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Fort Griswold, A Narrative of the Capture








(Related in 1856)


I am perhaps the only person living who witnessed the capture of Fort Griswold by the British on the 6th day of September 1781, and although now in my eighty-sixth year, my recollection of the scene and its incidents is as vivid as if the event transpired but yesterday.

At that time I was only twelve years old, but the reader, methinks, will not wonder if the scenes of my boyhood days come thronging back upon the memory of an aged man with much of the distinctness of a present reality when those scenes were impressed upon the mind amid the booming of cannon and the agonizing shrieks of those who stood on an eminence from the scene of conflict, and saw their husbands, sons, and lovers falling, one by one; before the wasting fire of the enemy.

I resided with my father in the town of Groton, about two miles east of New London.

The reader is aware that New London was, at the time of the Revolution, a place of considerable note, and was situated on the west side of the river Thames: on the east side of the river was what was then called Groton Bank, and was then quite a village. Farther east of this was Fort Griswold. This fort was situated on a high hill, and was surrounded by a trench or ditch about five feet deep and some six or eight feet in width. On the morning of the 6th of September, 1781, I was awoke by the firing of cannon, and upon ascending a height a short distance from my father's residence, which overlooked New London, the harbor's mouth, and from which I could gain a fair view of the fort and the distance between that and the harbor. From this point I descried the British fleet off the mouth of New London harbor in the act of landing their troops on the east and west side of the harbor. Soon after ascending the hill, the women and children began to congregate there, wringing their hands, and crying, "Oh, my son!" children crying, "Oh, my father!" and "Oh, my brother!"

These troops were commanded by General Arnold, the traitor, who landed with a portion of the troops on the west, or New London side of the river, near by the lighthouse, about two miles below New London, and marched up and took Fort Trumbull, which stood on a peninsula of land about one quarter of a mile south of New London, and from there marched his troop into New London and set it on fire, by which it was almost wholly reduced to ashes. The other division of troops landed on the east side of the river at a place called Groton Point, and under the command of Col. Eyre and Major Montgomery. This division on landing was again divided, one portion marching directly towards Fort Griswold and the other portion marching further east, and keeping under cover of thick woods until they got to the terminus of the woods at a great gate opening through a thick stone wall, and being a little south of east on a direct line from the fort. Here the division halted, and Major Montgomery sent Captain Beckwith with a flag to the fort to demand its surrender. Colonel Ledyard, the commander of the fort, sent a flag and met Beckwith, who demanded a surrender of the fort. The bearer of the American flag answered, "Colonel Ledyard will maintain the fort to the last extremity." Captain Beckwith then waved his flag, at which signal signal the British troops immediately took up their march in solid column through the gate. While they were passing through the gate the cannon from the fort was opened upon them which caused them to wheel to the right and march under cover of a hill by the side of a cedar swamp, until they got abreast of the fort; then they broke their columns and ran with trailed arms to the fort, during which time they fired with small arms from the fort.

The enemy attacked the fort on three sides at once, and getting into the ditch and climbing up on the opposite side they cut away the pickets, and with their scaling ladders entered the fort and tore away the gate from the inside. But in the mean time, while the enemy were in the ditch, those in the garrison fought by throwing hot shot upon them; but when they had got into the embrazures1 those defending the fort changed their weapons and fought desperately with spears or pikes fifteen or sixteen feet in length, with which they did good execution. On passing through one of these embrazures Major Montgomery was killed by spears in the hands of Captain Shapley and a black man named Jordan Freeman,' both stabbing him at the same time. . His last words were, " Put every man to death."

After Major Montgomery was killed, Captain Bloomfield took the command and inquired who commanded the fort. Colonel Ledyard, finding resistance longer useless presented his sword to Captain Bloomfield, and said, I did, sir, but you do now," at the same time handing the hilt of his sword to Captain Bloomfield, who took it and plunged it into the bosom of Colonel Ledyard, and he fell on his face and expired.

After butchering with their bayonets some time, one of the British officers said, " My soul cannot bear such destruction," and ordered the drums to beat a parley

They then took the American dead and laid them out upon the parade ground, and buried their own dead just outside of the fort, in a heap promiscuously, and covered them up slightly, with the exception of Major Montgomery, and for him they dug a grave within the parapets of the fort, in front of the gates, and buried him decently.

They then took the wounded Americans, loaded them into a wagon, and undertook to take them down the hill, but not being able to hold the wagon, they let it run and with great violence it came in contact with an apple tree, and the stop was so sudden as to throw many of the poor bleeding fellows out, and some were killed by the shock. One poor fellow, who was thrown out, in attempting to crawl away, was knocked in the head by the breech of a gun.

The British on leaving laid a train of powder to communicate with the magazine, and set a slow-match on fire to ignite the train for the purpose of blowing up the fort. As soon as the enemy had left, an American1 entered the fort and put out the match and saved the powder and the fort.

Although then but a boy, I knew personally Colonel William Ledyard, Captain William Latham, Lieutenant Nathan Moore, David Avery1 Solomon Avery, Daniel Avery', Thomas Avery, Hubbard Burrows, David Palmer, Sylvester Walworth, Patrick Ward, Mr. Scoville,2 and Mr. Davis, all of whom were killed in the taking of the fort; and of the wounded with whom I was personally acquainted were Park Avery, John Morgan, Mr. Woodmensee, Samuel Edgecomb, and Joshua Baker.

There was in the fort at the time the enemy made the attack only about one hundred and twenty persons, and these hastily collected from the community around, while the enemy were about eight hundred strong.

The people of Groton have erected a monument in commemoration of this event, in which is inscribed the names of all persons killed during this engagement ment; also the following words: "Zebulon and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field." Judges v. 18.

1 Major Peters, of Norwich. - Caulkins
2 This is probably Phillip CovIl.