William Ledyard and The Fort Griswold Massacre

William Ledyard and The Fort Griswold Massacre

William Ledyard was a small time American Revolutionary who rose to Command Forts Trumbull and Griswold.

Ledyard was killed during a slaughter of American troops at the end of the Revolutionary War.

Mr. Washington Goes To Yorktown

It was August of 1781, and George Washington began moving the Main Army of Continentals south to Yorktown.

We know now that this would be the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War.

It seems that the British had their suspicions also, as they sent 1,700 soldiers to New London, Connecticut. Their goal was to convince Washington he was still needed in the North and have him turn around.

This did not work and instead culminated in the last battle to take place in the Northern States.

Benedict Arnold’s Return

Benedict Arnold, who had become a traitor and defected to the British just a year earlier, was chosen to lead the attack.

This was his hometown.

He was coming to retake his country.

New London was on the Thames River, which had two forts, one on each side of its outlet into the Long Island Sound. Fort Trumbull (named after Connecticut’s Governor) lay on the west side of the river while Fort Griswold lay on the east.

What ensued was the Battle of Groton Heights, often also referred to as the Battle of Fort Griswold.

The Battle of Groton Heights

Arnold attacked the left side, easily taking Fort Trumbull. He then set fire to New London, burning most of it to the ground.

Assuming Fort Griswold would be the easier target, Arnold delegated the taking of the east side of the Thames outlet to his subordinates.

The fighting at Griswold ended up being extreme. The British made little headway and took heavy losses.

Despite this, the Redcoats offered terms of surrender to the Americans.

Lieutenant Colonel William Ledyard refused this courtesy.

William Ledyard

Little is known about the early life of William Ledyard.

We do know that he was an early member of the Connecticut Committee of Correspondence and that he joined his State Militia early in the Revolutionary War in an artillery division.

Ledyard rose through the ranks by using his station in New London to spy on the British, sending significant pieces of intelligence to George Washington.

By the time of the Battle of Groton Heights, William was named Commander of both Fort Trumbull and Fort Griswold.

Storming of the Fort

After the British offered the Americans terms of surrender, Ledyard turned them down.

The second time terms were offered, Ledyard again said no.

The Redcoats were not happy with this and, despite significant losses, they overran the Fort Griswold with their superior numbers. In an engagement which was eerily similar to Bunk Hill, several of the highest-ranking British officers were killed during this siege.

With Benedict Arnold still on the other side of the river, several lesser officers took charge. This would be a tragic turn of events.

The Massacre

With the British having occupied the fort, William Ledyard finally surrendered.

He handed his sword to an officer.

This man, disobeying the rules of war, stabbed Ledyard with his own weapon.

The Redcoats then proceeded to execute over a hundred Patriots.

It was one of the worst massacres of the Revolution. It has even been said that the Marquis de Lafayette shouted ‘Remember Fort Griswold’ as he urged his men to storm the British encampment at Yorktown just six weeks later.

To read about other Founder who died in service of their country, check out these articles on Nathaniel Scudder and John Laurens.

Due to the fact that there is little information on Ledyard (and surprisingly, no text specifically about Fort Griswold) I had trouble choosing a book to recommend today. I decided to go with ‘Connecticut Families of the Revolution’ since today’s story took place in the Provisions State. It is an interesting look at several of the underappreciated Founders and can be picked up through the Amazon affiliate link below.

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