American Revolution: Battle of Ridgefield

Benedict Arnold
Major General Benedict Arnold. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Battle of Ridgefield - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Ridgefield was fought April 27, 1777, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

Armies & Commanders

Americans

Battle of Ridgefield - Background:

In 1777, General Sir William Howe, commanding British forces in North America, commenced planning operations designed to capture the American capital at Philadelphia.

  These called for him to embark the bulk of his army in New York City and sail to the Chesapeake Bay where he would strike his target from the south.  In preparing for his absence, he provided the Royal Governor of New York, William Tryon, with a local commission as a major general and directed him to harass American forces in the Hudson Valley and Connecticut.  Early that spring, Howe learned through his intelligence network of the existence of a large Continental Army depot at Danbury, CT.  An inviting target, he instructed Tryon to put together a raid to destroy it.

Battle of Ridgefield - Tryon Prepares:

To accomplish this objective, Tryon assembled a fleet of twelve transports, a hospital ship, and several smaller vessels.  Overseen by Captain Henry Duncan, the fleet was to transport the 1,800 men of the landing force up the coast to Compo Point (in present-day Westport).  This command drew troops from 4th, 15th, 23rd, 27th, 44th, and 64th Regiments of Foot as well as contained a group of 300 Loyalists taken from the Prince of Wales American Regiment.

  Departing on April 22, Tyron and Duncan spent three days working their way up the coast.  Anchoring in the Saugatuck River, the British advanced eight miles inland before making camp.

Battle of Ridgefield - Striking Danbury:

Pushing north the next day, Tryon's men reached Danbury and found Colonel Joseph P.

Cooke's small garrison attempting to remove the supplies to safety.  Attacking, the British drove off Cooke's men after a brief skirmish.  Securing the depot, Tryon directed its contents, largely foodstuffs, uniforms, and equipment, to be burned.  Remaining in Danbury through the day, the British continued the destruction of the depot.  Around 1:00 AM on the night April 27, Tryon received word that American forces were approaching the town.  Rather than risk being cut off from the coast, he ordered the houses of Patriot supporters burned and made preparations to depart.

Battle of Ridgefield - The Americans Respond:

On April 26, as Duncan's ships passed Norwalk, word of the enemy's approach reached Major General David Wooster of the Connecticut militia and Continental Brigadier General Benedict Arnold at New Haven.  Raising the local militia, Wooster ordered it to proceed to Fairfield.  Following, he and Arnold arrived to find that the commander of the Fairfield County militia, Brigadier General Gold Silliman, had raised his men and moved north to Redding leaving orders that newly-arrived troops should join him there.  Uniting with Silliman, the combined American force numbered 500 militia and 100 Continental regulars.

  Advancing towards Danbury, the column was slowed by heavy rain and around 11:00 PM halted at nearby Bethel to rest and dry their powder.  To the west, word of Tryon's presence reached Brigadier General Alexander McDougall who began assembling Continental troops around Peekskill.

Battle of Ridgefield - A Running Fight:

Around dawn, Tryon departed Danbury and moved south with the intention of reaching the coast via Ridgefield.  In an effort to slow the British and allow additional American forces to arrive, Wooster and Arnold split their force with the latter taking 400 men directly to Ridgefield while the former harassed the enemy's rear.  Unaware of Wooster's pursuit, Tryon paused for breakfast approximately three miles north of Ridgefield.  A veteran of the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg, the French & Indian War, and the American Revolution's Canadian Campaign, the experienced Wooster struck and successfully surprised the British rearguard, killing two and capturing forty.

  Quickly withdrawing, Wooster attacked again an hour later.  Better prepared for action, British artillery repelled the Americans and Wooster fell mortally wounded.

As fighting commenced north of Ridgefield, Arnold and his men worked to build barricades in the town and blockaded the streets.  Around noon, Tryon advanced on the town and commenced an artillery bombardment of the American positions.  Hoping to flank the barricades, he then sent forward troops on either side of the town.  Having anticipated this, Silliman had deployed his men in blocking positions.  With his initial efforts halted, Tryon made use of his numerical advantage and attacked on both flanks as well as pushed 600 men directly against the barricade.  Supported by artillery fire, the British succeeded in turning Arnold's flank and running battle ensued as the Americans withdrew down Town Street.  In the course of the fighting, Arnold was nearly captured when his horse was killed, briefly pinning him between the lines.

Battle of Ridgefield - Back to the Coast:

Having driven off the defenders, Tyron's column camped for the night south of town.  During this time, Arnold and Silliman regrouped their men and received reinforcements in the form of additional New York and Connecticut militia as well as a company of Continental artillery under Colonel John Lamb.  The next day, while Arnold established a blocking position on Compo Hill that overlooked the roads leading to the landing beach, militia forces conducted an intense harassment of the British column similar to that faced during the British withdraw from Concord in 1775.

  Moving south, Tryon crossed the Saugatuck above Arnold's position forcing the American commander to join the militia in pursuit.

Reaching the coast, Tryon was met by reinforcements from the fleet.  Arnold attempted an attack with the support of Lamb's guns, but was pushed back by a British bayonet charge.  Losing another horse, he was unable to rally and reform his men to make another assault.  Having held, Tryon re-embarked his men and departed for New York City.

Battle of Ridgefield - Aftermath:

The fighting at the Battle of Ridgefield and supporting actions saw the Americans lose 20 killed and 40 to 80 wounded, while Tryon's command reported casualties of 26 killed, 117 wounded, and 29 missing.  Though the raid on Danbury achieved its objectives, the resistance faced during the return to the coast caused concern.  As a result, future raiding operations in Connecticut were limited to the coast including an attack by Tryon in 1779 and one by Arnold after his betrayal that resulted in the 1781 Battle of Groton Heights.  In addition, Tryon's actions led to an increase in support for the Patriot cause in Connecticut including an upswing in enlistments.  Newly-raised troops from the colony would aid Major General Horatio Gates later that year in the victory at Saratoga.  In recognition for his contributions during the Battle of Ridgefield, Arnold received his much-delayed promotion to major general as well as a new horse.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Battle of Ridgefield." ThoughtCo, Feb. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/battle-of-ridgefield-2360188. Hickman, Kennedy. (2016, February 17). American Revolution: Battle of Ridgefield. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-ridgefield-2360188 Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Battle of Ridgefield." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-ridgefield-2360188 (accessed June 18, 2018).