French Encampment at Ridgebury, 1-3 July 1781

Historical Significance:

By late June French forces had crossed Connecticut and were approaching the New York state line. As they were getting closer to New York, Rochambeau re-organized his troops into brigades. Bourbonnois and Royal Deux-Ponts formed the First Brigade, the Soissonnois and Saintonge the Second Brigade. On 1 July, his 56th birthday, Rochambeau set out with the First Brigade from Newtown to Danbury, a village of maybe 80 houses, and on toward Ridgebury on West Wooster Street to Miry Brook Road, which becomes George Washington Highway to Ridgebury Road. Upon reaching Ridgebury Road the First Brigade encamped on 1/2 July 1781 on the east side of Ridgebury Road north of George Washington Highway.

Dress uniform for a Lieutenant General such as Rochambeau.

Reproduced courtesy Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University, Providence, RI.

“In the evening”, recorded the comte de Clermont-Crèvecœur, “news came from General Washington that caused a change in our route.” The “news” came in a letter from Washington dated 30 June 1781, asking Rochambeau him “to put your First Brigade under march tomorrow Morning, the remaining Troops to follow as quick as possible, and endeavor to reach Bedford by the evening of the 2d. of July.” As Rochambeau redirected his brigade from Ridgebury to Bedford on 2 July, his troops continued south on Ridgebury Road to North Salem Road (CT-SR 116) into Ridgefield. Here they turned west on CT-SR 35/Old Post Road and soon crossed into Westchester County and New York. At NY-SR 123 they turned south for about ½ mile to Mill River Road which they followed to NY-SR 124/Salem Road which took them into Pound Ridge. Here they reached New York State Route 172 near Poundridge Town Hall whence they turned east to Bedford Village, or rather what little there was left of it. A single house had survived the fire Banastre Tarleton’s men had set during a raid on the morning of Sunday, 11 July 1779. As Washington had hoped, the men of Rochambeau’s First Brigade set up their first camp in the State of New York and their 12th camp since Newport, in the early afternoon of 2 July 1781, near the lake in the triangle formed by Seminary, Court, and Poundridge Roads.

Driving Information:

From the camp in Newtown turn right/north onto Main Street (Route 6) which upon turning west becomes Mt. Pleasant Road. Follow Mt. Pleasant Road to I-84 where it becomes Newtown Road. Cross the Still River onto Triangle Street which you follow to South Street where you turn right/north onto Main Street. You are now in Danbury. Next turn left onto West Wooster Street which you follow onto Wooster Heights Road. To Miry Brook Road. The airport will be on your right. Miry Brook Road becomes George Washington Highway. The campsite will be to your right in the corner of General Washington Highway and Ridgebury Road.

Detail from Montrésor, John. Gov. Tryon’s expedition to Danbury. [?, 1777] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/gm71000884/. (Accessed March 05, 2018.)

Ridgebury Congregational Church (1760) stands west of Ridgebury Road and north of Canterbury Lane which becomes George Washington Highway east of Ridgebury Road.

37. Camp à Ridgebury, le ler Juillet, 15 miles de New-Town; undated; Louis-Alexandre Berthier Collection, Portfolio IX, Packet 21-11; Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Library

Detail of a map by a French officer showing the march route of Rochambeau’s First Brigade from “Richefield” via South Salem in 1781. The base map is William McFadden, The Province of New Jersey, Divided into East and West, commonly called The Jerseys. (Charing Cross, 1777). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT

While enjoying a ball in Monroe, CT, the duc de Lauzun received orders from Washington via his aide Lieutenant-Colonel David Cobb in the evening of 30 June to march immediately to Bedford where Washington expected him in the evening of 2 July for an attack at Morrisania. Early next morning Lauzun broke camp in New Stratford and headed for Ridgefield. On 2 July, Lauzun’s Legion joined Rochambeau and his First Brigade on the march to Bedford Village, New York, where Lauzun’s troops rested briefly before setting out on a night march to meet up with American General Benjamin Lincoln. Lauzun’s troops were late in reaching Morrisania, the estate of General Lewis Morris, and occupied by the loyalists of James De Lancey. Once the enemy had become aware of Lincoln’s movements, the two-pronged surprise attack on British posts failed. Following a brief encounter with De Lancey’s Loyalists, Lauzun withdrew in the evening of 3 July. The next day his men joined Rochambeau’s infantry on its march to Philipsburg where the French met up with the 4,000-man-strong Continental Army on 6 July 1781.

As the French troops crossed into New York state, the Connecticut Courant of July 3 reported that “A Finer body of men were never in arms, and no army was ever better furnished with every thing necessary for a campaign. The exact discipline of the troops, and the attention of the officers to prevent any injury to individuals, have made the march of this army through the country very agreeable to the inhabitants, and it is with pleasure we assure our readers that not a single disagreeable circumstance has taken place.” That too may have been stretching the truth, but there can be no doubt that the French had behaved better than either British or American troops. More importantly, personal contact between Frenchmen and Americans had, if not changed, modified some of the age-old prejudices that the two nations had harbored about each other.

Suggestions for further readings:

Kennett, Lee. The French Forces in America, 1780-1783 (Westport, 1977)

Rice, Howard C. Jr., and Anne S.K. Brown, eds., The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s

         Army 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783 2 vols., (Princeton and Providence, 1972)

Scott, Samuel F. From Yorktown to Valmy: The Transformation of the French Army in an

         Age of Revolution (Niwot, CO, 1998)

Selig, Robert A. Rochambeau in Connecticut: Tracing his Journey. Historic and

         Architectural Survey Connecticut Historical Commission (Hartford: Connecticut

Historical Commission, 1999) available at http://w3r-us.org/history-by-state/

Selig, Robert A., Mary M. Donohue, Bruce Clouette and Mary Harper, ‘En Avant’ With Our French Allies:  

         Sites, Markers, and Monuments in Connecticut Commemorating the Contributions of French Troops

         under the comte de Rochambeau to the Achievement of American Independence, 1780 to 1782

          (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 2004)

For an extensive bibliography of English-, French- and German-language titles about France and the American War of Independence click here: Bibliography

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