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Lord Dorchester
Chapter VII - The Evacuation of Canada


THE only criticism to be made upon the American retreat from Quebec is the ill-regulated fashion and undignified despatch with which it was executed, and the loss of material thereby involved. The surviving troops of Arnold and Montgomery had at least deserved well of congress, which had made great and not unsuccessful efforts throughout the winter and spring to reinforce them, as the figures already quoted will have shown, It was beyond doubt of great importance to the revolutionary leaders that Canada should be regarded in the colony as a virtually annexed province for as long as possible, even if the authorities knew its retention was impossible. Three Rivers, under the command of Livingstone, had been the depot whence the constantly arriving men and supplies had been forwarded to Quebec, while guns had been cast at the well-known forges in its neighbourhood. The main body of fugitives passed quickly through, leaving only a small force there for a brief period, and hurried onward to Sorel where General Thomas had decided to make his chief stand against Carleton.

In this very month of May, too, Arnold who had from one to two thousand men with him in Montreal was threatened from the west by a small British force under Captain Forster. This officer, with a small detachment of forty men of the 8th Regiment and a dozen volunteers from the remote garrison of Detroit was stationed at Oswegatchie (Ogdensburg), some fifty miles up the river. On hearing of the raising, or prospective raising, of the siege of Quebec before British reinforcements, he judged that a demonstration before Montreal might possibly attach sufficient Loyalists and repentant malcontents to his side to enable him to secure the city. So feeling his way thither with his own little company and two hundred Indians he found Major Butterfield entrenched at the Cedars with four hundred men and some guns barring his way. With the further help of a local Canadian seignior, de Senneville, and a score or two of followers, Forster compelled the surrender of the post with its garrison. A considerable number of Canadians having joined him, he crossed the western mouth of the Ottawa to the Island of Montreal and marched towards the city.

Arnold, however, was on the alert with one thousand five hundred men at Lachine, and Forster, whose venture was more spirited and useful than vital to British interests, had no choice but to re-cross the water to Vaudreuil. He had scarcely landed when Arnold arrived on the hither shore at Ste. Anne, near which there stood and still stands in 142 ruin the old fortified chateau of Senneville or Boisbriant. From these posts he advanced in bateaux over the league of water to Vaudreuil, where Forster with his cannon gave his boats such a warm\ reception that he was forced to retire. The fortnight's campaign, including some skirmishes unrecorded here, resulted in Forster's giving up four hundred and thirty prisoners for a like number to be exchanged later by congress, a compact which was scandalously broken on a plea of Indian outrage which was proved to the hilt to be a web of fiction. Forster then retired to Oswegatehie, and Arnold burnt the chateau, which, erected about the year 1700, still displays its ruins picturesquely set at the point of a country-house garden which fringes the shore of the Lake of Two Mountains. It is in part roof high, flanked by the remains of its once fortified courtyard, and overhung by forest trees, and presents the most suggestive relic of remote frontier warfare, so far as I know, in all Canada or in the United States, while just above it on a ridge stands a restored stone tower even older than the chateau.

But we must return to Carleton, who in spite of that calm demeanour which was at once the envy and the solace of those who shared his dangers, must have been happy enough in his past success and present relief from so long and arduous a strain. After completing all arrangements for the governance of the city, and among other precautions having ordered that none of the disloyal who had left it at the beginning of the siege should return without a permit, he started up the river with the 29th and 47th Regiments, leaving the trusty McLean to receive the still larger reinforcements already ascending to Quebec. At the same time the garrison was paraded, and the volunteers dismissed to their civic duties with the thanks they so thoroughly deserved. The immediate rendezvous of the troops was to be at Three Rivers. The transports could not actually reach that point on account of adverse winds, but Carleton saw them to within a short march of it and then turned back, leaving Fraser in command to complete the occupation and await the rest of the force. The Americans were at Sorel, with a reputed four thousand to five thousand men on the spot or within call. Carleton was back at Quebec in time to receive Burgoyne with the main army on June 1st. In their apparently overwhelming strength these gay soldiers little foreboded the catastrophe that was to overtake them within less than eighteen months.

The harbour was now alive with transports, and the Chateau St. Louis was gay with the resplendent uniforms of British and German officers, for the king's birthday, June 4th, which fell on an auspicious day for Canada, was observed with fitting ceremony. The 21st, 24th, 29th, 31st, 34th, 53rd, and 63rd Regiments of the line were all here, together with four batteries of artillery. Of Brunswickers there were three infantry regiments, including one of grenadiers, three of dismounted dragoons and a regiment of Hessians, all under the command of Baron Riedesel. The latter, an admirable and tried soldier, was soon to be joined by his courageous wife, who faced the later perils of Burgoyne's campaign, and has left one of the most interesting records of it. On June 5th, Carleton despatched Riedesel to Three Rivers by way of the north shore with a force of English and German troops, a few Canadian volunteers and three hundred Indians. Fraser by this time was waiting at Three Rivers with some of his men in the town and some in transports just below it. Sullivan who was in chief command of the Americans at Sorel saw his opportunity (though, indeed, success would have led to little), and despatched General Thompson with about two thousand men to attack Fraser, and if possible to surprise him. The thirty-five miles he traversed were mainly represented by the length of Lake St. Peter, a broad and shallow expansion of the St. Lawrence. Thompson crossed it near the upper end, and marched down its northern shore. He was happily espied by a Canadian militia captain, and according to another account he was conducted circuitously by an unfriendly Canadian guide.

In any case Fraser was warned in time, and threw out the 26th which repulsed Thompson's attack, while other troops came up to complete his discomfiture. Thompson lost a good many men in killed and wounded, and in his escape might have been most severely handled if not actually cut off, but Carleton, in spite of his deliberate refusal to recognize the status of American officers, was strongly imbued with the humane and conciliatory view of the struggle, and seems on this account to have been anxious to drive the rebels out of Canada with as little bloodshed and suffering to individuals as possible. That he maintained this attitude and retained at the same time the confidence of his officers, is a significant tribute to his character. The next morning, leaving a garrison at Three Rivers, the troops sailed for Sorel, which was found deserted. Fraser in the meantime had been sent with a force up the north shore of the St. Lawrence with a view to crossing it higher up, while Burgoyne with the troops at Sorel was despatched up the Richelieu to recover Chambly and St. Johns, as soon as Fraser should have joined him. Burgoyne marched on June 15th, and found Chambly, the scene of Stopford's disgraceful surrender seven months previously, already abandoned by the enemy. Pushing on twelve miles further to St. Johns, where Preston had honourably failed, he found this fort also deserted. The Americans had, in fact, travelled at a headlong pace and in great disorder. They were only a few hours ahead of Burgoyne, but when his scouts reached the head of Lake Champlain there was nothing whatever to be seen of them, and the evacuation of Canada was complete. General Phillips and Riedesel in the meantime had sailed with a third division up the St. Lawrence towards Montreal till the wind failed them, when they marched to Laprairie and thence across to the Richelieu, joining Burgoyne at St. Johns. Arnold and the men left with him at Montreal had a nnrrow\ escape, which' is described at some length in the memoirs of his aide-de-camp, Wilkinson, the future somewhat well-known general. The near approach of the British seems to have come as a surprise to this usually alert individual, but he showed his best qualities in getting his troops across the river with much despatch and, by a forced march, reaching St. Johns before Sullivan, and his worst qualities, according to Wilkinson, by carrying off some military supplies and selling them for his own benefit in New York.

So far Carleton's operations had been carried out with complete success and unlooked for rapidity, but now they came to a sudden stop. Canada was > saved, and as it proved, for all time. But the aggressive movement into the colonies and the -> occupation of Crown Point and Ticonderoga, for which immediate object the army had been sent from England, presented difficulties insuperable for the moment. The only route for a large force southward to the Hudson and into the colonies was down the waters of Lake Champlain. But every boat and craft had been either carried off or destroyed by the invaders who were now entrenched at Crown Point and Ticonderoga with a large flotilla of boats, armed and otherwise. Nor was there at that time any road through the dense forests that flourished everywhere to the very verge of the water, bristling on the rocky bluffs and mantling still more thickly on the swampy, low grounds. Carleton's object then was to occupy the above-named forts, not only for the further security of Canada but as a base of such operations against the adjoining colonies as might afterwards appear advisable. No distinct plan at this time seems to have been evolved. The feeling was strong in England that the mere display of so great a force would probably end the war. Indeed the persistent refusal of the British government and people at large to realize the true nature of the American revolt is one of the strangest features of that epoch. Unfortunately for Carleton, as we shall see, and still more so for the success of the king's northern army, the most inefficient minister that has perhaps ever served the nation in this particular capacity, had during the summer succeeded Dartmouth.

Germain, who as Lord George Sackville commanding the British cavalry at Minden had gained unenviable fame for his persistent refusal to charge at the critical moment, was now the fountain of honour and authority at a still more critical one in the nation's history. Unlike so many officers of his day he„ had never seen America; nor did he show any measure of anxiety to make up for this disadvantage by acquainting himself with the peculiar difficulties that country offered to military movements. He was haughty, narrow-minded, mean and revengeful to a degree, and "as bellicose in council" said a noted wag, "as pacific in the field." But he had been a good friend to Wolfe as colonel of his regiment, though rarely favouring it, as Wolfe's private letters show, with his august presence. He had an old grudge against\ Carleton for rejecting one of his favourites and no one believed his protestations to the contrary. Finally, he was self-willed in proportion to his ignorance and to his utter unfitness to direct a campaign upon American soil, but unfortunately he had both the confidence and the ear of the king.

Matters, however, went smoothly at first as there was no great occasion for friction. Carleton had urged the inclusion among the supplies sent with the troops to Quebec of a large number of boats in ir* sections for immediate use on Lake Champlain. A few only of these were forwarded, followed later by others. So while the tedious business of building a fleet on Lake Champlain was in progress, for which purpose in the confused state of the country skilled men were extremely scarce, Carleton set to work to reduce into something approaching order the chaos into which Canada had fallen.

It is not worth while to dwell at length on the. reaction which had taken place in the political sympathies, if so definite a word may be used, of the Canadian peasantry. That they were heartily tired of the American occupation is no particular discredit to the provincial troops themselves, who, compelled by necessity and irritated by failure, had not often been more severe with them than the urgency of the case required. But this was quite enough for the simple habitant who had so readily believed the wondrous stories by which his neutrality or assistance had been invoked and secured. The exhaustion of the invader's silver money had been the first shock in the process of disillusionment, while the soon-proven worthlessness of paper money, to say nothing of the occasional exercise of the hated corvees, finished the business. Districts had differed much in the measure of their admiration for their deliverers, but as scarcely any gave willing, and very few even grudging, assistance to Carleton, the other side of the question does not call for elaboration.

Carleton moved about the country with much energy and despatch, now at Chambly and St. Johns, where the improvement of the defences as well as shipbuilding was proceeding apace, now at Montreal receiving deputations of Indians and enduring those, tedious and fantastic ceremonies indispensable to any appeal for their assistance. The Iroquois, those ancient allies, once more swore devotion to their Hanoverian father and his deputy; but the western Indians, who also presented themselves and were equally forward, were accepted by Carleton^ only as benevolent neutrals. He also granted to Sir John Johnson, loyal son of a famous father, the commission to raise a battalion of Loyalists in his country which was conspicuous afterwards as the King's Royal Regiment of New York. Early in August the governor and commander-in-chief was back at Quebec issuing commissions of the peace, re-opening courts of justice and filling up the vacancies in the legislative council. He received in due. course complimentary letters from Germain expressing a high sense of his services, and in one of them the first hint is thrown out of detaching Burgoyne, though under Carleton's orders, to cooperate with Howe. On September 28th we find Carleton stung into retort by a complaint from Germain that he had not sent home with his other despatches his plans for driving out the rebels in the past spring. The general replies "with ironical brevity" that the object at the time of writing was the expulsion of the rebels from Canada, which was accomplished long before any instructions could possibly have had time to reach him.

Burgoyne, Phillips, and Riedesel had come out as major-generals and there were four brigadiers, Fraser, Nesbitt, Powell and Gordon. A painful incident in July was the shooting and killing of the latter from an ambush as he was riding home unarmed from a social visit in the neighbourhood of Chambly far within Canadian territory. The perpetrator was a Connecticut lieutenant, Whitcomb, and Canadians said that the object was the general's watch and sword. Unfortunately his superiors did not thus regard it, for he was soon afterwards advanced two steps in rank, to the indignation of the British and of some even of his own people.


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