New London Raid, Connecticut
New London Raid, Connecticut
NEW LONDON RAID, CONNECTICUT. 6 September 1781. As a diversion to draw strength from the allied army marching south for the Yorktown Campaign, Benedict Arnold proposed another amphibious raid on the Connecticut coast. New London became the target because it was the state's most active port, held important stores, and was in easy striking distance (135 miles). In addition, Arnold knew it well because he had been born and raised nearby. The town was on the west bank of the Thames River and about three miles from its mouth. A mile below New London and on the same side of the river was a small work called Fort Trumbull; oriented for protection of the harbor and virtually defenseless from the land side, it was occupied by twenty-four state troops under Captain Adam Shapley. Across the river was Fort Griswold (on Groton Heights), a more substantial square fortification with stone walls, fraised ditch, and outworks. Lieutenant Colonel William Ledyard commanded here with a 140-man garrison drawn from the local militia.
Arnold intended a night attack, but the adverse wind held him offshore until 9 a.m. on 6 September. He landed at 10 a.m. on the west bank with the Thirty-eighth Foot, two Loyalist regiments (the Loyal Americans and the American Legion), a detachment of jägers, and some guns. Major Edmund Eyre landed on the other side of the river with the Fortieth and Fifty-fourth Foot, the Third Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers, a jäger detachment, and artillery. Captain Millett was detached from Arnold's column with four companies of the Thirty-eighth (subsequently joined by Captain Frink's Loyalist company) to take Fort Trumbull. Captain Shapley delivered one volley of grape and musketry, spiked his eight guns, and crossed to reinforce Ledyard at Fort Griswold. Arnold pushed on to New London, sweeping aside minor resistance at "Fort Nonsense" and a couple of points along the road. In New London local Loyalists helped carry out the destruction of public buildings and storehouses, but damage spread to private property as well. After the war an investigation estimated the value at almost a half-million dollars, including a significant number of dwellings that had not been legitimate military targets. About a dozen ships were destroyed, but fifteen escaped up the river. Patriot propagandists accused Arnold of viewing the scene with the satisfaction of a Nero, but he claimed his men made every effort to put out the fires that started accidentally.
Fort Griswold, meanwhile, put up fierce resistance for forty minutes and threw back several attacks. Eyre fell mortally wounded in the first assault, and Major Montgomery was killed as he mounted the parapet. As the British finally overran the fort, Ledyard attempted to surrender, but was stabbed with his own sword and then bayoneted to death.
Governor Trumbull reported American losses at Fort Griswold as 70 to 80 killed, all but 3 of them after the surrender. Arnold reported that he found 85 dead and 60 wounded, most of them mortally, in the fort. He also stated that he took 70 prisoners, not including seriously wounded who were left behind on parole. Total American losses (including those on the west bank) were about 240. Arnold admitted his own casualties as 48 men killed and 145 wounded, which testifies to the stubborn defense of Fort Griswold.
This was the last large action in the North during the Revolution. It contributed nothing to the British war effort, and it further blackened Arnold's name—although the evidence does not support propagandists' allegations that he deliberately carried out an atrocity.
The Battle of Groton Heights: A Collection of Narratives, Official Reports, Records, etc., of the Storming of Fort Griswold. Introduction and notes by William W. Harris. Revised and enlarged by Charles Allyn. 1882. Mystic, Conn.: Seaport Autographs, 1999.
Powell, Walter L. Murder or Mayhem? Benedict Arnold's New London, Connecticut Raid, 1781. Gettysburg, Penn.: Thomas Publications, 2000.
revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.