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New London - At the site of where British soldiers began their attack on the city and left it to burn 232 years ago, a couple of dozen musket men loitered in the parking lot Sunday in full Revolutionary garb, drinking cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee.
It was late morning at Fort Trumbull, where members of the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution awaited the start of the first wreath-laying ceremony and musket salute of the day, marking the anniversary of the Battle of Groton Heights on Sept. 6, 1781.
Events commemorating the historic battle have taken place at Fort Trumbull and at other historic sites around the area for years, run by the Friends of Fort Griswold. Now taken over by the state chapter of the SAR, Sunday's ceremonies marked the first time the commemoration has been recognized by the umbrella fraternal organization, the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
The lineup Sunday included a morning tour of Fort Trumbull State Park, two musket salutes - the other at Thames River Landing - and a walking tour of the Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park Battle Monument and Museum.
The history is well-documented at the two museums: On that day in September, under the leadership of Benedict Arnold, British troops attacked both New London and Groton. They burned New London and then attacked Fort Griswold, where they massacred Col. William Ledyard and his troops. Several weeks later, the war was over.
Asked why they do it, the re-enactors have a simple answer.
"We do it to honor our ancestors," said Bob Rivard of Lebanon, whose "primary ancestor" - the one who earns you your membership to the SAR after a complete genealogy search to determine if a predecessor fought in or supported the American Revolution - was part of a militia in Westchester, N.Y. His name was Avery.
Standing with him was Tyler Smith of Waterford, whose ancestor was a colonel in a Pennsylvania militia and fought in battles around Philadelphia. Together with the others, their costumes formed a patchwork of britches and tri-cornered hats. The outfits represented a period early in the war when soldiers wore whatever they could cobble together, before the government organized the Continental Army and introduced its signature blue.
Just before 11 a.m. - with some pause over whether they would form one line or two - the makeshift militia lined up on the landing next to the blockhouse, facing out toward the water, reviewing their commands. Next to the 18th-century structure, the color guard - bearing two regimental flags, the SAR flag, and an early American flag with 13 stars - were grumbling about the lack of attention as passers-by snapped photos of the group.
"What about the rest of us over here?" one joked. "They're just the stupid musket men!"
Then, after a short speech from Todd Gerlander, commemorating Col. Ledyard and the burning of New London, a respectful silence descended. A wreath was laid.
Their commanding officer - the "lieutenant colonel" - called out his command, three times.
"Ready, position, fire!"
One after another, with pauses for reloading, three booming shots rang out; then, their dismissal.
"Company on command, one step back, dismiss!"
The muskets lowered, and they called out their celebration - a rousing round of huzzahs.