winter scene at Putnam Park

Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhh Not again!!!

In the winter of 1778-79, General Israel Putnam’s division of the Continental Army encamped at Redding, Connecticut. Troops began to arrive at camp in November and would continue to arrive until late December.

Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons arrived at Camp 2nd Hill (the middle camp) on November 14th.

The journal of Lt. Col. Henry Dearborn, 3rd New Hampshire Regiment shows his troops arrived at the main camp (Putnam Park) on November 30th. It also indicates a mixture of snow & rain in December:

* Dec. 10th: the weather very Cold, the Snow about 6 inches.
* Dec. 13th: a very heavy storm of Rain and no bread for two days.
* Dec. 17th: a heavy Rain…
* Dec. 22nd : a severe Snow storm…
* Dec. 24th: we had Snow last night & very severe Cold today. Our men are well…Clothed and well hutted.
* Dec. 26th: we have a very severe Snow storm.
* Dec. 27th: the weather seems more like Canada, then Connecticut…

The 8th Connecticut Regiment, which encamped at Camp 2nd Hill (the middle camp), 1-2 miles to the West of the main camp, arrived “about Christmas or a little before”. Private Joseph Plumb Martin’s writes:

“We arrived at Reading about Christmas or a little before, and prepared to build our huts for our winter quarters. And now came on the time again between grass and hay, that is the winter campaign of starving.”

“…I assisted in the building of our winter huts. We got them in such a state of readiness that we moved into them about New Year’s Day. The reader may take my word, if he pleases, when I tell him that we had nothing extraordinary, either eatables or drinkables, to keep a New Year or housewarming.”

Camp Life: What the soldiers did during waking hours depended on the day and the weather. Rainy/Snowy days would be spent in their huts and/or tents repairing their gear and weapons, sewing torn clothing, or if they were lucky playing cards or dice. Sunny days would be spent foraging for wood and food; assembly and drilling in preparation for battle; scouting missions to ferret out Tories or spies; scouting missions to determine whether Cattle or any species of provision found near the lines are in danger of falling into the hands of the Enemy, or are carried there with an intent to supply them.; patrols or marches in response to British alarms.

Many of the Connecticut troops were placed on patrols at Horseneck, Stamford and Norwalk. Some were sent over to “no-man’s land” in Westchester County and several hundred troops were sent to New London for guard duty and the construction of Fort Griswold.

Private Martin’s diary indicates some of the local troops obtained furloughs in February.

“It was now the beginning of February. Many of the men had obtained furloughs to go home and visit their friends…”

Martin was one of those sent to New London from March until May, and from his entries, the conditions there were not any better than in Redding.

“I had not been in camp more than a week before I was sent off with a large detachment to New London to guard the fortifications in and about that town…we were put into houses, and here, too, we almost starved to death, and I believe should have quite starved, had we not found some clams…we stayed here, starving, until the first of May, when we received orders to march to camp and join our regiments.”

Orders and reports coming out of Redding or relating to Redding:

Camp, 2nd Hill, Nov. 17, 1778

“The General having obtained permission of the Commander in Chief to be absent a few days from the Division, the Command will devolve upon Brigadier General Huntington. General McDougal is happy that it falls upon a gentleman in whose care for and attention to the Troops he has the utmost confidence. The orders will be issued as usual at the Headquarters of the Division.”

Report out of the New Hampshire division, Date unknown

“162 men in Hazen’s regiment were ‘unfit for duty for want of shoes.'”

Report out of the New Hampshire division, Dec. 5, 1778

“at twelve at night we were alarmed by hearing that the enemy are at Terry Town (below Peekskill) in force. In consequence of which a detachment of 1500 men from the three brigades under General Putnam’s command were ordered to march…'”

Report out of the New Hampshire division, Dec. 9, 1778

“we returned to camp…'”

Report out of the New Hampshire division, Dec. 12, 1778

“we are very busy at work upon our huts, amongst the snow…'”

Report out of the New Hampshire division, Dec. 16, 1778

“we begin to get into our huts…'”

General Putnam’s Orders, Dec. 18, 1778

“Lieut. Col. Bulter of Wylly’s Regiment is promoted to the command of the 2nd Company Battalion and is to be obeyed as such. Colonel Meigs is appointed Inspector of the Division and to do the duty of Adj. General for the same until further orders. Quartermaster Belding of the 1st Connecticut Brigade is appointed Quartermaster of the Division and is to do that duty until further orders. David Humphrey, Esq. Late Brigade Major to General Parsons is appointed aide de camp to General Putnam until further orders.”

Report out of the New Hampshire division, Dec. 19, 1778

“we are in our huts…'”

Report out of the New Hampshire division, Dec. 22, 1778

“a severe snow storm…'”

Report out of the New Hampshire division, Dec. 25, 1778

“Christmas Day. The Weather is so cold we take but little notice of the day…'”

Report out of the New Hampshire division, Dec. 26, 1778

” we have a very severe snow storm…”

Parsons’ Brigade Orders, Dec. 27, 1778

“The General of the brigade informs the officers and soldiers that he has used every possible method to supply flour or bread to the brigade. Although a sufficiency of every article necessary is at Danbury, the weather had been so extreme that it is impossible for teams to pass to that place. Every measure is taken to supply flour, rum, salt and every necessary tomorrow, at which time, if a quantity sufficient comes in, all past allowances shall be made up. The General, therefore, desires for the honor of this corps and their own personal reputation, the soldiery, under the special circumstances caused by the severity of the season, will make themselves contented to that time.”

Petition of the Connecticut Soldiers in the Revolutionary Army, to His Excellency, Jonathan Trumbull, Governor of Connecticut. Captain Nathaniel Webb’s Orderly Book, Camp Reading, Dec. 27, 1778.

“May it please your Excellency. The Sense of Importance of opposing with Force, ye attempts of Great Britain to enslave our Country, induces us to lay before your Excellency the Condition of that Part of ye Army raised from the State of Connecticut & ye great Danger of their disbanding & returning to their several Homes.

They have may it please your Excellency been promised a Blanket, & other Clothing annually from ye Continent & a Blanket from ye State every year, for each non-commissioned Officer & Soldier, those Promises have not been complied with, so far from it, that although we have not, one half ye Quota of Men this State was to raise, we assure you not less than four hundred are to this Day totally destitute, & no one has received two Blankets according to Contract, nor has more than one half of the Clothing promises ever been received or any compensation made for ye deficiency, that when they have Coats they are without Breeches, & when they are supplied with Shoes, they have neither Stockings nor Shirts, & at this Inclement Season many of our Men are suffering for want of Blankets, Shirts, Breeches, Shoes & Stockings, & some are destitute of Coats & Waistcoats.

The increasing Price of every necessary [necessity] and Convenience of Life, is another Grievance most [unreadable] experienced by ye Soldiery in their Marches, & in other Situations, they are necessitated to purchase Provisions and Vegetables when in Camp. The Prices now asked for one Meal is from three to eight Shillings. Turnips from two to three Dollars per Bushel & other Vegetables in proportion, that a Soldiers month Pay is consumed in about three days in furnishing himself with necessaries not supplied by the Public. – These are Grievances very greatly and Justly complained of by your Soldiers, & Officers of every Rank are Sharers in the Consequences of these Evils.

An expectation of Redress has retained ye Soldiery hitherto, but Desertions Daily increase & unless that Justice which is their due is done, We assure your Excellency we fear it will not be in our Power to retain them. We have ye greatest Reason to believe they will wait ye Event only of their Petition at ye Adj. Assembly, & should that Assembly arise without doing them Justice in ye past depredation of ye Currency, we are convinced ye greater part of ye Soldiery will desert.

We assure your Excellency we have & shall continue to appease every discontent which has ye remotest Tendency to produce Mutiny & Desertion or any other Act prejudicial to ye Service & we have ye Satisfaction to believe we posses ye Love & Affection of ye Soldiery & that they are not desirous to forsake us or ye Cause of their Country.

But it may please your Excellency they are naked in severe Winter, they are hungry & have no Money… We have promised them redress, we have assured them of ye good Intentions of their Country towards them, & that Justice…us as their Soldiery under our Command which is our just Right, but we cannot be convinced tis’ more.

Reasonable for us to rely on ye Provision Congress may be supposed to make some future Time, than for this State to rely on that Body for doing them Justice, especially when we consider ye conditions of ye Officers & Soldiers from ye Extreme Parts of ye States in ye Union, are so very different that one general Rule cannot be adopted which will do justice, & that when we consider that your Excellency is your Proclamation for raising ye Soldiers pledge ye faith of ye State for ye punctual fulfillment of every Engagement, made with ye Soldiers by Congress.

We hope & trust that our Assembly at their next Session will remove ye Causes of out Complaint & satisfy us those Loses we have sustained by ye past depreciation of Money & give those Assurances of keeping good our future pay & redress our other Grievances that no Cause of Complaint may remain among us, but should not this be done, we still think it to be our Indispensible Duty to make this public Representation before ye Evils we are convinced will flow from them have happened, least we should be [tough to read, ends in r-e-d] for our Silence when ye Event has taken place.

We beg your Excellency to lay this Representation before ye Assembly & to assure them we have ye most ardent Desire to assist in our several Stations in reducing that Power which involved out Country in this Cruel War & to promote that Order & decency in ye Soldiery, so necessary to ye Attainment of this End. We have furnished our Agent with a Calculation, founded on ye best Evidence in our power, that being adopted by our Assembly will in our Opinion quiet our Troops & that nothing short will give them Satisfaction.

We have the Honor to be with ye Greatest Esteem Your Excellencies.
Ob’t Servants”

Source: New England Historical and Genealogical Register (1873) Vol. 27:58-60

The journals of private Joseph Plumb Martin (stationed with the 8th Connecticut in Parsons’ middle camp) January, 1779

“We settled in our winter quarters at the commencement of the new year and went on in our old Continental Line of starving and freezing. We now and then got a little bad bread and salt beef (I believe chiefly horse-beef for it was generally thought to be such at the time). The month of January was very stormy, a good deal of snow fell, and in such weather it was mere chance if we got anything at all to eat.”

George Washington to Deputy Clothier Gen. George Measam, January 8, 1779

“It has been represented to me that the troops of Connecticut are in great want of Shirts, Stockings and Shoes. This leads me to inquire of you whether they have not received their proportion of these Articles in common with the rest of the Army. The troops in general have obtained orders for a Shirt and pair of Stockings per man and a pair of Shoes to each that wanted. If the Connecticut Troops have not been furnished … you will on receiving proper Returns for that purpose supply them in conformity to this Rule.”

George Washington to the Board of War, January 9, 1779

“Sir: I have the honor. of yours of the 7th. instant. As there is not probably a sufficiency of Mittens for the whole Army, a partial distribution would occasion uneasiness among those who were not supplied. Instead therefore of a general delivery, I should think it better to have them lodged with the Clothiers attending the Army to be delivered out occasionally to detachments going upon a duty that will expose them to the inclemency of the Weather.”

General Putnam’s Orders, Feb. 4, 1779

Edward Jones was tried at a General Court Martial for going to and serving the enemy, and coming out as a spy. He was found guilty of each and every charge exhibited against him, and according to Law and the Usage’s of Nations was sentenced to suffer Death:

“The General approves the sentence and orders it to be put in execution between the hours of ten and eleven A.M. by hanging him by the neck till he be dead.”

General Putnam’s Orders, Feb. 6, 1779

John Smith of the 1st Connecticut Regiment, was tried at a General Court Martial for desertion and attempting to go to the enemy, found guilty, and further persisting in saying that he will go to the enemy if ever he has an opportunity.

“The General approves the sentence and orders that it be put in execution between the hours of ten and twelve A.M. for him to be shot to death”

Report out of Canadian 2nd Regiment, Feb. 11, 1779

“This day a detachment from our Brigade (under the command of Major Torrey of our Regiment) consisting of one Major, two Captains, four Subalterns, six Sergeants, six Corporals, two Drums and Fifes, and one hundred and one Privates, marched from here to reinforce the Detachment at Horse Neck (Greenwich).”

General Putnam’s Orders, Feb. 13, 1779

“The General directs that no person be permitted to visit the prisoners under sentence of death unless at their request as frequent complaints have been made that they are interrupted in their private devotions by persons who come for no other purpose but to insult them.”

Headquarters, Reading, March 21, 1779

“Col. Hazen’s Regiment will march to Springfield in 3 Divisions by the shortest notice: the first Division will march on Monday next, and the other two will follow on Thursday and Friday next, weather permitting, and in case the detached parties join the Regiment, Col. Hazen will take with him one piece of Cannon and a proportionate number of Artillery men.”

Headquarters, Reading, April 11, 1779

“The officers are requested to lose no time in preparing for the field, that they may be ready to leave their present quarters at the shortest notice…No officers whose duty does not really require him to be on horseback will be permitted to keep horses with the Army- It ought to be the pride of an officer to share the fatigues, as well as the dangers to which the men are exposed to on foot…General Washington strongly recommends the officers divest themselves (as much as possible) of everything superfluous.”

Headquarters, Reading, May 24, 1779

“General Parsons orders the Brigade to be ready to march tomorrow at 6 o’clock A.M. Complete for Action.” *This Brigade seems to have returned to the Highlands via Ridgefield and Bedford.

Headquarters, Reading, May 27, 1779

“Major General Putnam about to take command of one of the Wings of the Grand Army, before he leaves the troops who have served under him the winter past, thinks it his duty to signify to them his entire approbation of their regular and soldier like conduct, and wishes them a successful and glorious campaign.”

Headquarters, Reading, May 28, 1779

“Daniel Vaughn and Jonathan Gore of the 8th Connecticut Regiment. Tried by a Brigade Court Martial whereof Lt. Col. Sumner was President, for stealing a cup from Captain Zalmon Read of Reading. The Court are of the opinion that the charges against Vaughn and Gore are not supported.”

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Redding’s Early Militias

As early as 1739, a company or “train band” of sixty-four soldiers and three officers existed in Redding. “Train bands” were common in colonial times, they were local militias formed for the protection of town residents, generally they served as a defense from Indian attacks. These local train bands were formally organized into regiments via an October, 1739 Act that stated:

“…for the better regulating the Militia of this Colony, and putting it in a more ready posture for the Defense of the Same…all military companies in this Colony shall be formed into regiments…”

Redding being a part of Fairfield belonged to the “Fourth Regiment Connecticut Militia”.

By May, 1754, there were two separate companies of militia in Redding – One (West militia) commanded by members of the Congregational society at Redding Center, the other (East militia) commanded by members of the Anglican society at Redding Ridge.

West Militia Officers, 1754:
Samuel Sanford, Captain; Daniel Hull, Lieutenant; John Read, Ensign.

East Militia Officers, 1754:
Joshua Hall, Captain; James Morgan, Lieutenant; Daniel Lyon, Ensign.

Members of both companies served with British troops in the French and Indian War (Seven Year War).

Redding CT and the Revolutionary War, 1775-1777

After the battles in Lexington and Concord, members of both militia’s (East & West) again served together with The 10th Company, 5th Connecticut Regiment which joined other colonial militias for the Invasion of Canada in June/July 1775. Zalmon Read, Ezekiel Sanford, David Peet and Benjamin Nichols appear as officers in William E. Grumman’s history, titled Revolutionary Soldiers of Redding, Connecticut. Most of Redding soldiers returned in November of that same year, though some did remain during the siege of Montreal that winter.

The Redding Militia’s were again called to duty in March of 1776. Orders to assemble and march to New York City were issued for the Battle of Long Island, but this time, the Anglican East Company militia, mutinied and refused to assemble. In response, the Connecticut General Assembly issued arrest warrants for the militia’s officers (Daniel Hill, Peter Lyon, Samuel Hawley) causing some East Company members to flee to the enemy for refuge.

Redding’s West Company militia did assemble, march and fight in the Battle of Long Island, the Battle of Fort Washington and the Battle of White Plains in 1776.

The first action of the town in regard to the war is found in the records of a town meeting held on April 2, 1777, when a committee was appointed “to hire a number of soldiers to serve in the Continental Army.” It was also voted that the “sum or sums said committee promise to or do pay to those soldiers…be paid by town rates, and the Selectmen are ordered to and desired to make a rate to collect the money.” In the same meeting a committee was also appointed “to take care of the families of those soldiers that are in service of their country.”

A month later evidence of the war’s affect on town officials was recorded in a May 5, 1777 meeting appointing “David Jackson, Seth Sanford, Thaddeus Benedict, and John Gray as selectmen” to take the place of Stephen Betts and James Rogers who had been taken prisoner by the British during their march through Redding en route to Danbury. Betts and Rogers were later released in September of 1777.

British Raid of Danbury, 1777

The British Army’s march through Redding Ridge is the only direct contact Redding residents had with British troops in the Revolution. It created much excitement and afforded the Collier’s an opportunity to bring that excitement to life in my brother Sam is dead. Twenty-four vessels carrying around 1,550 regular British troops and some 300 Loyalist militiamen from “Browne’s Provincial Corps”, many of whom were originally from Connecticut, arrived on the shores of Compo Beach in Westport, Connecticut on April 25, 1777. Their mission?: destroy the rebel military supply depot at Danbury, Connecticut. Lord Howe, the commander of the British troops, stationed at New York City, had long meditated an attack on Connecticut and news of provisions being stored at Danbury provided the incentive he desired.

Howe chose William Tryon, the deposed British governor of New York, as Commander and two military men: Brigadier General James Agnew, second in command and Brigadier General Sir William Erskine as third in command for the expedition.

Tryon had been Governor of New York up until the Revolution and was said to have been consumed with “an inveterate hatred and thirst for revenge” on the rebel Yankees. He had a special grudge against Connecticut, the sturdy little colony that had thwarted him in a variety of ways:

“Her horseman had scattered organs of revolutionary propaganda through the streets of New York; her “Sons of Liberty” had plotted against him even in his own city; treated with contempt his proclamations, using them as specimens of the governor’s pleasant humor.”

He had the further merit of being intimately acquainted with the towns and landscape of Connecticut. He had been as far inland as Litchfield, had probably visited Danbury, and had been dined and feted at Norwalk, Fairfield, and New Haven. He seems to have acted as a *guide to the expedition while giving **Agnew and Erskine the responsibility of tactical operations.

*Tryon was aided by local Tories who had fled from the area and joined the British army. The locals intimate knowledge of the roadways and landscape in and around Southwestern Connecticut was a vital asset to the British troops.

**Agnew was injured at some point during the weekend and Erskine took over as second in command.; He was very capable in that role. Earlier that winter, Erskine had led a foraging expedition to New Jersey in which “he routed the rebels with great slaughter; he took no prisoners.”

Via 40 or 50 flatboats the troops disembarked at Compo between five and six in the afternoon, and that same evening marched to Fairfield, about seven miles distant, where they encamped for the night. News that the British had landed at Compo, encamped at Fairfield, and would march through Redding the next day, was conveyed to the residents at an early hour, and occasioned the greatest consternation and excitement.

Money and valuables were hastily secreted in wells and other places of concealment; horses and cattle were driven into the forests, and the inhabitants along the enemy’s probable route held themselves in readiness for instant flight. Knowing of Tryon’s ill-natured propensity for women and boys: the latter especially he made prisoners of, carrying them off to the horrible prison ships and sugar houses of New York, holding them as hostages on the justification that they “would very soon grow into rebels.” The women of Redding gathered all boys under the age of thirteen and transferred them to secluded places, where they remained until Tryon was gone.

On receiving intelligence of the landing at Compo, Captain Zalmon Read mustered his company of militia, and forthwith marched to intercept the invaders. At a place called Couch’s Rock, in Weston, Connecticut, they came suddenly upon a British flanking company and were taken as prisoners. Town selectman, James Rogers, Timothy Parsons, Russell Bartlett and 13 year old, Jacob Patchen were among the prisoners. In Charles Burr Todd’s History of Redding, Todd relates that:

“Timothy Parsons, had a fine musket which he particularly valued; this a British soldier took, and dashed to pieces on the stones, saying it should waste no more rebel bullets.”

Meanwhile, Colonel Joseph Platt Cooke, commander of the 16th militia regiment in Danbury, had followed General Gold S. Silliman’s instructions and sent all available men from Danbury to Fairfield. Silliman mistakenly assumed that the British intended to attack Fairfield. Other troops were sent toward the Hudson River, in response to a number of ships the British had strategically positioned there to confuse the American generals. This left the Military Depot at Danbury in a vulnerable state.

On the morning of the 26th, at a very seasonable hour (11am-12 noon), the British troops arrived and halted at Redding Ridge. During the halt the main body of the troops remained under arms on the green in front of the Anglican church. Tryon, Agnew, and Erskine were invited into Esquire William Heron’s home (the first house south of the Christ Church Episcopal, no longer in existence). Here they were reported to have been “hospitably entertained with cake, wine, and it is presumed, many hopeful prognostications of the speedy collapse of the rebellion.” Shortly after their meeting, a file of soldiers entered the house of Lieutenant Stephen Betts, a prominent patriot who lived across the street from the church and seized him. Daniel Sanford, his son, Jeremiah Sanford (19 years old), and 16 year old, Benjamin Lines, met a like fate. Three of Redding’s loyalists joined British Troops on this day: Samuel Hawley, James Gray, and Joseph Lyon. Lyon had been in hiding for 33 days.

As the army prepared to resume its march north, a horseman was observed spurring rapidly down *Couch Hill Road (present day- Sunset Hill Road) toward them. He was within musket shot before discovering their presence and though he turned to fly when he saw their red coats, he was shot, and severely wounded in the attempt. He proved to be a messenger from Colonel Cooke in Danbury, bearing dispatches to General Silliman. His name was Lambert Lockwood. Tryon had formerly known him in Norwalk, where Lockwood had rendered him a service, and Tryon seems to have acted on this occasion with some kindness, as he released him on parole, and allowed him to be taken into a house so his wounds could be dressed.

*Bethel, CT historians have the same narrative occurring on Hoyt’s Hill in Bethel. Luther Holcomb is the unfortunate horseman in that version of the story. Whomever the horseman was he was likely carrying an S.O.S. from Cooke; Danbury was in grave danger.

All in all, the British troops spent one to two hours on Redding Ridge before resuming their march to Danbury with the **Redding militiamen captured in Weston, Patriots Stephen Betts, Daniel Sanford, Jeremiah Sanford and a non-combatant (B. Lines) captured in Redding. One British soldier, Bernard Keeler, deserted at Redding Ridge and lived in town until his death in 1827.

**Betts, Bartlett, Lines, Patchen, and most of the Redding militiamen would all eventually return to Redding. Daniel Sanford, Jeremiah Sanford, Daniel Chapman, and David Fairchild died in captivity while being held in the “sugar houses” of New York, where sanitation was deplorable and disease was rampant.

As the British marched toward Danbury, the remaining patriots of Redding anxiously awaited the approach of the Patriot troops in pursuit. At length they came in view, marching wearily, in sodden, disordered ranks, a small army of five hundred men and boys, led by Brigadier General Silliman. They were comprised of soldiers from the companies of Colonel Lamb’s battalion of artillery, with three rusty cannon, a field-piece, part of the artillery company of Fairfield, and sixty Continentals; the rest were an untrained assemblage, chiefly old men and boys. It was eight o’clock in the evening when the troops arrived at Redding Ridge-an evening as disagreeable as a northeast rainstorm with its attendant darkness could make it. Here the troops halted an hour for rest and refreshment. At the expiration of that time a bugle was heard from far down the turnpike; then the tramp of horsemen was heard, and presently Major General Wooster and Brigadier General Arnold, dashed into the village of Redding Ridge.

On hearing that the British were so far ahead, it is said that Arnold became so enraged that he could scarcely keep his seat, and his terrible oaths fell on his auditor’s ears like thunder claps. Wooster at once assumed command, and the column moved forward through the muddy and heavily rutted roadway as far as Bethel, where it halted for the night. At Danbury, but three miles distant, Tryon’s force was at rest, and might have been annihilated by a determined effort, but the Continental command was hampered by the weather conditions, heavily rutted roadways and fatigue.

Benedict Arnold to McDougall, West Redding, April 27th, 1777, 10am:

“Last night at half past eleven, General Wooster, General Silliman and myself with six hundred militia arrived at Bethel, *eight miles from Danbury. The excessive heavy rains rendered their arms useless, and many of the troops were much fatigued having marched thirty miles in the course of the day without refreshment.”

*distances from Danbury vary from 2.5 miles to 8 miles, depending on who is reporting back to their superiors. In this case Arnold incorrectly states they were 8 miles from Danbury; They were within 3 miles of Danbury, at the intersection of Elizabeth Street and Blackman Avenue.

The British had reached Danbury at approximately 5:00 pm and driven off the Patriots who had been attempting to remove supplies. Later that evening, four patriot defenders who had stayed behind opened fire on British troops from a house in town owned by Major Daniel Starr, among the patriots was “Ned”, a slave of Redding’s Samuel Smith. Two companies of British regulars charged and put the dwelling to the torch killing all the men inside. Before their departure early the next morning, the British had destroyed much of the Rebel’s depot: barrels of pork and beef, barrels of flour, bushels of grain, hogsheads of rum and wine, thousands of shoes, stockings and tents among other supplies. Provisions the Continental troops would long for come the winter of 1778-79.

Following the events of April 26th and 27th, Redding played a supporting role to the Continental army’s efforts in the War of Independence. May 8, 1778, Captain Zalmon Read and Asahel Fitch were appointed to provide “shirts, shoes, stockings and other articles of clothing for the Continental soldiers.” December 17, 1778, another committee was appointed to care for the families of the following soldiers from Redding: Nathan Coley, Stephen Meeker, Elias Bixby, Jeremiah Sherwood, Samuel Remong. These soldiers were among General Israel Putnam’s encampment in Redding.

Putnam’s Winter Encampment at Redding

General Israel Putnam’s division of the Continental Army encamped in Redding in the winter of 1778-1779. This division was comprised of General Poor’s brigade of New Hampshire troops under Brig. General Enoch Poor, a Canadian Regiment led by Col. Moses Hazen, and two brigades of Connecticut troops: 2nd Brigade Connecticut Line regiments commanded by Brig. General Jedediah Huntington, and the 1st Brigade Connecticut Line regiments commanded by Brig. General Samuel H. Parsons. This division had been operating along the Hudson (Eastern New York) during the fall, and as winter approached it was decided that it should go into winter quarters at Redding, as from this position it could support the important fortress of West Point in case of attack, intimidate the Cowboys and Skinners of Westchester County, and cover lands adjacent to Long Island Sound. Another major reason was to protect the Danbury supply depot, which had been burned by the British the year before but resurrected to keep supplies going to Washington’s army.

Colonel Aaron Burr, one of General Putnam’s aides and a frequent visitor to Redding, had suggested that Putnam look over the area for a future winter encampment during a summer visit to General Heath’s Brigade in Danbury. Putnam found the topography and location ideal. Three camp locations were marked and later prepped by artificers and surveyors under the direction of the Quartermaster staff: the first in the northeast part of Lonetown, near the Bethel line, on land owned by John Read, 2nd (now Putnam Park). The second was about a mile and a half west of the first camp, between Limekiln Rd. and Gallows Hill in the vicinity of present day Whortleberry Rd. & Costa Lane. The third camp was in West Redding, on a ridge about a quarter of a mile north of West Redding Station (vicinity of present day Deer Spring Drive & Old Lantern Road).

The main camp, which is now known as Putnam Memorial State Park, was laid out with admirable judgement, at the foot of rocky bluffs which fenced in the western valley of the Little River. 116 huts were erected to form an avenue nearly a quarter mile in length, and several yards in width. At the west end of the camp was a mountain brook, which furnished a plentiful supply of water; near the brook a forge was said to have been erected. The second and third camps, were both laid out on the southerly slopes of hills with streams of running water at their base.

Each of the camps were strategically positioned to defend main highways in and out of town: Danbury to Fairfield; Danbury to Norwalk; Redding to Danbury and points north (stage coach route).

As to the exact location of Putnam’s headquarters, authorities differ, but all agree in placing it on Umpawaug Hill. Some of Putnam’s officers were quartered in a house later owned by *Samuel Gold (Limekiln Rd.); others in a house later occupied by *Sherlock Todd (also on Limekiln Rd). General Parsons’ headquarters were at Stephen Betts Tavern on Redding Ridge.

*Samuel Gold’s and Sherlock Todd’s house locations can be found on Beers 1867 map of Redding. They were not the owners during the winter of 1778-79. I use their names because it gives readers an opportunity to view the locations on a published map.

The troops went into winter quarters at Redding in no pleasant humor, and almost in the spirit of insubordination. This was particularly the case with the **Connecticut troops. They had endured privations that many men would have sunk under: the horrors of battle, the weariness of the march, cold, hunger, and nakedness. What was worse, they had been paid in the depreciated currency of the times, which had scarcely any purchasing power, and their families at home were reduced to the lowest extremity of want and wretchedness.

Petition of the Connecticut Soldiers in the Revolutionary Army, to His Excellency, Jonathan Trumbull, Governor of Connecticut. Communicated by Mr. L.B., of New York. The following document is from Captain Nathaniel Webb’s Orderly Book.

Camp Reading, December 27th, 1778

Petition to his Excellency Gov. Trumbull. May it please your Excellency. The Sense of Importance of opposing with Force, ye attempts of Great Britain to enslave our Country, induces us to lay before your Excellency the Condition of that Part of ye Army raised from the State of Connecticut & ye great Danger of their disbanding & returning to their several Homes.

They have may it please your Excellency been promised a Blanket, & other Clothing annually from ye Continent & a Blanket from ye State every year, for each non-commissioned Officer & Soldier, those Promises have not been complied with, so far from it, that although we have not, one half ye Quota of Men this State was to raise, we assure you not less than four hundred are to this Day totally destitute, & no one has received two Blankets according to Contract, nor has more than one half of the Clothing promises ever been received or any compensation made for ye deficiency, that when they have Coats they are without Breeches, & when they are supplied with Shoes, they have neither Stockings nor Shirts, & at this Inclement Season many of our Men are suffering for want of Blankets, Shirts, Breeches, Shoes & Stockings, & some are destitute of Coats & Waistcoats.

The increasing Price of every necessary [necessity] and Convenience of Life, is another Grievance most [unreadable] experienced by ye Soldiery in their Marches, & in other Situations, they are necessitated to purchase Provisions and Vegetables when in Camp. The Prices now asked for one Meal is from three to eight Shillings. Turnips from two to three Dollars per Bushel & other Vegetables in proportion, that a Soldiers month Pay is consumed in about three days in furnishing himself with necessaries not supplied by the Public. – These are Grievances very greatly and Justly complained of by your Soldiers, & Officers of every Rank are Sharers in the Consequences of these Evils.

An expectation of Redress has retained ye Soldiery hitherto, but Desertions Daily increase & unless that Justice which is their due is done, We assure your Excellency we fear it will not be in our Power to retain them. We have ye greatest Reason to believe they will wait ye Event only of their Petition at ye Adj. Assembly, & should that Assembly arise without doing them Justice in ye past depredation of ye Currency, we are convinced ye greater part of ye Soldiery will desert.

We assure your Excellency we have & shall continue to appease every discontent which has ye remotest Tendency to produce Mutiny & Desertion or any other Act prejudicial to ye Service & we have ye Satisfaction to believe we posses ye Love & Affection of ye Soldiery & that they are not desirous to forsake us or ye Cause of their Country.

But it may please your Excellency they are naked in severe Winter, they are hungry & have no Money…[it goes on and on repeating the same theme for three more paragraphs]

We have furnished our Agent with a Calculation, founded on ye best Evidence in our power, that being adopted by our Assembly will in our Opinion quiet our Troops & that nothing short will give them Satisfaction. We have the Honor to be with ye Greatest Esteem Your Excellencies.
Ob’t Servants

George Washington to Deputy Clothier Gen. George Measam, Jan. 8, 1779

“It has been represented to me that the troops of Connecticut are in great want of Shirts, Stockings and Shoes. This leads me to inquire of you whether they have not received their proportion of these Articles in common with the rest of the Army. The troops in general have obtained orders for a Shirt and pair of Stockings per man and a pair of Shoes to each that wanted. If the Connecticut Troops have not been furnished … you will on receiving proper Returns for that purpose supply them in conformity to this Rule.”

The frustrations caused by the deprivations brought to a head the attempted mutiny on the morning of December 30th at Huntington’s camp. The troops had decided on the bold resolve of marching to Hartford, and airing their grievances in person to the Legislature then sitting. The two brigades were plotting their escape when the threat of troop desertion was brought to Putnam’s attention. He, with his usual intrepidity and decision of character, threw himself upon his horse and dashed down the road leading to his camps, never slacking rein until he drew up in the presence of the disaffected troops.

“My brave lads,” he cried, “whither are you going? Do you intend to desert your officers, and invite the enemy to follow you into the country? Whose cause have you been fighting and suffering so long in-is it not your own? Have you no property, no parents, wives, children? You have behaved like men so far-all the world is full of your praises, and posterity will stand astonished at your deeds; but not if you spoil it all at last.

Don’t you consider how much the country is distressed by the war, and that your officers have not been any better paid than yourselves? But we all expect better times, and that the country will do us ample justice. Let us all stand by one another then, and fight it out like brave soldiers. Think what a shame it would be for Connecticut men to run away from their officers.”

When he had finished this stirring speech, he directed the acting Major of Brigades to give the word for them to march to their regimental parades, and lodge arms, which was done; one soldier only, a ringleader in the affair, was confined to the guard house, from which he attempted to escape, but was shot dead by the sentinel on duty- himself one of the mutineers. Thus ended the affair.

In January, Private Joseph P. Martin related two more uprisings in his camp journal, both were thwarted by regimental officers, but indicate some discontent among the troops still lingered. After that many of the Connecticut troops were placed on patrols at Horseneck, Stamford and Norwalk. Some were sent over to “no-man’s land” in Westchester County and several hundred troops were sent to New London for guard duty and the construction of Fort Griswold.

Executions at Gallows Hill

Putnam was no stranger to deserters and spies. Nothing had so much annoyed Putnam and his officers during the campaigns of the preceding summer on the Hudson than the desertions which had thinned his ranks, and the Tory spies, who frequented his camps, under every variety of pretext, and forthwith conveyed the information thus gathered on the enemy.

To put a stop to this it had been determined that the next offender of either sort (deserter or spy) captured should suffer death as an example. The opportunity to implement this determination soon arrived. Scouts from Putnam’s outposts in Westchester County captured a man lurking within their lines, and as he could give no satisfactory account of himself, he was at once hauled over the borders and into the presence of the Commander-in-Chief. In answer to the commanders queries, the prisoner said that his name was Jones, that he was a Welshman by birth, and had settled in Ridgefield a few years before the war commenced; that he had never faltered in his allegiance to the King, and that at the outbreak of the hostilities he had fled to the British army, and had been made a butcher in the camp; a few weeks before, he had been sent into Westchester County to buy beef for the army, and was in the process of carrying out those orders at the present. He was remanded to the guard house, court-martialed and at once ordered for trial. Putnam had his first example.

On Feb. 4, 1779, Edward Jones was tried at a General Court Martial for going to and serving the enemy, and coming out as a spy. He was found guilty of each and every charge exhibited against him, and according to Law and the Usage’s of Nations was sentenced to suffer Death:

“The General approves the sentence and orders it to be put in execution between the hours of ten and eleven A.M. by hanging him by the neck till he be dead.”

Two days after another General Court Martial was held for a similar offence: on Feb. 6, 1779, John Smith of the 1st Connecticut Regiment, was tried at a General Court Martial for desertion and attempting to go to the enemy, found guilty, and further persisting in saying that he will go to the enemy if ever he has an opportunity.

“The General approves the sentence and orders that it be put in execution between the hours of ten and twelve A.M. for him to be shot to death”

General Putnam having two prisoners under the sentence of death determined to execute them both at once, or as he expressed it, “to make a double job of it,” and at the same time make the spectacle as terrible and impressive as the circumstances demanded.

The scene which took place at the execution of these men on February 16 was described as shocking and bloody, it occurred on a lofty hill (known to this day as Gallows Hill) dominating the valley between the three camps. The instrument of Edward Jones’ death was erected approximately twenty feet from the ground atop the hill’s highest pinnacle. Jones was ordered to ascend the ladder, with the rope around his neck and attached to the cross beam of the gallows. When he had reached the top rung General Putnam ordered him to jump from the ladder.

‘No General Putnam,’ said Jones, ‘I am innocent of the crime laid to my charge; I shall not do it.’

Putnam drawing his sword, compelled the hangmen at sword’s point, that his orders be obeyed and if Jones would not jump, that the ladder be over-turned to complete the act. It was and he perished.

The soldier that was to be shot for desertion was but a youth of sixteen or seventeen years of age. The Rev. Nathaniel Bartlett, who was pastor of the Congregational Church in Redding for a period of fifty years, officiated as chaplain to the encampment during that winter, and was present at the execution. He interceded with General Putnam to defer the execution of Smith until Washington could be consulted- for reason the offender was a youth; but the commander assured him that a reprieve could not be granted.

John Smith was described as “extremely weak and fainting” as he was led by Poor’s Brigade Chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Evans, approximately 200 yards from the gallows to the place he was to be shot.

Putnam gave the order and three balls were shot through his breast: he fell on his face, but immediately turned over on his back; a soldier then advanced, and putting the muzzle of his gun near the convulsive body of the youth, discharged its contents into his forehead. The body was then placed in a coffin; the final discharge had been fired so near to the body that it had set the boy’s clothing on fire, and continued burning while each and every soldier present was ordered to march past the coffin and observe Smith’s mangled remains; an officer with a drawn sword stood by to ensure they complied.

It was indeed a grisly scene, and many have questioned the accuracy of the accounts published about it because it seems almost too ghastly. But it should be said that: boldness, firmness, promptness, decisiveness- were the chief elements of General Israel Putnam’s character, and at this particular crisis all were needed. There was disaffection and insubordination in the army, as has been noted. Desertions were frequent, and spying by the Tories was almost openly practiced. To put a stop to these practices it was vitally necessary to the safety of the army, to see that these sentences were carried into effect. If the executions were bungling done, the fault was with the executioners, and not with the General.

Theft of Cattle & Livestock

The journals of private Joseph Plumb Martin (stationed with the 8th Connecticut in Parsons’ middle camp) shows the desperate lack of food and poor weather conditions endured by the troops throughout January:

“We settled in our winter quarters at the commencement of the new year and went on in our old Continental Line of starving and freezing. We now and then got a little bad bread and salt beef (I believe chiefly horse-beef for it was generally thought to be such at the time). The month of January was very stormy, a good deal of snow fell, and in such weather it was mere chance if we got anything at all to eat.”

Given the conditions, it is difficult to blame the soldiers that took matters into their own hands and ventured out of camp in search of provisions. The citizens of Redding, did not see things this way, those who initially felt quite honored by the selection of their town for the army’s winter quarters, soon grew tired of soldiers looting their livestock. The soldiers position was that they were the one’s fighting the country’s battles and plundering the neighboring farms was within their rights as men of war. To them a well-stocked poultry yard, a pen of fat porkers or field of healthy heifers offered irresistible cuisine when compared to the horse-beef they were being offered back at camp. After a time, however, the wary farmers foiled the looters by storing their livestock over night in the cellars of their houses and in other secure places.

[This was an issue throughout the war and the letter below shows that George Washington was aware of it. It also highlights why looting was difficult to stop, as looters could claim they confiscated the provisions because they were intended to be sold to the British.

To Major General Israel Putnam, From George Washington, Philadelphia, December 26, 1778.

“I have not a Copy of your instructions with me, but if my memory serves me, I was as full in my directions respecting the conduct of Officers who shall be sent upon the lines as I possibly can be. The Officer must determine from all circumstances, whether Cattle or any species of provision found near the lines are in danger of falling into the hands of the Enemy, or are carried there with an intent to supply them. If it is thought necessary to bring them off, they must be reported and disposed of as directed by your instructions.

I was very particular upon that Head, because I know that great Acts of Injustice have been committed by Officers, under pretence that provision and other kinds of property were intended for the Use of the Enemy. I would recommend the bringing off as much Forage as possible but I would not advise the destruction of what we cannot remove. I think your plan of sending out a large party under the command of a Field Officer and making detachments from thence, a good one; and if you and General McDougall can agree upon a cooperation of your parties I think many advantages will result from the measure. You may agree upon the mode of effecting this, between yourselves.” ]

Farmer’s livestock was not the only object of the soldier’s desires, below are some entries in the parish records that prove that “amid the horrors of war sly cupid found a chance to inflict his wounds”. They are given as entered by the Rev. Nathaniel Bartlett:

Feb. 7, 1779. I joined together in marriage James Gibbons, a soldier in the army, and Ann Sullivan.
March 18, 1779. I joined together in marriage John Lines, a soldier in the army, and Mary Hendrick.
March 30, 1779. I joined together in marriage Daniel Evarts, a soldier in the army, and Mary Rowland.
April 15, 1779. I joined together in marriage Isaac Olmsted, a soldier in the army, and Mary Parsons.
April 28, 1779. I joined together in marriage Jesse Belknap, an artificer in the army, and Eunice Hall.
May 4, 1779. I joined together in marriage William Little, steward to Gen. Parsons, and Phebe Merchant.
May 23, 1779. I joined together in marriage Giles Gilbert, an artificer in the army, and Deborah Hall.
March 9, 1780. I joined together in marriage William Darrow, a soldier in the army, and Ruth Bartram.

Troops Leave Redding

The troops left Putnam’s encampment in stages, Colonel Hazen’s Canadian regiment were detached from the New Hampshire brigade and ordered to Springfield, MA; they left on March 27th. The New Hampshire regiments also left on March 27th for their new assignments in the Hudson Highlands. Huntington’s 2nd Connecticut Brigade left for Peekskill right after May 1st , and Parsons’ 1st Connecticut Brigade was the last to depart on or about May 27th … also bound for duty at the Highlands.

Further information is available at: The History of Revolutionary and Civil Wars in Redding, CT

Historical Fiction readers will enjoy the My Brother Sam is Dead Resources at the History of Redding site.