My Revolutionary War Ancestor
Updated: Nov 20, 2021
I have to admit–piecing together snippets of my ancestor Ira Smith’s war service is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes I feel triumphant, and at other times, merely frustrated. Hopefully I may one day present a complete and accurate depiction of his Revolutionary War days, so as to truly honor his bravery and strength. For now, here is what I know.
Ira Smith was born on September 11, 1757 in Wallingford CT, making him only seventeen when the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord and young men across New England were called to arms. According to listings by the Daughters of the American Revolution, he served as a private under Captains Arnold and Martin, as well as Colonels Wooster and Douglas.
Major General David Wooster, Ira’s First Colonel
This is consistent with the History of Cheshire, which repeatedly places him in the same company with Enos Bunnell. From military records we know Enos had enlisted in the 1st Connecticut Provincial Regiment, 9th company. So we can safely assume that Ira was also among this group, commanded by Colonel David Wooster and Captain James Arnold (the famed traitor Benedict Arnold was also a Captain in this regiment). The regiment, assembled in April of 1775, was assigned to protect New York City from British troop invasions. They took part in the operations along Lake George and Champlain and assisted in the siege of Fort St. John that fall. There were few casualties in this conflict, but many Colonial forces died due to illness during the months-long assault. The fall of Fort St. John allowed the Continental Army to then march on Montreal.
I have yet to discover were Ira served in the year of 1776. Apparently it was under the command of Colonel Douglas (I’m assuming William Douglas) and Captain Martin. I can’t wait to find out more about this.
Ira reenlisted on May 26th, 1777 into Captain Jesse Kimball’s 8th Connecticut Regiment, Commanded by Colonel John Chandler. This group served at Peekskill, NY, until they were ordered to Pennsylvania in September. They fought in the Battle of Germantown on October 4 under General Alexander McDougall. Sir William Howe of the British Army had just defeated the Americans at the Battle of Brandywine and the Battle of Paoli, wanting triumph yet again in order to secure Philadelphia for the winter. Knowing the British troops were split between Philadelphia and Germantown, General Washington decided to attack. Within the dense fog, some of the Continental Army mistakenly fired against one another and the British enjoyed another victory. McDougall’s brigade saw a rough battle with the Queen’s Rangers and were forced to retreat with heavy losses.
Artist’s Depiction of the Battle at Germantown
Following the brutal skirmish, Ira’s regiment assisted in the defense of Fort Mifflin in what locals refer to as The Battle of Mud Island. After taking over Philadelphia, the British laid siege to Fort Mifflin in order to open up their supply line. Four hundred American soldiers held off over two thousand British troops and 250 ships until the enemy began pummeling them with a barrage of cannonball fire. The Colonists were then forced to retreat, but their brave stand against the heaviest bombardment of the entire war changed the course of the Revolution forever. It denied the British Navy use of the Delaware River and allowed the Continental Army to reposition for the Battle of White Marsh and withdrawal to Valley Forge. Some argue that we could not have won without it.
Ira Smith himself describes it this way (the first portion of his testimony has been lost): “And they kept up their fire untill just evening–and there were some killed after we ceased firing among them–Captain Stoddard of the Regular Army and his waiter with one shot [This can be none other than Nathan Stoddard, grandson of our ancestor Anthony Stoddard, who was decapitated by a cannonball. He was also married to our family’s cousin, Eunice Sanford.]. In the following night our army sent their boats across with muffled oars thro the midst of the British shipping & carried off all that was in the fort–The Artyllerman suffered most tho there was great havoc among the other troops and there was much fewer wounded in proportion to the dead than usual–after leaving the fort we lay awhile at the old encampment & from thence we were marchd to valey forge where the Regulars & those whose terms were unexpired wintered and the rest of us were discharged–our whole company was discharged together and orders were given us to draw provisions by the way–at particular stores which we did. I recd no written discharge and I was taken sick the 2d day after the discharge & was thrown upon the charity of the Quakers & my company left me & I did not get able to travel under two weeks & I did not reach home untill the middle of January we were discharged about the last of January.”
According to the History of Cheshire (from which his account is taken), Ira Smith was then “drafted out of the militia companies of the town of Cheshire into a company commanded by Capt Divan Berry for the term of two months and he served out said tour in the towns of Stratford County of Fairfield State of Connecticut.” Ira also mentions that he was “at New Haven & called out at Danbury & some other alarms.” I have yet to ascertain whether this refers to Tryon’s raid or a different set of battles.
When 75-year-old Ira Smith applied for his pension in 1832, John E. Bray and Samuel peck affirmed he was, “reputed and believed in the Neighborhood where he resides to have been a Soldier in the Revolution and…a member of the Presbyterian Church in this place.” The court called him “of the most impeachable character”, and fellow soldiers Enos Bunnel and Gideon Bristol confirmed his service.