Veterans of the month are Litchfield's revolutionaries
A veteran of the month service opened the living history day on the Litchfield Green on Saturday. BZ photos
(The following veteran of the month tribute was compiled by John Lilley of American Legion Post 44 in Bantam and was read by Susan Harrison of the Mary Floyd Tallmadge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution during the living history day held on the Litchfield Green on Saturday.)
This morning we gather on this historical Litchfield Green, a location set aside through history for residents to come together in times of celebration, reflection and need. Today we celebrate! On the occasion of Litchfield’s 300th Anniversary, we gather to honor the lives of those Litchfield residents who by their actions secured this great nation.
Only a few feet from where we stand today, in the years 1776 and beyond hundreds upon hundreds of men gathered to enlist and pledge and I quote, “We mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor”; yes! This green was an enlistment and recruiting office. Even before the hostilities began Gun Powder and shot were stored here. This is where people gathered for news and social interaction.
Who were these Revolutionaries? They were citizens who by their own initiatives had traveled halfway around the world to escape oppression and persecution, individuals who by their own labors had secured land, livelihoods, and the ability to provide for their families. Hard work and self-reliance created a population secure in the knowledge that they were equals among men. They had a toehold on freedom and were not about to give that up without a fight.
Included within those settlers were a few visionaries and dreamers who saw what could be, if only the Colonies were able to overcome their differences and unite for a common cause.
We by recent historical standards are conditioned to think of combatants as men and limited females under arms in trained military units. But in this case it was not only the 583 known Litchfield men under arms, it was also their wives and families who were exposed to starvation and retaliation or worse.
Mary Stillman wrote in 1776 that she had, and I quote, “acted as well as my dear Husband” General Gold Stillman. Did not Mrs. Wolcott, Mrs. Beach, Mrs. Marvin and their children not serve the cause when they melted old King George’s lead statue into thousands of lead balls?
These lead balls were later packaged by these same women into cartridges, later referred to by Colonial Troops as Melted Majesty as they delivered them by musket into the British ranks.
Dan Thurston, representing American Legion Post 44, holds the 13-star Betsy Ross flag that would be raised on the Green's flagpole.
It was the homesteading families on the frontiers who suffered the most. They were alone, unprotected and at risk of Indian attacks. Starvation was only a crop failure away. oday we honor all who served the cause of Freedom. Men and Women.
At first it was the commitment free men that responded, Single men without families, but they were a small percentage of what would be needed. The largest commitments would have to be the farmers, shop keepers and the family men with a vested interest in success.
The agricultural society of the time called for the male members of the family to be present in the spring for planting and care of the stock animals and most importantly be back and available in the fall for Harvest and preparations for winter.
It was the initial enlistees that suffered the most, The British landing on Long Island and the battle for New York City, were disasters; the battle of Fort Washington alone was the most disastrous battle of the war for Litchfield area families. The stand of the Militia’s and Continental Army at White Plains and the containment of the British Army with in New York City ensured Litchfield’s safety.
After the defeat in New York and the retreat to Valley Forge it was realized that this short enlistment cycles would not work and that a full time Army was needed.
Not all served or believed in the cause. The Loyalist and Tories, Loyal to King George did not serve. Many Loyalist believed that the Revolutionary rabble were sure to succumb quickly to the might of the British Army and come running home. It never happened.
They too had a fight on their hands. Their neighbors turned on them and in some towns their homes were burned and their properties confiscated. Tar and feathering was not unheard of. They became social outcasts so much so that at war's end most fled to British-controlled Canada.
Those Litchfield residents now identified as Veterans of the Revolution come from a geographical area that today includes Milton, Bantam, Morris, East Litchfield and Northfield. Litchfield of 1776 also included parts of Goshen, Torrington, and Washington a much larger area than today.
Those who served in the Continental Army were citizen soldiers, untrained, undisciplined and unreliable. They served under commanders with the same shortcomings. They lacked food clothing and shoes. Starvation was always just a few days away. There was no medical care to speak of and no transportation. You marched to the battle and ran or limped away from the engagement.
But, of course it could be worse. You could be captured. There were no prisoner of war agreements. The British separated you by status, Officers and gentleman with financial connections were ransomed. Those needing extensive medical care were abandoned to die on the battlefield. But the vast majority of uneducated farm boys, and tradesman were sent to the prison ships to starve or die of the pox. Disease and starvation were the leading cause of death in the Revolution.
The miracle is that under all the adverse conditions the citizens of Litchfield both under arms or aiding and supporting the cause never wavered. Litchfield was at war for over six years. From Lexington to Fort Ticonderoga, the siege of Boston, Battles of Long Island, Fort Washington, the winters at Valley Forge. The raids on Danbury and Wilton, at every engagement stood men from Litchfield.
Then came the end on Oct. 19, 1781 when British General Charles Cornwallis surrenders his forces at Yorktown. Litchfield men were there, serving in the light infantry under Capt. James Morris of South Farms.
Latest research identifies 583 men who served from Litchfield, with several more still in the verification process. We have no way of identifying the thousands of wives, mother’s, and sisters or for that matter children who swore their allegiance and aided the cause.
We modern Veterans and members of the American Legion believe the best way to honor a fellow Veteran is to honor their life, not mourn their death. Each year on Memorial Day we place a Flag on their grave; step back, salute and repeat their name. This act ensures they are not forgotten, at least for another year.
We have come full circle; we are back on this Green, the peoples gathering place. It is here that we have erected many monuments, Monuments to many, many Wars and causes.
If we look hard it is not what we see, but what is missing that stands out. There is no memorial or monument dedicated to the founders, the original veterans. Maybe, just maybe, the proper Thank You would be to show them the same respect shown their descendants.
Below, Ken Buckbee, left, of the Gov. Oliver Wolcott Sr. Branch of the Sons of the American Revolution honors John Lilley of Post 44 following the veteran of the month ceremony.