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Lord Dorchester
Chapter VI - Last Days of the Siege


THE little battery of four guns at Pr&s de Ville had been thus admirably and effectively handled by Captain Barnsfare with an artillery sergeant and fifteen sailors. In the blockhouse above were thirty-five French-Canadians, whose bullets followed the flying enemy into the darkness.

Strange to say, however, an extraordinary panic succeeded this doughty deed, apparently caused by an old woman, who cried out that the rebels had forced the Sault-au-Matelot, and were upon them in the rear. One might be permitted to wonder if this was the same old woman who had taken Montgomery's insulting missive to Carleton, and had been drummed out of the town for her pains, and thus sought revenge. If so she had it, for according to one account, men actually tumbled over each other in their superfluous terror.

Arnold's column, too, though in far different fashion, had by this time already failed in its} attempt. How this came about must now be told. Whether Arnold saw the warning rockets seems uncertain, but at any rate he started about four o'clock on the morning of December 31st to pick his way through St. Roch in the direction of the barricade of the Sault-au-Matelot, which was his goal. He was followed by six hundred men, headed by the redoubtable Morgan and his Virginia mountaineers. Small hope of surprise could have lingered among his calculations by the time he was under the Palace Gate, for the bells of the city were by then clanging wildly, and the sound of heavy firing from the feigned attack upon the western walls beat up, though in muffled fashion, against the storm. As he reached the narrow strip between the tide of the St. Charles, then nearly at flood, and the steeps above, his column was fired upon by pickets above the Palace Gate and the Hotel Dieu. His men, encumbered with scaling ladders, were exposed to view by fire balls thrown from the buildings above, while he himself was soon afterwards hit in the leg and put hopelessly out of action. Morgan now took the command, though not strictly entitled to it, and attacking the first barrier with some of his mountaineers and other ardent spirits, eventually carried it, though the time and energy expended in the proceeding is a matter of much disagreement among even contemporary chroniclers.

However that may be, the Americans poured over the first barrier in spite of the gun and the guard, and found themselves in a street some two hundred yards long lined by houses, at the further end of which was a second barrier protected by cannon. There would seem to have been some pause here, and anxious thoughts were cast in the direction of Montgomery, who in the event of success should then have been within the city. But of him nothing had yet been heard. Carleton had now learnt that the first barricade had been fired, (Americans say by a surprise of the guard who were drinking and in ignorance of the situation), and he despatched Captain Laws with seventy men by Palace Gate to take Arnold in the rear. In the meantime Caldwell, who seems to have moved rapidly from point to point and grasped the situation, leaving his own militia to their obviously easy task on the western walls, led a mixed party that he had collected down to the Lower Town and to the back of the second barrier, where he joined Nairne and Dambourges, who with Voyer and his French-Canadians were there holding the enemy in check.

Around this inner barrier which "overlooked the Americans now swarming in Sault-au-Matelot Street and protected the approach to the Upper Town, a great deal of confused and severe fighting took place before the besiegers were finally overcome. The latter were inevitably crowdedin the£ narrow street, and sufFered much from the raking of the battery at the end and the fire from some houses which had been occupied by the defenders. The barrier itself seems never to have been in danger. One ladder was placed against it, but was dragged over the walls by a French-Canadian militiaman amid a hail of American bullets. Some of the houses, however, were forced by the Americans, only to be recaptured at the point of the bayonet by the British. The various accounts of this hour or two of not continuous but often fierce fighting give what each man heard and saw in the blinding snow and darkness, illuminated only by the flashing of guns and hand grenades. The confusion was added to by the British uniforms worn by most of the Americans, for a paper inscribed, "Liberty or death" pinned in their hats was a futile distinction in such a melee. But the Americans, being mostly in the open street, suffered out of all proportion to their opponents. Morgan and many others behaved with infinite gallantry, the former killing Captain Anderson, the only officer who fell on his side. The hopelessness of the effort, however, at length became evident, and a retreat was attempted.

In the meantime Laws, who had been sent out with two guns by Carleton to take Arnold's men in the rear, accompanied by McDougall and Fraser with some of the Royal Emigrants, and by Captain Hamilton, of the Lizard, with blue jackets, became engaged in St. Roch with a belated company of Arnold's under Dearborn, which had just crossed from their quarters beyond the St. Charles. After some desultory fighting among the houses, the provincials were captured or routed, and, furthermore, the rebel battery in St. Roch was taken and its guns carried off. Laws and his friends, now heading for the Sault-au-Malelot, took Morgan's already shattered force in the rear, and completed their discomfiture. Many of the Americans escaped over the ice of the St. Charles, a perilous venture for^ strangers in the dark. The greater part, however, laid down their arms. The number of unwounded prisoners was about three hundred and ninety, of wounded forty-four. The^killed jwere-returned at thirty-two, but from the number of bodies found afterwards in the snow and recovered in the spring when it melted, and from the estimates of Americans present, the number must have been much greater. McLean, who as second in command should be something of an authority, states, in a private letter, that they buried in all two hundreds, Ar^ and twenty. The British loss was given as one officer and five privates killed, and a few wounded.; Possibly it was about double that, but in any case quite trifling. Carleton in a letter to Howe says that between six and seven hundred were killed, wounded or captured. The prisoners were paraded before Carleton in the Upper Town, and after a good breakfast the officers were quartered in the Seminary, and the men in the Recollets'.

Carleton was now urged by some of his officers to order a sortie on the presumably demoralized, and certainly diminished, besiegers. But he was too old and cool a soldier to take any risks with his heterogeneous and small force, and with but little chance of any solid advantage. His business was to hold the city till the spring, not to indulge in futile, even if victorious, skirmishes on the Plains of Abraham or in the suburbs. He might yet want every man he had, for there was nothing but the winter to prevent reinforcements of the enemy from entering Canada. It was not known yet that Montgomery was dead. But on a scouting party's being sent through the barrier at the Pres de Ville they collected after a considerable search thirteen bodies all buried, as has been stated, in the newly fallen snow, Montgomery's hand and forearm alone protruding from it. One man only, a sergeant, still breathed and uttered a few words, but quickly died. There was no certainty about Montgomery's corpse till it was brought into the town and identified by some of the prisoners. Carleton, with the humanity that never forsook him, sent out search parties to the scene of Arnold's march and attack at the Sault-au-Matelot, who brought in many wounded, including officers. He caused Montgomery to be quietly buried in a hollow under the St. Louis bastion, \attending the funeral himself with some half dozen others.

Wooster, hitherto in command at Montreal, now came up to replace Montgomery, for Arnold's wound kept him out of the field till April, when in a pet at some fancied slight from his commander he got himself transferred to Montreal. But their two enterprising commanders removed and their numbers reduced to about eight hundred men including Livingstone's rebel Canadians who were not very formidable and whose numbers seem vague and fluctuating, the besiegers were no longer, for the present, a cause of serious anxiety to Carleton. He had ample provisions and could now obtain firewood with less risk than before; above all his garrison were thoroughly pleased with themselves and with him. Whatever complacency he may himself have felt he relaxed nothing of his precautions", and resolutely refused all proposals of his subordinates to adventures in the open field. A smaller man would have given way before their importunities. His inspiring demeanour is thus described: " General Carleton wore still the same countenance; his looks were watched and they gave courage to many; there was no despondency in his features. He will find a numerous band to follow him in every danger. He is known, and that knowledge gave courage and strength to the garrison."

We must not linger here over the minor doings which mostly filled the four following months till the arrival of ships and troops from England put: prompt end to the siege. The day-to-day journals continue the story in minute detail1 and would be interesting enough to quote from if this volume were a record of the campaign and not a life of one of the chief actors in it. It was creditable to the spirit of the besiegers.

There are six different journals extant concerning this siege of Quebec besides an orderly book, the work of several persons concerned in the campaign. Though some are fuller than others they all agree in substance, and call for no elaboration or notice in these pages.

that they held to their posts. The expected reinforcements came in but slowly, the rigours of a Canadian winter proving not only a deterrent to the new provincial troops, but to the equally crude /machinery that was to supply them with the necessaries of war and existence. The besiegers, however, persevered. Batteries were opened to be quickly dismounted by Carleton's guns, save one at Point Levis, which proved too remote or too feeble to do much harm either to town or shipping. The prisoners in the city made one or two fruitless attempts to escape, though they confessed to receiving the best treatment that circumstances afforded. Later on they were removed to the ships. Ninety-four, of British birth mostly, had voluntarily enlisted in the garrison corps, but when a dozen or two had deserted, Carleton confined the rest on the ships in the harbour.

Rumours of all kinds were constantly brought into the city by deserters, among others that large forces were preparing for a descent on Canada in the spring, a statement that the evacuation of Boston by Howe made readily credible. But Carleton had reason to hope that an army from England had already sailed for the St. Lawrence, though he knew nothing for certain, and a sole dependence on the good intentions of a British ministry of that day might well whiten the hair of a remotely placed official. By early April, 1776, reinforcements had brought the besieging force up to two thousand men including invalids, and with some heavier guns they hoped to breach the walls. But the walls mocked their batteries for the brief period before the defenders' s fire put them out of action. The habitants too, had become restive under the continuous demands for provisions and labour in return for worthless paper money and were changing their attitude, while the Americans irritated by the cold, privation and defeat, were no longer always able to maintain a philanthropic and brotherly mien towards the peasantry. No thought of another attempt to storm the city was entertained by Wooster, and indeed improved defences both in the way of timbers and batteries, together with a united and confident garrison, put it out of the question. The last diversion of all was on May 3rd after the ice" had broken, when a fireship was sent up the harbour from the Point of Orleans and caused some brief anxiety, but ultimately drifted out of harm's way.

Arnold, in the meantime, slighted as he thought, himself by Wooster, had repaired to Montreal cured' of his wound, just in time to meet a commission sent from congress with full powers to look into the military situation of Canada and probe if possible the depths of the habitants mind. No less a person than Dr. Franklin headed it, while Carrol of Carrolton, and his brother, a Roman Catholic priest, afterwards the first archbishop of the United States, for politic reasons went with him. There was much sociability at Montreal during the visit, the irrepressible firebrand Walker and his wife doing the honours, and giving the visitors no doubt their interpretation of the French-Canadian attitude and of British tyranny. It may be interesting to note that when the astute Franklin had done with the Walkers, which was not till he had reached Albany on his way home, he made a little entry in his journal which may be read to-day, to the effect that in whatever place this worthy couple might set up house he opined that it would soon become too hot to hold them. The parenthesis may be pardoned as justifying the strong language used about this notorious couple in the despatches of Carleton and Murray, and accounting for the extraordinary resentment they had aroused in the breasts of light-hearted captains and subalterns, British and French.

Franklin's commission, however, at the end of April reported the military case of Canada as hopeless, though occupied at the moment by four thousand American troops; but these were unpaid, ill-fed, and badly commanded. Wooster came in for scathing criticism, in which we may detect a trace of Arnold's influence. Wooster was recalled and Thomas, of Bunker Hill notoriety, despatched to his command. The accomplished Maryland priest had not moved the apathy of the habitants nor touched the loyalty of the clergy. The commission expressed infinite sympathy with the treatment of the inhabitants by the congress troops, which seems unfair, while the creditable perseverance and undoubted courage of the besiegers of Quebec met with scant recognition at the hands of these critical civilians. The summing up, however, of their report was in effect that the capture of Canada was hopeless, and that it would be well for congress to confine itself to protecting the lake route to the Hudson against £ incursions from that inhospitable country.

But we must now return to Carleton whose deliverance and moment of action had at last come. Early in the morning of May 6th, 1776, every citizen^ still in bed in Quebec rose to join the crowds that were already thronging the ramparts. A sail was in sight, and Carleton soon knew that Dartmouth— by this time, however, superseded,—had not failed him. The sail proved to be that of the British frigate Surprise to be followed quickly by the Isis and a war-sloop. They brought welcome reinforcements,, and the still better news that a fleet and armament were upon the sea. For the moment there were infantry and marines enough-for the occasion. These were soon landed, and Carleton now felt justified in indulging the long restrained ardour of his faithful garrison. "The drums beat to arms," says a joyous diarist, "and it was ordered that all volunteers in the English and French militia should join the sailors and troops to march out and attack the rebels. Every man almost in both corps was forward to offer his service."

Carleton placed himself at the head of eight hundred men, and the column marched at twelve o'clock, with McLean, whose conduct in the siege had been above praise, second in command, and Caldwell, who was sent to England a day or two later with the joyful tidings, at the head of his British militia. The little army extending itself across the plain made a noble appearance. General Thomas was now in command of the enemy vice the disgraced Wooster, but he had made no preparations, and a general stampede at once ensued. Nine hundred Pennsylvanians took ambush for a brief period in the woods, but they soon joined their flying countrymen. "They left cannon, muskets, ammunition, and even clothes," to quote again from the diary. "We found the roads strewed with rifles and ammunition, while clothes, bread and pork all lay in heaps in the highway with howitzers and fieldpieces. So great was their panic that they left behind them many papers of consequence to those who wrote them, and to whom they were writ. Look which way soever, one could see men flying and carts driving away with all possible speed."

The small force of provincials who throughout the spring had occupied Point, Ldvis and protected the battery there, on seeing the plight of their friends on the north shore of the river had nothing for it but to make their escape as best they could through the woods. A few days later Carleton, with the humanity that always distinguished him, ordered all his militia officers to institute a diligent search 138 of the surrounding country for such American fugitives as might be in distress through hunger or sickness. These were to be afforded all necessary relief, and to be brought to the General Hospital where proper care should be taken of them. This was made known by proclamation together with the promise that as soon as their health was restored they should have full liberty to return to their respective provinces.

In the meantime the frigates had sailed up the river to seize the enemy's craft; the General Hospital and suburbs had been re-occupied, and by night (May 6th, 1776) all was over. The Americans had vanished, and peace brooded once more over the faithful city.


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