If you’re interested in Revolutionary War battlefields, there’s no better place to be than New England in the summer. Battles and skirmishes were fought in every colony before and during the war, and many of the sites have been preserved.
Here is our choice for the best six Revolutionary War battlefields in New England, with one in each state.
Fort Griswold, Connecticut
Named after Deputy Gov. Matthew Griswold, the fort was built to defend the supply depot at the mouth of the Thames River and to protect privateers operating out of the harbor. In 1781, the traitor Benedict Arnold led a company of British soldiers in an attack on New London while another British commander, Edmund Eyre, attacked the fort. The British had the advantage. Arnold knew the angle to attack so the American gun positions couldn’t fire effective shots.
The British forces infamously massacred the American soldiers. After Col. William Ledyard surrendered his sword to the British, they ran him through with it. At the time of surrender, six Americans were dead and 20 wounded. When it was all over, 83 Americans were dead and 36 wounded. Arnold went on to burn New London.
The earthen walls of the fort can still be seen. The Ebenezer Avery House which sheltered the wounded after the battle has been restored on the grounds, and a Revolutionary War museum also depicts the era.
Fort George, Maine
Castine, located on the coast of Downeast Maine, is one of the oldest communities in North America. Since the early 1600s it has been home to trading posts, forts, missions, and permanent settlements of France, Holland, England, and colonial America.
In 1779, the British sent troops to occupy Castine with the hope of establishing a colony to be called New Ireland. They built a fort and named it after King George III.
Massachusetts, alarmed by the British occupation, sent a combined naval and military expedition to capture the fort, known as the Penobscot Expedition, to Castine. There were 19 warships and 24 transports. Though the British were outnumbered, they successfully defended Fort George and inflicted the worst naval defeat for America until Pearl Harbor. Paul Revere was in charge of ordnance and ended up court martialed for cowardice and insubordination. He was acquitted.
The remains of Fort George can still be seen. So can the British canal built in 1779, gravesites of Revolutionary War soldiers and historic houses, taverns and churches. Castine’s many historic sites are all marked with signs. (Click here for a map.)
The details and narrative of the Penobscot Expedition are on display at the Castine Historical Society.
Minute Man State Park, Massachusetts
It doesn’t get much better than Minute Man State Park in Lexington, Lincoln and Concord. The opening battles of the American Revolution was fought there. The 970-acre park includes North Bridge, where colonial commanders ordered the militia to shoot back at British soldiers in the second battle of the day. Daniel Chester French’s famous Minute Man statue is located there.
The 5-mile ‘Battle Road Trail’ between Concord and Lexington follows a restored colonial landscape, including Hartwell Tavern where iiving history programs are presented from May through October.
Lexington Battle Green, where the first shot of the war was fired, is owned and maintained by the Town of Lexington.
On July 3 at the park, George Washington reenactor John Koopman will talk about his book, George Washington at War - 1776. For more information, click here.
On July 4, the Declaration of Independence will be read at North Bridge. For more information, click here.
Fort Constitution, N.H.
New Hampshire is the only state where no Revolutionary War battle was fought, but New Castle was the site of an important skirmish before the war. A handful of British soldiers manned Fort William and Mary there in 1774, when tensions were rising between the colonies and England. The stone fort stood at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, guarding access to the harbor and to Kittery, Maine (then Massachusetts).
Paul Revere rode to Portsmouth in December to warn patriots that British troops might seize powder and guns at the fort. A raiding party of 400 men stormed the fort, subdued the six soldiers inside and took the gunpowder, muskets and cannon.
The fort was renamed Fort Constitution, and now it’s part of a state park. Inside its walls is the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. Fort Constitution Historic Site is a great spot for a picnic. For more information click here.
Prescott Farm, R.I.
The most famous Rhode Island battle of the American Revolution is called the Battle of Rhode Island or the Battle of Quaker Hill. In August 1778, American troops led by Gen. John Sullivan sailed from Tiverton to Portsmouth and set up a siege on Aquidneck Island. The plan was to drive the British soldiers back to Newport and recapture the town with the help of French naval forces. A hurricane prevented the French naval commander, Count d’Estaing, from attacking the 6,000 entrenched British soldiers. D’Estaing sailed his fleet to Boston for repairs. The Americans tried to withdraw, but the British attacked them. The Americans retreated to Tiverton without a single soldier killed. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment, comprised of African- and Native-American soldiers, took part in the action.
Today a granite memorial stone marks the Battle of Rhode Island on the corner of Union Street and Route 138 in Portsmouth. There isn’t much else, to indicate the battlefield, so Revolutionary War buffs may want to visit the nearby site of another skirmish. On the night of July 11, 1777, Col. William Barton and about three dozen infantrymen sailed from Tiverton to Middletown and captured British general Richard Prescott in his bed. Prescott was occupying a farm owned by a Loyalist, though he’d been warned there wasn’t sufficient security there. That farm, now known as Prescott Farm, was restored with the help of heiress Doris Duke and parts of it are now open to the public. Visitors can tour the house where Prescott was captured, a windmill, a country store, the guardhouse where Prescott’s sentries probably stayed and a historical vegetable garden. For more information, click here.
Hubbardton Battlefield, Vermont
The Hubbardton Battlefield in Hubbardton is the site of the only Revolutionary War battle fought in Vermont. (The Battle of Bennington was actually fought in New York state.) It’s also one of the best preserved battlefields in America.
The battle started on July 7, 1777, when British forces caught up with the American rear guard of the forces retreating after they withdrew from Fort Ticonderoga. The Americans, led by Seth Warner, fought with discipline and inflicted heavy casualties on the British. Though they lost the battle, they halted the British and prevented them from pursuing the main American army.
The battlefield itself and the small museum that explains it are off the beaten path, but they feature stunning views of the Vermont landscape. It’s off Exit 5 on Route 4, between Rutland and New York state.
On the weekend of July 9-10, Revolutionary War re-enactors will stage an encampment to commemorate the 239th anniversary of the battle. There will be tactical military demonstrations, drilling lessons, guided camp and battlefield tours, camp life activities, history scavenger hunt, colonial games, children’s activities, music and sutler’s row shopping. Click here for more information.
Photos: Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse by Ross Tracy, via Wikipedia; Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park by By Staxringold via English Wikipedia. Fort George earthworks and cannon by Jerrye and Roy Klotz via Wikipedia; Prescott Farm by Swampyank at English Wikipedia, transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Kurpfalzbilder.de.