Tag Archives: Battle of Compo Hill

A Thanksgiving Wish

All summer long, kids swarm on the Compo cannons.

On a crisp fall day, there’s no one in sight.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Pat Gold)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Pat Gold)

But there they stand, reminding us all of the ideals our forefathers fought for, nearly 250 years ago.

Today, let’s think of them — and all the values we as Americans hold dear.

Happy Thanksgiving!

No More Trolls: The Sequel

We’re in the midst of an important Westport anniversary.

At dusk 237 years ago yesterday — April 25, 1777 — 2000 British troops landed at Compo Beach. Tory loyalists planned to guide them up Compo Road to Cross Highway, across to Redding Road, then north through Redding and Bethel to Danbury, where they would burn a major munitions depot.

Patriots fired a few shots at the corner of the Post Road and Compo, but the British marched on. In Danbury they destroyed the Continental Army’s munitions, then headed back toward their waiting ships at Compo.

Hastily assembled patriot forces fought them in the fierce Battle of Ridgefield. Led by Brigadier General Benedict Arnold — not yet a traitor — and outnumbered 3 to 1, the patriots deployed a strategy of selective engagement.

British forces landed at Compo Beach, marched to Danbury, marched back south and — after the Battle of Compo Hill — retreated to Long Island.

The next day — April 28, 1777 — patriot marksmen waited on Compo Hill (the current site of Minuteman Hill road). They did not stop the redcoats — 20 colonials were killed, and between 40 and 80 wounded when the British made a shoulder to shoulder charge with fixed bayonets — but they gave them a fight.

A very different fight took place in the days leading up to April 26, 2013. Here on the “06880” blog, a post about the new town arts curator devolved into nasty attacks on her and her appointment. Accusations flew about a waste of town dollars. Even after it was noted that she is a volunteer, she continued to be vilified.

A post about a summer party planned for the “06880″ community quickly degenerated into a political catfight. Much of the joy of the announcement was sucked away by anonymous commenters.

There is a word for anonymous internet bullies: trolls.

There is a word for anonymous internet bullies: trolls.

So a year ago today, I pulled the plug on anonymity. In a pissed-off post, I described the reasons I finally had it with “trolls.” By stirring the pot so virulently, they were poisoning the blog for everyone. They clothed themselves in free speech garb, but in reality they were just cyberspace bullies.

That post drew 91 comments. Almost all were positive. A few people predicted the end of “06880.”

So what’s happened in the year since, now that commenters have to use their real, full names?

Well, I’m working harder. Not everyone follows the rules. I spend time deleting occasional anonymous posts — I have not gone as far as to demand pre-registration — and sending requests to re-post (I’ll even do it for you).

The number of comments is down a bit — but not significantly. Instead of 2 or 3 bozos shouting at each other, we’ve had (for the most part) civil conversations.

The dark spirits are gone. “06880” is lighter, freer.

We now know who is part of the “06880” community. And doesn’t any community — a blog, a town, whatever — function better when everyone knows their neighbors?

In the nearly 2 1/2 centuries since the Battle of Compo Hill, the British have never ventured inland again.

And — as the past year proves — the trolls are also gone for good.

 

Minuteman Hill: “The Street Where I Live”

My recent post on the Battle of Compo Hill got alert “06880” reader June Eichbaum thinking — and writing. She says:

When I open the window and the air smells like onions, I know it’s spring.

Before there were houses, Minuteman Hill — where I live — was an onion farm. During the Civil War, Westport farmers harvested barrels of onions. Union troops ate as many onions as Westport could grow, as protection against scurvy.

In the late 1800s yields dropped after years of single-crop farming robbed the soil of nutrients. Demand from the Army declined, and the Irish potato famine fungus arrived in America, causing an onion blight.

Minuteman Hill is a drumlin — an inverted spoon — that rises 100 feet above the moraine and wetlands below. Thousands of years ago, melting glaciers relentlessly scraped, mixed and reworked minerals, decaying vegetation and loose particles. Glaciers literally tilled the ground to make the soil in my garden as they melted.

The Minuteman statue. In the distance is Minuteman Hill.

The Minuteman statue. In the distance is Minuteman Hill.

Our street’s namesake is the bronze statue created by Henry Daniel Webster of a life-sized Minuteman soldier, crouched at the ready with musket in hand. He gazes up to where patriot sharpshooters sacrificed their lives in 1777, after ambushing British troops marching back to their war ships after burning an arsenal in Danbury.

The Minuteman is cared for by the community. When it snows, people put a woolen cap on his head and a scarf around his neck. At Christmas, he dons a Santa costume. On July 4th the Minuteman dresses up as Uncle Sam, surrounded by flags. He oversees the fireworks at the same beach where invading British ships dropped anchor.

In 1855 a house was built on the site of that Revolutionary War battle, next door to where we live now. It was sold in 1878 to Signorney Burnham, who rebuilt it in an eclectic Victorian style.

The Burnham house, on the site of the Battle of Compo HIll. (Photo by Jill Eichbaum)

The Burnham house, on the site of the Battle of Compo HIll. (Photo by June Eichbaum)

Burnham bred prize cattle, imported from his farm on the Isle of Jersey. Their manure improved the soil, and their grazing gave the land respite from farming. Burnham Hill marks the cows’ path down to Old Mill Beach.

Before 1950, our neighbors’ great-aunt owned the entire hill (it was then part of Compo Hill). My neighbor tells how her great-aunt sold a piece of the hill every time her husband wanted to travel to Europe (apparently quite often).

In 1950 she submitted a proposal to the town to subdivide some of the land. She penciled in a path to access those parcels, writing by hand “Minute Man Hill.”

Today, Minuteman Hill is a dead-end street of 22 homes. More than half sit along one of the 5 spokes that radiate out on the flat land at top.

In the early 1950s Harry Suttenfield built a modest home for his growing family on land adjacent to the elaborate Victorian. His house has been our home for 20 years. The trees he planted create a sense of place so grounded and strong that living here feels like a reprieve from a world of soundbites and short attention spans.

Weeping cherry trees on Minuteman Hill. (Photo by June Eichbaum)

Weeping cherry trees on Minuteman Hill. (Photo by June Eichbaum)

For the 7 days each spring that 2 weeping cherry trees bloom, their ethereal beauty is breathtaking. As the petals gently descend, our entire front garden, driveway and road are covered in delicate white. From a distance, it looks like snow.

Directly in front of the house, Suttenfield planted what today is an enormous sycamore tree. He also planted an apple orchard. Five trees remain. From late August to early October, neighbors pick apples. We take turns using a bright red gadget that it is as fun as it is practical.

The apples from our tree taste better than any I have ever eaten. They also make great pies.

Do you have a story about your neighborhood, home or road? Click “Comments” — or send it to dwoog@optonline.net.

A rose arbor on Minuteman Hill. (Photo by June Eichbaum)

A rose arbor on Minuteman Hill. (Photo by June Eichbaum)

The Minuteman, Benedict Arnold And The Battle Of Compo Hill

For over a century, the Minuteman has stood as Westport’s most beloved symbol. Harry Daniel Webster’s statue was dedicated in June 1910.

But this will make you feel really old: The skirmish it commemorates — the Battle of Compo Hill — took place 126 years before that.

The Minuteman statue in 1912 -- 2 years after its dedication.

The Minuteman statue in 1912 — 2 years after its dedication.

According to Mollie Donovan and Dorothy Curran, 2000 British troops under the direction of General William Tryon landed at Compo Beach at dusk on April 25, 1777. Tory loyalists planned to guide them up Compo Road to Cross Highway, across to Redding Road, then north through Redding and Bethel to Danbury, where they would burn a major munitions depot.

Patriots fired a few shots at the corner of the Post Road and Compo, but the British marched on. In Danbury they destroyed the Continental Army’s munitions, then headed back toward their waiting ships at Compo.

Hastily assembled patriot forces fought them in the fierce Battle of Ridgefield. Led by Brigadier General Benedict Arnold — not yet a traitor — and outnumbered 3 to 1, the patriots deployed a strategy of selective engagement.

British forces landed at Compo Beach, marched to Danbury, marched back south and -- after the Battle of Compo Hill -- retreated to Long Island.

British forces landed at Compo Beach, marched to Danbury, returned south and — after the Battle of Compo Hill — retreated to Long Island.

The next day — April 28, 1777 — patriot marksmen waited on Compo Hill (the current site of Minuteman Hill road). They did not stop the redcoats — 20 colonials were killed, and between 40 and 80 wounded when the British made a shoulder to shoulder charge with fixed bayonets — but they gave them a fight.

Graves of some of the patriots who fell that day lie along Compo Beach Road, just past the Minuteman statue.

Though Tryon returned to burn Norwalk and Fairfield, never again during the American Revolution did British troops venture inland in Connecticut.

This Friday (April 26) the Westport Historical Society celebrates the 236th anniversary of that engagement. There’s a 6 p.m. lecture by John Reznikoff (a professional document and signature authenticator with Rockwell Art and Framing), plus a display of historic documents related to the skirmish.

One of the documents on display -- and for sale -- at the Westport Historical Society this weekend.

One of the documents on display — and for sale — at the Westport Historical Society this weekend.

All documents are available for purchase. If you can’t make Friday’s event, additional sale days are Saturday (April 27, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday (April 28, 12 to 4 p.m.).

And if you can’t make any of those days, at least think about the Battle of Compo Hill. That’s the reason our Minuteman stands guard, facing Compo Road.

Like his fellow patriots 236 years ago, he’s ready to give the Brits his best shot.

The Minuteman statue today.

The Minuteman statue today.

Happy Birthday, Minuteman Statue!

Every Westporter worth his salt knows the Minuteman statue.

It’s how we give directions to the beach.  We put ski caps on its head, and flowers in its musket.

It commemorates Westport’s most historic only wartime exploits: 2 Revolutionary War battles.

It’s as much a part of this place as stone walls and Long Island Sound.

So it may surprise you to learn that the Minuteman statue is just 100 years young.

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 17) at 4 p.m. the Westport Historical Society is sponsoring a centennial celebration of H. Daniel Webster’s statue.  It takes place at Compo Beach.

Which makes today a perfect time to look back, and learn exactly what the Minuteman commemorates.

As Woody Klein recounts in his book Westport, Connecticut:  The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence, on April 25, 1777 a fleet of British warships anchored off Compo Beach.  The Redcoats were headed to Danbury, a colonial supply center.

The landing of 1,850 men was virtually uncontested.  A group of 18 men gathered behind a stone wall near the corner of Compo and Post Roads.  They killed a British major and wounded 3 others.

But the British pressed north.  In Danbury they demolished an ammunition depot; burned 19 houses, 22 stores and barns; and destroyed food, clothing, medical equipment, tents, candles and a printing press.

On the way back, the colonists offered more resistance.  In Ridgefield General Benedict Arnold — before he became a bad guy — rallied the local militia, and had his horse shot out from under him.

The next day, a Tory named Deliverance Bennett warned the British about an ambush planned here, on Old Hill.  They doubled back, crossing the Saugatuck River at Ford Road.

Benedict Arnold rushed to intercept the redcoats near the Kings Highway Bridge.  He led a charge — but none of his 200 militiamen followed.

“Arnold then rushed to the foot of Compo Hill where a full-scale battle was fought,” Klein wrote, “forcing the British to fight their way back to their ships in the harbor.”  The colonial troops, led by Colonel John Lamb, forced the British into a shoulder-to-shoulder charge, with fixed bayonets.  The maneuver demoralized the colonial forces, and the British made it to their ships.

The British lost 300 men, while more than 100 Connecticut militiamen were killed.  According to Klein, the British later claimed the resistance they met was more severe than what they faced at Lexington and Concord.

Two years later — on July 6, 1779 — the British returned to the area, with up to 3,000 men.  At Green’s Farms they torched 15 homes, 11 barns, several stores and the second Green’s Farms meetinghouse.  (Deacon Ebenezer Jesup and his wife Abigail did manage to save the Green’s Farms Congregational Church’s silver Communion set, by lowering it down a well.)

Which brings us back to the Minuteman statue.  Symbolizing the Connecticut Militia under the leadership of Colonel Lamb, it was sculpted by Webster from a composite of militia descendants.  Former first selectman Lewis P. Wakeman reportedly also sat as a model.

The dedication took place in 1910 — 9 years after two cannons were placed at Compo Beach, on the exact spot where the British landed.

So why does the Minuteman face away from the beach?

He’s looking north, toward Compo Hill — where the final, most successful battle took place.

The Minuteman statue in 1912 -- 2 years after its dedication.