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Lord Dorchester
Chapter VIII - Advance into the Enemy's Country


THROUGH most of August and the whole of September, 1776, Carleton was among his^ troops and shipbuilders. The former were cantoned at various points down the Richelieu from .St. Johns and also along the overland route from there to Laprairie, while barracks and redoubts were being constructed at Ile-aux-Noix, fifteen miles above St. Johns, and not far from the foot of the lake, the island being intended to serve as a d£pot for supplies during the campaign in prospect. It was not till October 5th that the newly constructed fleet sailed lakewards from St. Johns. AU^the troops, except the few left in the Canadian garrisons, were jiow gathered at various points in or near Point au Fer. Few readers will need to be reminded that Lake Champlain is a narrow sheet of water from five to fifteen miles in breadth and stretching a length of some ninety miles due southward from Point au Fer to Crown Point and thence in a greatly contracted channel to Ticonderoga. Here was a portage of nearly two miles at a considerable elevation above the shallow connecting river to the spot whence the navigable but narrow Lake George reached southwards again to the ten-mile road which tapped the Hudson. On the tenth, the improvised British fleet swept proudly out past the lie la Mothe before a fresh north wind, Carleton having hoisted his flag, if the expression be permissible of a general, on a modest schooner carrying twelve six-pounders. Like the sea-going warriors of earlier days, however, he carried a master mariner with him, in the person of Lieutenant Dacre, while Captain Pringle of the navy had charge of the navigation of the whole flotilla. The latter, besides Carleton's own ship named after himself, consisted of the Inflexible carrying nearly thirty guns, the greater part twelve-pounders, the Lady Maria of fourteen six-pounders, six twelve-pounders, and two howitzers, besides a gondola with six nine-pounders. There were also twenty gunboats thirty feet by fifteen, carrying each a brass piece of from nine to twenty-four pounds and four long-boats with a gun apiece serving as armed tenders. With the fleet went a cloud of smaller boats carrying troops, baggage, provisions and stores. The ships were manned by .six hundred seamen from the men-of-war and transports at Quebec, while the guns were handled by detachments of artillery.

This unconventional armament now sailed out to wrest from the Americans the naval supremacy of that mimic ocean, which was, nevertheless, of such supreme importance in these eighteenth century wars. On the next day, October 11th, a ship from the fleet of the enemy was espied making for the island of Valcour, just off the modern Plattsburgh, but fearful of being intercepted her crew raced her hurriedly on to that island and were taken off under the fire of Carleton's guns by the Americans, whose fleet now discovered itself in the narrow strait between the island and the mainland. The squadron numbered only fifteen armed craft of divers sorts, but was about the same in weight of guns as the other and was under the command of Arnold. The north wind and the chase of the stranded ship had carried Carleton's largerv vessels so far past the strait where Arnold's ships lay, that they were unable to beat back in time to prove of service. Carleton himself, however, got in with his gunboats and a brisk cannonade was maintained on both sides for some two hours. The Americans were now in a trap from which it was thought that they could not escape in the night. But as no supports came up, and as his ships and gunboats lacked ammunition, Carleton sheered off, and the gunboats anchored in a line across the mouth of Cumberland Bay into which Arnold had retired.

In spite of the chain of British gunboats and the fall of the wind, the resourceful Arnold slipped by them in the night with muffled oars, and before his enemies were any the wiser was out of sight and heading for Crown Point. Arnold puts his losses in-killed and wounded at sixty besides two ships, while others were badly damaged. This feat of getting a battered and ill-built flotilla through the British sentry boats undiscovered was but another instance of Arnold's resourcefulness and dash. But the escape was merely for the moment, for the breeze held fair for the next day and when it dropped in the night the rowboats towed the sloops and schooners. Carleton caught him on the following morning a few miles short of Crown Point.

The fight was soon over. The Washington, commanded by General Waterbury, was quickly overpowered. Arnold's flagship, the Congress, which took the first fire, was so maltreated that he ran her on shore together with as many of the others as Carleton's guns and the hurry of the moment permitted, and set fire to them all. Two or three goridolas, however, were captured, while only a schooner, sloop and galley got away in safety.

(Though swept off the lake, yet by burning his ships so promptly, Arnold diminished by so much the value of the victory. Most of his exploits, however, seem in a measure dimmed by some rumour calculated to discredit them. There is a story here, for which Riedesel is the authority, that he left his wounded men in the burning ships, their cries being audible to the British on the lake.

Carleton reports ten vessels burned besides those captured. Arnold in the meantime hurried on to Crown Point and set fire to every building there that would burn, and thence proceeded to Ticonderoga ten miles beyond. There seems to have been no British loss in this second action. Carleton took on with him to Crown Point the American wounded as well as about a hundred prisoners. The former with his customary humanity he caused to be well cared for; the latter he discharged on parole.

The lake now cleared of every hostile vessel and\ the British fronts advanced to Crown Point, the vital question arose whether the original scheme of the summer should be carried out at this late date. Crown Point was the obvious base for an attack oiin^ Ticonderoga; but the latter was a strong fortress, in good repair, occupied by Gates with a large force, well furnished and accessible to reinforcements and fresh supplies by the Lake George route at its rear. It would almost certainly be a long siege, and Carleton at Crown Point would be a hundred miles ^ from his nearest base of supplies. There were only five or six weeks remaining before the iron hand of winter would seal up the lake, and for much of the interval its surface would be swept by gales of force sufficient to baffle or hamper navigation. The task of supplying a large force by rough trails through the dense snow-laden woods would be a Herculean labour, even if it were worth the effort, above all in the teeth of the scouting parties which the Americans, so efficient in this business, were sure to send out. Carleton, however, took a survey of the fortress from the water, a proceeding that only confirmed his resolution to postpone all further action till the following spring, when with full possession of Lake Champlain there would be few obstacles to immediate success.

It goes without saying that there were ardent souls present who saw before them only a fortress which might possibly be captured, and in any case would provide that honourable form of entertainment for which they wore a uniform. But Carleton knew the northern winter and also the high qualities of some of the congress troops, and he may well have hesitated to stultify this experience by attempting an exploit which, even if quickly successful, would leave him in a situation laborious to maintain and of doubtful utility. For putting aside these grave difficulties and granting that the fort were immediately captured and that he could sit down within it in strength and supply his garrison with ease, a wild country would still lie between his army and the settled districts to the south and east of it. Against these he could not operate during the winter, as Germain sapiently suggested, without bivouacking his troops in the open, and to submit European troops, or indeed any troops but perhaps an odd party of hardened Rangers, to such a course was to subject them to certain death. Indeed the notion was too absurd for comment by any person of North American experience. Burgoyne was taken into Carleton's council and fully agreed with him, so far as his opinion could be worth anything in a situation physically outside his knowledge. A letter, however, from General Phillips to Burgoyne seems to point to the fact that both, though soldiers of too much experience to think it likely that Ticonderoga could be captured then, were dissatisfied that nothing in the way of more active demonstration had been undertaken.

Phillips was discontented because a force was not left to winter at Crown Point, a seemingly purposeless proceeding. Phillips was a good officer but may have been somewhat difficile. We get a glimpse of him, through Baroness Riedesel's journal, grumbling at his friend and chief Burgoyne in the same way and possibly with better reason. But Carleton's\ action in this matter was the cause of discontent to many, which may be accounted for by the fact that there were several hundred officers in the country who had never known a Canadian winter, nor as yet been subjected to serious trials of any kind in the North American wilderness. Carleton's decision, however sound, was fraught with ominous significance, for it was the cause of his supersession by Burgoyne, and Burgoyne's promotion led to a great and historical disaster.

So Carleton and his army at the beginning of\ November retired to Canada into winter quarters; the former to his official post at Quebec and to those civic duties which the faithful Cramah^ had been discharging with his accustomed efficiency.

In the meantime the year's operations to the southward may be briefly summarized as follows: Howe, by orders from home, had abandoned Boston in March as not worth the sacrifice which its retention would entail. Carrying his army by sea he arrived before New York towards the end of June, being there joined by reinforcements which gave him in all over twelve thousand men. By September Washington, who covered and held this city, was after numerous actions compelled to evacuate it and occupy the forts without. Driven in time from these he crossed the Hudson in November and retreated through the Jerseys to Philadelphia followed by Howe in a fashion so futile and ineffective as to have furnished a wealth of ridicule for the historian. The latter now. retired to New York and to a long season of social festivities, leaving New Jersey occupied by his scattered detachments. Though in overwhelming force, most of Howe's posts were recaptured by Washington, and one or two severe defeats, accompanied by surrenders, were inflicted while the English general busied himself in providing entertainment for the garrison and citizens of New York. With a force increased to twenty-five thousand men he allowed the spirits of the congress party, now at zero, to rise rapidly during the winter before the cheering spectacle of his own apathy and the masterly strokes of Washington with his comparative handful of ill-clad and ill-fed men. The Loyalists suffered in proportion, and valuable allies were gradually reduced to rebel sympathizers or to ruin. Such in brief outline was the state of affairs while Carleton's army in Canada was preparing for a campaign in support, as it turned out, of this hopeless general, and while the dismissal of the best and almost the only good available commander was being decided upon by an incapable minister in London.

There is no occasion to particularize the manner in which Carleton distributed his army this winter. St. Johns and the other ports on the Richelieu and at the foot of the lake were all occupied. Some troops wintered along the south shore of the St.\ Lawrence, while Montreal, Three Rivers and Quebec had each its garrison. Many of the soldiers/ were 'quartered among the habitants, who seem to have quite recovered from their republican leanings and to have received the soldiers in friendly fashion. Carleton, however, could not overcome his soreness at their recent defection. "There is nothing to fear from the Canadians," he writes to Germain, "so long as things are. in a state of prosperity; nothing to hope from them when in distress. There are some of them who are guided by sentiments of honour, the multitude is influenced by hope of gain, or fear of punishment."

The merits and demerits of the Quebec Act ceased for the time to concern men's minds. They were all full of the part they had just played in stirring scenes and might yet have again to play. The peasantry had had enough of politics for the present; money was flowing-into the country; markets were brisk. Gaiety on a scale that even the old French regime had never known was stimulated in Quebec and Montreal by the presence in the colony of several hundred officers, relieved for the time from the tension of war or the possibility of attack. Lady Maria Carleton with her children, now increased to three, had returned and proved a sprightly and popular young hostess at the Chateau St. Louis. On the last night of 1776, the anniversary of Montgomery's attack, Baron Riedesel tells us that the governor gave a dinner of sixty covers, which was followed by a public fete and a grand ball, where all social Quebec danced out the old year which had broken on them in so dramatic and different a fashion. In the morning of the same day the archbishop celebrated a grand mass in the cathedral, and those ! citizens who had shown sympathy -with the rebels had to do penance in public. The Church which had suffered a serious fright breathed again. The seigniors, whose sustained rights, like those of the Church, had been so successfully twisted into a goad for the fears of the peasantry by the enemies of government, within and without, were more than y satisfied. They were a recognized element now in the governor's council and the question of an. elective assembly, even an Anglo-French one, had few charms for men who cared nothing for popular government, and, as a matter of fact, rather shrank from the notion of sitting in so mixed an assembly. Indeed if they had a grievance, it was the minor one of being liable to serve on the new juries in criminal cases and sitting cheek by jowl with butchers or peasants.

Preparations for the coming campaign, however* proceeded as steadily as the season permitted. Carleton had sketched out a plan and sent it by Burgoyne, who went home before Christmas for the/ good of his health and better service of his country, as he puts it with unconscious irony in a letter to Germain written soon after landing. Another reason for his return was the serious illness of his wife, to whom he was deeply attached. Finally, Carleton wished him to go so that the plans for the coming season's operations might be thoroughly discussed in London; for, as we have said, Burgoyne took with him Carleton's plans for the campaign, which he himself had willingly subscribed to and indeed actually upon Germain, though without avail. It has been mentioned that Germain's malevolence towards Carleton arose from the latter's attitude towards a protdge of his in the matter of a staff appointment. Carleton in short had refused to turn out a good public servant, merely to make way for a new arrival without any better claim whatsoever than Germain's personal countenance.

Carleton was now to reap the fruits of this. It was not till May, 1777, however, that he received the letter confining his authority to the limits of Canada, and notifying him of the fact that Burgoyne was to command in the coming campaign. If Germain before deciding on this course had already been in receipt of Carleton's reply to one or two of his own futile despatches, his action would be more excusable. But there is documentary evidence that he wished him out of the way long before Carleton had expressed the opinion, in as forcible English as official etiquette admitted, that he thought the minister not only an ignoramus but a wholly mischievous person. Carleton's notice of removal from all command in the coming campaign had been forwarded as early as the preceding August, but the letter had been entrusted to a ship that had failed to make Quebec and was returned to Germain's hand. This was now enclosed with another that £ filled Carleton with righteous indignation, and left him with no option as to his procedure. This last communication was dated March 26th and was received in the middle of May. The news of the defeat and surrender at Trenton of eight hundred Hessians had reached England, and upon the top of the belated enclosure of August 22nd Germain heaps the preposterous insinuation that Carleton's decision against a winter occupation of Ticonderoga had released enough of its garrison to give material aid to Washington in achieving this bold stroke against the Hessians. Putting aside the fact that three hundred miles intervened between the Delaware and Lake Champlain^ Germain by inference admits that nearly thirty thousand highly disciplined troops are insufficient for his other general to protect the environments of New York from a quarter of the number of ill-provided and ill-fed provincial militia.

On May 20th Carleton sat down and wrote his reply, which is a lengthy and pungent one. He regrets that Germain's first letter of August 22nd, 1776, had not reached him by November 20th as it might have done, but he had been in no way inconvenienced by the lack of instructions from home at that period, as he imputed their absence to the rather widespread opinion that any officer entrusted with\ the supreme command ought, from his situation, to be a better judge of what was most expedient than a great general at these thousand miles distance. The irony iii this phrase seems somewhat thinly disguised. Carleton then alludes to the well-known events of the winter of 1775-6, which had made any preparations for navigating Lake Champlain notoriously impossible, but reminds Germain that he had constantly urged in the spring the forwarding to Burgoyne's army of a good supply of boats in sections and of artificers. Very few either of the first or second had been sent, and many even of these arrived too late. Seeing the disregard paid to these pressing matters, Carleton did his Lordship the credit to suppose that his measures in North America had been taken " with such great wisdom that the rebels must immediately be compelled to lay down their arms and implore the king's mercy\ without our assistance." The order contained in the August letter—which as Carleton points out might have reached him in November—for occupying the forts and thence despatching all his force not needed for the protection of Canada to operate to the north of Howe in support of him, as a vague midwinter expedition is exposed in its naked absurdity. Carleton then proceeds to rub in the elementary truth that an army cannot conduct an active campaign in that country during the winter season, and he descends to Germain's level of intelligence by describing many homely truths and elementary facts which that exalted personage had been either unable or unwilling to master.

It is not the ignorance of a private gentleman of that day concerning North American physical conditions which startles us—that would be nothing— but the sublime effrontery of a man entrusted by the king with the conduct of a great war still cultivating this complacent and deplorable indifference after months of office. Carleton explains, with a forbearance not always so evident, that the soldiers composing this suggested midwinter expedition, assuming that they were ably led and well provisioned, which last would be impossible, assuming also that the enemy was considerate enough not to harass them before they got in touch with Howe, which again was quite unlikely, would nevertheless have all perished from cold alone. Indeed to have attempted the investment of Ticonderoga in November, would have been, writes Carleton, a risky and laborious business even had its capture then been of great practical utility. "K regard it as a particular blessing that your Lordship's despatch did not arrive in due time," he adds. With regard to any assistance rendered to Washington by troops set free from Ticonderoga, Carleton does not seem to think it worthy of argument, but with justifiable sarcasm calls the attention of Germain to the numerical strength of Howe's army, which, with ordinary precautions, could have easily prevented such a disaster as Trenton "though all the rebels from Ticonderoga had reinforced Mr. Washington's army."

As regards the immediate future, he notes that General Burgoyne is to have the command of almost the whole army of Canada for an attack on the famous fortress and subsequent movements, whereas he himself is ordered to remain at Quebec through-^ out a season of the year when no legislative duties require his presence, and a lieutenant-governor of tried worth and experience is always in residence. The censure that this change of plan implies seems to Carleton as unmistakable as it is unjust, and he proceeds at some length and in trenchant and lucid fashion to summarize the events of the last eighteen* months : the critical situations he has emerged from with success, and the difficulties that he has over- , come with scant means, though cut off from all the world. With regard to the obstacles inevitable to a large force moving up or down the Champlain route, he suggests an object lesson to Germain in the failure of Amherst in 1759 to relieve Wolfe by this channel when motives for haste were of extreme urgency, when opposition was ineffective, and an officer of high repute was in command backed by a powerful force and a sympathetic countryside, which now was hostile.

"But I," writes Carleton, referring to the previous year (1776), "pent up in this town till May in a province mostly disaffected and over-run by rebels, when troops arrived a numerous army to expel, who in their retreat burned or destroyed all that might be (of use to us. Arrived at the end of those navigable waters, not a boat, not a stick, neither materials nor workmen, neither stores nor covering nor axemen! All must be sought for amidst confusion and the distracted state of an exhausted province. Yet a greater marine force was built and equipped, a greater marine force defeated, than had ever appeared on that lake before. Two brigades were taken across and remained at Crown Point till November 2nd, for the sole purpose of drawing off the attention of the rebels from Mr. Howe, and to facilitate his victories ; nature had then put an end to ours. His winter quarters, I confess, I never thought of covering. I never could imagine why, if an army to the southward found it necessary to finish their campaign and to go into winter quarters, your Lordship could possibly expect troops so far north to continue their operations lest Mr. Howe should be disturbed during the winter! If that great army near the sea-coast had their quarters insulted, what could your Lordship expect to be the fate of a small corps detached into the heart of the rebel country in that season ? For these things I am so severely censured by your Lordship, and this is the first reason assigned why the command of the troops is taken from me and given to Lieutenant-General Burgoyne."

A week later, on May 27th, Carleton wrote again~ sending in his resignation. "Finding I can no longer be of use to the king's service on this continent, either in a civil or military capacity, under your Lordship's administration, on the contrary, apprehending that I may occasion no small detriment to it, for all the marks of your Lordship's displeasure affect not me, but the king's service and the tranquillity of his people, I therefore flatter myself I shall obtain his royal permission to return home this fall, the more so that your first entrance into office you began to prepare the minds of all men for this event, wisely foreseeing that under your Lordship's administration it must certainly come to pass, and for my own part I do not think it just that the private enmity of the king's servants should add to the disturbances of his reign. For these reasons 1/ shall embark with great satisfaction, still entertaining the ardent wish that after my departure you may adopt measures tending to promote the safety and tranquillity of this unfortunate province, at least that the dignity of the Crown may not appear beneath your Lordship's concern."

This outspoken arraignment of Germain's attitude towards him was almost Carleton's last word on the subject in his despatches which continue for another year. For though his method of tendering his resignation to Germain left no opening, even though the desire had been there for combating it, arrangements for filling his place could not readily be made. Of Germain it is related in Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne that a contemporary statesman remarked: "He endured every species of indignity from Sir Guy Carleton in particular and other officers with whom he was obliged to correspond. There was a general diffidence as to his honour and a general disrespect for his person." Regarding Germain's rancour towards Carleton, a year previously the king himself wrote to Lord North: "That there is great prejudice, perhaps not unaccompanied with rancour, in a certain breast [Germain's] against Governor Carleton is so manifest to whosoever has heard the subject mentioned that it would be idle to say any more than that it is a fact."


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