The Americans Stand Their Ground | Arnold’s Expedition to Quebec


    About the author

    John Codman headshot.
    John Codman the 2nd

    John Codman was a sailor and writer from Dorchester, Massachusetts. A religious man, and son of a pastor, he published a number of works about his travels at sea and American history during the 19th century.



      The loss which the Americans sustained in killed, wounded and those taken prisoners, during the early hours of this most disastrous New Year’s Day, was so great that the reader cannot but wonder that the survivors had the spirit to maintain an investment of the town with ranks so pitifully thinned. It is impossible to set down with exactness the details of this loss, for accounts of it differ widely. A report found in the Canadian archives places it at thirty killed, forty-two wounded and three hundred and eighty-nine taken prisoners, a postscript adding that sixteen rebels later died of their wounds within the city, while twenty-three more died of the smallpox or camp fever. These figures are probably too low, for Colonel McLean, writing to a friend on May 28, declares that the garrison had buried two hundred and twenty rebels since the assault on the morning of January 1, besides twenty more whose bodies were found in the spring when the snow melted away. Arnold’s own report has been lost, but Henry, the American soldier from whose journal I have quoted in earlier pages, estimates the loss of the army as at least one hundred and fifty killed and sixty wounded, the proportion of fatalities being very high on account of the bitter cold and the driving snow, which caused many to die who under other conditions would only have been crippled by their wounds. There seems no reason to doubt that Carleton was not far out of the way when he wrote to General Howe that “the rebels had between six and seven hundred men, and between forty and fifty officers, killed, wounded or taken prisoners.” This was more than half of the entire force, including the invalids and the unreliable French-Canadian volunteers.

      The British loss was put by Carleton as low as “one lieutenant killed and four of the rank and file wounded,” while other accounts make it ten times as great. Probably the truth lies between; perhaps with a British officer who admitted in his journal five deaths and fourteen men wounded; perhaps with Henry, who tells us that the captain of the prison guard said seven or eight were killed, and fifteen or twenty wounded.

      Among the bodies found by the garrison and brought within the walls, as related in the last chapter, was that of General Montgomery. So many different tales of the burial of Montgomery have been told, most of them supported by testimony of apparently equal credibility, that it is with great satisfaction that I find myself able to give this account upon the authority of the officer who actually superintended the burial.

      Upon the General’s body being brought within the walls it was identified by a Mrs. Prentice, a widow, who then kept a hotel known by the name of “Free Masons’ Hall,” by a sear on one of his cheeks, supposed to be a saber cut. This identification being confirmed by one of the American officers who had been taken prisoner, General Carleton ordered that the body should be decently buried in the most private manner, and entrusted the direction of the affairs to James Thompson, the engineer. Mr. Thompson caused the body to be conveyed to a small log house on St. Louis Street, the second from the corner of St. Ursule Street, owned by one Francois Gaubert, a cooper, and ordered a suitable coffin prepared. He also attended the funeral and saw the body placed in a grave next to that of his own first wife, within and near the surrounding wall of the powder magazine, then standing in the gorge of the St. Louis bastion. There were six men and Dunn, the undertaker, in attendance, beside the Rev. Mr. DeMontmollin, the military chaplain, who read the service. The interment took place about sundown on January 4.

      The statement made by several writers, contemporary and otherwise, that Montgomery’s body was escorted to the grave by an impressive funeral cortege, and buried with all the honors of war, seems in the face of this account to be a mistake. Perhaps it arose from the fact that on the same day several British officers who had fallen during the night assault were buried with such pomp as the condition of the garrison would allow; Montgomery’s simple obsequies may have been confused with theirs. Indeed it would have been an act of very doubtful policy to make any conspicuous display of official respect over Montgomery’s grave. Honors paid to rebels, dead or alive, would not promote constancy and loyalty. Nevertheless the gallant young officer so recently a comrade in his Majesty’s service had many a sincere mourner among garrison and citizens alike, and his early and heroic death was lamented in eloquent phrases by the greatest of English statesmen within the halls of Parliament itself. Throughout the colonies men felt his loss as a personal bereavement, and Congress, in testimony to his bravery, patriotism and indomitable perseverance, voted the money for a monument to his memory, which was erected in the churchyard of St. Paul’s chapel in New York. Forty-two years later his body was removed from its shallow grave under the walls of Quebec and reinterred with solemn ceremonial in St. Paul’s within a few rods of the shaft raised in his honor by the young republic in whose cause he had fallen.

      His pet spaniel, no less sincere a mourner than his human friends, lay for eight days without food upon his master’s grave, until he was removed by Carleton’s aide-de-camp, Lenaudiére, – so at least we are told in the memoirs of one de Gaspé, who was himself a relative of Lenaudiére. Both the General’s aides, John McPherson and Jacob Cheeseman, were buried in their clothes without coffins in a trench dug near Montgomery’s grave. Here also were interred all the other soldiers killed at Prés de Ville and brought into the city.
      Shortly afterward, Thompson visited the American officers, who were confined in the minor seminary of Laval, having at his side the sword of Montgomery, which he had purchased from a drummer boy who had picked it up beside the body of the General when found at Prés de Ville. The prisoners were so deeply affected at the sight that several wept, and Thompson was so much impressed by their emotion that he never wore the sword again in their presence. Later Carleton, upon receiving a request from Mrs. Montgomery, conveyed through General Wooster, forwarded Montgomery’s watch and seal to her.

      When tidings of the death of Montgomery reached the General Hospital and were communicated to the sick and wounded by the Abbé de Rigaudville, the chaplain, the utmost consternation prevailed; even the nuns from sympathy, or policy, joined in the universal lament, “Montgomery is dead – Montgomery is dead!” Every invalid who could move sought to seize his baggage and fly; weak from fevers or wounds, they stumbled and fell helpless to the floor in panic, while the sisters looked on in distress. Here at the hospital lay Arnold, enduring the first pain of his shattered leg, and weak from loss of blood. When a report reached him that the enemy were sallying, he would not allow the attendants to carry him from the building to a place of safety, nor to leave the hospital themselves, but ordered them to place his pistols and sword on his bed that he might kill as many as possible of his enemies should they enter the room. He even ordered guns to be placed near each of the wounded men. When the alarm proved false he coolly proceeded to make the best disposition he could of the demoralized forces which remained to him; he would not permit the removal of the artillery stores and ammunition, of which they had a large quantity, lest the want of confidence implied thereby should increase the distrust of their Canadian allies in the ability of the Americans to hold their ground. But he caused the cannon to be withdrawn from the battery of the Plains and placed around the magazine, and ordered couriers to be dispatched to the captains of Canadian militia in the neighboring parishes, urging them to hurry to their support. Many Canadians came in under the impression that the Lower Town was in the hands of the Americans.

      He also wrote to General Wooster by Mr. Antill, giving him a brief account of the assault, and notifying him that, owing to his wound, he had made over the command which devolved upon him, to Colonel Campbell. This letter he wrote from his bed in the General Hospital, in the early morning of the 1st of January, at the end of this long night of excitement, hardship, suffering, and defeat.

      Arnold’s retirement in favor of Colonel Campbell, though made in entire good faith, was by no means acceptable to the other officers, who felt that the latter’s indecision and timidity after Montgomery’s death had sacrificed what might have been a brilliant success at Prés de Ville, and had therefore been the cause of the ruin which had overtaken the entire enterprise. By a unanimous vote they appointed Arnold commander of all the troops before Quebec, and upon him, stretched helpless upon his bed, devolved the almost hopeless task of gathering the shattered remnants of the army about him, reorganizing the disheartened battalions and encouraging them to persist in the tedious and dreary investment of the city. That his own indomitable spirit did not waver we learn from this letter, written a few days after the failure of the assault:

      “I have no thought of leaving this proud town until I first enter it in triumph. My wound has been exceedingly painful, but it is now easy, and the surgeon assures me it will be well in eight weeks. Providence, which has carried me through so many dangers, is still my protector. I am in the way of my duty, and know no fear.”

      The force which the wounded commander found at his disposal numbered less than seven hundred men, including Livingston’s body of Canadians, and many of these were prostrated by sickness or severe wounds. About one hundred men, panic-stricken, had fled toward Montreal before enough discipline was restored to the routed army to check their fight. Desertions also were frequent, for the camp duty was increasingly arduous, and the peril from smallpox, exposure and the enemy’s superior force was in like measure far greater than before the ill-starred assault. Expecting daily that the British, flushed with success, and now treble their number, would sally forth to overwhelm them before they could recover from their crushing defeat, the remnant of the little army of patriots set at once to work to build themselves a breastwork of snow and ice to protect them from musket-balls.

      Gloom and discouragement pervaded the camp. Smallpox, like a hidden sharpshooter, continued to pick off its victims, and details for the burial of these unfortunates and some of those mortally wounded on the night of the assault, made more arduous and disheartening the long terms of guard duty forced upon every able-bodied man by the poverty of their numbers. The rigor of the season continued unabated and heavy snow-storms and severe cold prevailed. Four feet of snow on a level covered the ground. But the British, not to be tempted even by the feebleness of their antagonists, continued to hug their fortifications, and the long winter days, full of anxiety, wretchedness and discomfort for the Continentals, dragged on, while no reinforcements reached them from Montreal. Wooster wrote home telling of his astonishment ‘that Arnold was still able to hold the garrison within the walls. At a liberal estimate, Arnold had not more than three hundred and fifty men fit for duty, not counting the Canadians. Washington declared that “it (the blockade) exhibits fresh proofs of Arnold’s ability and perseverance in the midst of difficulties.”

      On the 19th of January the Americans made bonfires of the houses in St. John to prevent the garrison from using them as firewood, and on the 23d, succeeded in setting fire to some of the vessels moored along the St. Charles. On the following night the torch was applied to St. Roque. The conflagration was a fearful sight to the beleaguered citizens. The snow-laden clouds, hanging low, took an orange tinge, and the snow, so far as the flames gave light, turned reddish yellow. The adjacent country seemed covered with a pitchy fire, and the villages of Beauport, Charlesbourg and St. Foy were just visible in the lurid glare. Nothing could be heard but the crackling of burning timbers and the hollow roaring of fierce flames. Fourteen houses were destroyed that night.

      At last, on the 24th of January, one hundred and fifty men arrived at the rebel camp, from General Wooster at Montreal. These were followed, on February 4, by troops from New England, some twentyfive in number, who had come across the country on snow-shoes, carrying their provisions on their backs. From that time reinforcements continued to arrive in small parties both from Montreal and the colonies. Recruiting officers were also sent into the smaller towns and parishes of the surrounding country, to endeavor to reorganize the Canadian militia, and attach it to the cause; while Arnold assumed authority of Congress, and pledged his own credit to raise another regiment of Canadians, writing that he hoped the exigency of his situation would secure the countenance of Congress for his acts.

      The force of the besiegers was still far too small completely to invest Quebec or to undertake any offensive movement; they could not even succeed in preventing the garrison from sallying in small parties, from time to time, to obtain fresh supplies of fuel from the ruins of houses in St. Roque and St. John. In spite of their every effort, by one ruse and another, messengers from the loyal party in Montreal and the upper region of the province often succeeded in carrying dispatches through their lines and safely returning, the frozen river offering many opportunities for passing in and out of the town. It may fairly be questioned whether Arnold was wise in maintaining a siege so inefficient, and whether he could not have served his cause more effectually by retreating to Montreal and comfortably caring for his men in winter’quarters there, while he conciliated and organized the Canadians in preparation for a renewal of the siege in the spring. But his orders from Washington were almost imperative; affairs must be pushed while the frozen river prevented reinforcements from reaching the garrison; spring could not be waited for.

      “I need not mention to you,” he wrote from Cambridge January 27, “the great importance of this place [Quebec], and the consequent possession of all Canada, in the scale of American. affairs. You are well apprised of it. To whomsoever it belongs, in their favor, probably, will the balance turn. If it is ours, success, I think, will most certainly crown our virtuous struggles. If it is theirs, the contest, at best, will be doubtful, hazardous and bloody. The glorious work must be accomplished in the course of this winter, otherwise it will become difficult, most probably impracticable; for the administration, knowing it will be impossible ever to reduce us to a state of slavery and arbitrary rule without it, will certainly send a large reinforcement thither in the spring. I am fully convinced that your exertions will be invariably directed to this grand object, and I already view the approaching day when you and your brave followers will enter this important fortress with every honor attendant on victory.”

      The General Hospital on the St. Charles.
      The General Hospital on the St. Charles.

      Arnold himself was sanguine of the ultimate success of the campaign, although he recognized the pitiful inadequacy of the force assembled under his command. While still stretched upon his bed in the General Hospital he wrote to beg Congress to send to Quebec an army of at least five thousand men under a general of experience. With this force, he believed the fortress could be taken. “Every possible preparation of mortars, howitzers, and some heavy cannon should be made,” he added, “as the season will permit raising our batteries by the middle of March, which may very possibly be attended with success, as we can place our mortars under cover within 200 yards of the walls, and within 1,000 feet of the center of the town. I am well assured that more than one-half of the citizens of Quebec would gladly open the gates for us, but are prevented by the strict discipline and watch kept over them; the command of the guards being constantly given to officers of the Crown known to be firm in its interest. The garrison consists of about fifteen hundred men, a great part of whom Governor Carleton can place no confidence in, or he would not suffer a blockade and every distress of a siege by 700 men.”

      It proved impossible to raise and equip the five thousand troops that Arnold had asked for. Washington could spare none from the army with which he still maintained the siege of Boston, for it was only with the greatest difficulty that he could induce enough of the militia to remain with him to carry forward his own operations. But what could be done, was done. A council of general officers was called at Cambridge which “determined that the colonies of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut should each immediately raise a regiment to continue in service one year, and to march forthwith to Canada.” Without waiting for Congress to carry out a resolution to raise nine battalions for that purpose, passed before the news of the failure of the attack on Quebec had reached them, Washington addressed letters to the General Court of Massachusetts, to the Governor of Connecticut, and to the president of the convention of New Hampshire, requesting them to act at once upon the decision of the war council. Connecticut had already anticipated the call, and sent off troops without delay to Canada. The other colonies also gallantly responded. New Hampshire soon raised a regiment – under the command of Colonel Bedell, and Massachusetts another under Colonel Elisha Porter; both were hurried to Canada by way of “Number Four” (Charlestown, N. H.), and the Onion River. Captain Ebenezer Stevens, with two companies of Knox’s Massachusetts artillery and a company of artificers, cut a road for forty miles across the Green Mountains to Otter Creek, and descended that stream on rafts constructed on the banks.

      Related posts