Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Lord Dorchester
Chapter V - Montgomery and Arnold


IT is generally conceded that the hand of congress had been somewhat forced by Ethan Allen and Arnold in their prompt seizure, during the spring of 1775, of Ticonderoga and Crown Point. The inspiration at least had in this case been local rather than federal, and the exploit, which was creditable in a tactical rather than heroic sense, was at the time not admitted as having been authorized. Strong professions of reluctance to harass Canada were expressed at headquarters for some weeks afterwards, and we must remember that warlike acts during this whole summer were regarded, officially at any rate, as only a means to an advantageous reconciliation with the mother country. As the summer advanced, how-\ ^ ever, these views entirely changed for the excellent strategical reason already referred to, and others of common knowledge.

It was now regarded by Washington as of high\ > importance that Canada should be occupied, an achievement which must have seemed at that time an extremely simple one. Carleton they all knew had to be reckoned with, and no one underrated him. His past record was familiar in America and his name spelled respect. But Carleton was no magician; yet if he was not a Wolfe he was at least a Montcalm; for the rest the province lay bare and open save for seven or eight hundred regular troops, a few British Loyalists, and a handful of Canadian gentry. Ample evidence had been secured from innumerable and reliable sources that £he peasantry would remain neutral at the best, and that they would furnish food and valuable transport assistance to the Americans even if they did not take up arms.

Congress, as Carleton had been rightly informed, had now seriously undertaken the invasion of Canada, though even Carleton was unaware that at (the very moment he reached Montreal, Benedict Arnold with eleven hundred picked men was starting for the mouth of the Kennebec with Quebec itself as the objective point. It was enough for the present to know that fifteen hundred provincials were gathered on Lake Champlain awaiting reinforcements. Of this force Schuyler had taken command, the father-in-law of Alexander Hamilton and a member of that famous Albany family whose loyalty and liberal hospitality had been a useful and picturesque feature in the old French wars. Temporary business of a diplomatic nature with the Indians, followed by an attack of illness, removed Schuyler from this scene of operations and Richard Montgomery, of immortal but partly fortuitous fame, succeeded to his command.

Montgomery was the son of a country gentleman and M.P. in Donegal. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and at eighteen gazetted to the 17th Foot. He fought at Louisbourg and in those subsequent operations under Amherst and Haviland which completed the conquest of Canada. Later on as a captain he served at Havana and elsewhere in the West Indies. After the peace he sold his commission, through pique it is said at being passed\ over, and repaired to New York, where he bought a property at Kingsbridge and married a daughter of Judge Robert Livingstone whose family was perhaps the most conspicuous among the British community of the Anglo-Dutch province. The Livingstones were the leading partisans of congress, as the de Lancys were of the Crown. One or two of their name had settled near Montreal and were active among the Canadian malcontents, and Montgomery no doubt fell under their influence. He had, moreover, all those advantages of stature, good looks and an engaging manner which, added to other qualities, make for success. He was sent to the provincial congress, and being known as a gallant and experienced soldier was at once employed in that capacity.

He was now a brigadier, having succeeded Schuyler with whom he had gone as second in command. Schuyler, during the brief period of his command, had already demonstrated against Fort St. Johns, received its fire, fought a skirmish in the woods with Carleton's Indians and stationed a force at Ile-aux-Noix with a view to preventing some armed vessels recently built by the British at St. Johns from ascending to the lake. Montgomery before leaving Crown Point had despatched Ethan Allen with four score Indians to the Richelieu and the St. Lawrence to cement the friendliness of the habitants and feel the country. But on meeting with a small body of provincials under Brown near Sorel, and fired perhaps with the memory of his bloodless capture of Ticonderoga, Allen proposed to the other nothing less than the capture of Montreal. Brown agreed, but seems to have thought better of it and deserted his friend at the critical moment. When the latter appeared with one hundred and fifty men on the south shore of the river opposite Longueuil he found much good-will among the natives. The party, however, was soon discovered, the alarm was given, and Carleton promptly called in all the ladders outside the town, a precaution which was met in so hostile a spirit as to show the temper of the local peasantry. Allen then sent a messenger to Walker, who was residing six leagues away, in the full hope that he would raise his friends in force, but that gentleman was too wise to stir.

On September 24th, 1775, Allen transported his men across the river in canoes and occupied some barns and houses at Long Point, a league from the city, upon which Carleton sent Major Carden with thirty men of the 26th Regiment and two hundred and fifty militia to dislodge him. This operation took just half an hour. Allen and thirty-live oK his men were surrounded and captured and the rest driven off, though it cost the life of Carden, a gallant officer, and Mr. Patterson, the only killed on the British side. Of the others five were killed and five wounded. The prisoners were put in irons and sent to Quebec on the schooner Gaspe, whence they were shipped to England. Here they were confined in the high perched castle of Pendennis so familiar now-a-days to all visitors to Falmouth in Cornwall. This foolish attempt of a handful of riflemen to take even a poorly defended city of eight thousand souls is somewhat characteristic of the heady Vermonter. It is suggested by one historian that, annoyed at being sent out of the way when the siege of St. » Johns was impending, he took this alternative of seeking notoriety, with the hope of assistance from the disaffected inhabitants, and furthermore that Montgomery regarded his somewhat raw and egotistical ardour as unlikely to prove a wholly unmixed blessing in a siege operation. Allen's mishap had some effect on the Canadians and brought a few more militia ^^ into the town. With the news of the fall of Fort Chambly, however, which arrived soon afterwards, they lost even this small measure of zeal, and Carleton writes that his Indians were as easily depressed as his handful of better disposed militia. More than one seignior who had collected a small company of men, and was marching to the front, was insulted and compelled by force to disband them.

Compromising letters to Walker fell, at this moment, into Carleton's hands and he sent a file of men to his house at L'Assomption with orders to arrest him. Walker and his household, however, opened fire on the soldiers from the windows, wounding the officer in command, whereupon the house was set on fire and the owner with his wife dragged out of the windows and carried to Montreal where the former was locked up. Montgomery who seems to have been fond of delivering bombastic compositions at his opponents now despatched one to Carleton upbraiding him for putting Allen and his followers in irons. For this stringent measure the governor thus justified himself in his next despatch to England: "We have neither prisons to hold nor troops to guard them, so that they have been treated with as much humanity as our own safety would permit. I shall not answer Montgomery, not choosing to enter into communication with rebels."

During these events Montgomery himself had not been idle at St. Johns, before which post he had sat down on September 18th. The fort was some twenty miles from the foot of Lake Champlain at the head of the first rapids of the Richelieu, but had no natural advantages of defence. Schuyler had in the meantime contrived the defection of the Caughnawaga Indians. So Preston, now shut up in the fort, was without their badly needed assistance as letter-carriers and scouts. A persistent artillery duel continued into October without results, and Preston had by that time some reason for confidence, since like all sieges in the Canadian woods remote from a base of supplies, the near., approach of winter was the dread of the one side and the hope of the other. To Preston of course it spelled the latter, so he put hi$\ little garrison on half rations and awaited the coming of his frigid ally with something approaching confidence. But now tidings of such a nature reached him that hope died in his breast, for Chambly...had fallen. If St. Johns was the key of Canada, so Kambly was the key of St. Johns and was considered quite secure. It stood on the banks of the Richelieu some fourteen miles below; and was a strong stone fort with bastions. It was held by Major Stopford, a son of Lord Cpurtown, with over eighty men and was proof against anything but the heaviest cannon. It was well provisioned too, and well supplied with guns and ammunition, but Stop-pord had tamely surrendered after a thirty-six hour siege maintained by a small force and one, some say two, fieldpieces. He had not even preserved sufficient wits to throw his stores and powder into the river which almost lapped the walls. All these and several guns and mortars were now transferred to the camp of Montgomery, who stood greatly in need of them, and Preston's position behind such poor defences became untenable. There appear to have been no extenuating circumstances attached to this more than "regrettable incident," which directly caused the temporary fall of Canada and all the misery thereby entailed. If ever an English officer deserved to be shot one might well think it was Stopford; but he was a peer's son, and there is no evidence that he was even censured. In days when a high-born officer cashiered for cowardice in the field could afterwards become the first 'minister of the Crown, anything was possible.

Carleton was known to be making every effort to raise the siege of St. Johns, but he had sent nearly all his available men to his subordinates at the front, and when news came to Preston that his efforts to reach him had failed, the latter, after some haggling over terms, was compelled to surrender from shortness of food and ammunition. Montgomery's unhappy turn of manner in this affair broke out in the articles of capitulation, which Preston was otherwise prepared to accept, concluding as they did with "regrets that so much bravery, etc., had not been shewn in a better cause." As a king's officer Preston insisted that this superfluous "improvement of the occasion " should be expunged, vowing that he and his men would rather die at their post than subscribe to a document bearing such an offensive sentiment. On November 2nd the garrison marched out with, the honours of war six hundred and eighty-eight strong including eighty wounded, and were sent prisoners to New Jersey, several of the Canadian noblesse being among them.

On learning the critical situation of St. Johns, Carleton had made an attempt to cross the St. Lawrence at Longueuil with a view to marching to Sorel and thence up the Richelieu with one hundred and fifty regulars and a mob of doubtful militia. But the provincial troops were now swarming in the country and the governor found the south shore lined by a strong force of sharpshooters under Allen's N friend and colleague, Seth Warner. An attempt to land such troops as his in the face of their deadly fire proved hopeless, and Carleton now despaired of Montreal, as well he may have. Writing to Dartmouth on November 5th he gives some of the reasons for his failure. The construction of a sufficient number of new vessels to dispute the passage* of Lake Champlain had failed for want of artificers. The entrenched camps to be formed near Chambly and St. Johns were rendered impossible by the corruption and stupid baseness of the peasantry, and thus St. Johns, which for two months was left to its own strength, was forced to capitulate. The Indians had left. The militia from the parishes had deserted and the good subjects were frightened at the rebels in arms without and the traitors within. Montreal must be given up as soon as attacked. The common people would not act and there were no means to defend the place, while Arnold was marching on Quebec which stood unprepared. As a matter of fact Arnold had practically arrived there on the very date of this letter.

Carleton now only awaited a fair wind to attempt the convoy of his small force from Montreal to Quebec, the route by land being blocked on the south shore by Montgomery, and on the north shore above Quebec by Arnold's men. Of the latter, while Carleton is spiking his guns and preparing to leave Montreal to its fate, something must now be said.

Benedict Arnold, of sinister but famous name, first appears in history with Ethan Allen's surprise of the Champlain forts in the spring of 1775. He was then thirty-four, a native of Norwich, Connecticut, and of respectable family, though his father, a merchant sailing his own ships, had before his death fallen into poverty and bad habits. Arnold's great-grandfather, however, had been lieutenant-governor of Rhode Island, and the young Benedict had received a fair education, and married into a respectable family of New Haven, Connecticut, where he now resided. Carleton alludes to him casually as a "horsejockey," not quite a fair description of a man who carried on a West India business which happened to include the shipping of horses, but the sociology' of New England would hardly be a strong point with a British aristocrat and governor at Quebec. Arnold's business seems to have included also occasional trips to Montreal and Quebec, which proved doubtless of much subsequent service to him. He was not regarded as over scrupulous, but he was popular and high-spirited, a good horseman and a dead shot. lie was captain of one of the companies of "Governor's, Guards," the crack militia corps of Connecticut. After the Lexington affair he assembled his company, and, re-inforced by a number of Yale students, broke into the New Haven powder magazine, and marched to Cambridge fully armed and equipped. Here he so impressed the Massachusetts committee that they gave him the commission of colonel, and accepted his suggestion of seizing Ticonderoga, empowering him to raise men in their province. While attempting this he found that Allen had not only anticipated his scheme, but already had the men for carrying it out, so Arnold had no choice but to join him as a volunteer. These two heady persons clashed considerably after the capture of the forts, Arnold with his colonel's commission refusing to take orders from the Vermonter. After the affair of the forts, Arnold had proceeded to St Johns and brought away an armed sloop.

The Massachusetts committee seem to have viewed the strenuous methods of their nominee with only a qualified approval, at which the latter took offence, declined further service, and went straight to Washington's quarters at Cambridge. That sound judge of men quickly recognized Arnold's value, and when the invasion of Canada was projected appointed him commander of the less important but more hazardous of the two expeditions designed for the service. The main attack by the natural and historic route as we have seen was confided to Schuyler and Montgomery, so Arnold was entrusted with the far more perilous task of leading a force to Quebec through the rugged north-eastern wilderness which is now Maine, and thence down the valley of the Chaudiere. Arnold may possibly have had a share in suggesting it, but Washington already possessed a copy of a survey made some years before by Montresor, a British officer who had traversed the same line. Eleven hundred of the eighteen thousand 1Y men gathered before Boston were selected, and are described as "the flower of the colonial youth." Three companies were hardy Scotch-Irish riflemen and Indian fighters from the mountain frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia, among whom were the celebrated partisan leaders, Morgan and Hendricks. Among the rank and file were many bearing names notable in New England annals, Bigelow, Thayer, Hubbard, Colbourn, and Aaron Burr, the future vice-president, but better known to history as the slayer of Alexander Hamilton. A sixth of the force is described as "Irish emigrants," which at that time usually meant the Scottish Presbyterian colonists from Ulster. On September 18th, 1775, Arnold and his men sailed from Newburyport for the mouth of the Kennebec, and up that river to Fort Western, the present Augusta and the head of deep navigation, where two hundred bateaux had been hastily constructed.

On the twenty-fifth they began their march of three hundred miles through what was then, for the most part, an uninhabited and shaggy wilderness, pushing or dragging the heavy bateaux laden with supplies and ammunition, against swift, and as they advanced, often shallow and rocky currents. Half the distance, broadly speaking, was up the Kennebec River, the other half along Lake Megantic and down the Chaudiere. About midway was the long relief of the "Dead River," overhung by the mountain watershed which parted the streams, and at the same time Canada, from the New England provinces. One advantage of this secluded route was the reasonable prospect it offered of taking Quebec by surprise in its undefended state. The route had been used occasionally by small war parties of Indians or Rangers, but the "blaze" on the line of the portages, one of which was twelve miles long, was in many cases no longer distinguishable.

This march of Arnold's has been traditionally regarded as a great achievement of courage and endurance. More than one historian on the British side, however, has been inclined to make light of it, but hardly I think with justice, while within recent years an American author has devoted much industry to illuminating the truth of the business by a number of the private journals and letters of various members of the force; men for the most part by no means unaccustomed to backwoods travel, peril and exposure. In face of such ^evidence there can be little doubt that the suffering and hardship endured by men who refused to flinch under it and turn back, has justified the panegyrics posterity has bestowed on the exploit. If it had been ultimately successful; had the force actually surprised and seized Quebec as it nearly did, this would have been beyond a doubt the great episode of the Revolutionary War, with Arnold for its hero.

They were just a month in traversing the wilderness between the last settlements on the Kennebec and the first clearings on the Chaudiere. An unusually cold spell, and a freshet of almost unparalleled violence, transformed an enterprise of ordinary hardihood and bearable fatigue into one of peril, semi-starvation and complete exhaustion. The tangled swamps were flooded, the bateaux destroyed, and the provisions, of which the wilderness furnished none, washed away or spoiled. Before crossing the divide, half the force at the decision of their officers refused to proceed in the face of what seemed to them certain starvation. Colonel Enos, the chief officer responsible for this decision, was afterwards court-martialed and honourably acquitted. The more stubborn half followed Arnold over the barrier, even carrying several of the bateaux on their galled shoulders over the wooded and rocky ridges from whose northern slopes the fountain waters of the Chaudi&re, still in flood, carried them down to the bosom of Lake Megantic. Food had now completely given out. A dog was eat greedily; leggings and moccasins were chewed, and fifty or sixty men died in their tracks. Arnold on a rickety raft with four men sped down the unfamiliar waters at a headlong pace, regardless of dangers escaped more than once by a hairs breadth, till he reached the first fringe of Canadian settlement. Here by good luck he found sympathy and provisions, and what was more vital, assistance in conveying them through the woods on the backs of horses to his starving men. The rest of the route presented by comparison few difficulties, and Arnold who had behaved throughout with that characteristic resolution no one has ever denied him, eventually brought his men safely to the neighbourhood of Point Levis on November 8th. Over fifty had died on the road from various causes. Between six and seven hundred remained, of whom (>««• a sixth were prostrate. Their leader now went forward to Point Levis to reconnoitre the situation, and found that every boat and canoe had been withdrawn to the north shore only a few hours previously, for Cramahe in command at Quebec had received notice of the approach of the Americans through a fortunately intercepted letter that Arnold had entrusted to an Indian for delivery to Washington.

Arnold now held a council of war on the expediency of making an attempt on Quebec as soon as practicable. Only one voice was raised against it, so efforts were at once made to collect canoes higher up the river and construct scaling ladders, in ^both of which enterprises the habitants showed themselves both willing and useful. The presence of the invaders was now sufficiently apparent to the garrison. The frigate Lizard and the war-sloop Hunter lying in the basin opened fire on them whenever they showed themselves, and sent forward a boat to reconnoitre, from which the Americans captured a midshipman who stoutly refused to give them any information, and seems on that account to have won their respect. Arnold wrote on November 8th to Montgomery congratulating him on the St. Johns affair and at the same time informing him that forty

Indians had joined his own force, that the Canadians were friendly and that he would attack Quebec if there was the slightest prospect of success. In any case he would meet Montgomery in his advance through Canada, and Quebec short of provisions (so Arnold thought) and ill-defended (which was true) must inevitably fall.

After a few days devoted to the recuperation of his men, to the collection of canoes and the construction of ladders, Arnold crossed the river in the small hours of November 13th with most of his force, and, undiscovered by the British, landed at Wolfe's Cove. During the day they demonstrated in front of the city walls, giving three loud hurrahs, so one of the garrison tells us, and were answered with defiant cheers and a salute of cannon balls. Proceeding across the ridge they took up their quarters about the General Hospital and in a country house of Major Caldwell's near the St. Charles River. -Arnold now sent a summons to surrender to Cramahd presenting the usual mixture of cant, bombast, threats, and bad taste so characteristic of the effusions of this generation of American commanders. Cramahe would not even receive it. Arnold says he" fired on his white flag, but Cramahe declared that this was a fable for use in the American press.- After a day or two of inactivity, relieved by trifling incidents or demonstrations of mutual defiance, Arnold and his officers concluded that the city was invulnerable to their ill-equipped efforts and for better security marched their troops to Pointe-aux-Trembles, some twenty miles up the river, there to await Montgomery.

Within the city there was justifiable anxiety. "Montgomery's success" writes an inhabitant "had induced many to show their sentiments and indeed to act as though no opposition might be shown the rebel forces. The Republican method of calling town meetings was adopted and in these noisy assemblies the mask was thrown off, and there one could perceive who were and who were not for the government." Some of the malcontents we are told/ had articles of capitulation already drafted for the Americans, but even thus early a majority of the militia both English and French behaved very well and mounted guard regularly. Besides these volunteers there were sixty or seventy of the 7th, nearly all in short of that famous regiment who were not a prisoners in the colonies. Allen McLean, a tower of strength, arrived on November 13th from Sorel with his hundred Royal Emigrants, while ninety recruits for the same corps had just landed in Newfoundland under Campbell and Malcolm Fraser. These with a few artillerymen and artificers made up the total of the regular force. A council of war had been held in which it was arranged that the two warships now in the harbour should remain for the winter, and the crews with their guns, under Captain Henderson, assist in the defence of the city. On the nineteenth, "to the unspeakable joy of the garrison," who feared with good reason he might have been cut off, Carleton reached the city in safety to assume the command and create an atmosphere of confidence and hope.

Carleton and his handful of combatants did not leave Montreal till November 10th, when Montgomery was actually within a league or two of the city. Many of the loyal inhabitants accompanied him to the wharf, and the scene of his departure is described as a melancholy and pathetic one. Prescott and the effective garrison, numbering one hundred and thirty men and officers, embarked with him in a flotilla of eleven craft and the wind held fair till they reached Sorel, where the provincials under Easton had erected batteries to dispute his passage.

At this critical spot, as ill- luck would have it, the wind veered to the east and the situation became a precarious one. Easton demanded their surrender, and a council being held at which the urgency of Carleton's escape and presence at Quebec was insisted upon, Captain Belette, commanding one of the armed vessels, pledge away. Another skipper, Bouchette, who for his rapid journeys had earned the sobriquet of La Tourtre, or the "wild pigeon," guaranteed to get the governor clear of the enemy and out of harm's way.

So on the night of the tenth Carleton put himself in the hands of this loyal and enterprising Frenchman who ably fulfilled his promise. They started with muffled oars and through the narrow passage of Ile-du-Pas the crew paddled the boat with the palms of their hands. Lake St. Peter they traversed swiftly and safely and arrived in due course at Three Rivers, where Carleton was informed, though falsely, that there were six hundred congress troops marching along the north shore towards Quebec, and more truly that there was a strong force already close to the city. On resuming his journey he exchanged his faithful pilot's boat for the armed sloop Fell under Captain Napier, and arrived, as we have seen, to the great joy of the Quebeckers ^ on the nineteenth. In the meantime Prescott and his men had been captured by the provincials, and their ships proved of the utmost service in helping to convey Montgomery and his force down the river to Quebec, the capture of which city may well at this moment have seemed to the rebel general and his friends almost an accomplished fact. Carleton declared that everything possible under the circumstances had been done by Cramahe and his officers, with one mental reservation. This last he soon gave expression to by issuing orders that every man who was not prepared to take his part in the defence of the city must leave it within four days, a measure which caused a wholesale exodus of the timorous, the lukewarm and the disloyal, and went far in depriving the enemy of their channels of information.

After this purging, Quebec under the stimulating influence of Carleton prepared to face the fourth and last siege in her history. The militia before this ordinance had included, we are assured by one defender, numbers of "rank rebels," while Cramahd himself wrote Dartmouth that he feared these traitors within more than the enemy without. The British muster roll had shown about five hundred men, and was reduced by Carleton's edict to about three hundred and thirty. The French on the other hand were increased by it from four hundred and eighty to five hundred and thirty-three. Besides the Lizard and Hunter a dozen or more merchant ships had been detained, and their seamen and officers, together with the blue jackets and a few mariners, introduced a further force of four hundred men into the garrison. The number of souls within the town during the siege is estimated at five thousand.} Colonel Caldwell, a retired officer of the army resident in Quebec, commanded the British militia while Colonel Voyer led the French. The latter may be further credited with a company of students and other less active volunteers, who guarded prisoners and performed similar useful duties. The complete roster of French combatants during the siege shows seven hundred and ten names, that of the British f unfortunately is not extant.

There were provisions in the town for eight months, but firewood, a vital need, was scarce, and the country was already covered with a foot of snow. There was nothing to fear as yet, however, from the water-front, as it was now full of floating ice, Carleton well knew that so long as he held Quebec Canada was not lost, so also did Montgomery. "I need not tell you," he wrote to Robert Livingstone, his father-in-law, then attending congress, "that till Quebec is taken Canada is unconquered. There are three alternatives, siege, investment or storm. The first is impossible from the difficulty of making trenches in a Canadian winter and the impossibility of living in them if we could." As to mining he was informed that the soil did not admit of it, and lastly his artillery would be useless for breaking such walls. As for investment he had not enough men to prevent a garrison in a familiar country from getting food and firewood and he complains that a lack of specie sadly limits the number of Canadians willing to enlist, for congress paper had already begun to stink in their nostrils. There were, however, fewer objections to storming. If his force was small Carleton's was not great, the length of his enemy's works which in other respects favoured him, would prove to his disadvantage and assist Montgomery who could select his point in secret, while the constant strain of expectation on so mixed a garrison would breed weakness and discontent among them.

Thus Montgomery summed up his chances in a frame of mind already much less sanguine than that in which he left Montreal. From the first, therefore, he practically decided on the bold venture leading which in person he so bravely fell. Openly at least Montgomery was sanguine enough, and his ~wk ^hat he would eat his Christmas dinner in or hell is a familiar tradition, if not scientific history. One may suspect that the alternative was supplied by his enemies.

We are not concerned here with Montgomery's brief occupation of Montreal nor yet with his journey down the St. Lawrence, both of which were uneventful. The greater part of his army had been left under Wooster at Montreal and in various ports to the south of the river, and it does not seem that when he joined Arnold at Pointe-aux-Trembles their united forces amounted to much more than a thousand men, exclusive of some Canadian militia,

though British accounts both modern and contemporary have always rated it as larger. His own troops were nothing like so good as Arnold's men whose physique and discipline he regarded with admiration and surprise. Nor were the defences of the city "ruinous" as Arnold had somewhat prematurely described them, but were in a good state thanks to Cramahd's forethought and to an efficient engineer, namely James Thompson who was alive half a century later to tell stories of that famous winter, and has moreover left a journal of it which will shortly be published. The stone walls and bastions and deep trenches which formed the normal defences of the city on the landward side were now well furnished with guns. The interval between the rocky breast of Cape Diamond and the St. Lawrence was heavily stockaded to protect the passage into the Lower Town at this narrow gap, while similar barricades were erected at the further opening on the banks of the St. Charles.

With regard to the Lower Town it should be generally noted that in those days the tide rose and fell over a considerable area where are now wharves and streets. The familiar spot at the south-west, however, where Montgomery fell has not materially altered, but the point of the other and most formidable attack by Arnold's division, the Sault-au-Mate-lot, has been greatly changed by artificial reclamation from the waters of the river. In those days the narrow artery from St. Roch to the Lower Town by the waterside was only a footway, and had even to cross the projecting spur of rock which gives its name to the spot. Here the narrow neck was guarded by a strong barrier defended by cannon, and at the further end of the street which began here and led to Mountain Street, the only approach to the Upper Town, was a second barrier similarly defended. This stood at the present junction of St. James and Sous-le-Cap Streets where, as at Pr&s de Ville, a tablet has recently been erected in commemoration of the defenders. This barrier and Montgomery's point of attack at the extreme western end of Champlain Street were the only spots where the assailants could enter the city save by scaling the walls. How the desperate attempt was made and frustrated will be related presently.

Montgomery who had taken up his quarters at Holland House, some two miles from the city, prefaced more active measures by two characteristic missives, one to Carleton and another to the inhabitants. In the first he accused his opponent of ill-treating himself and of cruelty to his prisoners, but his own humanity, he said, moved him to give Carleton the opportunity of saving himself and others from the destruction which hung over them. He informed him that he was well acquainted with his situation," "a great extent of works in their nature incapable of defence manned by a motley crew of sailors, the greatest part our friends, or of citizens who wish to see us within their walls, and a few of the worst troops who ever styled themselves soldiers," and descanted further on the impossibility of relief, the want of necessities in the event of a simple blockade, and the absurdity of resistance. He was himself, he declared, at the head of troops accustomed to success, confident in the righteousness of their cause and so incensed at Carleton's inhumanity that he could with difficulty restrain them. More follows in a style which suggests the Buffalo militia of thirty years later, and when read by the side of Montgomery's letter to his father-in-law presents a quite remarkable specimen not only of unadulterated bluff, but of futile bad taste as addressed to a distinguished and able servant of the Crown. He winds up by warning Carleton against destroying stores, public or private: "If you do," concludes this inflated document, "there will be no mercy shown."

Montgomery, rightly assuming from former experiences that no letter from him would be received in the ordinary way, sent this one by an old woman, and Carleton appears to have seen it, doubtless to his great entertainment. Several copies of a further address to the inhabitants were shot over the walls by arrows, and their contents were not calculated to conciliate the eight hundred volunteers in arms representing the male portion of the civil inhabitants, whom he styles "a wretched garrison defending wretched works." He draws a lurid picture of "a city in flames, carnage, confusion, plunder, all caused by a general courting ruin to avoid his shame." This one-sided correspondence took place on December 6th and 7th, the days following his arrival. The city was now cut off from the outer world. Many of Carleton's Canadian militia had been caught outside the walls at St. Roch, and had been, willingly or unwillingly, disarmed by Jeremiah Duggan, a hairdresser from Quebec, who with a following of French-Canadians was an active and useful partisan of Montgomery's. The latter's artillery in the meantime had been hauled up from the river to the Plains of Abraham and a battery of five twelve-pounders was opened half a mile from the St. John's Gate, to be quickly demolished, however, by the superior guns of the city. Another ^battery of mortars, more securely placed in St. Roch, behind protecting buildings, though only two hundred yards from the walls, threw shells into the city; but they were small and did little damage.

"Even the women," says a diarist, "came to laugh at them."

The situation of the besiegers was not an enviable one, for winter had now set in with rigour. Though the provincials were largely clad in British uniforms captured at St. Johns and Chambly they had no winter clothing, and what was still more serious smallpox had broken out among the habitants and soon began to exact its toll of victims in the American camp. The garrison from the very first behaved admirably and under the cheery firmness and the confidence of Carleton kept their ordinary watches, and responded to the not infrequent summons of night alarms with spirit and alacrity. In these three weeks of interval pending Montgomery's attack there was little actual conflict. Carleton's gunners made effective practice on all attempts of the besiegers to get their light guns into advantageous position, though the St. Roch mortars continued, it is true, to throw showers of almost harmless shells into the city. Arnold was driven from his headquarters in St. Roch which were riddled with shot, and Montgomery's horse was killed by a cannon ball while the owner was seated in his cariole. The Alleghany riflemen, however, from various shelters outside the walls and from the cupola above the intendant's palace carried on a deadly fire, picking off almost every man who showed his head above the ramparts.

On December 22nd, Colonel Caldwell's servant, bearing the significant name of Wolf, arrived in the city. He had been taken prisoner in trying to save something from the wreck of his master's country house which Arnold had burnt, and in company with a deserter had succeeded in making his escape. They reported that Montgomery intended to attempt the city on the next night, and a thousand men were^ kept under arms in consequence. They were right, for another deserter was hauled over the walls the next day who confirmed the report but gave Wolf's

escape as the reason for postponement, and declared that it had been arranged for that very night unless his own flight to the enemy should again alter Montgomery's plans. As a matter of fact the latter had called a council of war, of which the majority were 4br storming the town as soon as a daily expected supply of bayonets, axes and hand grenades had arrived. The general himself was for delay till a further attempt to open a breach in the walls with artillery had been made; but the others were so eager for immediate action that he finally gave way. The first design was to assault the walls at four different points between Cape Diamond and Palace Gate, three of these movements, however, to be feints, the one at Cape Diamond alone to be pressed home. Aaron Burr, Montgomery's aide was very forward in the affair and was actually assigned fifty picked men to be drilled in the practice of scaling ladders.

At this moment, however, Antell and Price, disaffected Montrealers, and the former Montgomery's engineer, arrived and insisted that the Lower Town was the right point for attack and would be less dangerous. As a military move it was the most rash, for even the capture of the Lower would leave the assailants at the mercy of the Upper Town. But the Montrealers' minds ran strongly on politics and they had persuaded themselves that the inhabitants would ^hen compel Carleton to surrender in order to avoid the destruction of their property and warehouses. But the stormy weather acted as a deterrent from day to day, while Montgomery's confidence, though not his courage, was oozing away. Arnold had so alienated some of his officers that they refused to serve under him till urgently appealed to by their general. Smallpox too was increasing and some of the New England troops whose period of service terminated on December 31st, vowed they would not stay a day beyond that date. The intense cold and frequent frostbites cooled the ardour of the majority, only warmed from time to time by occasional sallies from the city for wood, and in the case of the riflemen by their congenial occupation of "sniping."

The twenty-third passed uneventfully, for the-reasons already given, and so did Christmas Day, Montgomery eating his substitute for turkey neither in Quebec nor in the other place, but in Holland House and in desponding mood. He writes from there of the factions against Arnold, blaming the latter not at all but complaining that he himself has no money, paper being valueless, and Price who had been an invaluable friend to the cause having exhausted his own means of supply. He would resign if it came to a mere blockade but would make a desperate effort first. The spirit of the potential slaves in Quebec and the agility of the contemptuous Carleton in escaping his clutches, galled him sorely. The promise of becoming a successful and living hero had lately seemed so fair, and now the presentiment was dark upon him that he could only be one, unsuccessful and possibly dead. Carleton, during these anxious days, each one of which was expected to end in a night assault, remained cool, vigilant and wary. His bearing, says an eye-witness, carried no trace of anxiety though he slept in his clothes at the Recollets. Every man of the garrison had his post and when off duty lay by his arms. The once apathetic French and the grumbling British militia now vied with each other in alertness and eagerly waited for the attack.

A change of weather, which deserters had spoken of as the signal for action, came on the twenty-eighth. But that night passed quietly, as did the" next after a day of "serene sunshine," and again to the vigilant and shivering sentries on the walls there came no sign out of the darkness below. On the thirty-first the thermometer fell again, but the feeling in the city was strong that the moment was come. The intuition was correct, for about four o'clock on the last morning of the year, Captain Malcolm Fraser of the Royal Emigrants, who was in command of the main guard, and indeed of all the sentries on the walls, saw strange signal fires and the flash as of lanterns or torches at various points from the St. Charles to the St. Lawrence, while almost immediately two rockets shot up into the sky from beyond Cape Diamond. The alarm was now raised, and in a brief time all doubt was ended by the opening of a sharp fire against the walls to the south of the St. Louis Gate and towards Cape Diamond. Drums beat and bells rang wildly out into the now stormy night and in less than three minutes, says one account, every man in the garrison was under arms at his post, even old men of seventy going forward to oppose the rebels.

The plan of attack had in the meantime been altered. Montgomery was moving quietly along the narrow strand of the St. Lawrence from Wolfe's Cove, heading for the barrier which defended the western end of the Lower Town beneath Cape Diamond. Arnold with a larger body was to pass from St. Roch beneath the Palace Gate and attack the similarly defended barrier already spoken of at Sault-au-Matelot. The rockets were a signal to Arnold that Montgomery was on the march. In the event of success, which achieved in one quarter would have materially favoured it in the other, the two forces were to combine in an assault, if such seemed feasible, on the Upper Town. The firing heard at the walls in front had been that of Montgomery's Canadians led by Livingstone and some provincials under Brown, and was intended as a diversion to distract the garrison. It was pitch dark, and a biting wind laden with fine snow blew from the north-east directly in the face of Montgomery's long extended column, and indeed it considerably deadened both sounds and signals during that first period of excitement.

In almost the last letter of his life Montgomery had alluded to Wolfe's achievement as a series of lucky hits. He himself may well have seemed to be asking a good deal of the fickle goddess on this somewhat desperate venture as he led his men along the narrow strand between the gloomy cliffs and the frozen river. Deep drifts of snow and slabs of ice forced up by the tide on to the narrow way seemed to have further impeded the toilsome progress of the column from Wolfe's Cove, where it had descended to the shore. As Montgomery and his leading file arrived within fifty yards of the barrier the men who were standing behind it with lighted fuses say that they could just perceive them pausing for a moment as if in uncertainty. Then one of their number sprang forward, —Montgomery, no doubt, who according to an American diarist cried out, "Come on, brave boys, Quebec is ours!" A small group followed him. At this moment the battery was fired, and a hail of grapeshot swept every one of these dimly visible assailants off their feet. Further discharges with a sharp musket fire sent the main and invisible part of the columns flying back into the darkness and out of action, so far as that memorable night and day were concerned. "The rest is silence," save that the groans of dying men were heard by those within the barrier. All that was to be seen outside it on the following day by Carleton's search party was one stark hand above the snow, which falling steadily for many hours had covered a dozen frozen corpses. The hand was Montgomery's.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus