Read Canada Under Attack Online

Authors: Jennifer Crump

Tags: #JNF000000, #JNF025000

Canada Under Attack (9 page)

Benedict Arnold, American general, traitor, and would-be conqueror of Canada.

Schuyler arrived at Ticonderoga in the middle of July and immediately began to train the inexperienced, undisciplined troops. By early September he finally felt they were ready and he led them along Lake Champlain to the tiny island of Île-aux-Noix in the Richelieu River. By the time the troops had arrived on the island, Schuyler was ill. Eventually he grew too ill to lead and ceded command to Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery, who launched a series of quick raids into Canada. The focus of the raids was the British controlled fort of St.-Jean.

Fort St.-Jean had been on the alert since Arnold's raid in May. Governor Carleton had dispatched 140 regulars, accompanied by 50 members of the Montreal militia. Additional troops of Native warriors were assigned to patrol around the fort. As the sole guard on the road to Montreal, Fort St.-Jean was a critical element in controlling the colony; Carleton was as determined to protect it as Montgomery was to conquer it. The first attempt by Montgomery, on September 7, failed miserably. Quebec newspapers reported that a mere 60 Native warriors had driven off nearly 1,500 American soldiers. Worse news awaited the Americans. An American sympathizer living near Fort St.-Jean, Moses Haven, arrived with the news that while the habitants were sympathetic to their cause, they had no intention of joining the Americans until there was clear evidence they would be victorious.

Not all Canadians remained neutral. Mistreatment by the Americans encouraged some to actively support the British. Others, for various reasons, actively worked for the Americans. When war broke out, James Livingston, a resident of Montreal, recruited an army of men from Chambly, Quebec, to aid the Americans. He was eventually given commanded of that army, known as the First Canadian Regiment of the Continental Army.

Montgomery decided they might have better luck with a night attack. Two days later he led a 1,000 strong force back up the river. While Montgomery and several other officers waited by the boats, his men scattered into the woods that lay between the river and the fort. In the confusion of the dark woods the Americans began to fire on one another, and they made a hasty retreat back to boats. A furious Montgomery sent them back out again, but this time the Americans met a small party of Native warriors and habitants. Once again the troops retreated to the boats. As their commanders met to discuss a new strategy, rumours spread that a British warship was on its way. This sparked a mass panic and the Americans fled back to Île-aux-Noix, almost leaving their commanders behind.

Although their attempts to take the fort were unsuccessful the Americans surrounded it, essentially cutting it off from the rest of Quebec. The same sickness that had felled Schuyler, exacerbated by the damp swampy ground of the island, began infecting many of the American soldiers. To make matters worse, several days of stormy weather delayed the next attempt on Fort St.-Jean. The Americans had more luck on September 17, when they managed to capture a supply wagon headed toward the fort and drive back the Canadian militia that had ventured out to retrieve it.

Despite their efforts, the Americans could not draw out the main force and the Canadians refused to surrender. But with hundreds of women and children inside, and food supplies running low, it was only a matter of time. Fort Chambly, to the east of Fort St.-Jean, had fallen on September 20. Montgomery dispatched Ethan Allen's forces to guard the road to Montreal. Not content with simply enforcing the siege, Allen took his 250 men to the gates of Montreal. There they engaged with a smaller Canadian and Native force before breaking ranks and retreating back toward Fort St.-Jean. Carleton bolstered the troops and gathered 2,000 Canadian militiamen to defend Montreal. But when the siege dragged on and no orders were given to relieve them, the men drifted back to their homes and farms for the fall harvest. The Americans continued to tighten their hold and finally, on November 3, as an early fall snow storm set in, Fort St.-Jean capitulated

Ethan Allen

Ethan Allen, a businessman, farmer, and experienced guerrilla leader, was best
known as the leader of the Green Mountain Boys, a fiercely independent paramilitary
militia that had formed in southern Vermont in the decade before the Revolutionary
War. By 1775, Allen and his “boys” were lending their substantial military experi
ence to the war effort, and the revolutionary government turned to them to help with
the capture of Ticonderoga.

On November 17, Carleton arrived in Quebec City where he learned that a second force was headed toward him from Boston. Montgomery arrived two weeks later and set up camp outside the city. Once again the two generals had a common objective. Both felt that the city of Quebec was the key to controlling Canada. Despite the fact that his troops controlled every other major fort within Quebec and had overrun most of the colony, Montgomery refused to claim victory. “I need not tell you,” he wrote, “till Quebeck is taken, Canada is unconquered.”
2
While Carleton believed that Quebec would be his last stand against the American invasion and that holding the city was crucial, he was less convinced that he would be successful. He mistrusted the citizenry. “Could the people in the town be depended upon,” Carleton wrote to Lord Dartmouth. “I should flatter myself, we might hold out…. But, we have as many enemies within, and a foolish people, dupes to those traitors, with the natural fears of men unused to war, I think our fate extremely doubtful, to say nothing worse.”
3

His distrust of the populace led Carleton to issue a proclamation shortly after his arrival in Quebec City, “In order to rid the town of all useless, disloyal and treacherous persons … I do hereby strictly order all persons who have refused to enrol their names in the militia lists and to take up arms to quit the town in four days together with their wives and children under pain of being treated as rebels or spies.”
4

But the people of Quebec were not as sympathetic toward the American cause as Carleton feared. They might be opportunistic — many had sold the American Army beef and other goods during their occupation of Canada — but as soon as the American's cash ran out, the habitants refused them credit. And when the army retaliated by raiding farms and capturing supply wagons to take what they needed, they lost any Canadian sympathy they might have gained.

When Montgomery arrived outside Quebec on November 17, 1775, he was met by a second American force. Benedict Arnold had finally arrived in Canada, but his force of 1,500 had been halved by disease and desertion. A dearth of supplies and the arduous journey they had undertaken to get to Quebec had destroyed the spirits of the remainder. This was not the quick thrust into Canada that George Washington had envisioned when he pitched his plan to congress,

I am now to inform the Honourable Congress that, encouraged by the repeated declarations of the Canadians and Natives, and urged by their requests, I have detached Col. Arnold, with one thousand men, to penetrate into Canada by way of Kennebeck River, and, if possible, to make himself master of Quebeck … I made all possible inquiry as to the distance, the safety of the route, and the danger of the season being too far advanced, but found nothing in either to deter me from proceeding, more especially as it met with very general approbation from all whom I consulted upon it … For the satisfaction of the Congress, I here enclose a copy of the proposed route.
5

The “straight line of two hundred and ten miles” was actually more than twice that length and passed through a rough tangle of woods and swamps that forced the troops to travel a winding route. The falls and carrying places they encountered were neither small nor short. Worse than the hardships offered by nature was the fact that the area was still a virtual no man's land, unsettled and unmapped. There would be no villages or settlements where the soldiers could regroup and replenish their supplies. Arnold and his 1,500 men had no idea what they would face when they set out from Boston with their heavy canoes laden with supplies. The plan had called for Arnold's force to move through the Kennebec Valley to the Chaudière River and then on to the St. Lawrence. But the Kennebec River was a virtually unnavigable morass of rocks and rapids, and the tributary they were to follow, known as the Dead River, was even worse. The aptly named Chaudière (boiler) was equally unfit for navigation. The soldiers were frequently forced to carry their canoes overland and on many days they could only cover a mere five kilometres.
6
“Our march has been attended with an amazing deal of fatigue … I have been deceived in every account of our route, which is longer and has been attended with a thousand difficulties I never apprehended,”
7
Arnold wrote.

Arnold and his men struggled to control their canoes in the churning water. At one point a flash flood destroyed many of their supplies and canoes. By the time they reached the Chaudière a full third of their number had turned back and many of their canoes had been lost or abandoned in the thick swamp and bush of their latest portage. An attempt to float their supplies down the Chaudière on rafts had resulted in the loss of both provisions and ammunition, and the soldiers were forced to eat their shoe leather and the few dogs that had accompanied them, in order to survive.

“We had all along aided our weaker brethren,” Private George Morison recorded in his journal, “but the dreadful moment had now arrived when these friendly offices could no longer be performed. Many of the men began to fall behind, and those in any condition to march were scarcely able to support themselves, so that it was impossible to bring them along; if we tarried with them we must all have perished.”
8

By the time Arnold and his men appeared on the Plains of Abraham on November 14, their numbers had dwindled to a little over 700. The remaining men were starved and sickened by the arduous journey. The fact that they had persisted in the face of such adversity and such horrific conditions hardened their resolve. Arnold himself was still determined to take Quebec, and with typical bravado sent a white flag of truce into the city to demand its immediate surrender.

With Carleton still not yet arrived from Montreal, command of the Quebec garrison was in the hands of Lieutenant-Colonel Allan MacLean, who had arrived a mere two days ahead of Arnold and was greeted by a city full of fear and pessimism. The lieutenant-governor, Hector Cramahé, was terrified by the sight of Arnold's force. There was talk of immediately lowering the flag even before Arnold sent his demand for the city's surrender. MacLean, a gruff Scotsman, angrily took control and refused to open the gates to admit the flag of truce. There would be no more talk of defeat.

With no cannon or heavy guns, Arnold was in no position to force the issue and MacLean kept his men well within the protections of the city walls. After waiting for a few days, Arnold withdrew his men to Pointe-aux-Trembles to wait for reinforcements from Montgomery. Montgomery finally arrived on December 2, with 500 troops and supplies. Three days later the combined forces once more stood on the Plains of Abraham. As Wolfe's right-hand man, Carleton knew first-hand the dangers in leaving the safety of the walls of the city to engage the enemy; he had no intention of repeating Montcalm's mistake. For almost 30 days the Americans laid siege to the city. When it finally became clear that the Canadians would not venture from the city to lift the siege, Montgomery and Arnold decided to lift it themselves.

As had happened to Wolfe during his siege, winter was approaching and the Americans were ill-prepared to survive a lengthy wait in the midst of a cruel Canadian winter. They had another incentive though: over half of Montgomery and Arnold's men were due to be released from their service on January 1. It was unlikely they would agree to stay. Morale was low, conditions were horrible, and it was believed that few would voluntarily stay to fight a war on foreign soil. An American deserter came to Quebec and told James Bain, captain of the British militia, about the dispirited state of the attacking army. The man claimed that all the people from the old country wished to be at home and that they had no wish to attack the town. Their leaders were eager to act before more men deserted.

On December 31, in the midst of one of the raging snowstorms that Quebec City is famous for, the Americans launched their attack. Two regiments launched feint attacks on the Plains of Abraham with the goal of distracting Carleton's men from the real invasions being lead separately by Montgomery and Arnold. Arnold's role was to advance along between St. Charles and the Plains in order to storm the Lower Town. From there he and his men would make their way through the mazes of houses, wharves, and storehouses toward the gate that lead into the more heavily fortified Upper Town. They believed that if they could reach the gate they could easily breach its defences. Montgomery's role was to take the higher route into Lower Town, which would take his troops between the cliffs of Cape Diamond and the St. Lawrence.

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