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My search for the epic of the surrendered colonel

I shall begin by apologizing; this is not a tell all. Instead, this is a recount of my findings, and, frankly, my speculations, surrounding the loss of the honorable William Ledyard as the mascot for Ledyard High School. I will admit from the outset that I felt that the depiction of William Ledyard as the mascot was decidedly cartoonish. However, in defense of the Ledyard High School staff and administration, in the early days, there were far more important issues to consider than the depiction of the school's mascot; and they succeeded masterfully on the educational side. I should note that, based on my medical and military training, several of my statements are backed by numbered references. These references are largely on line and will be provided upon request. However, I have detailed several of the more important references in the body of this blog.

My concerns began during the 50th reunion of the 73 LHS class in the closing days of September and the dawning days of October 2023. At that time I learned that the mascot for LHS had been transformed from the caricature of William Ledyard to that of a sword. I found that somewhat distressing since, according to the popularized account, the instrument of William Ledyard's demise was his own sword. The actual details of William Ledyard’s death are disputed, but more on that later. I subsequently uncovered that this transformation from caricature to sword occurred in approximately 2013 (1–Schultz, Irene. 2022. Above the Stone Walls of Ledyard. Mystic. Pg 17.). Preceding this transformation, the staff of LHS was presented with a dilemma as the University of Mississippi, whose mascot was also a colonel (Colonel Reb), was threatening legal action. It turns out that Ole Miss was accosting ANY school that had a colonel as a mascot. Once the Ole Miss staff was shown the caricature of William Ledyard, the matter was dropped.

Herein it should be noted that the Ole Miss staff was not that far off in their suspicions. As most readers of this blog will attest, William Ledyard was indeed an American revolutionary war hero. However, he was erroneously depicted in a Civil War era uniform, wearing a Stetson hat (the Stetson was not manufactured until 1865 (2) following the Civil War) and wearing a bushy mustache. Men of the revolutionary war period were typically clean shaven (3). The matter of the white boots may well have been a technical issue.

Apparently, some months following the transactions with Ole Miss, the decision was made to jettison the caricature of William Ledyard and replace it with a sword. There is some speculation that this decision occurred in the setting of several other academic as well as other public facing institutions in the past 30 plus years and extending to present day, responding to the pressures of political correctness. While I have been unable to confirm this, I can understand the desire to drop certain stereotypes.

Unfortunately, while I understand the change, I believe it does somewhat of a disservice to a man who was simply trying to defend his family (he fathered 9 children) and his economic liberty. The admittedly stereotypical Confederate Colonel Reb would have been defending a way of life that was overwhelmingly dependent on that peculiar institution, slavery. On the other hand, William Ledyard (who was actually a lieutenant colonel and 42 years old when the Battle of Groton Heights occurred) was merchant and a Connecticut state legislator from a family of merchants, legislators and sea captains (4– (THAT’S RIGHT: The Colonel News Magazine published by LHS!), 5- John Steward of The Day newspaper is an outstanding resource on the life of William Ledyard). For some 15 years, he had to struggle with forces from the English monarchy and British trade laws. For example, search warrants were aggressively served on American ships, as well as hardship caused by the Sugar Act and the Currency Act of 1764, and especially the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Tea Act of 1773–taxation without representation. These factors severely penalized his livelihood (6). These stressors actually included the death of William’s brother, a physician, during a fireworks accident while attempting to celebrate the repel of the Stamp Act in 1766. William Ledyard was a militia man, as required for able bodied free male colonists, since age 15. However, there is no available evidence that he ever engaged in active combat prior to the Battle of Groton Heights. Nonetheless, due to his efforts involving preparation for the impeding war, he was promoted to artillery captain on 3 July 1776. He was subsequently promoted to major in 1778, with his principal duty involving improvements in fortifications at 3 different forts, including Forts Griswold and Trumbull. However, the colonies were cash strapped, limiting manpower and construction throughout the colonies. In 1780, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

The Thames River in Connecticut provided the New London harbor, an important commercial port for the New England colonies. New London harbor also served as a port favorable to American pirates and privateers preying on British ships (6). Both Fort Griswold and Fort Trumbull were established to aid in the defense of this port. LTC Ledyard was commander of those forts, but he was hamstrung by poor financial and personnel support of the forts. He was also responsible for the care and housing of ill and injured British sailors captured by American pirates in the area and smallpox was endemic at the time. Unfortunately, on 6 September, 1781, Fort Griswold was particularly suboptimal in its on hand trained militia personnel so, when the British initially attacked and readily seized Ft Trumbull (7), LTC Ledyard crossed the river from New London to lead a hastily gathered and poorly armed group of militia men (approximately 160) into defense of the Ft Griswold. However, despite this and the fact that the Brits had overwhelming numbers (800 regular British troops)(8), the Brits suffered significant losses, including several senior officers, in winning the Battle of Groton Heights (6). I should also note that the general that planned the attack was none other than that traitorous and quarrelsome scoundrel, Benedict Arnold (8). Importantly, the British plan was designed as an attempt to draw GEN Washington away from an assault on a far more important site. Yet, the battle failed to keep GEN Washington from marshaling his troops in the next major battle at Yorktown. The Siege of Yorktown was the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War and brought about the surrender of General Cornwallis and the capture of both him and his army, on 19 October, 1781, essentially ending the war (9).

As for the manner of LTC Ledyard’s death, records indicate that no American, who could have witnessed the glorified story of the LTC’s surrender of his sword to the British officer, survived the battle long enough for a full recount of the events. Evidence of the manner of death actually comes from examination of LTC Ledyard’s shirt and vest (10- Detailed analysis of the shirt and vest by experts supports the concept that LTC Ledyard was felled by a triangular bladed bayonet of the type British soldiers attached to their muskets, and that he was stabbed from the side, not the front. This tends to suggest that the thrusting stab occurred during the battle, not during a surrender. As such, I now have to backtrack on my misgivings of the sword being a symbol for LHS. Additionally, while I personally would favor changing the mascot to a more era appropriately attired LTC Ledyard, I wonder about the desire among LHS students and alumni regarding a change to a more appropriate depiction. Comments, anyone?

LTC Ledyard was an exemplary man who was forced to engage actively in the military due to elements beyond his control. So too, many service members, especially among the enlisted ranks, are driven to join the military as a way out of downward facing socioeconomic circumstances. Since the Vietnam War, US society writ large has been woefully neglectful in truly supporting our warfighters in the trials and tribulations they face as the result of their combat service. One figure which stands out in evidence of this is that, for a number of years, the average daily rate of suicides among US vets was 15-20 vets/day (11- As a former Army neurologist who deployed to Iraq in 2007-2008 and who subsequently worked for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, I am acutely well aware of these facts. There is a vibrant, perhaps lustful, energy, especially among some of our elected leaders, to support the military industrial complex. At the same time, the work to implement assistance for our warfighters and their families languishes.

While some may consider my next segue somewhat of a stretch, I feel it is also a vitally important issue to address. These issues of "political correctness" as well as inaccurate and suboptimal attention to our nation's history and heroes stems in part from a decline in America's educational system, especially since the 1970s (12). On the other hand, the alumni of LHS were blessed with the likes of Dr. Gaucher, Dr. Madison, Ms. Mowry, Mr. Ofsiany, Mr. Trainer, Ms. Lasser, Mr. Donovan and so many more, extending beyond the school’s early years, who created an atmosphere for a superior education. Mr. Trainer, for one, helped me to attempt to understand the what, why, and how of historical events, not to just memorize the who and when (one noted historian has referred to history as “a stream of causation”). Yet, for so many American students, our educational system is faltering. There has been a significant decline in STEM education, civics, as well as other areas that promote critical thinking. These educational subjects are of great import to a well balanced education suitable for a lifetime of learning. But, that is a topic for another blog post.

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