This Is Why We Stand: Remembering The Battle of Stonington
“This is to remember.” Those are the words that mark an eternal monument to the brave men of Stonington who withstood a bombardment of four ships from the British Navy during the summer of 1814. Stonington is a town located in New London County, Connecticut. This small community boasts a story from the War of 1812 that is not well known, but serves as a firm reminder of the impregnable power of the American spirit. 203 years ago, history was sealed on Stonington Point.
On August 9, 1814, four British ships anchored just off of Stonington Point. They were commanded by Captain Thomas Hardy. Hardy had sent a message to the people of Stonington, warning them that they had one hour to leave before his forces commenced firing. Local author, James Tertius deKay wrote a book about this historic event, titled, “The Battle of Stonington: Torpedoes, Submarines, and Rockets in the War of 1812.” He writes that Hardy’s warning was sent because he did not desire to, “destroy the unoffending inhabitants residing in the town.” The message was read to the residents of Stonington, and they decided that they would stand and fight.
This squadron of mighty British ships had 160 cannons combined. The defenders of Stonington had two 18 pound cannons to defend their homes. Despite that massive discrepancy, the Stonington militia offered steadfast resistance, and was able to withstand four days of bombardment. The two cannons that had served as the tools behind Stonington’s victory have seen some refurbishments over the years, but they remain in the the town to this day. Anyone who visits Cannon Square will see these relics facing out toward Stonington Point, the very spot that they had defended during the battle over 200 years ago.
(Below is a photo from my trip to Cannon Square)
The Stonington militia was outgunned, outmanned, and logistically incomparable to its British counterpart. With all of that said, many will wonder how this tiny American force achieved victory. There are a few reasons for the outcome. Chief among them was the unwavering spirit of the Stonington militia. The defenders took on the danger without hesitation, constantly exposing themselves to enemy fire in order to drag their cannon from position to position. These men were also forced to play the part of a fire crew, working to help extinguish the flames in the village caused by the bombardment.
Perhaps the defining moment of the battle came when the Stonington defenders managed to hit one of the British ships, named the Dispatch below the water line. The ships rigging was severely damaged, and a number of sailors were killed after the blast. Although the battle did not end after that decisive blow, the makings of a victory were clear. Historian Nancy Steenburg writes that, “The flag, shot through seven times by British shells, still wavered in defiance over the tiny breastworks.” On August 14, the flag reigned supreme as the British ships sailed away from Stonington.
During the four days of fighting, the British ships fired 50 tons of ammunition at the area. Despite everything that was thrown at Stonington, damage to the town was light. In 1828, historian Frances M. Caulkins wrote an unpublished manuscript about the events of the battle. She had noted that five defenders had sustained injuries, and that residents had lost a horse, In addition to a few other farm animals. The total damage amounted to only around $3,500. The surprising aftermath can be attributed to the fact that the British believed that the Stonington Congregational Church marked the center of the Village. Because of that belief, they aimed and targeted that area. Most of Stonington’s houses were close to the Point and not the church. This meant that when the British opened fire, most of their shells and ordinance landed in fields beyond the center of town.
Back in 2012, Nancy Steenburg wrote a tremendous piece about the Battle of Stonington. Her concluding line effectively sums up this unique battle, “Yet foolhardy or foolish, the residents of the little coastal village of Stonington faced down the might of the British Navy, and they won."
The reminders of why we stand and honor the American flag are in every corner of this beautiful country. Stonington, Connecticut is one of those endless reminders. We must never forget the defenders of Stonington and their dauntless courage in the face of an overwhelming force.