From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
April 30. –Last Friday, the twenty-fifth instant, twenty-six sail of British ships appeared off Norwalk Islands, standing in for Cedar Point, where they anchored at four o’clock p. m., and soon began landing troops. By ten o’clock they had landed two brigades, consisting of upwards of two thousand men, and marched immediately for Danbury, where they arrived the next day at two o’clock in the afternoon.
The handful of continental troops there were obliged to evacuate the town, having previously secured a part of the stores and provisions. The British, on their arrival, began burning and destroying the stores, houses, provisions, &c.
On their appearance, the country was alarmed. Early the next morning Brigadier-General Silliman, with about five hundred militia, (all that were collected,) pursued them. At Reading he was joined by Major-General Wooster, and Brigadier-General Arnold. The heavy rain all the afternoon retarded the march of the Americans so much that they did not reach Bethel (a village two miles from Danbury) till eleven o’clock at night, much fatigued, and their arms rendered useless by being wet. It was thought prudent to refresh the men and attack the enemy on their return. Early the next morning, (which proved rainy,) the whole were in motion. Two hundred men remained with General Wooster, and about four hundred were detached under General Arnold and General Silliman, on the road leading to Norwalk. At nine o’clock a. m., intelligence was received that the British had taken the road leading to Norwalk, of which General Wooster was advised, and pursued them. He came up with them about eleven o’clock, when a smart skirmishing ensued, in which General Wooster, who behaved with great intrepidity, unfortunately received a wound by a musket ball through the groin, which it is feared will prove mortal. General Arnold, by a forced march across the country, reached Ridgefield at eleven o’clock, and having posted his small party, (being joined by about one hundred men,) waited the approach of the British, who were soon discovered advancing in a column, with three field-pieces in front and three in rear, and large flank guards of near two hundred men in each. At noon they began discharging their artillery, and were soon within musket shot, when a smart action ensued between the whole, which continued about an hour, in which the Americans behaved with great spirit; but, being overpowered by numbers, were obliged to give way, though not until the enemy were raising a small breastwork, thrown across the way, at which General Arnold had taken post with about two hundred men, (the rest of our small body were posted on the flanks,) who acted with the greatest spirit. The general had his horse shot under him, when the enemy were within about ten yards of him, but luckily received no hurt; recovering himself, he drew his pistol and shot the soldier who was advancing with his fixed bayonet. He then ordered his troops to retreat through a shower of small and grape shot. In the action the British suffered very considerably, leaving about thirty dead and wounded on the ground, besides a number unknown buried. Here we had the misfortune of losing Lieutenant-Colonel Gold, one subaltern, and several privates killed and wounded. It was found impossible to rally our troops, and General Arnold ordered a stand to be made at Saugatuck bridge, where it was expected the enemy would pass.
At nine o’clock on the morning of the 28th, about five hundred men were collected at Saugatuck bridge, including part of the companies of Colonel Lamb’s battalion of artillery, with three field-pieces, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Oswald, a field-piece with part of the artillery company from Fairfield, sixty continental troops, and three companies of volunteers from New Haven, with whom Generals Arnold and Silliman took post about two miles above the bridge. Soon after the enemy appeared in sight, their rear was attacked by Colonel Huntington, (commanding a party of about five hundred men,) who sent to General Arnold for instructions, and for some officers to assist him. General Silliman was ordered to his assistance. The enemy finding our troops advantageously posted, made a halt, and after some little time wheeled off to the left and forded Saugatuck River, three miles above the bridge. General Arnold observing this motion, ordered the whole to march directly for the bridge, in order to attack them in the flank, General Silliman at the same time to attack their rear. The enemy, by running full speed, had passed the bridge on Fairfield side with their main body, before our troops could cross it. General Silliman finding it impossible to overtake them on their route, proceeded to the bridge, where the whole were formed. They marched in two columns, with two field-pieces on the right, the other on the left of the enemy, when a smart skirmishing and firing of field-pieces ensued, which continued about three hours. The enemy having gained the high hill of Compo, several attempts were made to dislodge them, but without effect. Having landed a number of fresh troops to cover their embarkation, which they effected a little before sunset, they weighed anchor immediately, and stood across the Sound for Huntington, on Long Island. Our loss cannot exactly be ascertained, no return being made; it is judged to be about sixty killed and wounded. Among the killed are one lieutenant-colonel, one captain, four subalterns, and Doctor David Atwater, of New Haven, whose death is greatly lamented by his acquaintance. Among the number wounded are Colonel John Lamb, (of the artillery,) Arnah Bradley, and Timothy Gorham, volunteers from New Haven, though not mortally.
The enemy’s loss is judged to be more than double our number, and about twenty prisoners. They behaved, on this occasion, with their usual barbarity, wantonly and cruelly murdering the wounded prisoners who fell into their hands, and plundering the inhabitants, burning and destroying every thing in their way.1
The following is Gaine’s account of this affair: –“In consequence of information received of the rebels having collected large magazines at Danbury, in Connecticut, a detachment of two hundred and fifty men from each of the following regiments, fourth, fifteenth, twenty-third, twenty-seventh, forty-fourth, and sixty-fourth, a subaltern’s command of dragoons, three hundred of Governor Brown’s corps, and six three-pounders, under the command of Major-General Tryon, and Brigadier-Generals Agnew and Sir William Erskine, proceeded up the East River, and on Friday evening last, at six o’clock, landed at Compo Point, near Norwalk. The debarkation being completed about ten, the troops got in motion, and after a march of twenty-five miles, arrived without opposition at Danbury, at three o’clock on Saturday afternoon. The remainder of that day, and part of next morning, were employed in destroying the stores, which were found to exceed their expectation. At nine o’clock they began their march back to the shipping, and proceeded without interruption until they approached Ridgefield, where they found a body of the rebels, under the command of Mr. Arnold, who had fortified the entrance of the town, which they carried after small opposition, with considerable loss on the side of the rebels, the rear repulsing another body, who attacked them at the same time, under Mr. Wooster. The troops continued their march next morning at four o’clock, the rebels firing on their flanks and rear, but from such a distance as to do them but little injury. About half a mile from the ships where the troops halted, part of the rebel army, which consisted of at least four thousand, kept up a heavy fire from behind stone walls, whilst two columns made a show of attacking; but part of the detachment charged them with fixed bayonets, and put them to a total rout, with considerable slaughter. The troops, after remaining some time upon the ground, embarked with the greatest regularity and order, without further interruption from the rebels, who never showed themselves more.
“The spirit and firmness shown by the troops on this occasion, does them infinite honor.
“The loss sustained was fourteen men killed, ten officers and eighty men wounded, most of them slightly.”2
We are here presented with an account of the Danbury expedition from two different sides; by which it appears, that the English paid dear for their entertainment in Connecticut; but if we may judge of Mr. Gaine’s modesty in telling a story from the account he gave of the action at Princeton in January last, where he says (speaking of the British troops) “that they had ten killed, and a few wounded;” when it is an uncontroverted fact, that we buried one hundred and four regulars who were killed outright, and left fifty wounded at Princeton, besides above two hundred taken prisoners; we have, by a comparison of their accounts of the two affairs, good reason to think they have paid such a price as that a few more of those bargains would lower the stock of Howe & Co., so that they would be obliged to keep close, or beat a retreat.3
1 Connecticut Journal, April 30, and Pennsylvania Journal, May 14.
2 Pennsylvania Journal, May 14. The following account was sent by another hand: –Governor Tryon, whose bloodthirsty, thievish disposition, and beggarly circumstances, impel him to rob and plunder for subsistence, having collected a gang of thieves and starved wretches from among the British troops and Tories, came over from Long Island on the 26th ultimo, and landed at Compo, between Norwalk and Fairfield; from thence they beat through the woods to Danbury, where they found a quantity of provisions, some of which they eat, and some they destroyed, and some they attempted to carry off; but, a number of people collecting, alarmed their guilty fears, and caused them to flee back with precipitation, through thick and thin, wet and dry, rough and smooth, leaving bag and baggage, about fifty killed and forty taken prisoners, eighteen or twenty of whom are now in jail in New Haven. Thus ended the glorious expedition of the freebooter Tryon. The poor rogue found such good picking while Governor of New York, that his head aches beyond conception to get possession of that government again; but he must gnaw his trencher a great while before that time arrives. We expect another visit from these hungry bellies in a short time, and it may be proper enough to keep a good look out. –From a Connecticut Paper. See New York Gazette, May 19.
3 Pennsylvania Journal, May 14.