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Your letter of the 21st ultimo arrived on the 5th instant, whereupon my Council being convened, amidst various accounts of the movements and designs of the enemy in New York, and some apprehensions of their hostile attack upon or invasion of this State, every exertion was made and making for its defence, by ordering the militia to be reviewed, and detachments to be sent to the sea-coasts, and valuable effects there deposited to be removed to interior parts, &c.
But unfortunately, before those preparations could be completed, namely, on the 6th instant, a party under the command of the infamous Arnold, made wanton destruction both of lives and property in New London and Groton, near the harbour. Though many material circumstances, relative to the tragical scene, are not yet obtainable with such a degree of precision and certainty as might be wished, yet, according to the best intelligence I have been able to collect, it seems a number exceeding one and perhaps two thousand, chiefly of chosen British and foreign troops, landed in the morning on both sides of the harbour's mouth, whereof one division immediately marched up to, and soon took possession of the town and fortifications of New London, which were evacuated on their approach, as being indefensible ; whilst, on the opposite shore, the fort on Groton bank, being attacked by six or eight hundred men, was nobly defended for a considerable time by about one hundred and fifty men, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel William Ledyard, who bravely repulsed the assailants until they suffered about one fourth part in killed and wounded. But, being overpowered by superior numbers, Colonel Ledyard, perceiving the enemy had gained possession of some part of the fort, and opened the gate, although he had only three of his men killed, thought proper to surrender himself with the garrison prisoners, and accordingly presented his sword to a British officer on the parade, who received the same, and immediately thrust it through that brave but unfortunate Commander ; whereupon the soldiery also pierced his body in many places with bayonets, and proceeded to massacre upwards of seventy of the officers and garrison, till, by the interposition of a British officer, who entered the fort too late to rescue the gallant officers, &c., about forty of the defenceless survivors were made prisoners, and carried off, exclusive of about the like number, who were wounded, and many of them dangerously.
This heroic opposition on the part of the garrison, however, together with the increasing appearance of the militia, and small skirmishes between some scattering parties and advanced guards, prevented the enemy from fully executing their savage plan, and occasioned them to retreat on board in the evening with precipitation, after having knocked off the trunnions of seven guns, and consumed by fire about seventyone dwelling-houses, sixty-five stores, twenty-two barns, a church, court-house, and jail, together with a number of vessels, lying unrigged, by the wharves. The rest of the shipping in the harbour was saved by running up Norwich River, and several valuable buildings, on each shore, preserved by quenching the flames.
The loss of property by the conflagration was, however, very great, and ruinous to many individuals, as also a sensible damage to the public. Yet, what is more to be regretted, is the unhappy fate of that worthy officer. Colonel Ledjard, and those brave men (many of whom sustained respectable characters, and were esteemed the flower of that town), who so gallantly fought and unfortunately fell with him, victims to British cruelty. I have given directions for procuring authenticated information of those transactions, as soon as the situation of the wounded and prisoners (some of whom are paroled) will admit ; which will be forwarded as soon as obtained. I have the honor to be, with every sentiment of esteem and consideration, your Excellency's
Most obedient and very humble servant,
- Correspondence of the American Revolution; Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, Volume III., Jared Sparks, 1853