A Country Town Consumed by Flames. Connecticut, 1779

In July 1779, the British Major General William Tryon led around 2,600 troops from New York on a raid of the coast of Connecticut. Sir Henry Clinton, the commander of the British forces in North America, hoped that this expedition would draw Washington from his posts around West Point in New York into terrain where he could engage the Americans in a major battle. (The plan failed.) The Hessian Regiment Landgraf as well as a detachment of Hessian and Ansbach Jäger were part of Tryon’s corps.

The fleet first landed at New Haven before proceeding to Fairfield and Norwalk. The expedition was exhausting. The weather was hot, the terrain rough, and the troops were exposed to virtually constant enemy fire. However, ultimately, the rebels were not able to prevent the destruction of the towns by the invaders. In his diary, Ezra Stiles, at the time president of Yale College in New Haven, noted that the British, “from Monday morning, 5th, to Monday, 12th, or in one week, visited three Capital Towns on the Connecticutt Sea Coast, burned three Meetinghouses and two Episcopal Churches, 80 or 90 Dwellings in Fairfield, 130 in Norwalk, & plundered and desolated to an amount of Damage rendered into Gov. Trumbull of about one hundred thousand pounds sterling. This is a taste of British clemency.”(Ezra Stiles and Franklin B. Dexter, The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles [New York, 1901], 2: 359).

The excerpt from the diary of the Regiment Landgraf, kept by Quartermaster Wilhelm Bockewitz, offers an account of the expedition.


ENGLISH TRANSLATION

On July 1, every transport received a boat that can hold 100 men. In addition, General Tryon joined us along with three English regiments as reinforcements for our corps. The 7th and 23rd Regiments, several flank companies belonging to the English Guards, and a detachment consisting of Hessian and Ansbach Jäger, arrived at [Throgs?] Neck (“Frorn neck”), where they immediately embarked on the transports. At around five o’clock, the adjutants from each of the regiments were summoned to the frigate Camilla, where they received orders that no blankets should be taken on land, but instead 2 days cooked provisions should be taken, and everyone should be ready to go at any time. At 6 o’clock, the fleet set sail and at 12 0’clock, it anchored in the sound.

On July 4, we sailed on. This morning, I visited the Camilla [7r] as well as the vessels belonging to the regiment. Today, we received the landing disposition. The English Guard, 7th, 54th, and Jäger are in the first division. The 23rd Regiment, Landgraf and [a provincial regiment of Loyalists raised by Edmund] Fanning in the other.

On the 5th, the fleet anchored off the coast of Connecticut near New Haven (“Neuhaven”). As ordered, the troops landed in two divisions, received the final objective of their expedition, and on July 6th, they returned to their boats at the original landing site. The following evening, the fleet departed, and on the 7th in the afternoon, it anchored off the coast of Connecticut near Fairfield. Again, the troops landed in 2 divisions. The 1st Division, which consisted of the regiments belonging to the Guards, 7th, Fanning, and the Jäger, sailed around a nearby promontory, where the city of Fairfield [7v] is located. On an elevation above the city to the right, the enemy has a battery with 3 cannon. They were not able to inflict any damage on our troops during the landing. As soon as the 1st Division was on land, it was followed by the 2nd, which consisted of the 23rd Regiment, Landgraf, and the 54th under command of Brigadier General [George] Garth (“Guadt”). The first two of the regiments, of which the general himself was a part, landed on a plain without meeting any resistance. The 7th Regiment marched up the left side of a hill in front of us where it assumed formation. As soon as our artillery had been harnessed, we commenced on a march to the left. When we had reached the hill, the entire regiment assumed formation. Here we found General Garth (“Guardt”), who ordered the regiment to march in 2 divisions, and to march in front (“en front”) as long as the terrain [8r] allowed it. After we had advanced a bit we came under fire from a battery which was located to our left on a steep elevation. The enemy fired the cannon as long as the day allowed it. The beginning of night put an end to the cannon fire. We did not have any losses on our side. Although the direction of the hostile cannon fire was very good, most of the shots went above us or hit the ground in front of us. When we reached the town Greens Farms (“Greenfarm”), we had to leave behind a commando consisting of one captain, 2 officers, and 100 men. They were posted on a cross road with 1 officer and 30 men in front of them. We continued our march across mountains, valleys, and swamps, in order [8v] to reach a hill where we had to establish a post to prevent the enemy from making it to Fairfield, where the first division was posted.

At around 10 o’clock, the regiment reached the hill. The 23rd Regiment was standing to our right. After we had posted strong detachments in front of us, General Garth (“Guardt”) ordered us to post the rest in a line, with enough space between each man for one more, so that we could occupy a larger terrain. The right wing remained in the orchard and the regiment extended through a wheat field. The left wing stood in a road where we most expected the attack by the enemy. At around 12 o’clock, the 54th Regiment, which had landed to our left in the bay in order to [word missing?] the refugees that had set a village named Fairfield (“fair field”) on fire, came to us. It positioned itself near our captain’s detachment in one line and also extended itself up to the water where we had landed, so that the enemy would not be able to attack us from the rear. We remained in this position under arms through the night. The rebels attempted several times to attack our advance posts. However, some grapeshot drove out their folly and held them in awe all night long. Immediately at the break of dawn our position was changed in order to occupy an elevation. It was a sad example to watch how one of the best constructed country towns was consumed by flames. General Sullivan had a splendid residence there, which his wife and children had left only that morning. During the night, General Tryon stayed in [the residence], and as soon as he had departed, it was set on fire.

At around 5 o’clock, the 2nd Division marched toward the town of Fairfield [9v], briefly halted there, and then marched through it and onto an elevation to the right, from where the Regiment Landgraf covered the retreat of the entire corps. Because the regiment had been at the front of the column at the division’s departure, it had to part to the left and the right so that the other regiments could proceed through it. When the entire line had passed through, the regiment closed ranks again, and awaited the attack by the enemy. The enemy did not bother us during the retreat until our regiment had reached the plain. General Major Tryon expressed his complete approval to Lieutenant Colonel von Hanstein about the good behavior of the regiment. When everything had been embarked again, the fleet set sail and arrived that same evening in the harbor of Huntington [10r]. On the 10th of July, the fleet under General Tryon once again set sail and at around 2 o’clock anchored off the coast of Connecticut 4 miles from the enemy’s shore, and we turned toward Norwalk (“Norvorox”), which had the same fate as Fairfield.

TRANSCRIPTION

Den 1ten Juli erhielt jedes Transport Schiff ein Batteaux, welches 100 Mann auf einmahl einnehemen kann. Auch kam General Tryon mit 3 engl. Regimenter um Unser Corps zu verstärcken. Das 7te und 23te Regiment einige flang Companien von der Engl. Guarde, ein Detaschement Hessischer und Anspachischer Jaeger, kam bei Frorn neck an, wo sie auch gleich an die Transport Schiffe embarquiert wurden. Gegen 5 Uhr wurden die Adjudanten von dem Regimente an die Fregatte Camilla beordert, wo die Verhaltungs Befehle ausgetheilet wurden, dass keine Decken mit an das Land sondern 2 tägige gekochte provision mitgenommen und man sich jederzeit parat halten solte. Um 6 Uhr ging die Flotte unter Seegel und anckerte um 12 Uhr im Sound.

Den 4ten Julü gingen wieder vorwärts. Ich fuhr heute Morgen auf die [7r] Camilla und die zum Regiment gehörige Schiffe. Wir bekamen heute die Landungs Disposition. Die Englische Guarde 7te, 54te, und Jäger in die erste Division. Das 23te Regiment, Landgraff und Fanning in die andere.

Den 5ten anckerte die Flotte an der Küste von Connecticut ohnweit Neuhaven. Die Trouppen landeten, wie befohlen war in 2 Divisionen, erhielten den Endziel ihrer Expedition und gingen den 6ten Jul. wieder an den alten Landungs Ort zu den Flag Boorts wieder zurück. Nach demselben Abend seegelte die Flotte ab und kam den 7ten Nachmittags an der Küste von Connecticut bei Fairfield abermahls vor Ancker. Die Trouppen landeten wieder in 2 Divisionen, die 1te Division welche aus denen Guarde Regimentern 7ten Fanning und den Jaegern bestand, fuhren um eine uns nahgelegenen Land Spitze herum, wo die Stadt [7v] Fairfield lag. Der Feind hat rechts über der Stadt eine Batterie von 3 Canonen auf einer Anhöhe liegen, die doch indessen der Landung unserer Trouppen keinen Schaden thun konnten. Sobals die 1te Division an Land kam, folgte die 2te diese bestand aus dem 23ten Regiment Landgraff und 54. unter Ordre des Brigadier Gen. Guadt. Die beiden ersten Regimenter, wo der General selbst stund landeten an einer plaine ohne Widerstand zu finden. Das 7te Regiment marchirte vor uns eine Anhöhe links hinauf, alwo es sich formirte. Sobald unsere Artillerie angeschirrt war, marchirten Wir links ab und als wir die Anhöhe erreicht hatten, formirte sich das gantze Regiment. Hier fanden wir den General Guardt vor der uns beorderte mit dem Regiment in 2 Divisionen zu marchiren und so lange en front zu marschiren, als es das Terrain [8r] erlauben würde. Wie wir etwas vorwärts waren marchiret, kamen wir in das Ferer einer Batterie, welche auf einer steilen Anhöhe auf unserem linken Flügel lag. Der Feind Canonirte so lang als es der Tag erlauben wolte. Die anbrechende Nacht macht der Canonade ein Ende. Wir hatten unserer Seite keinen Verlust dabei den obgleich die Richtung der feindlichen Canonade überaus gut war, so gingen doch ihre resultate moistens über uns heruber oder schlugen vor un sein. Als wir den Ort Greenfarm erreicht hatten, musten wir allda ein Commando von ein Capitain 2 Officier und 100 Mann zurück lassen, welches auf einer Quer Strasse postirt wurde, und 1 Officier mit 30 Mann vor sich setzte. Wir setzten unseren March uber Berge, Thäler und Moräste fort um eine Anhohe zu erreichen, auf welchen wir durchaus Post fassen mussten [8v] um zu verhindern, dass sich nicht der Feind zu starck nach Fairfield schlüge, wo die erste Division postiert war.

Gegen 10 Uhr kam das Regiment auf der Anhöhe an. Das 23te Regiment stand uns zur rechten. Nachdem wir starckes Detachments vor uns postirt hatten, schickte uns der General Guartd ordre den rest in einer Linie zu stellen, so dass zwischen jedem Mann ein Spatium für einen andern blieb, damit wir ein desso grössers Terrain occupirten. Der rechte Flügel blieb im Baum Garten stehen und das Regiment extendirte sich durch ein Weitzenfeldt. Der linke Flügel stund in einer Strasse, wo wir am meisten den Überfall des Feindes zu erwarten hatten. Gegen 12 Uhr kam das 54te Regiment, das uns links in einer Bay gelandet war, um die refugees die alda ein gelegendes Fleckgen fair field in Brand gesteckt hatten, gleichfalls zu [9r] uns und setzte sich an unser Capitains Detachment gleichfalls in eine Linie und extendirte sich bis an das Wasser, wo wir gelandet waren, damit keine feindliche Detachements uns in den Rücken fallen mögten. Wir blieben in dieser Position die gantze Nacht über unter Gewehr liegen. Die Rebellen versuchten einige mahl unsere Vor Posten zu attacuiren, einige Trauben Schüsse aber vertrieb ihren Kitzel und hielte sie den gantzen nacht im Respect. Gleich mit Anbruch des Tages wurde unsere position verändert, um eine Anhöhe zu occupiren. Ein trauriges Exempell war es anzusehen, wie eine der best gebaute Land Städte ein Raub der Flamme wurde. Der General Sullivan hatte ein furtreffliches Wohnhaus daselbst, welches seine Frau und Kinder erst den Morgen zuvor verlassen hatten. Der General Tryon lag die Nacht in selbigen und sobald er es verlassen, wurde es in Brand gesteckt.

Gegen 5 Uhr marchirte die 2te Division nach der Stadt Fairfield [9v], machte daselbst einen kleinen halt und marchirte so dann durch selbige auf eine Anhöhe rechts derselben, auf welchem das Regiment Landgraff die Retraite des gantzen Corps deckte. Da das Regiment bei dem Abmarsch der Division die tete der Colone ausmachte, musste sich daselbst rechts und links öfnen, um denen übrigen Regimentern Raum zu geben, sich durchzuziehen. Wie die gantze Linie durch war, schloss sich das Regiment wieder zusammen, und erwartete den Angriff des Feindes. Der Feind beunruhigte uns in der Retraite weiter nicht, als wir mit dem Regiment die plaine erreicht hatten. Der General Major Tryon gab seinen völligen Beyfall über das gute Betragen des Regiments dem Herrn Obrist Lieutenant von Hanstein zu erkennen. Nachdem alles wieder embarquiert war ging die Flotte unter Seegel und life noch denselben Abend [10r] in den Hafen von Huntington ein, den 10ten July ging die Flotte unter General Tryon abermahls unter Seegel und anckerte Abends gegen 7 Uhr an der Küste von Connecticut 4 Meile vom feindlichen Ufer und man wendete sich gegen Norvorox, die ein gleiches Schicksaal mit Fairfield hatte.

Citation: [Quartermaster Wilhelm Bockewitz], Tagebuch des Leibinfantrieregiments, Universitätsbibliothek Kassel, Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek der Stadt Kassel, 4° Ms. Hass. 167, ff. 7r-10v.

Image: Charles A. Goodrich, Stories on the History of Connecticut; Designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Young Persons (Hartford, CT, 1829), 176.

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