French General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, and thousands of French ground and naval forces arrived in Newport in July of 1780 to assist the Americans in the War for Independence. After wintering in Newport, Rochambeau's troops marched through Connecticut to join General George Washington's Continental Army just over the New York border. The combined forces moved down the eastern seaboard and confronted Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis and the British army in Yorktown, Virginia. After a prolonged siege, Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781, virtually ending the war and ensuring American independence.
This is one of 10 informative panels that mark the French route south through Connecticut from June 19 to July 2, 1781 and on the return north October 23 to November 9, 1782. A Critical Link
A bridge linking Newtown and Southbury across the Housatonic River helped create a route through Western Connecticut that was critical to supply General Washington's Continental Army and later transport Rochambeau's troops in 1781.
Carleton's Bridge made it possible to move supplies to and from Danbury, which had become a central hub for distributing food and supplies made in and around Connecticut. Yet until Carleton's Bridge, the only bridge strong enough for supply wagons to cross the Housatonic was in New Milford. Carleton's Bridge was more conveniently located while staying a safe distance from Long Island Sound and the British naval forces amassed there. Building a Better Bridge
The first bridge linking Southbury to Newtown was built in 1766 by Thomas Toucey of Woodbury. Each winter, ice and cold took its toll causing constant disrepair. Daily traffic used Hinman's Ferry and a river ford, which became impassable when the Housatonic swelled. In 1778, Washington ordered his army engineers to build a new bridge.
Carleton's Bridge was most likely named for the army officer in charge of construction. French officers later marveled at its design. Instead of pillars, log cribs were constructed, filled with stone and sunk into place. The cribs became the supports for the bridge.
Some 4,700 French troops and most of the supply wagons crossed it between June 28 and July 1, 1781. Artillery units with siege cannons were too heavy even for Carleton's Bridge, and were forced to use the ford about two miles north, dragging the cannon across the river with teams of oxen. The regiments then regrouped and camped several miles west in Newtown.
The victorious French Army marched back across on October 24-26, 1782 after helping the Continental Army defeat the British at Yorktown. After crossing into Southbury, the troops made their way to camp at Breakneck Hill in Middlebury.
The location of the flagpole in Newtown marks where the Old Meeting House once stood. The Old Meeting House was a place of worship when the French Army passed through and was marked on French maps. As years passed, Carleton's Bridge needed constant repairs and Hinman's Ferry continued to run along side it as an alternative way across the Housatonic River. In 1789, Carleton's Bridge was replaced by a new structure just north of today's Interstate 84, which was built by brothers Abel, Isaac and Thomas Bennett, named Bennett's Bridge. It kept that name into the 20th century. Daily traffic now uses Interstate 84 to cross the Housatonic, but stone abutments from the 18th century bridge are still visible on the Newtown side of the river when the water is low.