Return J. Meigs, Sr. - Early Life and Revolutionary War Service

Early Life and Revolutionary War Service

Meigs was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on December 17, 1740, the son of Return Meigs and Elizabeth Hamlin Meigs, whose thirteen children also included Josiah Meigs.

He served in the local militia, advancing to the rank of captain in 1774. On April 19, 1775, after the Battle of Lexington, he led a company of light infantry to Boston. There he was appointed to the rank of major in the 2nd Connecticut Regiment, a provincial regiment of the Continental Army. Later that year, serving as a division (battalion) commander under Colonel Benedict Arnold, he accompanied Arnold on his 1,100-man expedition through Maine to Canada. Meigs was captured by the British in the assault on Quebec City and imprisoned, but was paroled on May 16, 1776, by British Gen. Guy Carleton as consideration for Meigs' decent treatment of a British prisoner, Captain Law, Carleton's chief engineer. Meigs returned to Connecticut by way of Halifax and subsequently returned to military service.

He returned to active service when he was formally exchanged on January 10, 1777, as major of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment of the newly-organized Connecticut Line. Meigs was appointed lieutenant colonel of Sherburne's Additional Continental Regiment on February 10, 1777. On May 12 he was sent to command the 6th Connecticut Regiment when its colonel, William Douglas, became incapacitated by ill health.

One of his most important achievements during the Revolutionary War was leading the Meigs Raid against the British forces in Sag Harbor, New York, in May 1777. With 220 men in a fleet of 13 whaleboats, he crossed Long Island Sound from Connecticut to Long Island to attack the British fleet at night. The raid succeeded in burning 12 ships and taking 90 prisoners, without losing a single man. The U.S. Congress awarded him a presentation sword for his heroism. Colonel Douglas died on May 28, and Meigs received appointment as colonel of the 6th Connecticut by Governor Trumbull on September 10, 1777, with a date of rank of May 12.

When a Corps of Light Infantry was formed under General Anthony Wayne in July 1779, Meigs was given command of its 3rd Regiment, which he led at the Battle of Stony Point. Following its disbandment in December, he returned to the 6th Connecticut and became acting commander of the 1st Connecticut Brigade. In that capacity he put down an incipient mutiny and received the written thanks of Gen. George Washington. On January 1, 1781, the Continental Main Army reorganized, consolidating many regiments. The Connecticut Line was reduced from eight to five regiments, retiring four colonels, including Meigs.

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