Fair Wind of Liberty:

The British Attack on New London and Groton


©2006 by Thomas M. Ratliff



Chapter 1





            It was an hour before sunrise but the air was already warm and heavy—signaling another day of the September heat wave. In the southwestern sky the gibbous moon hovered lazily, its pale light lost in the sleepy Connecticut landscape. On the Thames River there was no activity, save for a tiny boat gliding noiselessly over the black water, the occasional creaking of the oars and the slight lapping of the incoming tide muffled by the dense darkness of the predawn morning.

            In the stern of the boat, nestled against the gunwale, sat eight-year-old Abby Cutler. Struggling to stay awake, she opened her eyes wide for a moment, but the warm air and gentle rocking of the boat defeated her. As she drifted off, her hand slipped from the tiller, causing the little boat to jerk to the right.

            “Keep your hands on the rudder,” said Leonidas softly.

            Abby shook her head and opened her eyes, then reached out and grabbed the wooden tiller with one hand and pulled herself upright. She took a deep breath and sighed.

            “That’s a powerful sigh,” said Leonidas. “You’ll surely scare the fish away with that kind of attitude.”

            Abby knew he was teasing, but she was too tired to smile. She almost regretted her decision to help Leonidas with his fishing nets, but she knew he would be disappointed if she said anything.

            “I’m awake,” she said. “It’s just so early—I’m usually still in bed at this hour.”

            “You gotta fish when the fish is there to be caught,” said Leonidas. In the dark it was almost impossible to see his large black face, but the sound of his voice was soothing.

            “The tide is coming in, and that means the bait fish run up the river. Then the bigger fish—the ones we want—come in behind. The big fish chase the little fish, hoping to get some breakfast, and we catch the big ones. It’s all a part of nature.”

            Abby smiled. Most adults treated her like a little girl, but Leonidas was different. He always took the time to explain things, and he had a way of talking that made it easy for her to understand.

            “What kind of fish do you think we’ll find?” she asked.

            “Bluefish and mackerel for sure. Salmon if we’re lucky.”

            “I love salmon,” Abby replied. “My Mama bakes it in the bread oven till it’s so tender that you can eat it bones and all.”

            “Your mama is the best cook in these parts—besides my ’Lizabeth, that is.”

            At the mention of Elizabeth, Abby smiled. Leonidas worked on the eastern shore, chopping wood, building cabinets and coffins, and fishing the river. He didn’t get to see his wife much. She and their three sons were slaves, owned by a shipbuilder in New London.

            “It must be hard not seeing your family much,” Abby said. “When my Papa was off fighting the British, I missed him so.”

            “I’ll see ’em plenty when they’re free,” said Leonidas. “Almost got enough now to buy my oldest boy. With Jacob, I can earn a lot more money—and I won’t need to ask you to give up your sleep to help me fish.”

            Abby couldn’t imagine what life was like for a slave. Most of the people in Groton didn’t own slaves, and the few blacks she knew personally were free men, like Leonidas. She wasn’t sure she understood slavery, but she knew that she was helping Leonidas, and that made her feel good.

            In the eastern sky faint traces of light began to appear. Leonidas pulled the oars into the boat and dropped the small anchor over the side.

            “Hold the tiller steady,” he said to Abby. “I got to get the net out just right to catch the incoming tide.”

            Abby kept the nose of the vessel pointed south towards the mouth of the river as she watched the powerful black man pulling the net out of the bottom of the boat and feeding it over the side.

            In the distance she saw something that startled her.

            “Oh, my,” she said suddenly. “Look at that!”

            Leonidas cocked his head to one side. At first he couldn’t see anything but as his eyes adjusted, the horizon was suddenly filled with the outline of dozens of ships.

            “It’s the British fleet,” he said. “Must be twenty or thirty warships!”

            “What does that mean?” Abby asked anxiously.

            “It means we’re being invaded!” said Leonidas.



Chapter 2


The Alarm



          The Story So Far: In Chapter 1, eight-year-old Abby Cutler was out fishing with her friend Leonidas when they saw the British fleet in the mouth of the Thames River:


            At Fort Griswold on the bluffs above the eastern shore of the river, a lone figure stood on the rampart. Eighteen-year-old Tom Cutler stared out into the inky dark—there was nothing to see, but he maintained his gaze and surveyed the horizon as best he could. Tom hated standing the midnight watch, but with the recent raids along the coast, he knew the importance of being vigilant on guard duty. Yawning, he glanced at his pocket watch: a quarter to four.

Not much longer, he told himself.

A few minutes later he heard the sound of footsteps, and the figure of Sergeant Rufus Avery appeared.

“Morning Sergeant,” said Tom.

“Good morning, Tom,” said Sergeant Avery. “Anything to report?”

“No, Sergeant. Another uneventful night.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” said the sergeant.

“Well, it is pretty boring here. We seem to be as far from the war as we could be.”

“You’re not regretting your decision to sign up, are you?”

“No,” said Tom. “I wanted to take my father’s place, and this was the right opportunity.” Tom’s father had been a captain in Washington’s army until he was wounded a few months ago.

“If you wanted adventure you should have signed on with a privateer.”

“My mother would’ve killed me if I did,” said Tom sheepishly.

“Your mother is a sensible woman,” the sergeant replied.

Tom smiled at this—Sergeant Avery was his mother’s cousin, and it was with his help that Tom had been able to convince her to let him enlist.

“It’ll be first light soon,” said the sergeant. “Gonna be another hot one.”

“That’s for sure,” said Tom. “I—.” 

            “Oh, my Lord,” interrupted Sergeant Avery.

            Tom turned and stared at the horizon. The outline of a ship’s mast was faintly visible in the early morning sky.

            “That’s a British man-o’-war!” Tom said.

            “Wake the Captain!” shouted Sergeant Avery. “Tell him the British fleet is in the Sound! And wake the gunners. We’ve got to sound the alarm!”


*   *   *


South of the fort, fourteen-year-old James Cutler was plodding through the stubble of the cornfield, lost in thought. As he neared the end of the row, the mule picked up her pace, and the handle of the plow was almost jerked from his hands.

            “Easy, Bessie,” he said, pulling on the reins. “We’re in no hurry.” 

            James hated plowing. It was mindless, numbing work, and on a hot day the drudgery was almost unbearable. He had started early with the hopes of finishing the north cornfield before noon. 

            Across the fields he could see Ben Scarborough trudging towards him. Easing his grip, James allowed the mule to graze while he tied the reins to the plow handle. Then he got out his water jug and took a drink of the cool water.

            “Mornin’ James,” said Ben as he climbed the fence.

            “A hot one already,” replied James.

            “I was going up to see your sister,” Ben said. Ben was seventeen and was sweet on James’s sister Emily. Emily taught at the school near Fort Griswold.

            “I haven’t seen Emily in ages,” said James. “I wish I was going with you.”

            “You got more important things to tend to,” said Ben. “Like keeping that mule under control. Can’t have crooked rows, ya know.”

            James looked back at the plowed rows behind him. They were fairly straight, but if they weren’t perfect his brother Tom would tease him about it.

            “This cussed mule,” James said. “She can’t hardly walk in a straight line. I’m thinking that one of her legs is shorter than the others.”

            “Maybe it’s you that has the short leg,” said Ben. He grinned and James smiled back.

            The sound of cannon fire from the fort startled the two young men. A second round followed the first.

            “Two shots!” said Ben. “Trouble!”

            “What could it be?” James asked. Before Ben could answer, a third shot—this one from the river—rang out.

            “What is that?” Ben said. The two boys ran toward the bluff overlooking the river. The horizon seemed to be covered with ships’ masts.

            “The British fleet!” said James. “And they know our signals—the third cannon shot will make folks think that it’s a prize ship returning.”

            “We’ve got to get to the fort right away,” said Ben. “Captain Latham will need every available hand.”    

            “I’ve got to get home,” said James. “My father’s still in bed recuperating. If the British catch him, they’ll take him for sure.”



Chapter 3


The Farm



The Story So Far: In Chapter 2 the men at Fort Griswold sound the alarm cannon warning the people of New London and Groton that the British fleet is preparing to attack:


            Five-year-old Phoebe Cutler was cozy in her little bed. She had heard her sister Abby leaving a little after the clock struck three, and a short time later had been awakened by her brother James as he grabbed a day-old biscuit for his breakfast. Sleeping in the kitchen had its disadvantages.

            The third time she awoke, it was to the smell of bacon cooking. Rolling over, she opened one eye and saw her mother hard at work preparing breakfast.

            “Good morning, sleepyhead,” said Mother.

            “Morning,” Phoebe replied. She sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes.

            “I was beginning to think I was going to have to get the eggs myself,” Mother said with a smile.

            Phoebe took her dress from the end of her bed and pulled it over her head. Then she found her shoes. She hadn’t untied them the night before, and it took her a minute to work out the knots, pull the shoes on, and re-lace them.

            “Here you go,” Mother said, handing her the egg basket.

            Phoebe hooked the basket on her arm and made her way out to the henhouse. It was still dark, but traces of first light overhead gave just enough illumination that she could see as she trudged across the yard.

            The door to the henhouse squeaked as she opened it. A few chickens were still roosting, but most were strutting around waiting impatiently for her. Phoebe scooped a large measure of grain from the sack and threw the golden corn meal on the ground. The hens scrambled to get their fair share of breakfast, and Phoebe began to search the nests. She collected nine eggs—an average morning’s haul—and scurried back to the house. As she entered the kitchen, Phoebe was surprised to see her father sitting at the table sipping a large mug of coffee.

“Father,” she said, “how nice to see you up and dressed.”

“You can only lie in bed for so long,” he replied. “I told your mother that I was going to get up and eat breakfast with the family today, and here I am.”

As Phoebe took her place at the end of the table, the sound of cannon fire shook the little house.

“Goodness!” she said, as the dishes in the pantry rattled.

“That came from the fort,” said Mother. At that moment a second shot rang out.

“Two shots—the call to muster,” said Father. “Something’s up.” Mother looked worried, but the report of a third cannon brought a smile to her face.

“Oh, thank goodness,” said Mother. “It’s just another privateer returning from New York.”

“I don’t think so, Rebecca,” replied Father. “The third shot came from down river.”

“Down river?” said Phoebe. “What could it mean?”

At that moment James came running into the house. He was out of breath, gasping for air as he tried to talk.

“Father!” he cried. “British ships…in the Sound…the whole fleet….”

“Ships?” asked Mother. “What would the British fleet be doing here?”

“They mean to land,” said James. “I saw the longboats being lowered.”

“With that many ships they could land five hundred soldiers, maybe more,” said Father.

“Oh, William,” said Mother. “Do you think they’ll come for you?”

“I don’t know. New London must be the main target, but the forts are the key to the river. We can’t risk waiting to see what their plans are.”

“You have to get away, Father,” said James. “I can saddle the mare if you think you can ride.”

“Your father is in no condition to ride!” said Mother.

“But if Father is captured it means a prison ship,” said James.

“No one is going to be captured,” said Father. “Hitch up the team—we are all getting out of here. If the soldiers come up the bluffs they will burn our farm and steal everything they can.”

“But where will we go?” asked Mother. “You can’t travel, not in your condition.”

“I’m fine,” Father said. “But if it comes to it, I’d rather die escaping than be captured.”

“I’ll get the wagon,” said James. “If we can make it up the river road to the fort, we should be safe there.”

“Only if we hurry,” said Father. Grabbing his crutch he got up from the table and struggled to the doorway.

“Phoebe,” he called over his shoulder. “Get my musket and powder horn. We may need it before this day is through.”



Chapter 4


The First Casualty



            The Story So Far: In Chapter 3 we met five-year-old Phoebe Cutler and her parents. The Cutlers were about to have breakfast when the alarm sounded, calling the militia to help protect Fort Griswold from the impending British attack:


            The sun was not yet visible, but the morning sky was quickly losing its gloomy pall, revealing more clearly the image of the British fleet in the mouth of the river. Abby didn’t know much about sailing ships, but she could see that the sails were reefed and the ships were riding at anchor.

“What are they waiting for? Why don’t the warships attack?” she asked.

“The wind is against them,” said Leonidas evenly. He was pulling on the oars with all his strength, driving the small boat towards the western shore. “There’s always a strong land breeze early in the morning.”

“So when the wind shifts, the ships will sail upriver?”

“If they do, the cannons at Fort Trumbull will make them pay. Better to launch a land attack first—a hundred Redcoats marching up the river road could easily overpower the small garrison at the fort.”

Abby stared upriver at Fort Trumbull. Located as it was on a small peninsula, the fort was perfectly positioned to protect the river, and she understood the logic of attacking from land. But something troubled her. 

“If the British are going to attack Fort Trumbull, then why are we headed for the New London shore? Shouldn’t we make for Groton?”

            “If Fort Trumbull falls, New London is at the mercy of the Redcoats—they’ll burn the city and steal everything they can. That includes the slaves. My wife and boys will be lost if I don’t save them.”

            Abby paused at this. In all the excitement she hadn’t stopped to consider her family. Would the British attack the Groton side of the river? Would Fort Griswold be able to hold out against an attack?

She was about to ask Leonidas when she spied the longboats, a dozen or more, filled with Redcoats—heading straight towards them. Suddenly her heart was in her throat, and for the second time that morning she regretted her decision to go out fishing with Leonidas.

“Longboats!” she exclaimed, tears running down her cheeks.

“I see them,” Leonidas said, huffing from exertion. “We’ll be okay, once we get to land.” The big man was sweating profusely, his face contorted in pain, yet his voice was calm and reassuring. As Abby watched him struggle with the oars, she slowly regained her courage and managed to stop crying. 

As they neared the lighthouse, she glanced over her shoulder—the British were getting closer! But Leonidas was ready. Before they hit the pier, he sprang into action—in an instant tying off the boat, grabbing his haversack, and picking up his pistols and powder horn.

            “Come on,” Leonidas shouted. Before she could react, he reached down and took her hand and yanked her out of the boat.

            Abby’s heart was pounding as she scurried along, struggling to keep up with Leonidas’ long strides. When they had covered about sixty yards, she glanced back. Her heart sank at the sight—the first longboats had reached shore, and a few of the soldiers were forming up in ranks.

            “The soldiers!” she said. “They’ve landed—it looks like they’re going to—”

The sound of musket shots rang out from behind them, and Abby felt something sting the side of her head.

Leonidas grabbed her arm and dove behind a rock. As she hit the ground, Abby could feel a trickle of blood running down her cheek.

“Are you all right?” asked Leonidas.

“My head hurts—I bumped it on something,” she said.

Leonidas gently examined her head, then pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped away the blood.

“That’s no bump,” he said. “A musket ball grazed the side of your head. Hold this until the bleeding stops.”

Abby took the handkerchief and pushed as hard as she could against the wound.

“If we stay low in the grass,” Leonidas said, “we should be safe. Those Brown Bess muskets aren’t all that accurate at any distance.”

He reached over and tied the handkerchief around her head.

“Come on,” he said. “It’s a long way to the fort.”

Mustering her courage, Abby followed Leonidas as he disappeared into the waist-high sea grass. The footing was treacherous—more than once she tripped over a rock or slipped in the mud—and the undergrowth was full of thorny plants that tore at her stockings and dress.

But Abby was determined to keep up with Leonidas. She had to help him save his family!



Chapter 5





            The Story So Far: The British fleet has arrived at the mouth of the harbor and on both sides of the Thames River soldiers are landing. The people of New London and Groton are preparing for the worst:


            In the heights beyond Fort Griswold, Emily Cutler was busy getting ready for another school day when she heard the call-to-muster fired from the fort. The booming of the guns shook the little schoolhouse, rattling the windows and tipping over the vase of wildflowers that she had just picked.

            It was rare to hear the alarm, but Emily was not concerned—there had been a report last night of British ships off Saybrook Point, and she assumed that the call for the local militia was just a precaution.

Even when she heard the third cannon shot echo from the river, Emily didn’t worry. She was too busy thinking about the geography lesson she had prepared. She was so deep in thought that she was startled when Ben Scarborough burst into the school.

            “Emily!” he shouted. “The British fleet is in the Sound! You’ve got to get out of here.”

            “But the children will be arriving soon.”

            “There’s no time! The Redcoats have already landed at Groton Point.”

            “Oh, no!” Her voice quavered. “My family! Our farm is so near the Sound….”

            “James is with them. He’ll guide them to safety. You need to worry about yourself.”

            “What should I do?”

            “Head east. Stay north of the fort till you hit the Stonington Road. You should be safe if you get far enough away.”

            “And what will you do?” she asked.

            “I’m going to the fight,” Ben replied. “With enough volunteers, we should be able to defend the fort.”

            “But what if the militia doesn’t respond?” asked Emily. “My brother Tom, and you…you’ll be killed or captured if the fort is taken.” A tear appeared in her eye.

            “We can’t just give up without a fight. If Fort Griswold is overrun, the Redcoats will burn everything on this side of the river.”

            Emily knew that Ben was right. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

            “God be with you,” she said.

            “And you, too,” said Ben.


*   *   *


            In the few hours since the British fleet was spotted, Fort Griswold had been transformed from a sleepy little outpost to a bustling center of activity. Dozens of volunteers had arrived, and everywhere men were rushing about, carrying ammunition and supplies to the walls in preparation for the impending attack.

              Tom Cutler was working on the southwest palisade, but every so often he was able to catch glimpses of the action.

“How soon before they attack?” he asked.

            “They’ll hit Fort Trumbull first,” said Sergeant Avery. “We’ll be the second act here.”

            “First squad!” called Captain Latham. “Supply the lower battery.”

            Tom grabbed a bag of gunpowder from the armory, slung it over his shoulder, and headed for the sally port at the south end of the fort. He had to duck his head as he crept through the tunnel, and he let out his breath in relief when he reached the fortified trench outside the wall.

            Tom made three trips to the river battery, and after the last he helped the gun crew load the cannon. Then he paused to watch the commotion. On the Groton side there wasn’t much to see, as the view was blocked by the bluffs about two hundred yards south of the fort. But on the New London side he could see the Redcoats advancing up the river road towards Fort Trumbull.


*   *   *


            By the time they reached the main road, Abby was exhausted. She was used to hard work, but she had never run as far or as fast as they had in the last twenty minutes. And she looked as bad as she felt—her dress was torn in several places, and her knees were muddy and bleeding. She wanted very much to stop and catch her breath, but Leonidas was keeping a steady pace and she knew she had to keep up.

            The road was busy with people fleeing north. Some were on foot, others on horseback, and a few rode in wagons, but no one was traveling empty-handed: in a short time Abby overtook a wagon loaded with children and furniture, an old woman leading a milk cow, and a man on horseback carrying six chickens in wooden cages.

Suddenly a horse raced by her at breakneck speed, nearly knocking her over. Abby was so startled she stopped running and leaned over to regain her composure. 

            “Watch yourself,” called the old woman. “Danger makes some men crazy.” 



Chapter 6


The River Road



            The Story So Far: The Cutler family is scattered as they brace for the impending British attack. Abby is in New London with Leonidas, Emily is at her school, Tom is at Fort Griswold, and James is preparing to help his parents and sister Phoebe to escape:


As James Cutler struggled to hitch the team to the wagon, one thought kept running through his mind.

What if the militia doesn’t answer the alarm?

Without reinforcements, Fort Griswold and the entire eastern shore would be at the mercy of the Redcoats. He tried not to think about it. He knew Father was depending on him, but his head was throbbing and he felt faint—like the time he had fallen off the horse and had the wind knocked out of him. James closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and held it, hoping to regain his composure.

 “Courage,” he told himself. Taking another deep breath, James grabbed the reins and led the team out of the barn.

Father was sitting on the porch steps with his crutch and musket beside him. Behind him stood little Phoebe, clutching her rag doll.

“Rebecca,” Father called as he struggled to climb into the wagon. “We must be going. The Redcoats will be here soon.”

Mother appeared at the backdoor, carrying the mantel clock, her jewelry box, and the family Bible.

“If the British are going to burn our home, they aren’t going to destroy everything,” Mother said firmly. She handed the Bible to James, who placed it under the wagon seat.

“Is that everything?” James asked.

“No,” said Mother. “But your father’s right. We have to leave now.”

As Mother climbed into the back of the wagon, James picked up Phoebe and placed her next to Father.

“Wait,” said Phoebe. “What about the animals?” 

“We’ll have to leave them,” Father said.

“I hate to think of the British dining on our pigs and chickens,” James said. “Can we at least save the cow? I could hitch her to the back of the wagon.”

“She’d just slow us down,” Father replied.

“We can’t just leave her!” cried Phoebe. Before anyone could react, the little girl jumped down from the wagon and ran across the yard. A minute later she returned.

“I opened the pasture gate,” said Phoebe. “By the time the Redcoats get here, the cow will be lost in the cornfield, just like the nursery rhyme.”

James smiled and hugged his sister as he lifted her into the wagon.

“Let’s be off,” said Mother.

James’s hands were shaking as he grabbed the reins, released the brake, and urged the team forward. He looked down at his sister Phoebe, and at his parents huddled in the wagon bed.

            “Take it slow,” said Mother, clutching Father’s hand. “Your father can’t take a rough ride.”

            “I’ll do my best,” said James. He knew that if it came to it he might have to try to outrun the British, but he didn’t want to upset his mother, so he didn’t say anything.

            James guided the little wagon down the lane that ran towards the river. The rocky path was a mass of ruts and potholes; even at a slow pace the old wagon bounced up and down.

            “Shall I make for the fort?” said James.

            “Yes,” said Father. “It’s our best option, and we can make sure that Emily and Tom are safe.”

            “Yes,” agreed Mother. “We have to keep our family together today.” She sighed for a moment, then added, “I wish I hadn’t let Abby go out fishing with Leonidas this morning.”

            “Abby is safer with him than she would be with us,” said Father grimly.

“Father’s right,” said James. “They’re probably halfway to Norwich by now.”

            “Leonidas wouldn’t leave his family,” Mother said. “He would have rowed for the western shore for sure.”

            “Wherever they are,” Father said, “Leonidas will protect her as he would his own children.”

When they reached the river road, James glanced south. In the distance he could see a long line of Redcoats marching right towards them. Without saying a word, he carefully guided the team of horses northward. 

As the little wagon neared the village of Groton, James saw a squad of Redcoats. One of the soldiers—a man with sergeant’s stripes on his sleeve—was waving for James to stop.

For a second James froze, unsure what to do. Then his mind cleared. Grabbing the whip, he snapped the leather in the air over the horses, and Brevet and Bluebell responded with a spirited gallop. As the surprised soldiers jumped out of the way, James felt a strange sense of excitement. For a moment he felt invincible, unafraid, but the sound of musket fire brought him back to reality.



Chapter 7


New London



            The Story So Far: Abby and Leonidas are trying to get to New London ahead of the British soldiers as they continue their search for Leonidas’ wife and children:


            From the moment they had first spotted the British fleet in the mouth of the river, Abby had felt a knot in the pit of her stomach. Now, as they neared Fort Trumbull, the sight of the fierce-looking cannon peering through the embrasures gave her comfort, and she began to relax.

But as they approached the main gate, Abby was startled by what she saw. The fortified walls only extended along the river. The rear of the fort was open and unprotected.

“It’s not really a fort at all,” she said.

“No,” said Leonidas. “It’s just a river battery. Once the Redcoats gain control of the river road, the cannon will be useless and the men will have to abandon the fort.”

Inside Fort Trumbull it was surprisingly calm. As they crossed the parade ground, Abby saw a man with a captain’s insignia on his hat walking towards them.

            “Hello, Cap’n Shapley,” said Leonidas.

            “Leonidas, my friend,” said the captain. “Are you here to volunteer? We could use a good man on the gun crews.”

            “No sir,” Leonidas replied. “I’ve got to find my family and make sure they’re safe.”

The captain nodded without saying anything. 

“What about you?” Leonidas asked. “Are you going to fight it out here?”

“We’ll hold out as long as possible,” replied Captain Shapley. “But if we’re overrun, my orders are to spike the guns and pull back to Griswold.”

The sound of cannon fire in the distance brought a smile to the Captain’s face.

“Sounds like some of the volunteers have manned the cannons on Town Hill,” he said.

Fort Folly,” said Leonidas grimly. “If the Redcoats take the high ground, then New London is lost.”

“Captain!” shouted one of the artillerymen. “Enemy column coming into range!”

“You’d  better be off,” said Captain Shapley.

“Good luck to you,” said Leonidas, offering his hand.

“And you, my friend,” replied the captain.

As they crossed the open ground north of the fort, Abby could see a long column of British soldiers advancing up the river road behind them. She started to say something to Leonidas, but the words were lost in the booming of the cannons at Fort Trumbull. The sound was overpowering, so loud that it seemed to engulf her, and she began to shake all over.

Leonidas sensed her distress, and he reached back and took her by the hand.

“Courage,” he said. “We are almost there.”


*   *   *


The scene in New London was overwhelming. Everywhere people were rushing about—some pressed through the crowds toward the docks while others struggled to reach the Norwich Road to the north or the Middletown Road to the west. The worst part was the noise—a cacophony of voices shouting and screaming, overshadowed by the sounds of shots being fired in the distance, a constant reminder of the looming danger.

Nearing the docks, Abby recognized a familiar face. It was Jacob, Leonidas’ eldest boy, riding a large brown mare.  

            “Papa!” called Jacob.

            “Jacob!” cried Leonidas. He reached up and hugged his son, wiping a tear from his eye.

“Papa! I thought I’d never find you!”

“Where’s your mama and the boys?” Leonidas said.

“Upriver,” he replied. “Master set sail right after the alarm went out.”

“Then we’d better get moving,” said Leonidas. He lifted Abby up and placed her in the saddle behind Jacob. “Hang on tight,” he said. “If we don’t get to the crossroads ahead of the British, we’ll be trapped.”

Grabbing the reins, Leonidas led the mare up Main Street, away from the docks. Near the top of the hill, they met a small band of militia coming towards them.

“Is the road open?” asked Leonidas.

“No,” said one of the men. “The enemy has moved artillery to the high ground. They are going to start shelling the town!”

At that moment, a large troop of Redcoats came rushing over the hill.

“Jacob!” shouted Leonidas, handing the reins to his son. “Head cross country till you reach the Norwich Road. Ride as hard as you can, and don’t stop for anything.”

“But Papa….”

“Off with you!” said Leonidas, slapping the side of the mare. The horse responded and took off in a gallop.

As Abby looked over her shoulder, she could see Leonidas disappearing into the woods. In the next second the sound of musket fire erupted all around them.

“Be safe,” she whispered, a tear running down her check.



Chapter 8


Flag of Truce



            The Story So Far: The British are preparing to attack Fort Griswold, while on the New London side of the river Fort Trumbull is overrun and the city falls to the enemy.


            From the parapet at Fort Griswold, Tom Cutler stood watching the events unfolding on the New London side. He had been encouraged by the early response—several ships had escaped upriver, and judging by the dust clouds along the Norwich Road, many people were fleeing to safety.

            Just south of New London, Tom could see a long line of Redcoats closing in on the river battery at Fort Trumbull. Suddenly, the guns from Trumbull opened up, temporarily slowing the enemy’s advance. But as the smoke cleared Tom could see the British had recovered and were nearing the crossroads behind Fort Trumbull.

“They’ll be overrun!” Tom shouted.

“Not likely,” said one of the gunnery sergeants. “Colonel Ledyard has ordered them to spike the guns and fall back.”

As if on cue, the defenders fled the fort and retreated to the docks where a small fleet of whaleboats was waiting.

“Hurray!” cheered Tom as the little boats began to pull away from shore.

But the British had anticipated the retreat, and suddenly a column of Redcoats appeared, knelt, and fired their muskets at the escaping soldiers.

Tom watched in horror as one of the boats capsized. A few of the men managed to swim to the other boats, but the rest were not so lucky.

            A short time later, Tom heard a cheer from the gun crews at the lower battery, and he was heartened to see a small force of men running up the hillside towards the fort. It was the surviving defenders from Fort Trumbull, led by Captain Shapley. Tom jumped off the parapet to greet the soldiers as they entered through the main gate.

            “That’s another sixteen men,” Tom said. “If enough volunteers answer the call, we can hold out here.”

“They’d better hurry,” said Ben Scarborough. “The Redcoats are going to be here soon.”

“Sooner than you think!” shouted Sergeant Avery. “Take your positions!”

As Tom climbed the parapet he could see hundreds of Redcoats through the trees to the east. And to the right, directly south of the fort, was another enemy force advancing up the hillside.

“There are so many of them!” said Ben.

“Stay calm,” said Tom, hoping to sound braver than he felt. Picking up his musket, he leaned forward and prepared himself for the worst.

“Let’s give it to them!” called Colonel Ledyard. One of the cannon on the south wall responded to the order, and suddenly everyone in the fort was firing his weapon.

Tom’s heart was pounding in his chest. He had never fired at an enemy soldier before, and his hands were shaking as he took aim and squeezed the trigger. In the confusion it was impossible to tell if he had hit anything, and before he could reload, the enemy was in full retreat.

“Cease fire!” came the order.

“They’ll think twice before trying that again,” said Ben laughing.

“But they will try again,” said Sergeant Avery. “The enemy won’t be discouraged by one failed attack.


*   *   *


After a while a small group of British officers appeared carrying a white flag—a sign that they wanted to talk. As they approached the fort, Colonel Ledyard ordered a warning shot to be fired.

“What do you want?” called the Colonel.

“A parley!” replied one of the officers.

            “They want to discuss surrender terms,” said Sergeant Avery.

            “Surrender?” said Ben. “Do you think the Colonel will go for it?”

            “I doubt it,” replied the sergeant. “If he had any idea of not staying to fight, we’d have pulled out by now.”

            Captain Shapley was sent out to talk to the enemy, and when he returned, Colonel Ledyard met with his officers in the barracks. The meeting didn’t last long but when the Colonel reappeared he looked grim-faced.

            “Men,” he started. “I have been offered the chance to surrender the fort and have, of course, refused. I mean to stand and fight—and with your help we should be able to hold the fort until we are re-enforced by the local militia.”

            “What if the militia doesn’t come?” asked one of the men.  

            “If we are defeated, martial law would be enforced,” said the Colonel.

            “Martial law?” said Ben. “What does that mean?”

            “It means no quarter,” said Sergeant Avery stiffly. “Death to all the defenders.”

            “Well, I’m ready for them,” said Ben. “Let ’em come. We drove them back once, and we can do it again.”

            “I hope you’re right,” said Tom softly.



Chapter 9


On the Stonington Road



            The Story So Far: While Emily Cutler prepares to leave her school house, her brother James is helping his family to escape the advancing British army:


            The sound of musket balls whizzing by his head was a bit unnerving, but James managed to guide the team up the hill, away from the enemy patrol. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he held his breath, expecting at any moment to be hit by a lead ball.

            When they were out of danger, Father spoke up:

            “With the British pickets patrolling, we’d better head east, out the Stonington Road.”

            “But what about Emily?” said Phoebe. “I thought we were going to find her.”

            “Emily is old enough to look out for herself,” said Father.

            “Ben was going to warn her,” added James. “I’m sure she is safe.”

            “Let’s hope so,” said Mother.


*   *   *


Even though she had promised Ben she would leave without delay, Emily had stayed to tidy up. She knew that the British might burn the school, but she still took the time to gather the textbooks, roll up the maps, and clear off her desk.

As she was finishing, Emily heard voices outside. Peering through a window she caught sight of a band of Redcoats approaching the school.

“Oh, no,” she cried. For a moment she stood frozen, considering her options. The soldiers might not pay any attention to a girl walking alone, but if they found out that her father was a captain in the Continental Army, they might take her prisoner.

Emily decided to not to risk it, and headed out the side entrance. As she pushed the door open, she held her breath, hoping the ancient hinges would not creak too loudly. Stepping out into the side yard, she bumped into someone. Before she could say anything, a British soldier grabbed her by the arms and knocked her to the ground.           


*   *   *


            The horses were lathered from exertion, but James kept a steady pace, trying to avoid the worst bumps in the deeply rutted path. Try as he might, the wagon seemed to clatter along unmercifully.

            “How much farther is it?” Mother asked.

            “We’re almost there,” he replied.

            After several minutes, they reached the junction where the old path joined the Stonington Road. James eased the team onto the road and let out a sigh of relief.

            “We made it,” said Phoebe happily, as she climbed up on the seat beside her brother. 

            It had rained recently and the road had washed out in several places, but the ride was much smoother and James was able to make better time. Here and there they saw British patrols in the distance, but they encountered no more trouble. Cresting the hill near Scarborough’s farm, a church spire could be seen in the distance.

            “Once we get to Mystic, we ought to be out of danger,” said Father.

            At the bottom of the hill, James saw a large band of local militia resting by the side of the road.

            “Look, Father!” he called. “Volunteers.”

            James guided the horses off the road and into a small pasture and helped his father climb down out of the wagon.

            “Good morning, Captain Beecher,” Father said.

            “William,” said the captain. “Good to see you. We wondered if you were well enough to travel.”

“Travel, yes,” said Father. “But not to fight, I’m afraid.”

“The important thing is that you’re safe. Where is the rest of your family?”

            “We are scattered like seeds in the wind,” said Mother.

            “Tom is at the fort,” Father said. “And Abby is across the river in New London. As for Emily, we were hoping that perhaps you had seen her.”

            “No, I’m sorry to say we haven’t.”

            “Have you been here long?” asked Mother.

            “Since dawn,” said one of the men.

            “Are you going to try for the fort?” asked James.

            “We heard that Colonel Ledyard was going to pull back,” said a man in the crowd.

            “No, he’s determined to fight. Didn’t you hear the alarm volley?”

            “We did, but we weren’t sure what it meant at first, and by the time we got word by messenger, it was too late. The Redcoats have taken positions north and east of the fort.”

            “We saw them,” said Father. “A few squads of pickets. If you attacked, you could drive them off easily.”

            “To what end?” asked one of the men. “There’s over a thousand of them lobsterbacks, and only a handful of us. The fort is doomed with or without us.”

            “But you’ve got to try,” said James. “You can’t just give up.”



Chapter 10


No Way Out



            The Story So Far: The Cutler family troubles continue as Abby and Jacob try to escape from New London while Emily has been taken prisoner and her brother James waits impatiently:


            Abby had never ridden a horse before, and she felt tiny perched atop the large brown mare. She held on as tight as she could, afraid that at any moment she would fall. She wondered if Jacob could breath with her squeezing him so hard.

Even though he wasn’t much bigger than she was, Jacob was a good horseman and he skillfully guided the mare over the cobblestone road back toward the docks.

In the distance, a wisp of smoke could be seen rising over the warehouses along the river.

“Fire!” Abby cried, loosening her grip a little and motioning towards the smoke. 

“The British have taken the riverfront,” Jacob shouted. “We’ll have to find another way out of town.”

But as he pulled back on the reins, Abby could see a small band of Redcoats advancing towards them. Jacob saw them too, and he snapped the reins as hard as he could. The mare responded with a wild gallop, and Abby had to hold on for dear life to keep from being thrown off.


*   *   *


Emily Cutler was angry with herself. Ben had warned her, but she had spent too much time getting ready to leave school, and now she was a prisoner.

“Get moving,” said the burly Redcoat, pointing his bayonet at her.

As she walked out into the schoolyard, she saw that she was not the only captive. A small band of people, women and children mostly, were huddled together. Emily joined them.

“Where are they taking us?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” said a woman. “But I heard one of the soldiers say that they are supposed to evacuate all the civilians.”

“Evacuate the civilians? Why would they bother with us? You don’t think they’re going to take us to a prison ship?” She shuddered at the thought.

“I doubt it. Civilians aren’t often taken as prisoners of war. It’s usually just the captured soldiers that suffer that awful fate.”

As if on cue, the booming sound of cannon fire erupted from Fort Griswold. The attack had begun.


*   *   *


A few miles to the east, James Cutler was pacing back and forth on the Stonington Road. He too was angry—angry at himself for being too young to volunteer to defend Fort Griswold, and angry at the men who could have fought their way through the pickets to help reinforce the fort and had chosen not to.

The crash of cannon in the distance did little to improve his mood.

            “We can’t just sit here,” said James. “We should go back.”

“And do what?” asked Father.

            “I don’t know,” he replied. “But sitting here just makes me sick to my stomach.”

            “There will be much to do when this day is over,” said Father. “War is not only about battles. It’s also about tending to the sick and wounded, burying the dead, and rebuilding.”

            “But if the fort falls….” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the thought.

            “It’s out of our hands,” said Father. “We can only watch and wait.” 


*   *   *           


“It’s no good!” shouted Jacob, as they raced up Main Street. “We’re trapped.”

“Then we need to find a place to hide,” said Abby. “If we’re captured, they’ll take you.”

Just ahead, a small band of Redcoats emerged from a tavern, hauling a keg of rum. When the soldiers saw the children on horseback, one of them waved his arms and shouted for them to stop.

            “What should I do?” called Jacob.

“Keep going!” Abby cried. “Your father risked his life to save you, and you can’t give up now.”

Jacob leaned over in the saddle and spurred the horse on.

“Hang on tight,” he shouted.


*   *   *


            The prisoners were herded into a small warehouse along the waterfront. It was crowded, and stuffy, and agonizingly hot. Emily found a spot near one of the tiny windows, which she managed to open, allowing a faint breeze to drift into the room.

            Across the river, dense grey smoke was rising from New London in a dozen places, and here and there flames could be seen through the murky haze. In the hills north of the city, a long caravan of refugees was trudging to safety along the Norwich Road, oblivious to the swarms of British soldiers who were putting the torch to buildings and ships alike.

            “Can you see anything on the New London side?” asked one of the children.

            “Just a lot of smoke,” Emily said sadly.



Chapter 11


The Attack



            The Story So Far: Abby and Jacob are nearly captured, while on the other side of the river Emily has been captured by the British and east of Fort Griswold the rest of the family waits for news of the attack:


Tom Cutler peered through the embrasure and scanned the hillside for any sign of the impending attack. Across the river in New London, many of the buildings along the river were ablaze, but here on the Groton side he was amazed at how peaceful it seemed. Tom knew that just out of sight behind the hills, the enemy was preparing to attack, but in the distance he could hear a bluebird singing, and for a moment the danger of battle seemed unreal.

            “The calm before the storm,” he muttered.

“Maybe they’ve given up,” said Ben Scarborough, peering over the edge of the parapet.

“Doubtful,” said Tom. “And you ought to keep your head down. You don’t want to give the enemy an easy target.”

            At that moment, a shout went up, and suddenly Tom could see dozens of Redcoats streaming over the ridge. The sight of the enemy charging up the hill was terrifying, yet Tom felt a strange sense of excitement in the pit of his stomach.

            “Prepare to fire!” shouted Sergeant Avery.

            The gun batteries along the south wall tilted their carriages and took aim at the advancing Redcoats.

            “Fire!” came the order, and a dozen cannon exploded as one. Tom had never heard so many cannons fired at once. The noise was deafening and he fell to his knees from the shock. A dense cloud of smoke engulfed him, and his eyes burned from the acrid smell of gunpowder.

            As Tom pulled himself to his feet, the parapet around him became a blur of activity, and a score of voices seemed to be shouting orders all at once. Instantly, the artillery crews sprang into action, swabbing out the heated gun barrels and reloading the cannon with powder and shot, while everywhere men fired frantically over the wall at the approaching enemy.

            Tom raised his musket. Through the smoke it was impossible to see anything. He aimed in the general direction of the enemy and squeezed the trigger. He quickly reloaded, but by the time he was ready to fire again, the attack had stalled and the enemy was running for cover. Even though the fight had only lasted a few minutes, the hillside in front of the fort was littered with dead and wounded British soldiers.

            “That’ll show ’em!” cried Ben.

            “Keep your wits about you, men,” shouted Sergeant Avery. “That was only the first wave.”

            In a few moments the attack resumed. For several minutes the fighting was fierce, and it seemed to Tom that for every British soldier that fell, two more appeared to take his place. A handful of Redcoats even managed to reach the base of the fort, but the cannon fire was too much for the attackers, and the enemy was driven back once again.

            “Let ’em try that one more time,” said one of the cannon crew. “We’ll blast ’em all to kingdom come.”

            “If our powder holds out,” said Captain Latham.

            “And our courage,” muttered Tom.


*   *   *


When the third attack began, Tom saw that the British soldiers were more spread out, with small bands of Redcoats moving to flanking positions on each side of the fort.

“They mean to surround us!” said Tom.

“Protect the gate!” called Captain Latham, and several men jumped from the parapet and ran across the parade grounds to the front gate.

But the brunt of the attack came directly at the south wall, and in spite of heavy fire from the fort, the Redcoats would not be turned away. The closer the enemy got to the fort, the harder it was to see them, and by the time they had reached the base of the walls, the cannon were useless.

“They’re in the ditch,” shouted Ben.

            Tom peered over the edge of the parapet. The entire south side of the wall was covered with red uniforms. He aimed his musket at the nearest enemy soldier and squeezed the trigger. The man disappeared in the smoke. As Tom was reloading, the parapet was breached and enemy soldiers came streaming over the wall. Glancing to his left he saw that the main gate had been forced open and dozens of Redcoats were storming into the compound.

            Tom grabbed a pike and jumped into the fray, but as he lunged towards an enemy officer, he felt a sharp pain in his back. He lost consciousness and fell over the wall and into the ditch below the gun battery.



Chapter 12





            The Story So Far: The Americans have bravely defended Fort Griswold but after three attacks the fort finally was overrun:


Inside the storehouse that was their makeshift prison, Emily and the other captives struggled to survive. The heat was oppressive, and there was no water, but the sounds of the attack on Fort Griswold occupied everyone’s thoughts. Emily sat motionless, listening to the crashing of cannons, trying not to worry about Ben and her brother Tom. To keep from crying, she hummed softly to herself.


*   *   *


From their vantage point in the hayloft of a barn in the hills overlooking the river, Abby and Jacob had watched the destruction that the British had brought to the western shore.

            All over New London fires burned out of control. Along the waterfront, every building was in flames, as were at least a dozen ships that had failed to escape upriver. Away from the harbor, several sections of town were ablaze, but whether because of the shifting wind or the malice of the Redcoats, Abby could not be sure.

            Through the smoke it was obvious that the British were determined to steal everything they didn’t burn, and everywhere bands of looting soldiers swarmed through the streets. As the afternoon wore on, the dense black smoke rising over the hills became so thick that it was impossible to see anything, at least from a distance.


*   *   *


Huddled in their wagon two miles east of Fort Griswold, the Cutler family sat listening to the battle raging in the distance.

“It sounds like thunder,” said Phoebe.

“It’s just horrible,” said Mother. “I hate it.”

Suddenly the cannon fire ceased. The sound of muskets continued for another minute or so, then stopped abruptly.

“Is it over?” asked Phoebe.

“No,” said Father. “Not likely.”

When the battle resumed it was with such ferocity that the crash of cannon shook the ground all around the wagon. James closed his eyes and tried to imagine the scene, hoping that the cannon fire was inflicting heavy casualties on the British and not the Americans inside the fort.

After what seemed an eternity, the noise stopped, producing an eerie silence. In the little wagon, no one moved, anticipating a renewal of the attack, which came in less than a minute. 

“They’re not giving up,” said Father, and James wondered if he was referring to the attackers or the defenders, but he was afraid to ask. He put his arm around Phoebe and squeezed her tightly.

This time the sounds were so intense that the boom of cannon blurred into one continuous roar—a noise so terrible that Phoebe covered her ears, and Mother began to weep softly.

And then, suddenly, it was quiet. For several minutes, no one spoke. Then Father broke the silence.

“Sounds like the battle is over,” he said.

“Who won?” asked Phoebe.

“I don’t know,” said Father.

“We could send a scout,” said James, raising his eyebrows hopefully.

“Not until we are sure it’s safe,” Father replied.


*   *   *


It was late in the day when the British finally released the prisoners. Emily heard the sound of the key turning in the lock, and a moment later the door slowly opened. The shafts of light streaming into the dark room were blinding, and Emily raised her hand to protect her eyes as she stepped out into the daylight.

She was not prepared for what she saw. A dark pall hung over the river, and all around her were the smoldering skeletons of burned-out buildings. She climbed the hill to get a better view, and had to wipe away a tear as she surveyed the utter devastation. The village of Groton had been put to the torch. Every house, every building, save the small warehouse where they had been imprisoned, was gone.

As she crested the hill, Emily held her breath, hoping against hope that the school had been spared. But she was disappointed. All that remained of the little building where she had taught for the last two years was an ugly mass of charred wood.

Turning away, Emily stared out at the river. To the south, she could see the British columns marching along the river road—an orderly evacuation that seemed out of place in the chaos and sorrow that they left behind. A wave of hatred overwhelmed her, and for a moment she wanted to pursue the enemy and make them pay for their evil deeds.

But her heart was heavy with other emotions, and she turned away from the river and trudged up the hill towards Fort Griswold.




Chapter 13





            The Story So Far: The Cutlers can only watch and wait as the British attack Fort Griswold and set fire to New London and Groton:


In a wooded area in the hills west of New London, a squad of volunteers was preparing to attack a larger force of Redcoats.

            “As long as the enemy holds this position, they control the town,” said Leonidas. “If we can reclaim the high ground, we can force them to withdraw.”

            “There’s a sight more of them than there is of us,” said one of the volunteers.

            “And they got cannon,” added the man next to him.

            “If we surprise them, we can overrun the position before they can mount a counterattack,” said Leonidas. “Then their numbers won’t matter.”

            “What’s the hurry? We ought to wait for reinforcements,” said the first man.

            “And let ’em steal what’s left?” said a third man. “It’s time to get even.”

            “Let’s show these red devils that we can stand up to them,” said a fourth. Several others murmured in agreement.

            Leonidas led the men forward, moving slowly to avoid making any noise. When they were in position, he offered one last bit of advice.

            “Keep low,” he whispered. “And make every shot count.”

At the signal, twenty muskets fired at once.

To escape the broiling heat, the Redcoats had found shelter in the shade, and most of them were half asleep. In the first few moments, it looked as if the attack would succeed, but the British officers reacted quickly, restoring order and forming a defensive line. After firing a musket volley, the Redcoats moved forward with their bayonets lowered.

            “Hold your positions, men!” shouted Leonidas, but the sight of shining steel bayonets was too much for the volunteers, and some of them beat a hasty retreat.

Leonidas turned to call out to his comrades, but as he did a shot grazed his side. The wound was not serious, but the initial twinge of pain caused him to lose his footing and he fell to the ground.


*   *   *


After the battle ended, James had waited, hoping for some word or a sign of victory, but neither came. When he could stand it no longer, James began to unhitch one of the horses from the wagon. He was surprised when his father didn’t try to stop him.

“Be safe,” was all Father had said as James climbed on the horse’s back.

The sky overhead was a bright summer blue, but in the distance the horizon was shrouded in an ominous, murky grey. As James neared the fort, his eyes began to burn from the dense smoke, and he wrapped a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. When he reached the top of the hill, he paused to survey the scene.

            The hillside was covered with discarded weapons and everywhere the ground was stained an unmistakable dark red. The thought of so many casualties was overwhelming, and a chill ran through him. But he pushed aside his fear and gently spurred his horse forward. At the main gate he dismounted and gasped at the sight: the parade ground was littered with dead bodies, so many that he couldn’t count them all.

            “My lord,” he muttered numbly.

            For several minutes, James wandered aimlessly, awed by the terrible silence that filled the fort. Eventually he reached the southwest wall and climbed the parapet to get a better view. In the distance he could see the retreating British loading a few dozen prisoners into their long boats. Tears were stinging his eyes as he watched, straining to catch sight of someone he knew.

            “They’re all gone,” he whispered hoarsely. “I’m all alone.”

            “You’re never alone,” said a voice behind him.        

            James turned to see his sister Emily standing on the parade ground. “Oh, Emily!” he cried, jumping down from the wall.

            “James!” she said, hugging him tightly. “I am so glad to see you! I was so worried. The British destroyed everything. And now to find you here…alive….” Her voice trailed off and she began to cry.

            “Here,” he said, offering his handkerchief.

            “Is everyone else all right?” she asked. “Mother and Father and the girls?”

“Yes. We managed to escape before the attack began. But we were worried about you.”

            “Oh, James,” she cried. “They took me prisoner. All afternoon I waited…it was so hot….” Her body went limp and James helped her to sit down on the grass.

“Why don’t you rest a bit. I’ll get you some water.”

            “No,” Emily replied. “I’m all right. There is work to be done. We need to find out what happened to Tom and Ben.”



Chapter 14





The Story So Far: James and Emily were reunited at Fort Griswold while in New London Leonidas led a counterattack on the British:


When Ben Scarborough opened his eyes, he wasn’t sure where he was. He tried to prop himself up on one elbow, but the pain in his side was so great that he collapsed back onto the bed. After a few moments, he regained his strength and managed to raise his head just enough to see where he was.

            The room was crowded with wounded men, some sitting on the floor, others lying anywhere there was space. On a makeshift bed next to him was a man he recognized from the fort. Ben tried to speak to him, but found the effort too great. He closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep.

When Ben woke up again, Emily was sitting beside him.

            “Oh, Ben,” said Emily, taking his hand. “I thought I’d lost you!”

Ben smiled weakly. His chest was covered with blood-stained bandages. He appeared to have been wounded several times.

            “Emily,” he rasped. “Water…” His throat was so dry the words hurt.

            “Here,” she said, lifting his head and placing a cup to his lips.

            Eagerly he drained the cup and motioned for more.

            “That’s better,” he whispered. “Where am I?”

            “Ebenezer Avery’s house. The British set it up as a temporary hospital.”

            Ben took a deep breath. “It hurts when I move,” he said.

            “You’re lucky to be alive,” Emily said, holding back the tears. “There are so few survivors.”

            “What about Tom?” he murmured. “Is he…?”

“He’s missing,” she replied. “Do you have any idea what happened to him?”

“He was on the southwest parapet assisting the cannon crews. When the main gate was attacked, I joined the fighting there. After the gate was breached, I fell back, but I couldn’t find Tom anywhere. About that time Colonel Ledyard gave the order to stop fighting, and something struck me in the side. That’s the last thing I remember.”


*   *   *


            Outside the Avery house, several wounded men sat in the yard waiting to see the doctor. James was interviewing anyone who could speak.

“I’m looking for my brother Tom,” said James.

“If he ain’t here or up to the fort, then the British musta taken him,” said one man, a corporal who was sitting in the doorway. His hands and face were bandaged, and he had several bloodstains on his uniform.

“No,” said an older man who was sitting beside him. “Tom wasn’t one of the prisoners, I’m sure of that.”

“There are so many dead and wounded,” said James sadly. “The battle must have been horrible.” 

“Not the battle,” said the corporal. “It was afterwards that most of the blood was shed.”

“After you surrendered?” said James. “But why?”

“It was spite,” answered the older man. “We gave ’em all they could handle. Killed dozens of those red demons and both of their commanding officers before they overran us.”

“We had maybe a dozen casualties when they breached the walls,” said the corporal. “But after we surrendered, them evil monsters didn’t stop fighting. I saw dozens of unarmed men slaughtered ruthlessly before they bayoneted me.”

“You’re lucky the British set up this temporary hospital,” said James.

“It wasn’t mercy,” replied the corporal. “The heartless cowards didn’t want to bother with us.”

“They left us for dead,” said the older man. 

“Better to die here than on a prison ship,” said the corporal.


*   *   *


When Leonidas hit the ground, he could hear the shouts of enemy soldiers close by. Rolling over he could see the line of Redcoats was closer than he thought, but he did not waver. Grabbing his musket, he raised up on one knee and began reloading. Calmly he pulled a paper cartridge from his pocket, bit off the end and primed the pan. Then he inserted the cartridge into the barrel, tamped it with his ramrod, and cocked the weapon. His hands were shaking as he aimed at the nearest Redcoat, who was so close Leonidas could read the lettering on his buttons.

“Make this one count,” he muttered to himself.

Before he could squeeze the trigger, something struck him in the shoulder and he fell backwards. In the next instant half a dozen Redcoats surrounded him, and one of the enemy thrust his bayonet forward. Leonidas kicked the man in the stomach and rolled over. 

“Surrender or die,” shouted one of the Redcoats.

“Never!” cried Leonidas.

Jumping to his feet, he lunged forward at the nearest enemy soldier, but as he did, the woods behind him erupted with musket fire. Reinforcements had arrived! 



Chapter 15





            The Story So Far: Ben Scarborough lies wounded in a hospital bed while the Cutlers search for new of Tom. In New London, Leonidas has narrowly escaped capture by the retreating British:


In the shade of a large maple tree, the Cutler family sat sharing a tearful reunion.

“I’m so glad we found Emily,” said Mother. “It’s good to know at least one of my missing children is all right.”

“I wish we knew that Abby was safe,” said Phoebe. 

“We can only wait and pray,” said Mother.

“What puzzles me,” said Father, “is how Tom seems to have disappeared.”

“I’ve searched every inch of the ground around the fort,” said James. “There’s no sign of him anywhere.”

“He isn’t at the Avery house,” Emily continued. “And we don’t think he was taken prisoner.”

“I couldn’t find anyone who remembers seeing him after the battle,” added James.

“But there are still some men unaccounted for,” said Emily. “We can’t give up hope.”

            “Perhaps he slipped away in the confusion,” said Father. “If he was able to make it over the wall, he could have snuck off.” A few men had been lucky enough to escape the massacre.          

“We’ve got to keep looking,” said Mother.

“We will,” said Father. “But I think you and Phoebe ought to go home.”

“I hope the British didn’t burn our house,” said Phoebe.

“Even if our house is gone, the farm is still our home,” said Father. “And when Abby returns, she’ll look for us there.”

“You’re right,” said Mother. “But promise me you’ll send word the moment you know anything.”

“We will,” said Father.

“I’ll head back to the fort,” said James.

“And I’m going back to the hospital to look in on Ben,” said Emily.


*   *   *


Jacob and Abby rode through the streets of New London, searching for Leonidas.

            “There’s not much left of the town,” said Jacob. “Even though I know the streets, without the buildings it’s hard to find my way.”

“It’s eerie,” said Abby. “The sun is still up, but the smoke is so thick that it seems like it’s nighttime.”

            Near the docks, Abby saw someone she recognized. It was the old woman with the cow she had met earlier in the day.

            “Hello,” said Abby. “Do you remember me?”

            “You’re the little girl I seen on the River Road,” said the old woman. “Glad to see you survived.”

            “We’re looking for someone,” said Abby. “Leonidas. The man I was with this morning. Have you seen him?”

            “Ain’t seen hardly no one,” replied the woman. “But I did hear someone fitting his description was wounded in a fight up by the Norwich Road.”

            “Thank you,” said Abby. 

            Jacob turned the horse around and they set off towards the crossroads. As they raced up the hill, Abby tried to keep her emotions in check. If Leonidas was wounded, he might not be able to work, and if he couldn’t work, how could he earn the money to set his family free?

            Near the crossroads were several wounded men sitting under a tree. One of them was Leonidas.

            “Papa!” shouted Jacob, jumping off the horse. “Are you badly hurt?”

            Leonidas opened his eyes and stared at his son.

            “Jacob,” he said. “Why are you here? If the British take you….”

            “The British are retreating,” said Jacob.

            “This horrible day is almost over,” said Abby.


*   *   *


On the south side of Fort Griswold, James was walking in the twilight, inspecting the ground carefully for clues. When he reached the sally port, he paused to talk to his father who was sitting on the covered walkway.

            “Still no sign,” said James.

“It’s no use,” said Father. “You’ve been over the ground a dozen times.”

“I’m not giving up,” said James.

“Let’s at least get some supper,” said Father, rubbing his stomach.

“The sun is almost down,” said James. “I want to search the ditch again. Then maybe we can take a short break.” He climbed over the walkway and began searching the area at the base of the walls. In the failing light it was difficult to see more than a few feet ahead.

As he rounded the corner of the west wall, James saw a soldier’s cap lying in the tall grass. He bent over to pick it up, and as he did, he thought he saw something between the rocks. In the shadow of the fort it was fairly dark, and he had to wait a moment to let his eyes adjust. When they did he could see the outline of a body. It was a soldier lying face down in the tall grass.



Chapter 16





The Story So Far: Abby and Jacob have found the injured Leonidas, while Ben recovers from his wounds and James looks for his brother Tom:


For a moment, James stared at the body lying in the grass, his mind racing with terrible thoughts.

What if it isn’t Tom? Or if it is, what if he’s dead? 

Pushing aside his fears, James carefully climbed into the crevice between the rocks. There wasn’t much room, and he had to brace himself against one of the rocks as he leaned over. When he placed his hand on the man’s neck, James thought he could feel a weak pulse. Slowly he turned the man over. It was Tom!

            Tom Cutler opened his eyes and forced a weak smile.

            “Hello, James,” he said hoarsely.

            “Father!” called James. “I’ve found him!”


*   *   *


            It was an hour before sunrise, but the air was already warm, signaling another day of the September heat wave. In the mouth of the river, the British fleet stood at anchor, preparing to set sail for New York. In the fading moonlight, the mighty warships loomed starkly against the night sky.

On the Thames River there was no activity, save for a tiny boat manned by two small figures who struggled to maneuver against the current. In the stern of the boat, nestled against the gunwale, lay their passenger.

            “Keep a steady pull on the oars,” said Leonidas.

            “The tide is coming in,” said Jacob.

            “It’s pushing us upriver,” said Abby.

            “Work together. Find a point of land in front of you and keep focused on it.”

            Abby began to count to herself, and found that it helped her rhythm.

            Overhead the faint glint of first light began to appear, revealing some activity on the warships in the distance.

            “Why is the British fleet still here?” asked Jacob. “Are they going to attack us again?”

            “No,” said Leonidas. “They’ve done their damage. There’s nothing left to burn or steal.” He tried to lift himself up to get a better view.

            “Easy, Papa,” said Jacob. “We can handle the boat.”

            “I know you can,” he said, smiling. “You two can do anything. You escaped from the British and found me in all the chaos of New London. I’m just eager to get back to Groton, to see if I still have a home.”

            “Me, too,” said Abby.

            As the sun prepared to break over the eastern hills, Abby could see the faint outline of the bluffs above her farm. But in the darkness she couldn’t tell whether her house was still there.


*   *   *


            It was a cool November day, and the Cutler homestead was bustling with activity. It was a happy day: Ben Scarborough had finally recovered from his wounds, and had asked Emily to marry him. To celebrate, the Cutlers had invited Leonidas and his family to dinner.

Mother had been cooking all morning, and the little house was filled with the aroma of roast turkey and apple pie.

“This is a happy occasion,” said Father, as they finished eating. “And we are indeed lucky. We should be thankful for our blessings.”

“I’m thankful for this wonderful day,” said Leonidas’ wife Elizabeth. “And the friends who share it with us.”

            “I’m thankful that my family is here with me today,” said Leonidas.

            “And our friends,” added Jacob.

            “I am thankful our loved ones survived that awful day,” said Mother.

“And that our home wasn’t burned,” said Abby.

“And that our cow was saved,” said Phoebe.

“I am grateful that our prisoners have been paroled,” said Ben.

            “Let’s also remember the men who gave their lives in defense of our liberty,” said Tom.

            “And those who survived,” added Emily.

            “Do you think the war will last much longer?” asked Mother.

“With the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, the British can’t go on much longer,” said Father.

“And now that the British have finally agreed to talk peace,” said Leonidas, “it’s only a matter of time before the war is over.”

“But we can’t give up yet,” said Father. “The struggle has not ended. If the attack taught us anything, it’s that we need to be ever vigilant to protect our liberty.”

            “It doesn’t matter,” said Abby. “We’re all here together. And if this war ever ends, we will be a lucky family indeed.”

            “Amen,” said Mother. “Now who’s ready for pie?”


*   *   *


Post Script: The Revolutionary War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, on September 3, 1783—almost two years to the day after the British attack on New London and Groton.