Sept. 8, 1781.
I have the honour to inform your Excellency, that the transports with the detachment of troops under my orders anchored on the Long Island Shore on the 5th inst. At two o'clock P.M. about ten leagues from New London; and having made some necessary arrangements, weighed anchor at seven o'clock P.M. and stood for New London with a fair wind. At one o'clock the next morning we arrived off the harbour, when the wind suddenly shifted to the northward, and it was nine o'clock before the transports could beat in.
At ten o'clock, the troops in two divisions, and in four debarkations, were landed; one on each side the harbour about three miles from New London; that on the Groton side, consisting of the 40th and 54th regiments, and the 3d battalion of New Jersey volunteers, with a detachment of yagers and artillery, were under the command of Lieut. Col. Eyre. The division on the New London side consisted of the 38th reg. the loyal Americans, the American legion, refugees, and a detachment of sixty yagers, who were immediately on landing put in motion; and at 11 o'clock, being within a half mile of Fort Trumbull, which commands New London harbour, I detached Capt. Millet with four companies on the 38th reg. To attack the fort, who was joined on his march by Capt. Frink with one company of the American legion. At the same time I advanced with the remainder of the division, west of Fort Trumbull, on the road to the town, to attack a redoubt which had kept up a brisk fire upon us for some time, but which the enemy evacuated on our approach. In this work we found six pieces of cannon mounted, and two dismounted; soon after I had the pleasure to see Capt. Millet march into Fort Trumbull under a shower of grape shot from a number of cannon, which the enemy had turned upon him; and I have the pleasure to inform your Excellency, that, by the sudden attack and determined bravery of the troops, the fort was carried with the loss of only four or five men killed and wounded. Capt. Millet had orders to leave one company in Fort Trumbull, to detach one to the redoubt we had taken, and to join me the other two companies. No time on my part was lost in gaining the town of New London. We were opposed by a small body of the enemy with one field piece, who were obliged to leave the piece, which, being iron, was spiked and left.
As soon as the enemy were alarmed in the morning, we could perceive they were busily employed in bending sails, and endeavoring to get their privateers and other ships at Norwich River, out of our reach; but the wind being small, and the tide against them, they were obliged to anchor again. From information I received before and after my landing, I had reason to believe that Fort Griswold, on Groton side, was very incomplete; and I was assured (by friends to government) after my landing, that there were only 20 or 30 men in the fort; the inhabitants in general being on board their ships, and busy saving their property. On taking possession of Fort Trumbull, I found the enemy's ships would escape, unless we could posses ourselves of Fort Griswold; I therefore dispatched an officer to Lieut. Col. Eyre, with the intelligence I had received, and requested him to make an attack upon the fort as soon as possible; at which time I expected the howitzer was up, and would have been made use of.
On my gaining a height of ground in the rear of New London, from which I had a good prospect of Fort Griswold, I found it much more formidable than I expected, or than I had formed an idea of from the information I had before received; I observed at the same time, that the men who had escaped from Fort Trumbull, had crossed in boats and thrown themselves into Fort Griswold; and a favourable wind springing up about this time, the enemy's ships were escaping up the river, notwithstanding the fire from Fort Trumbull, and a six-pounder which I had with me. I immediately dispatched a boat with an officer to Lieut. Col. Eyre, to countermand my first orders to attack the fort, but the officer arrived a few minutes too late.
Lieut. Col. Eyre had sent Capt. Beckwith with a flag to demand a surrender of the fort, which was peremptorily refused, and the attack had commenced. After a most obstinate defence of near 40 minutes, the fort was carried by the superior bravery and perseverance of the assailants. The attack was judicious and spirited, and reflects the highest honour on the officers and troops engaged, who seemed to vie with each other in being first in danger. The troops approached on three sides of the work, which was a square, with flanks, made a lodgement in the ditch, and under heavy fire, which they kept up on the works, effected a second lodgement on the fraizing, which was attended with great difficulty, as only a few pickets could be forced out or broke in a place, and was so high that the soldiers could not ascend without assisting each other. Here the coolness and bravery of the troops were very conspicuous; as the first who ascended the fraize were obliged to silence a nine-pounder, which infiladed the place on which they stood, until a sufficient body had collected to enter the works, which was done with fixed bayonets through the embrazures, where they were opposed with great obstinacy by the garrison with long spears. On this occasion I have to regret the loss of Maj. Montgomery, who was killed by a spear in entering the enemy's works; also of Ensign Whillock, of the 40th reg. who was killed in the attack. Three other officers of the 54th reg. were also wounded, but I have the satisfaction to inform your Excellency that they are all in a fair way of recovery.
Lieut. Col. Eyre, who behaved with great gallantry, having received his wound near the works, and Major Montgomery being killed immediately after, the command devolved on Major Bromfield, whose behavior on this occasion does him great honour.
Lieut. Col. Buskirk, with the New Jersey volunteers and artillery, being the second debarkation, came up soon after the work was carried, having been retarded by the roughness of the country. I am much obliged to this gentleman for his exertions, although the artillery did not arrive in time.
I have enclosed a return of the killed and wounded, by which your Excellency will observe that our loss, though very considerable, is very short of the enemy's, who lost most of their officers, among whom was their commander Col. Ledyard. Eighty-five men were found dead in Fort Griswold, and 60 wounded, most of them mortally; their loss on the opposite side must have been considerable, but cannot be ascertained. I believe we have about 70 prisoners, besides the wounded, who were left paroled.
Ten or twelve of the enemy's ships were burned, among them three or four armed vessels, and one loaded with naval stores; an immense quantity of European and West India goods were found in the stores; among the former cargo of the Hannah, Capt. Watson, from London, lately captured by the enemy: the whole of which was burnt with the stores, which proved to contain a large quantity of powder, unknown to us; the explosion of the powder, and change of wind, soon after the stores were fired, communicated the flames to part of the town, which was, notwithstanding every effort to prevent it, unfortunately destroyed.
Upwards of 50 pieces of iron cannon were destroyed in the different works (exclusive of the guns of the ships), a particular return of which I cannot do myself the honour to transmit to your Excellency at this time.
A very considerable magazine of powder, and barracks to contain 300 men, were found in Fort Griswold, which Capt. Lemoine of the royal artillery had my positive directions to destroy; an attempt was made by him, but unfortunately failed; he had my orders to make a second attempt; the reasons why it was not done, Capt. Lemoine will have the honour to explain to your Excellency.
I should be wanting in justice to the gentlemen of the navy, did I omit to acknowledge that upon this expedition I have received every possible aid from them; Capt. Beasley has made every exertion to assist our operations, and not only gave up his cabin to the sick and wounded officers, but furnished them with every assistance and refreshment that his ship afforded.
Lord Dalrymple will have the honour to deliver my dispatches; I beg leave to refer your Excellency to his lordship for the particulars of our operations on the New London side. I feel myself under great obligations to him for his exertions upon the occasion.
Capt. Beckwith, who was extremely serviceable to me, returns with his lordship. His spirited conduct in the attack of Fort Griswold does him great honour, being one of the first officers who entered the works. I beg leave to refer your Excellency to him for the particulars of our operations on that side, and to say I have the highest opinion of his abilities as an officer.
I am greatly indebted to Capt. Stapleton (who acted as major of brigade) for his spirited conduct and assistance; in particular on the attack upon Fort Trumbull, and his endeavors to prevent plundering (when the public stores were burnt), and the destruction of private buildings.
The officers and troops in general behaved with the greatest intrepidity and firmness.
Return of the Killed and Wounded, and Missing.
Total. 1 major, 1 ensign, 2 serjeants, 44 rank and file, killed; 1 lieut. col. 3 captains, 2 lieutenants, 2 ensigns, 8 serjeants, 2 drummers, 127 rank and file, wounded; 8 rank and file, missing.
Names of Officers Killed and Wounded.
40th reg. Maj. Wm. Montgomery, Ensign Arch. Whillock, killed; Capt. Geo. Craigie, Lieut. H. Wm. Smyth, Ensign Tho. Hyde wounded, and since dead.
54th reg. Lieut. Col. Edm. Eyre, Capt. Rich. Powell, Lieut. Tho. Daunt, Ensign Wm. Rainsforth, Volunteer James Boyd, wounded.
American Legion. Capt Sam. Wogan, wounded.
Note: Sir Henry Clinton was Commander in Chief of British forces in America at this time.