Every five years,
during the second weekend of July, Eric Chandler dons a swallow-tail
coat and brass helmet, grabs his Charleville musket and joins dozens of
other soldiers in the Norwalk Town Militia to stop the invading forces
of His Royal Majesty’s Crown.
Fortunately for the Norwalk resident, he never has to fire a bullet.
That’s because the clash is actually a re-enactment of the Battle
and Burning of Norwalk, a Revolutionary War conflict that saw the
deaths of dozens of American soldiers and destruction of more than 200
homes, barns and shops at the hands of British forces July 11 and 12,
Though there won’t be a genuine armed conflict, Chandler and his
fellow re-enactors are dedicated to making the event as realistic and
historically accurate as possible.
“What happened here and elsewhere during the War for Independence
was deadly serious,” said Chandler, a Norwalk resident who has been
re-enactments for more than 30 years. “We don’t mock that during the course of the weekend.”
Taking place Friday through Sunday at Norwalk’s Taylor Farm, the
230th anniversary celebration includes more than 130 re-enactors in
American and British units. Soldiers will fire flintlocks and cannons
(with gun powder only) and charge into battle on horseback. British
soldiers will even torch artificial buildings to simulate the
destruction of the town.
“All the participants take re-enacitng very seriously,” said Rachelle
of Celebrate the Past, Inc., organizers of the event. “Participants
will draw straws to see who will be casualties. Soldiers are going to
drop down dead.”
The festivities will begin Friday with a memorial service on the
Town Green for veterans and descendants of the Battle of Norwalk,
followed by a mock meeting of the Town Committee of Safety, the body
that requested aid from Gen. George Washington to help stave off the
On Saturday, visitors will be invited to the makeshift camps to
interact with soldiers, who will cook meals in braziers over open fire
pits and perform drills and demonstrations of military arts and crafts.
An officers’ meeting and the burning of the town will follow.
The event will continue Sunday with an 18th-century church service
and a cavalry demonstration by Chandler’s unit, The Sheldon’s Horse,
Second Regiment, Continental Light Dragoons. Festivities will conclude
with a recreation of the Battle of The Rocks, the point at which two
columns of British soldiers converged and proceeded north to the area
known as The Rocks — at France and Cannon Street — where they
encountered heavy resistance from roughly 800 Continental troops.
According to Norwalk historian Ed Eckert, the battle was the
conclusion of a “week of terror” that started with a British attack on
New Haven July 5 and continued down the Gold Coast until the strike on
Norwalk six days later. At the time, Eckert said, Norwalk was a hotbed
of military activity, with both sides committing acts of privateering,
espionage and kidnappings.
“Long Island was controlled by the British and the Tories, so
Norwalk was constantly at battle with their neighbors across the
Sound,” said Eckert, who, along with his wife, Madeleine, have been
advisors to Celebrate the Past for seven years. “There were cannons
pointing in both directions.”
According to Eckert, the attack on Norwalk had three goals: first,
to instill fear in American citizens to make them loyal to the king;
second, to destroy a strategic supply depot; and third, to draw
Washington and his troops out of the Hudson highlands to defeat them.
The battle saw skirmishes on both sides of the Norwalk River — with
fighting on Flax Hill; East, West and North avenues; and Mill Hill —
and culminated in the five-hour Battle of the Rocks, which saw a
stalemate and subsequent British retreat and burning of the town.
Despite the tragic loss, the battle only “increased the resolve of
Connecticut citizens,” Eckert said. The British, meanwhile, had failed
to lure Washington out of the highlands.
The re-enactors, who come from across New England, muster
inspiration from this storied history. Chandler first became involved
in 1974, after reading an article in The Advocate requesting
participants in a Revolutionary War re-enactment at Ridgefield’s
bicentenntial celebration. He’s been hooked ever since.
“I got bitten by the history bug,” Chandler recalled. “We need to
honor not just current veterans, but everybody who has shed blood on
behalf of the American flag.”
Beach Road and Canfield Avenue, Norwalk. Event: Friday 1-7:30 p.m.;
Saturday 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Free parking
is available at Marvin School on Calf Pasture Beach Road, Norwalk.