Those who died in the Battle of Groton Heights remembered Sunday
Groton — Prior to taking the podium early Sunday night, City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick did a rough count of the people gathered inside Fort Griswold.
He counted the people sitting in folding chairs and lawn chairs facing the southern side of the fort, those milling about the marker for Col. William Ledyard, the people who shielded their eyes as they looked westward into the 6 p.m. sky, and those people standing near the base of the American flag, still at half-staff in honor of the late Sen. John McCain.
Hedrick estimated the crowd was a handful or two shy of 165, the number of American men who fought at the Battle of Groton Heights.
He asked the crowd to imagine what it was like to have been one of those 165 at Fort Griswold on Sept. 6, 1781, as 800 British troops entered, and as smoke went up into the air, and as they heard orders of “ready, aim, fire” and “hold the line.”
“Imagine here you are, you’re in the middle of this fight, the fight for your life, the fight for your family, and all you see is a sea of red coming in, and then they make it to the gate, they open the main gate, and then they flood,” Hedrick said. “That is what these men were up against.”
Hedrick spoke at the Sunday evening ceremony commemorating the 237th anniversary of the Battle of Groton Heights, in which British soldiers led by Benedict Arnold attacked the fort and Col. William Ledyard was killed with his own sword.
“These are 800 trained British soldiers. Who did you have here in the fort?” Hedrick asked his audience. “We had militia, we had farmers, we had merchants, we had sailors, we had shipbuilders, who were here to defend their home, their honor.”
Hali Keeler, president of the Friends of Fort Griswold, noted that the battle lasted but 40 minutes.
The ceremony involved 88 luminaries, each representing a death from the battle. Those who died had names like Avery and Freeman and Perkins, and some of their descendants were at the ceremony on Sunday.
One was Col. David Perkins, commander of the Connecticut Line, the Color Guard living history unit of the Connecticut Society of Sons of the American Revolution.
“These patriots not only believed in liberty, but they were willing to suffer unimaginable hardships,” he said. “Men died here. It was brutal. It is that which sets Fort Griswold as an American landmark of liberty.”
At the ceremony, the Nutmeg Volunteer Junior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps played “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and the Groton Congregational Church choir sang the national anthem.
There was also a ribbon-cutting for the new viewing platform, which park superintendent Henry Alves explained was constructed to preserve the earthworks around the fort.
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