The Ride of Sybil Ludington and the Battle of Ridgefield

In late 1776, the Continental Congress established a supply depot at Danbury, Connecticut to support American efforts to repel the inevitable British invasion down the Hudson Valley from Canada. After the capture of New York, the British learned of the depot from loyalists. With near complete command of the sea they sent a raiding force to destroy the cache, before the Americans massed too many troops in the area which would surely happen after the snows melted in New England. (In fact, MG David Wooster, and BGs Benedict Arnold and Gold Silliman were in the area to do just that.)

On 25 April 1777, a Royal Navy flotilla landed a British/loyalist raiding force which marched on Danbury, not unlike the march on Concord two years before. That evening, a wounded and exhausted messenger arrived at the house of COL Henry Ludington, the local militia commander. Ludington immediately began organizing his men but the messenger could not go on, and like Paul Revere’s and Williams Dawes’ ride in 1776, it was necessary to alert the countryside to fully assemble the militia.

The task fell to Ludington’s sixteen year old daughter, Sybil, who mounted a horse and rode off into the rainy night to warn of the British advance. She first alerted Danbury, and then rode through Putnam and Dutchess counties in New York. Unlike the rides to warn of the British advance on Concord, Sybil’s ride was made in the face of constant loyalist danger. In all she rode 40 miles over eight hours (twice as long as Paul Revere), rallied the militia, avoided loyalists, and in at least one instance fought them off as she did so. 400 minutemen responded to Sybil’s call to arms, and she alerted the Continental Army generals.

Wooster’s Continentals and Ludington’s militia arrived in Danbury too late to save the depot. On the 26th, the raiding force destroyed the giant cache, and to teach the rebels a lesson they fired the town, completely destroying it. This infuriated the countryside, and more men flocked to Wooster and Ludington, who vowed to destroy the redcoats or chase them out of Connecticut.

The next day, several small skirmishes were fought with the withdrawing British, as more men descended upon the coast. Wooster caught up with the rear guard outside the town of Ridgefield. As the 67 year old Wooster led the attack, he yelled the famous last words of “Come on my boys! Never mind such random shots!” and as fate would have it, was mortally wounded. The unsuccessful attack however, did slow the British enough for a flanking party led by Benedict Arnold to establish a road block in town. The redcoats scattered the defenders with cannon fire, but Arnold took up command and with his characteristic energy drove the British out in disorder with a running gun battle down Main Street. After sniping and probing the British march the entire way, Arnold made one last attempt to attack the British on the beach, but the waiting ships’ guns and a timely bayonet charge allowed the British to escape.

The British destruction of Danbury and the use of cannon on Ridgefield infuriated the citizens of Connecticut and upper New York, whose population was previously divided evenly between rebels, loyalists, and undecideds. The destruction of the depot was a blow to Continental efforts in the area, but was quickly replaced with donations by patriots and fence sitters who were now dedicated to the American cause, and stores confiscated by patriots as the loyalists were driven out. Over 3000 Connecticuters volunteered for service in the Continental Army in early 1777, more than three times what Arnold was expecting to recruit from the area for the upcoming Hudson Valley campaign. The redcoats would no longer be able to raid so far inland in Connecticut. Future raids would be confined to the coastal towns.

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