Newly discovered evidence supports the theory that Norwalk was a hotbed of Patriot activities during the American Revolution, according to local historians.
Those activities help explain why the British were so intent on burning every building in the town during the Battle of Norwalk, argue Edward and Madeleine Eckert, local historians. Historians will reveal recently discovered evidence at the Norwalk Historical Society’s “Happenings around the Historic Norwalk Green” this July 4.
The Battle of Norwalk was probably the largest American Revolutionary War battle in Connecticut, involving over 2500 British troops and 800 American militia and Continental Army troops.
The British burned most buildings in the main part of town. Out of all towns the British attacked, Norwalk was the most heavily damaged in the state, historians believe. General George Washington described Norwalk as having been “destroyed” in his report to the Continental Congress after the battle.
The British did not randomly decide to destroy Norwalk. They attacked the town because it was a base for Patriot privateers and espionage missions, a supply depot and munitions manufacturing, according to the Eckerts, who are working on a book on the Battle of Norwalk, “The Who, What, Where, When and Why of the Battle and Burning of Norwalk: July 11, 1779.”
Their research also shows that the Battle of Norwalk was more severe than previously assumed, with casualties, especially on the British side, larger that thought. The exent of destruction in Norwalk was also more severe than believed.
On July 10, 1779, the Norwalk Town Militia learned that British forces had burned the town of Fairfield and were heading to Norwalk. The town Committee of Safety convened a hasty meeting and sent a courier requesting aid from Gen. George Washington at his West Point, NY headquarters; aid that would not arrive in time.
Later that day, a fleet of 70 British ships was sited off the Norwalk coast and by early evening the landing parties started to arrive. During the night the British landed some 2500 troops under the command of Governor Tryon and General Garth. Early the next day, the British sent a two pronged attack that proceeded up both sides of the Norwalk River. The Redcoats battled through the town burning everything in their path and firing volleys of musketry at any who dared oppose their line of march.
When they reached the Mill Hill area by the town green the two columns converged and proceeded north to the area known as “The Rocks” where they encountered heavy resistance from the roughly 800 Militia and Continental Troops armed with artillery and a terrain advantage. The battle turned into a stalemate. At this point, with the tide on its way out and Continental Army reinforcements on the way, the British decided to return to their ships to depart while still making sure that almost all the buildings in the main part of town were reduced to ashes.