225th Anniversary of the Washington - Rochambeau Revolutionary War Route.
Friday, June 30 through Sunday July 2, 2006
March to Victory Weekend- Ridgefield

Back to Newsroom

For recents news visit:
website: Connecticut Preservation News

Connecticut Trust
New Listings on the National Register of Historic Places: Rochambeau’s Army in Connecticut

   —Reprinted from Connecticut Preservation News, January/February 2003

      In 1780 France assembled an auxiliary army of 10,000 troops for the purpose of providing much-needed assistance to the Americans in their war for independence against the British. Known as the Expeditionary corps, the French auxiliary army was commanded by Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, le Comte de Rochambeau. The Expeditionary Corps left Brest on May 2, 1780. On the ships were 5,000 troops from the Bourbonnais, Royal Deux-Ports, Soissonais, and Saintonge Regiments, 500 men in the Auxonne Artillery Regiment, and 600 men of Lauzun’s Legion of mounted Hussars. After a difficult crossing, the French fleet anchored off Newport, Rhode Island, on July 11, 1780. The 400 cavalrymen of Lauzun’s Legion were sent to winter in Lebanon, Connecticut, a rural area where horse forage was readily and more economically available.

      In May of 1781, General Washington and Rochambeau met at Joseph Webb’s house in Wethersfield, and Washington asked the French Army to join his forces in New York, at which point a plan of attack upon the British would be chosen and executed. The Expeditionary Crops left Newport on June 10, proceeding west through Connecticut to the Hudson River valley. In New York, Washington decided to attack the British in Yorktown, Virginia, and the combined French-American army marched south from there.

      The French formed into four equal contingents, each comprised of one regiment, with the field artillery and baggage trains among them, and each with a field hospital. The regiments marched separately, along the same line of march, on successive days. A day’s march averaged 15 miles and each night a division would occupy the same campsite as the previous division had left that morning. Lauzun’s Legion traveled independently on the south as a left flank to protect the army from British attack. Rochambeau and his aides lodged in inns and private homes, and divisional headquarters were also established in houses. The troops camped in tents in fields. In addition to the soldiers, the army included numerous people who performed special services: musicians to play marching songs; surgeons and medical corpsmen; crafts men such as tailors, harness makers and blacksmiths; axe-men to clear vegetation from the roads; cooks, some of whom were American women; and drivers who had charge of the hundreds of supply wagons.

      Following the British capitulation on October 19, 1781, Rochambeau’s army wintered in Virginia, and did not reach Connecticut again until October of 1782.

      Connecticut’s role in supporting Rochambeau’s expedition went well beyond simply allowing the column to pass through the state. Connecticut patriots such as Jonathan and Joseph Trumbull, Henry Champion, and Jeremiah Wadsworth were instrumental in arranging for the acquisition of draft animals, food, and other supplies for both the American and French armies, earning Connecticut the name "the Provisions State." Both civil and military officials participated in important strategic meetings, and the hostility of shoreline communities helped prevent the British from establishing a land presence from Long Island Sound. Finally, local historical traditions in a number of Connecticut towns assert that some young men, impressed by the size and scope of the French movement, enlisted as combatants and traveled with the French to Yorktown.

      In addition to its military significance, the French march through Connecticut engendered a host of cultural and social encounters that left their mark on both sides. Local citizens flocked to see the spectacle of the French column, alive with martial music and sometimes stretching from horizon to horizon. People came by the hundreds to visit the camps, both to hear musical programs put on by the French musicians and to trade local produce for French silver. Local notables entertained the officers in their homes, while other officers visited local taverns. Officers were lodged overnight in private homes and inns as conditions allowed, furthering the social interaction between the French and local families. For their part, the journals kept by the French show them to have been interested, and often surprised, by their meetings with Americans. Their position as European noblemen made them see most Americans’ houses as rather poor habitations, and they found many Americans unsuitably tight-fisted in their dealings. Although to a man they deplored the conditions of Connecticut roads, they regarded the countryside as beautiful and intelligently cultivated. Imbued perhaps with the ideals of the Enlightenment, most were complimentary regarding the middling economic level seemingly enjoyed by most Americans, and they admired the plain and forthright conversation of their Connecticut hosts.

      Historians agree that France’s generous assistance, in the form of men, expertise, supplies, money and tactical strategy, made victory possible. But available sources deal more with big events and global politics. Little is written on the French influence and impact, on a more intimate level, in America. There is barely any cohesive understanding of the experience of the French soldiers and officers here, and even less of a grasp of their interaction with and effect on the American people whose homes and fields they stayed in or near as they moved on toward Yorktown. How did these Frenchmen, recent enemies of Americans, view Americans? What was life like on the march and in the camps? Historical and archaeological research of the campsites, structures and route remnants can help answer these and other historically significant questions. Several officers and one enlisted man left diaries, and from these can be gleaned important information. Combined with archaeological data, the historical record helps shed light on patterns of camp placement, camp formation, life on the march and in the camps, and cultural differences between French and Americans.

—excerpted from the National Register nomination, "Rochambeau’s Army in Connecticut," by Bruce Clouette, historian, and Mary Harper, archaeologist, of PAST, Inc.

      The Connecticut Historical Commission has undertaken a multi-year campaign to identify, study and recognize the route of the French army across the state. This project has produced surveys, research reports, and several educational or commemorative events. An important product has been a series of National Register nominations, grouped together as a Multiple Property Submission, which provides common background information, all prepared by the Public Archaeology Survey Team (PAST), Inc., of Storrs.

      The Multiple Property Submission currently includes 19 sites (see the box for the complete list), but more can be added in the future. They fall into three categories: buildings, campsites, and sections of road. Some were already listed on the National Register, either individually or as parts of National Register historic districts, but this study has added another layer of significance to their history. Some misunderstandings have been corrected. And the public has been given new sites to consider, recognize, and protect.

      Among the surprises presented by the nominations is the existence of at least ten segments of roadway that are considered still to bear some resemblance to their 18th-century appearance. Changes in transportation over the last 200 years have been wide ranging. And while travelers’ complaints about the state of Connecticut roads have remained a constant, those roads have been so constantly and completely rebuilt, shifted, widened, graded and paved, that it is difficult to believe that they have not every one been completely changed.

      The campsites too are fragile, as new development continues to push its way into the countryside. Open fields grow up into woods as agriculture becomes economically untenable, and then the woods are cleared to houses, and the sparse traces left by a few nights’ camping are easily wiped out, the clues to the past that they offered lost forever.

      More than 200 years have passed since the French army marched through Connecticut. In that time, much has changed. The United States has become the most powerful nation in the world. Inventions and manufactured goods, many developed in Connecticut, have given even our poorest citizens luxuries that Washington and Rochambeau never dreamed of. These sites remind us of a time when our country’s future was not assured, and when we had to look to other nations for assistance.

      —Reprinted from Connecticut Preservation News, January/February 2003

Calendar | History of the March | Newsroom | Participating Organizations
Dining | Lodging | Sponsors | Contact Us | Home

The 225th Anniversary of the American Revolution
Aquarion Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism
The Connecticut Humanites CouncilThe Friends Of The Ridgefield Library Association KIWANIS
Ridgefield Bank
The Russell Wadsworth Lewis Trust
March to Victory Weekend
Friday, June 30 through Sunday July 2, 2006 - Ridgefield, Connecticut
Fredi B. DesignWebsite created by Fredi B. Design