Authors: Jennifer Crump
Tags: #JNF000000, #JNF025000
Attack on Quebec by General Montgomery, Morning of 31st December, 1775.
Observing the assault from behind the walls of Upper Town, Carleton dispatched a troop of 400 men, under MacLean, to attack the rear of Arnold's troops. Arnold's men waded through knee-deep snow, many of them wearing tiny slips of paper pinned to their hats that read “Liberty or Death.” They took the first battery they encountered but Arnold was wounded in the effort and carried out of the battle. His men were quickly stalled at the second battery where they also faced a deep trench dug to prevent their forces from entering Upper Town. Then the boom of cannon and musket fire sounded behind them. MacLean had arrived.
The Death of Montgomery at Quebec, December 31, 1775.
The Americans began to fall like toy soldiers as their enemies fired at them from ahead and behind. There was nowhere for them to go. By the time the barrage lessened enough for them to surrender, nearly 100 Americans had been killed or wounded by enemy fire and dozens of others had drowned while trying to flee across the lightly frozen river. Another 400 American troops were taken prisoner, nearly every remaining member of Arnold's regiment.
Montgomery had his own problems. Several entrenchments had been layered between the cliffs and the St. Lawrence River. In the midst of the fog of musket and cannon fire, Montgomery and his men were unable to see that the enemy entrenchments were only lightly defended by the handful of troops that Carleton thought he could spare. Like Arnold, Montgomery breached the first with relative ease. But in leading the charge to the second, Montgomery and many of his senior officers were killed. The remainder of the soldiers panicked and fled. Carleton, who reported a mere six of him men killed and barely a score wounded, wisely refused to pursue the retreating Americans, choosing instead to stay behind his walls and wait for the anticipated reinforcements he expected to arrive in the spring.
Despite these humiliating defeats, Arnold steadfastly refused to lift the siege and began to prepare to spend the winter outside the walls of Quebec. Plagued by near continual desertions, he sent to Congress for reinforcements hoping they would arrive before expected reinforcements arrived from Britain. In the interim, both sides made occasional forays against each other as pockets of militia stationed outside the fort from both sides engaged. But these skirmishes had little effect on the siege.
Congress did not want to give up their pursuit of the 14th colony any more than Arnold did. In a third open letter to the inhabitants of Quebec, published on January 25, 1776, they assured the Canadians that, “We will never abandon you to the unrelenting fury of your and our enemies; two Battalions have already received orders to march to Canada.”
Reinforcements did arrive, although among the Americans they were greatly reduced by a smallpox epidemic that was rapidly sweeping through the ranks. Arnold, still wounded, was sent to Montreal where he found growing resentment toward the American presence.
Montgomery had left Montreal in the command of Brigadier-General David Wooster. At first, the general had established good relations with the population, but the relationship slowly eroded as Wooster arrested Loyalists and threatened the arrest of those with Loyalist leanings. He imprisoned a number of local militia who had refused to give up their commissions, and completely disarmed several communities who he suspected of being potentially disloyal. Faced with this growing resentment and the very real possibility of an insurrection, the Americans sent Wooster to Quebec City and replaced him with Arnold. They also sent a delegation to Quebec City, consisting of a Catholic priest and a French printer from Philadelphia, who would be transported to Canada and given monies to re-establish himself, his family, and business there. In exchange, the printer would use his print shop to help promote American interests in Canada. Three members of congress, including Benjamin Franklin, rounded out the delegation. Their mission was primarily one of public relations, to extend the message of common ground to the French Canadians and to assure them that their rights would be protected.
The delegation was also granted the funds to raise several regiments from among the French Canadians, who they expected would embrace their cause. Unfortunately, most of their money was paper â Continental Money â which the French Canadians were rejecting from the American Army; the French preferred gold.
What Franklin and his fellow commissioners discovered in Quebec dismayed them. He informed Congress that it was
impossible to give you a just idea of the lowness of the Continental credit here from the want of hard money and the prejudice it is to our affairs â¦ The Tories will not trust us a farthing â¦ Our enemies take advantage of this distress to make us look contemptible in the eyes of Canadians who have been provoked by the violence of our military in exacting provisions and services from them without pay and conduct towards a people who suffered us to enter their country as friends that the most urgent necessity can scarce excuse since it contributed much to the change of their good dispositions towards us into enmity and makes them wish our departure.
Franklin and his fellow commissioners were pestered with demands for reimbursement so that it was impossible for them to deliver their intended message. In a final and ominous report to Congress they were blunt in their assessment of the situation in Quebec. If Congress could not find the cash to support the army in Quebec, they had better withdraw it before the “inhabitants are become our enemies.”
Franklin's was not the only voice pleading for help. Schuyler entreated congress to send his suffering armies in Quebec “powder and pork”
and both he and Franklin warned Congress that necessity was forcing the armies to go into debt, a debt that had climbed to well over $10,000.
Reproduction of a 1761 map: “An Accurate Map of Canada with the Adjacent Countries.”
There was worse news for the American delegation. Despite the support of the priest who accompanied them, the influential Catholic clergy refused to support their cause, pointing out that the Quebec Act had already given them what they wanted. The French printer had not yet been able to print anything that could be used to sway the populace. Then came the devastating news that the American Army at Quebec City was in a panicked retreat. British ships had been sighted coming up the St. Lawrence, bringing thousands of reinforceReproduction ments. After 11 days in Montreal, the venerable Ben Franklin, who had never before shied from controversy or hardship, decided that the problems in Quebec were too many and too complicated for his mission to fix and returned to New York.
In the meantime, Carleton hastily gathered his reinforcements to chase down the retreating Americans. There were several pitched battles at Les CÃ¨dres, Quinze-ChÃªnes, and Trois-RiviÃ¨res, which all ended with American losses.
On May 6, 1776, a large contingent of British reinforcements arrived at Trois-RiviÃ¨res, undetected by the Americans who occupied Sorel, a few kilometres upriver. The Americans, believing that Trois-RiviÃ¨res was being held by only a small contingent of British soldiers, raided the settlement. Not only were they unaware of the strength of the British garrison there, they were also wholly ignorant of the terrain. After slogging through a thick swamp, the American troops emerged to face a huge force of British regulars. The Americans scattered back into the swamp. Two hundred American soldiers, including most of the senior officers, were captured. Carleton refused to press his advantage and did not take his troops up the St. Lawrence to make a play for Quebec until the middle of June. He found Sorel abandoned.
Even Arnold was ready to give up. “Let us quit and secure our own country before it is too late,”
he wrote. On May 15, he and the American Army, which numbered more than 5,000 in and around Montreal, first attempted to burn down the city then abandoned it and began their retreat back through the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain. They took refuge at Ãle-aux-Noix but were promptly ousted by the British. At Fort St.-Jean they managed to get away only moments before the British forces arrived. Throughout the summer and into the fall of 1776, Arnold managed to hold the British at bay with a fleet he had built up after his initial taking of Crown Point in 1775, but was finally defeated on October 11, and forced to withdraw from that fort to Ticonderoga. Carleton decided that the Americans were too strong to oust and he contented himself to wait at Crown Point. Finally, on November 2, he pulled his troops from Crown Point and withdrew to spend the winter in Quebec.
The campaign to capture Quebec was an unmitigated disaster for the Americans. Not only had they failed in their attempt to take Canada by force, but they had also failed to convince the Canadians that their future could be secured by uniting with their rebellious neighbours to the south. It would be many years before relationships along the border were sufficiently repaired. The only saving grace for the Americans was that Arnold's tiny naval fleet had held off the British long enough that it had discouraged a full-scale British invasion along Chesapeake Bay, which might have ended the entire revolution. The Americans made one last attempt to secure Quebec at the Paris Peace Conference, which created the United States of America. American negotiator Ben Franklin suggested that all of Quebec be ceded to the Americans, but in the end they received only the Ohio territory.
Canada's eastern colonies were not the only ones to capture the attention of foreign armies. By the late 1700s five nations had turned their attention to the westernmost end of Canada, led in part by a desire to exploit the rich store of furs there and by a desire to locate the infamous Northwest Passage. The American interest was still muted by the effort and expense they were already expending on settling their own West. Still, John Jacob Astor and others were making plans to establish trading posts along the Columbia River, and American ships were frequenting the Canadian west coast.
Russia's interest in Canada's west coast was primarily incidental and far less acquisitive than the other nations believed it to be. They made frequent forays into what is now known as the province of British Columbia, but their interests were primarily trade related. On the other hand, the Spanish had made their intentions quite clear. The entire North American Pacific coast, including the island of Vancouver, belonged to them. The British were more recent converts to the practice of exerting their territorial rights over the Pacific coastal regions of Canada, but they were enthusiastic. They had seen the rich stores of fur that could be found in the region and with a new market for furs opening in China, they were eager to exploit the Pacific area. Finally, there were the Nootka
, who had been there all along and watched the struggles for their territory with interest while they traded with each of the rival nations. The Nootka were well practised in the art of war so it is unlikely that they were perturbed by the arrival of so many foreigners on their shores.