Residents involved in Battle of Ridgefield reenactment help make history come alive

RIDGEFIELD — Preparations to commemorate the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgefield are underway, and residents are getting in on the action, literally.

Every five years, the town recruits the 5th Connecticut Regiment to stage a live battle reenactment as part of the festivities, but this year’s spectacle will be one of a kind. That’s thanks to a set of skeletons that were discovered near the battlegrounds.

The bones, which have been the talk of the town in recent years, were found by construction workers who were renovating the basement of an early 18th-century home in Ridgefield in late 2019. They are believed to belong to Revolutionary War soldiers who fought in the engagement.

The 5th Connecticut Regiment will conduct a funeral procession on Sunday, May 1, honoring the discovery of the remains. Period caskets will be transported via horse-and-buggy from Ballard Park to Old Town Cemetery, where a minister will say a few words. The ceremony will also feature a musket salute.

Doug Crawford is the president of the 5th Connecticut Regiment. The organization has staged the battle on Main Street since the 225th anniversary, but this is the first time the reenactment will include a funeral procession.

“We’re proud and honored to have this opportunity (but) it’s new to a lot of us,” he said. “We have not done this before, (so) we want to put together a processional that’s as historically accurate as possible.”

He continued, “It’s not often that you have this … ability to actually (conduct) a military funeral (for) the men that we emulate — that’s the biggest part of it.”

Regiment members have spent the past year and half preparing for the reenactment; it begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 30. Spectators can view the battle at three different focal points on Main Street, at the intersections of Catoonah, Governor and Market streets.

Additionally, volunteers will conduct walking tours along the thoroughfare to give visitors insight into the battle’s historical figures. The scripts were written by former Western Connecticut State University professor Darla Shaw.

Shaw will portray Anna Stebbins, a teenager whose home was forcibly converted into a medical facility during the battle.

“For the next eight hours, she is in there helping to perform operations with kitchen tools and stitching people up,” she said. “The door that they beat down is now part of Keeler Tavern with all the bullet holes. ... There were so many courageous women that we don’t hear about during the war, so I’m very happy we (can) bring their story forward.”

Resident Peter Schmidt will portray General Benedict Arnold. Arnold was an American military officer who defected to the British side of the conflict in 1780, just a few years after the Battle of Ridgefield.

“He gets a page or two in a lot of history books that don’t really tell the whole story there, so it’s great to learn about him and where he was coming from,” Schmidt said. “It's easy to just pigeonhole him … as a traitor to the cause, but there was a lot more going on there. What was he thinking on that day? We’ll never know, but it’s an interesting thing to kind of ponder.”

Thomas Stubbs is the associate pastor at Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church. Fittingly, he will portray the Rev. Thomas Hauley, the minister of the congregational parish at the time.

The complexity of the individual characters portrayed on the tour “brings to life” the complexity of the times, he explained, thus expanding the scope of one’s understanding of what happened on April 27, 1777.

“The Patriots supported the revolutionary cause and those Tories who persisted in supporting the (British) were this sort of hissable minority, but … nothing could be further from the truth,” Stubbs said. “The question of whether or not it was a good idea to go to war against Britain was tearing families apart. … (It’s) turning the Revolutionary War into a live debate.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com