April 27: The Battle of Ridgefield, 1777

 

On this day in 1777, one day after William Tryon destroyed the Continental Army’s supply depot in Danbury with a party of 2,000 British troops and loyalists, a force of American troops and Connecticut militiamen struck back near the town of Ridgefield.

A 1924 map depicting the route of William Tryon’s raid of April 1777.

Tryon’s raid on Danbury took local patriots by surprise; they had assumed the Connecticut town was safe from British coastal raids since it was located two dozen miles — a full day’s march — inland.  While the British marched toward Danbury during the morning of April 26th, local minutemen and scouts spread the alarm throughout Western Connecticut, but it took a full day to assemble a large enough contingent of men to strike back at the Redcoats.

The town of Ridgefield was located several miles south of Danbury along the route that Tryon’s forces were taking back to the Connecticut coast, where British ships awaited their return.  There, a force of several hundred Continental Army troops and Connecticut militiamen, under the leadership of Connecticut-born generals David Wooster, Gold Selleck Silliman, and Benedict Arnold opened fire on the British column of nearly 2,000 troops.

A 1785 mezzotint of General David Wooster of the Continental Army, who was mortally wounded during the April 27, 1777 Battle of Ridgefield.

Even though the engagement became known as the Battle of Ridgefield because the fiercest part of that day’s fighting took place in the center of town, it was actually a running battle that lastest for hours as Wooster, Silliman, and Arnold followed Tryon’s column to the shore, harassing them from all directions and attempting to slow their progress with roadblocks and ambushes.  General David Wooster, an older man who was a veteran of the French and Indian War, was one of an estimated twenty Connecticut defenders who were killed or mortally wounded during the fight.

While the British had succeeded at destroying a crucial supply depot, their operation had come at a significant cost: By day’s end, over a hundred British and Loyalist men were killed or wounded, and 40 had been captured.  Meanwhile, as news of the British raid spread across Connecticut, the state recorded a pronounced spike in enlistments for the Continental Army.  General Washington, after hearing about the Tryon’s raid on Danbury and the Battle of Ridgefield, ordered that all major supply depots be (re)located farther than a full day’s march from the coast.

The Battle of Ridgefield is depicted in the award-winning children’s book My Brother Sam is Dead by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier, and in “Mary Silliman’s War,” a feature-length film produced by PBS.  It was the only inland battle fought in Connecticut for the duration of the Revolutionary War — thanks in part to the dogged resistance they encountered during their retreat, the British Army never again staged an attack on any Connecticut location beyond the immediate coastline.

Further Reading

Nathaniel Philbrick, “Benedict Arnold and the Battle of Ridgefield,” Excerpt from Valiant Ambition, reprinted with permission in Connecticut Explored

Richard Buel, “The Burning of Danbury,” connecticuthistory.org