An eagle soaring above the forest-covered snow-whitened mountains of the Height of Land, the morning after this momentous 25th day of October, might have marked the relative positions of the various divisions of the army: Arnold, with four bateaux and fifteen men, having crossed the Height of Land, was paddling rapidly down the Chaudière Lake; Captain Handchett, with his detail of fifty men, was marching around the lake on its eastern shore; the rifle companies, under Morgan, were crossing the long chain of lakes and working their way up the tortuous gut, which led to the shorter chain of ponds close to the mountains; Meigs, with the third division, was entering the first of the chain of lakes; the unlucky second division, Colonel Greene's, was moving forward from the camp-ground three miles beyond Ledge Falls, where the fatal council of war had been held; while Lieutenant-Colonel Enos, with his division, was beginning his retreat from the same spot.
We are now compelled to follow each division separately, as their courses and adventures were very different.
Certainly we do not prefer to begin by retreating, and our sympathetic interest in the "grimacers" and "returners" of Enos's division now fails, but there remains a lingering curiosity as to their homeward march.
Their progress down stream was rapid but not altogether smooth, for though the river was no longer rising, the flood had by no means subsided. Where before they had many bateaux, they now had few, so that most of the men marched by land. When they reached their former camp-ground near Bog brook, they found the low country beyond overflowed. Those who were in the bateaux continued on the Dead River to the north and east of the Twelve Mile carry - preferring this wide circuit of some forty miles to the task of carrying their boats across the intervening short portages of the Twelve Mile carrying place. Thus deprived of the few remaining bateaux, those on shore were forced to abandon any attempt to cross the three ponds on the Twelve Mile carry, and were compelled to seek the Kennebec on foot. They had not left the Dead River sixty rods before they were obliged to wade; the water deepened as they advanced, and for a mile and a half was waist-deep and they were obliged to break the ice before them the whole way." For still another mile the water was over their shoes. But they covered the eighteen miles to the Kennebec in a course which stood as a string to the bow made by the Dead River in one day.
The passage down the Kennebec to Norridgewock was easily accomplished. One party of thirty or forty men were obliged to return and bring up someprovisions left on the Dead River. It must have been rough duty. From Norridgewock they descended the river to Brunswick, which lies on the Androscoggin just above its junction with the Kennebec, without suffering any extreme hardship, and with the loss of only one life - that of Seabrid Fitch, of Connecticut, a man of Scott's company, who was upset and drowned in attempting to shoot Bumbazee rips.
From Brunswick, Colonel Enos hurried on the following letter to General Washington:
"November 9, 1775.
Sir: - I am on my return from Colonel Arnold's detachment. I brought up the rear of the whole. Captain McCobbs', Williams' and Scott's companies were assigned to my division. We proceeded as far as 50 miles up the Dead River and were then obliged to return for want of provisions. When we arrived at the Great carrying place, by what I could learn of the division forward that provisions were likely to be short, I wrote to Colonel Arnold and desired him to take account of the provisions forward: he wrote me that there were twenty-five days' provisions for all the divisions ahead, but to my surprise before we got to the Great carrying place, Major Bigelow with ninety men were sent back from Colonel Greene's division to mine, for provisions. I left them all I could spare. I continued my march with all expedition and when about five miles up the Dead River, overtook Colonel Greene's division entirely out of provisions, and by reason of men being sent back with orders from Colonel Arnold to me to furnish them with provisions to carry them to the inhabitants, my division was reduced to four days' provisions. Colonel Arnold was gone ahead: the chief of the officers of Colonel Greene's division and mine were together when we took the situation of the divisions into consideration, and upon the whole it was thought best for my whole division to return and furnish those who proceeded with all our provisions except three days to bring us back, which I did without loss of time. A more particular account shall be able to give when I return to Cambridge. Shall lose no time if able to ride. I have for many days been unwell. Expect the whole of my division at this place tomorrow, when we shall set out on our march to Cambridge.
I am your most obedient and humble servant,
Yet their labors were not over - they had
now to reach Cambridge by land, for there were no transports
in waiting. So on they marched through North Yarmouth, Old Casco
Bay, Stroudwater Bridge, Scarborough. It was no child's play,
this long march over rough roads frozen hard by the raw cold
of a northern November; the marchers worn out, ill and footsore,
dispirited and remorseful with thoughts of their brave comrades,
deserted and starving. On again through Saco, Wells and Old York
into Kittery, Piscataway and Portsmouth. No applause along the
road, but surprise, questioning, silence, ridicule, disgrace.
No gala welcome at Newburyport; but the same pretty girls, with
averted faces; fathers and mothers asking for sons; sweethearts
for lovers, who had gone nobly forward. Explanations, excuses,
do not avail - insults deepen to curses. Past their old camps
at Rowley, Lynn and Mystic, the sorry returners hurried on and
reached, at last, the camp at Cambridge. They were greeted with
sneers of derision, treated with contempt and slunk away to hide
themselves in the respective commands from which they were drafted.
Arnold, parting from Handchett's detail on the Height of Land carry, took his canoe and four bateaux, containing his private secretary, Oswald, Lieutenants Church, Steele, and thirteen men, and passed rapidly down the Seven Mile stream to the great lake Chaudière. Handchett, as we know, he had ordered to advance along the eastern shore of the lake. That officer had, in marching down the Seven Mile stream, encountered the outlet of Lake Nepess. His party of fifty-five men waded two miles up to their waists in water, which was so cold that they soon lost all sense of feeling in their feet and ankles, to a piece of low, marshy ground. Here, about sunset on the 27th, Arnold's party luckily discovered them, and his few bateaux were occupied until midnight in ferrying them over, clear of sunken ground. From the carrying place they should have kept on the high ground, and steered a N. N. E. course. It was doubtless Handchett's misadventure which prompted Arnold to dictate the postscript of the following letter, dated this day, "October 27, at the Chaudière River," directed to the field officers and captains in the detachment, and ordered to be sent on "that the whole may see it."
"Gentlemen: - I have this minute arrived here and met my express from the French inhabitants, who, he tells me, are rejoiced to hear we are coming, and that they will gladly supply us with provisions. He says there are few or no regulars at Quebec, which may be easily taken. I have just met Lieutenants Steele and Church, and am determined to proceed as fast as possible with four bateaux and fifteen men to the inhabitants and send back provisions as soon as possible. I hope to be there in three days, as my express tells me we can go most of the way by water. You must all of you keep the east side of the lake. You will find only one small river, until you reach the crotch, which is just above the inhabitants. I hope in six days from this time to have provisions half way up the river. Pray make all possible despatch. If any Companies on their arrival at the river have more than four or five days' provisions, let it be despatched to others, or left for their coming on.
I am, Gen'l'n, your h'ble servant,
P. S. - The bearer, Isaac Hull, I have sent back in order to direct the people in coming from the Great Carrying Place (i. e., the Height of Land) to Chaudière Pond. From the west side of the Great Carrying Place, before they come to the meadows, strike off to the right hand and keep about a north and by east course, which will escape the low, swampy land, and save a very great distance, and about six miles will bring you to the Pond. By no means keep the brook, which will carry you into a swamp, out of which it will be impossible for you to get."
The messenger brought also verbal intelligence that General Schuyler, commanding the New York forces, had successfully engaged the regulars and Indians, and made a considerable number of prisoners, and that in three days they would meet provisions in their way.
This letter, or a similar one, reached Greene's division, at least, as we shall learn later, but the important postscript failed nevertheless of its purpose, and so in part did the letter, for Smith's and Hendricks's riflemen, as well as several of the companies of musketeers of both Meigs's and Greene's divisions, fell into this swampy trap, and the men, elated by the speedy prospect of relief, consumed much more of their slender supply of flour than they would have done had they known the exact truth.
Smith and Hendricks's riflemen took up their line of march October 30, from their camp-ground on the banks of the Seven Mile stream, near where Morgan's men had launched their boats after crossing the mountains, and moving in single file, for there was no path and the country was mountainous and much obstructed, tramped six miles along the east bank of the river. Then they rested for the night in the woods. The men lay on fir boughs, without other covering than blankets, close together for warmth, and waked to find themselves under a counterpane of four inches of snow. But this was a more comfortable night than any enjoyed for some weeks, and the men were far from complaining. The five pints of flour per man, which the recent partition had given them, were, for convenience in carriage, baked in Indian fashion into cakes, under the ashes of their camp fires. The following day they took up the line of march through flat and boggy ground, and at about ten o'clock came upon the marsh where Handchett's men had undergone their unfortunate experience. It was three-fourths of a mile over and covered by a coat of ice half an inch thick. Here, as the soldier Henry narrates in his journal, a halt was called till the stragglers should come up. He proceeds:
"There were two women attached to these companies. One was the wife of Sergeant Grier, of Hendricks's company, a large, virtuous and respectable woman. The other was Jemima Warner, wife of James Warner, a private of Smith's company, a man who lagged upon every occasion. These women having arrived, it was presumed that all the party were up. We were on the point of entering the marsh when some one cried out, "Warner is not here!" Another said he had "sat down under a tree a few miles back." His wife begging us to wait, with tears of affection in her eyes, ran back to her husband. We tarried an hour. They did not come. Entering the pond and breaking the ice here and there with the butts of our guns and our feet, we were soon waist-deep in mud and water. As is generally the case with youths, it came to my mind that a better path might be found than that of the more elderly guide. Attempting this in a trice the water, cooling my armpits, made me gladly return into file. Now Mrs. Grier had got before me. My mind was humbled, yet astonished, at the exertions of this good woman. Her clothes more than waist high, she waded before me to the firm ground. No one, so long as she was known to us, dared intimate a disrespectful idea of her.
Arriving at firm ground and waiting again for our companions, we then set off and, in a march of several miles, over a scrubby and flat plain, arrived at a river flowing from the east into Chaudière Lake. This we passed in a bateau, which the prudence of Colonel Arnold had stationed here for our accommodation; otherwise we must have swam the stream, which was wide and deep. In a short time we came to another river flowing from the same quarter, still deeper and wider than the former. Here we found a bateau under the superintendency of Captain Dearborn, in which we passed the river. We skirted the river to its mouth, then passed along the margin of the lake to the outlet of Chaudière, where we encamped with a heterogeneous mass of the army."
Dearborn's, Goodrich's, and Ward's companies, composing Meigs's division, had, as we have seen, on the 27th, hauled up and abandoned their bateaux on the east side of the Height of Land, and gone into camp about half a mile up the carry. Dearborn found here a fine birch canoe carefully laid up, probably by Indians. It proved a godsend. Dearborn and Ayres took it on their shoulders next morning and carried it across the mountain "to a small stream which led into Chaudière pond;" put it in and paddled down the stream. The other officers and men of the division advanced through the forests and, it would seem, took different routes. Meigs and those with him kept well to the N. N. E., and thus avoided the morass, but found themselves by one o'clock in the afternoon on the shore of a large lake (Lake Nepess), which they mistook to be Chaudière pond. Accordingly they continued their march until nightfall, when they unexpectedly came upon an abandoned Indian camp. They took advantage of the clearing and here passed the night.
The following day they crossed the water, marched about fifteen miles through the woods and encamped near the north end of Chaudière pond. Those who followed Meigs were evidently men of Ward's company, for Captain Dearborn having reached - in his new-found canoe - the mouth of the Seven Mile stream, where it meets the outlet of Rush Lake and Lake Nepess, found both his own company and Captain Goodrich's, who had marched down from the mountain ridge, and by keeping too far to the West had encountered the swamp, into which they had preceded the riflemen, who did not reach the swamp until the next morning. The men were about to build a raft when Dearborn arrived with his canoe and offered to search for a ford for them. Paddling into the pond and around an island, he came upon Captain Goodrich and a few of his men, who had waded in that direction. Goodrich informed him that he had made a thorough search and there was no way to pass the river without boats. The land all around was a sunken swamp for a great distance. It was now growing dark, and any hope of relief from their evil situation fhat night seemed to be shut out. Captain Goodrich had already waded to and fro several miles to his armpits in water and broken ice, trying to find some ford by which his men might cross the river.
But the increasing darkness served to bring into vision a light on shore which seemed to be about three miles away. Captain Dearborn took Captain Goodrich in his canoe and paddled across to the light. Here they found a good bark house with one man in it, who had been left by the advance party for want of provisions and ordered to rejoin his company. Before the fire this man had built the few officers lay down for a few hours' uneasy rest; meanwhile their men were having the most exasperating experiences in the morass into which they had wandered. The freshet, which had culminated in the flood of October 22, had inundated all the lowlands on both sides of the mountains. The overflowed swamp at the junction of Rush Lake, its outlet to Chaudière pond and Arnold's River - shunnned nowadays at all seasons by huntsmen - was, as Arnold had written, "A place from which it was impossible to get." For hours they stumbled and floundered over the slippery roots of hackmatack and cedar, which were concealed under an alluring carpet of soft green moss soaked with water and filled with particles of ice. Dislocation of a bone or a severe sprain might mean death. A broken bone was almost sure abandonment to starvation, for few were now strong enough to carry a cripple.
The alders were high, dense and tough. The exhausted provincials, bending under their arms and luggage, which caught them back and clogged their every movement, wandered in and out, knee-deep in icy mire, searching for a dry standing place, or sprang from sinking tussocks upon others which seemed more secure than the first, but proved constantly more deceptive. The snow which lay here and there on the ground, and on the frozen edges of the open water, only made false steps more costly. Twilight still found them within a short radius of their position at noon, after ten miles of worse than useless traveling in endless circles. At dark they chanced upon a little knoll, where they remained all night. One man who had fainted in the water with fatigue was supported thither by his comrades.
To make their fires the men were obliged to wade into the water, chop down trees in the darkness, and fetch out the dripping wood. The knoll was so circumscribed that, as they lay down, feet to the blaze, the surrounding water was close to their heads. Many
stood erect all night to keep from freezing; if it had rained hard it would have overflowed their refuge and extinguished their fire.
Any one who has hunted in the Maine woods in winter knows how penetrating and biting are the cold, damp river mists at night; how they creep through the slightest opening in the blanket and freeze where they touch; how they gnaw through hunting coats and heavy underclothing, and chill the shivering hunter in the very face of his bonfire. Such a one can perhaps faintly imagine the sufferings of the poor fellows on this little hillock the night of October 29, 1775, supperless, after days of half-rations and toilsome marching, thinly clad, hopelessly lost, more than a hundred miles from civilization.
As soon as it was light Dearborn and Goodrich returned to the swamp, and, assisted by Captain Smith's bateaux, which luckily appeared on the scene, began to ferry the men across. But they had not marched fifty rods when they came to the second river, so that, as there were only two boats and nearly two hundred men, the rest of the day was consumed in making the passage. Toward sunset, under Dearborn's guidance, they set out for the bark house, where he had passed the night with Goodrich. In the thick woods it was easy to lose reckoning, and Dearborn's compass was defective. They went astray two miles, but at last, much fatigued, reached the bark house and encamped.
The next day Ayres and Dearborn passed down the Chaudière pond in their canoe, while the remainder of the men marched down the east side of the lake, and joined them in camp at the mouth of the Chaudière River. The progress of those on foot was very rapid, urged as they were by frantic hunger and the hope of meeting boats with provisions on the Chaudière. Finding neither boats nor provisions, they hastened on ten miles, assured by the knowledge that if they did not leave the river they were sure to reach Sartigan. At a small creek they found an advertisement set up telling them that the longed-for boats were wrecked and all the flour lost. Several dogs, thus far faithful companions of these miserable men, were now turned to account, killed, boiled, eaten - every part, not excepting their feet, skin and entrails.
The riflemen had now caught up with some of the men of Dearborn's company, and shared the dog stew which these men were brewing. But this, of course, could not go far among so many, and the poor fellows washed their moose-skin moccasins, scraped off the dirt, rinsed them in the river and boiled them, hoping, without success, for a sort of mucilage soup. Those of the New Englanders who had any leather coats or shoes left, gnawed them with no better result.
Sergeant Stocking as he proceeded "passed many sitting, wholly drowned in sorrow, wistfully placing their eyes on every one who passed by them hoping for some relief. Such pity-taking countenances he had never before beheld." And here comes Jemima Warner, a long-neglected heroine, after twenty miles of walking and running to catch up, breathless, panting, torn and disheveled, her dead husband's cartridge belt her girdle, and his musket in her hand. Faithful unto death, she had remained with him until he succumbed to hunger and exhaustion, had buried him with leaves, and then, at last, looked to her own safety.
Let us now turn back for the last time and follow up Greene's division to the front. On the 28th of October, while their comrades of the advance were marching into the Rush Lake morass, near the outlet of the Seven Mile stream, this division came rapidly forward over the chain of lakes and the Height of Land by the same route as that followed by the riflemen, except that most of the men kept the shores of the chain of lakes and went into camp on the high ground near the recent camp of Morgan, where they joined some of Meigs's division. All day they awaited stragglers and the rear of the division, employing the time in making a final partition of the remaining provisions, in order that each man might fully realize how small an amount he must depend upon thereafter. This distribution gave five pints of flour to each man - the pork was too small in quantity to be divided, as there was less than an ounce per man. The officers in general generously forebore to take their share of pork. This supply must last them for six days, at least, and they must travel chiefly on foot in the forest, without a path, for about one hundred miles.
Having no salt, they mixed their tiny portions of flour into small cakes as the riflemen had done, and these they baked on the coals of their fire. Some of the men had, before this division of flour, found themselves reduced to eating the pieces of raw moose hide which they had laid by to mend their shoes and moccasins. These they boiled after singeing off the hair. For fourteen days the whole division had been on half allowance or worse. Dysentery or constipation had become chronic with many of the men, conditions due to starvation and peculiarly fitted to disable and dishearten them in such traveling. There was no one to come after them to aid or comfort those unable to proceed. Their situation was the most hazardous of any division in the detachment. In spite of every persuasion and threat, several of the men this evening devoured the whole of their allowance of flour, determined to have one hearty meal, even if it should prove to be the last.
Toward evening, while the division still lay in camp, a messenger arrived from the front - from Arnold. As the message was read and passed from mouth to mouth a joyous cheer arose, and the forest rang with the exultations of the indomitably hopeful men. It was a similar letter to that entrusted to Isaac Hull, and was dated at the Chaudière River, October 27. The express was Jackquith, whom we last saw accompanying the Indians Eneas and Sabattis on the mission to the French settlements and Quebec. Cheered by the contents of the letter, the soldiers insisted on breaking camp, though it was already evening, and they were obliged by darkness to encamp again within a mile and a half.
The next morning the advance was promptly begun and the division passed quickly down the Seven Mile stream toward Lake Chaudière. As the column, or more properly file, neared its waters, the majority decided to go to the southeast of the stream upon the higher land, and so pass around the lake; however, a part of the force proceeded down the stream as far as they could, then turned southward, and took the northwesterly shore around the lake, while Colonel Greene, with most of his officers and some of the soldiers, took their course N. E. and by E. for the Chaudière River. Deluded by an ignorant guide, the officers found their error before night closed in. At daylight of the 29th we started again, and at eleven o'clock sank into the fatal spruce and alder swamp between the Seven Mile stream and Nepess Lake, "the most execrable bog mire, and impenetrable plexus of shrubs, imaginable. Had they attempted to cross, they must have come upon the riflemen or men of Meigs's division, but instead, they followed the swampy margin of Rush Lake till they encountered the outlet of Lake Nepess, and forced by the deep water to pursue a course nearly at right angles to their proper one, consumed the remainder of the day trying to march around this large lake. Entirely ignorant of its extent, expecting always that they were just about to round it, then disappointed, retracing their course, advancing again and retreating, deceived by little bays and tributary streamlets, they covered eighteen miles of such traveling, only to camp in a swamp. They had been relying on Montressor's map and on the guide, who was soon, amid the execrations of his followers, more hopelessly lost than they were.
Next morning, having no cooking to do, and no tents to strike, they set forth again, still deluded as to the right course, and hoping at any hour to reach the banks of the Chaudière River, now ever receding behind them to the northwest. They followed a creek leading into Lake Nepess, and they laid their course more southerly, hoping to go around it, but the creek gradually widened into a river four rods across and still unfordable, nor was it possible to build a bridge or raft, as nothing large enough grew upon its banks. At length, coming to a place where the river was about four feet deep, although the water was much frozen on both sides, they forded. So weak were they, so benumbed with hunger and cold, that this alternative was accepted only in desperation, and several poor wretches "were left in the river, nor heard of afterwards." Their course was now shifted to W. N. W., and only varied to escape bogs, mountains, small ponds, and watercourses.
It was now the third day they had been in search of the Chaudière. They were seemingly lost beyond redemption. Greene and Dr. Senter carried the compass by turns. Through hideous swamps, over mountainous precipices, the straggling procession of starving men - all regard for order lost - pursued their enduring leaders helter-skelter; every man was now for himself in the fever of self-preservation. There was no time, not a moment even, to halt for the weak, lest the strong perish as well. There were bloody footprints on the snow, torn rags in the tough thickets and brambles. The sad moaning of the wind among the bare branches overhead, the plaintive creaking of the tall pine tops; the crunching of snow and rustle of dead leaves under the hurrying feet of his companions, alone broke the stillness of the vast forest solitude for him who, for a moment, fell out exhausted. As the last man passed him and was hidden by a thicket of snow-covered spruces, the ominous howl of a wolf would startle him to a last despairing exertion.
One of this unfortunate party writes of this terrible march: "The universal weakness of body that now prevailed over every man increased hourly on account of the total destitution of food; and the craggy mounds over which we had to pass, together with the snow and the cold penetrating through our deathlike frames, made our situation completely wretched, and nothing but death was wanting to finish our sufferings. It was a dispiriting, a heart-rending sight, to see those men whose weakness was reduced to the lowest degree, struggling among the rocks and in the swamps, and falling over the logs. It was no uncommon sight, as we ascended those ruthless mountains, to see those coming down the mountain in our rear, falling down upon one another, in the act of mutually assisting each other. Whose heart would not have melted at this spectacle? It would have excited commiseration in the breast of a savage to have beheld those weak creatures, on coming to the brow of one of those awful hills, making a halt, as if calculating whether their strength was sufficient for the descent; at last he casts his eyes to the adjacent hill, and sees his comrades clambering up among the snow and rocks. He is encouraged, he descends, he stumbles again at some obstruction, and falls headlong down the precipice, his gun flying from him a considerable distance. His comrade staggers down to his assistance, and in his eagerness falls down himself; at length the wretches raise themselves up and go in search of their guns, which they find buried in the snow - they wade through the mire to the foot of the next steep and gaze up at its summit, contemplating what they must suffer before they reach it. They attempt it, catching at any long twig or shrub they can lay hold of, their feet fly from them - they fall down to rise no more. Alas, alas, our eyes were too often assailed with these horrid spectacles - my heart sickens at the recollection."
Just as the sun, with every hope, left those who still kept the pace, they broke upon a great lake, which proved to be Lake Chaudière, and almost at once, with shouts of delight, marked the trail made by the riflemen. They were near enough to the foot of the lake to reach the Chaudière River before noon next day, and animated afresh by the sight of this stream, pressed on down the east bank with renewed vigor. Though impeded by an almost impenetrable growth of spruce, cedar and hemlock, and the steep ravines which frequently broke the high ground, they succeeded in overtaking some of Dearborn's men. Perhaps they too got distant scent of the savory dogstew, for Dr. Senter records they were given a piece of the dog Dearborn's men were cooking, but that did not suffice, and they descended to shaving soap, pomatum and lip salve. The leather of their shoes. cartridge boxes, shot pouches and breeches, roots, bark, everything was tried from which they hoped nourishment could be wrung.
We have now accounted for all those still advancing except the riflemen of Morgan's own company. Their story is short: Descending the Seven Mile stream and crossing the Chaudière Lake in the boats they had so laboriously brought across the mountains, they entered the Chaudière River and began the hazardous descent. Bateau after bateau was wrecked and abandoned, and they had not advanced fifteen miles before the whole company were forced to land and continue on foot. The crew of one of the first hateaux lost were moving down the edge of the river and so discovered a fall of twenty feet in time to return and signal their comrades in the bateaux which followed them, else many more of those afloat must inevitably have perished. They reached shore with the loss of only one man, George Innes, a waiter in Morgan's company. Morgan and Burr narrowly escaped. Both Smith and Morgan lost their military chests, spare clothing, blankets and ammunition, and the latter a considerable sum of money.
But while the gallant remnants of the expedition were thus struggling forward in the desperate race against utter exhaustion and starvation, where was their leader - he who was to have led them proudly on to an easy victory and to the open gates of Quebec?