yale students who volunteered, skirmished briefly and then removed the planks from a bridge across West River. Garth detoured along Milford Hill to the Derby Road. Although the British suffered some casualties—their adjutant, Major Campbell, was mortally wounded—they entered New Haven shortly after noon.

East Haven was the initial objective of the second column led personally by Tryon. His units were the Twenty-third Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers), the Landgrave Regiment (Hesse-Cassel), the King's American Regiment (Loyalists), and two guns. Tryon had to wait for the boats that landed Garth's division, but he met only token resistance. Carrying out the destruction of shipping and public facilities took all of 6 June, but on the next day the two columns united at East Haven and re-embarked.

Fairfield, some twenty miles southwest of New Haven, formed the next target, and was occupied on 8 June. Outmatched, the local militia could only fall back and content themselves with random sniping. The civilian inhabitants had fled, and the invaders got out of control in the empty village. Heavy looting took place, and then fires burned 83 homes, 54 barns, 47 storehouses, 2 schools, 2 churches, the jail, and the courthouse. The landing force then camped for the night before returning to the transports.

Green's Farms suffered the same fate on 9 July, Norwalk on 11 July. About 30 buildings went up in smoke at the former; 130 homes, 87 barns, 22 stores, and 17 shops at the latter. In between Tryon regrouped on the far side of Long Island Sound at Huntington, on Long Island, and was back there preparing to hit another town when Clinton ordered him back to New York.

NUMBERS AND LOSSES

Tryon's force consisted of about 2,600 troops, British, German and Loyalist, and all of them were experienced. They suffered over 100 casualties, about half of which were in the four companies of the Guards. Tryon officially reported 26 killed, 90 wounded, and 32 missing. American militia losses were insignificant, but property damage was enormous.

SIGNIFICANCE

Because Washington refused to swallow the bait and detach forces from the Highlands, the raid had no immediate military importance. On the other hand the sheer destruction and targeting of homes and other structures that could not be considered military objectives raised a firestorm of indignation. Instead of terrorizing the inhabitants, the raid strengthened resolve, and not just in Connecticut. It also marked the practical end to Tryon's combat service. The raid has attracted very little attention from historians.

SEE ALSO Western Reserve.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Goodrich, Chauncey. "Invasion of New Haven." In Papers of the New Haven Colony Historical Society. Vol. 2. New Haven, printed for the Society.

Nelson, Paul D. William Tryon and the Course of Empire: A Life in British Imperial Service. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Townshend, Charles Hervey. The British Invasion of New Haven, Connecticut. New Haven, Conn.: Tuttle, Morehouse and Taylor, 1879.

                        revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.

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Connecticut Coast Raid

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