“War is mainly a catalogue of blunders” – Winston Churchill
July, 1758. Windham, Connecticut. The French and Indian War (1754-1763) raged on, and while the North American theater of operations was a minor sideshow compared to the rest of the worldwide Seven Years War, tensions remained high. The British were organizing a campaign to seize the French colonies in Canada after a series of disastrous expeditions against Louisbourg and Fort William Henry, capitalizing on France’s preoccupation with Prussia in Europe. When the cacophony of that evening’s skirmish had subsided, the smoke cleared, and the causalities were counted the morning after a fierce battle for the strategic Winnomantic River that runs through Windham, the dead outnumbered the living. Oddly, there were no British, French, or Indians among those brave soldiers struck down in their prime. Only bullfrogs.
The New England summer of 1758 had been especially hot for eastern Connecticut, so hot in fact that a marshy artificial pond (creatively named “Frog Pond”, as it would be precisely the ecological niche a frog would prefer) a mere mile from Windham had completely dried up.
It was, according to most accounts, in the month of June or July, 1758, on a dark, foggy night, the wind easterly, with an atmosphere favorable to the transmission of sound, that the event happened. It was past the midnight hour, and the inhabitants were buried in profound sleep, when the outcry commenced. There were heard shouts and cries, and such a variety of mingled sounds, which seemed to fill the heavens that soon roused the people from their slumbers and thoroughly alarmed the town. To the excited imaginations of the suddenly awakened and startled inhabitants, it is not strange that some thought the day of judgment was at hand, while others supposed that an army of French and Indians was advancing to attack the town. We are not about to draw upon the imagination, to depict the scenes that then and there transpired, as others have done, our only object being to give such facts and incidents, as will enable the reader to arrive at a correct solution of the affair. But the alarm and turn out of the whole town at the dead hours of night, the darkness and confusion in consequence, the cries and screams of the terror-stricken women and children, running hither and thither of the half-naked inhabitants, continuance of the strange and perfectly unaccountable noises, must, without any exaggeration, have produced a scene, common phrase, more easily imagined than described (Weaver, 1857, p5).
Some swore they heard artillery and cries from the combatants for assistance from local notables, particularly Colonel Eliphalet Dyer, veteran of the expedition that captured Crown Point from the French in 1755 and later Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court as well as a local jurist named Mr. Elderkin. Expecting an incursion from the French and their Indian allies, the townsfolk eventually steeled themselves and took up arms.
The men, after a flight of half a mile, in which they met with many broken shins, finding no enemies in pursuit of them, made a halt, and summoned resolution enough to venture back to their wives and children, when they distinctly heard from the enemy’s camp these words: Wight, Hilderkin, Dier, Tete. This last, they thought, meant treaty, and, plucking up courage, they sent a triumvirate to capitulate with the supposed French and Indians. These the men approached in their shirts, and begged to speak with the general; but, it being dark and no answer given, they were sorely agitated for some time betwixt hope and fear: at length, however, they discovered that the dreaded inimical army was an army of thirsty frogs going to the river for a little water. Such an incursion was never known before nor since; and yet the people of Windham have been ridiculed for their timidity on this occasion. I verily believe an army under the Duke of Marlborough would, under like circumstances, have acted no better than they did (Peters, 1877, p130-131).
According to contemporary Connecticut Historian Rev. Samuel Peters, having abandoned their dried up pond, an army of bullfrogs marched on the Winnomantic River intending to conquer its more hospitable climes and usurp the current amphibious residents. Estimates of the number of frogs involved suggest they filled a road that was forty yards wide for four miles in length, and their martial column took several hours to pass entirely through Windham. When morning broke, the pond and the river were littered with thousands of dead frogs, slain in battle. It is unclear which frog faction won the day, and some conspiracy theorists have suggested there was a cover-up of colonial war crimes when the frogs were massacred by Windham residents, but obviously, there having been no recurrence of frog warfare in Connecticut, perhaps the horror of the carnage at the Battle of Windham Frogs forced them to eternally embrace the philosophy espoused by H.G. Wells when he observed, “If we do not end war — war will end us”. A little known fact is that Kermit the Frog’s original statement was “War is Hell”, but he decided to go Zen, and simply declare “It’s not easy being green”.
Payne, Brigham. The Story of Bacchus: And Centennial Souvenir. Hartford, Conn.: A. E. Brooks, 1876.
Peters, Samuel, 1735-1826. General History of Connecticut: From Its First Settlement Under George Fenwick to Its Latest Period of Amity With Great Britain Prior to the Revolution…. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1877.
Skinner, Charles M. 1852-1907. Myths and Legends of Our Own Land. Philadelphia &: J.P. Lippincott company, 1896.
Weaver, William L. 1816-1867. The Battle of the Frogs, At Windham, 1758: With Various Accounts and Three of the Most Popular Ballads on the Subject. Willimantic, Conn.: James Walden, 1857.