The Expedition Sets Forth | Arnold’s Expedition to Quebec


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    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 army gathered under Washington’s command at the siege of Boston numbered about eighteen thousand men, and was principally composed of New England volunteers. From this army it was determined to detach something more than a thousand troops for the Quebec expedition – not a large force, yet outnumbering all the British regulars then in Canadian garrisons. General Washington was the better able to spare this detachment, because it was already evident that the British troops shut up in Boston had accepted the situation, and had not the least intention of making any vigorous attempt to raise the siege without reinforcements from England. Under these circumstances the American commander felt that the fewer men kept in the enforced inactivity of an investment the better, both for the morale of the army and the cause for which they were fighting. Had it not appeared that the difficulties of equipping, transporting and supplying a larger force would multiply in a greater ratio than its increased effectiveness, more soldiers could easily have been added to Arnold’s command without impairing the efficiency of the main army.

      September 6, 1775, orders were given to draft the men for Quebec from their regiments, while a company of carpenters was sent forward to Colburn’s shipyard, at Agry’s Point, near Pittston, about two miles below Gardiner, on the eastern bank of the Kennebec, where the two hundred bateaux which the expedition would require were to be built.

      Two days later, the detachment was ordered to rendezvous at Cambridge, where it was encamped on fhe Common until the 13th, collecting provisions and filling up each company of musketeers to eighty-four effective men, rank and file. The whole force, all volunteers, was composed of three companies of riflemen and two battalions of musketeers, and numbered about eleven hundred men. Camp attendants, officers’ servants, guides, and a few men enlisted on the Kennebec must have later swelled this number to nearly twelve hundred.

      The rivalry among the many rifle companies in camp at Cambridge, all of which were eager to volunteer for the expedition, was so great that, to avoid jealousy and ill-feeling, the captains were allowed to draw lots. Chance decided in favor of the companies of William Hendricks, Matthew Smith and Daniel Morgan. Thbse riflemen were mountaineers and frontiersmen from Pennsylvania and Virginia, the two companies first named from the former state, and Morgan’s from the Old Doininion. Inured to every hardship, capable of every exertion, thoroughly expert in woodcraft and trained in the sharp school of border Indian warfare, they were, in every respect, valuable recruits for such an enterprise as this. Morgan’s
      company had marched the six hundred miles from Winchester, Virginia, to Cambridge, in three weeks, without losing a man from sickness or desertion. The Pennsylvania companies made a record for endurance scarcely less remarkable, marching more than twenty miles a day for twenty-two days.

      Brought up amid the alarms and massacres of the French and Indian wars, taught from their youth to regard the red man as their hereditary and inevitable enemy, they had perforce adopted his method of warfare, and fought by stratagem and ambuscade oftener than under the articles of war. On their own frontiers, indeed, they had sometimes gone so far in the imitation of their savage foe as to blacken and paint their bodies and faces, and occasionally used their tomahawks to scalp as well as kill. On the present occasion, however, there was no such relapse into primitive barbarity. Fearing neither “man, Indian, nor devil,” and God only so much as to make them fight the heathen the better, the red coat of a British regular inspired them with more contempt than terror. Braddock’s fatal campaign had taught them that fine uniforms and rigid adherence to army regulations were not enough to make soldiers invincible.

      Their marksmanship was the wonder of the camp at Cambridge. Loading and firing on the run, they would often pierce a target only seven inches in diameter at a distance of two hundred and fifty yards – an exploit which seems almost miraculous when the weapons of that day are considered. As soldiers they were ready to maintain the best of discipline. Later in the war, when Morgan organized his famous regiment of riflemen, it became the most dreaded body of men in the Continental service, and was generously declared by Burgoyne, at whose defeat it assisted conspicuously, the finest regiment in the world. But they abhorred the inactivity of camp life and were only too eager to share in the certain perils and possible glories of the Quebec undertaking.

      The New England volunteers were divided into two battalions, one commanded by Lieutenant-CoIoneI Roger Enos of Vermont, an officer of American birth, who had, however, the advantage of having seen service in the British army, and Major Return Jonathan Meigs, a tradesman-soldier from Connecticut; while the other was commanded by Lieutenant-CoIoneI Christopher Greene, a son of one of the justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and Major Timothy Bigelow of Massachusetts. The companies composing the first battalion were led by Captains Scott, Samuel McCobb, Thomas Williams, William Goodrich, Oliver Handchett and Henry Dearborn. Those of the second battalion were commanded by Captains Samuel Ward of Rhode Island, Simeon Thayer, John Topham, Jonas Hubbard, and Oliver Colburn. These men, although of less conspicuous physical proportions and martial accomplishments than the riflemen, were still sturdy, active and courageous, hardly yet accustomed to the standard of discipline that must obtain in every effective fighting force, but well fitted to sustain the arduous campaign they had undertaken. Their officers were in some cases from wealthy and aristocratic families, while others were simply honest farmers or tradesmen, who had abandoned their humdrum occupations to take up arms in a cause they felt to be just, and had been chosen to command by neighbors who knew and trusted them. Earnest patriots all, they gave concrete expression to that democratic spirit which was henceforth to animate the young republic they labored to establish.

      The detachment, as a whole, was of the very flower of the colonial youth, young men of a spirit not easily to be restrained by their elders, whom parental warnings of the fatigues and perils to be encountered only served to fire with more ardent yearnings for a share in the glory of success. Two hundred and fifty came from Rhode Island, one hundred from Connecticut, four hundred from Massachusetts, including the District of Maine, one hundred from New Hampshire, two hundred from Pennsylvania, one hundred from Virginia, and a few volunteers from New Jersey. Even at that time America was glad to accept the aid of the sons of Erin, and there were in the little army nearly two hundred “emigrants” – fully a sixth of the detachment – from the old country, a large majority of whom were from Ireland.

      It was wisely a body of young men. Arnold himself was but thirty-four. Enos, the oldest of the officers, and, as the event was to prove, the least reliable, was forty-five. The other officers were all below forty. Morgan was thirty-eight, a splendid man, standing over six feet in his moccasins and weighing two hundred pounds. His aspect was commanding, his voice stentorian, his strength and endurance invincible. He had first seen service as a teamster in Braddock’s army, and was a battle-scarred veteran of more than one border “war.” On the march he wore leggings and a cloth, in the Indian style; his beard was allowed to grow, and one member of the expedition refers to him as having the appearance history gives to Belisarius. Smith, the hero -or devil – of the massacres at Conestoga and Lancaster jail, of which Parkman tells us in “The Conspiracy of Pontiac,” was somewhat younger; Meigs a trifle older; Greene, Hendricks, Bigelow and the others were younger still.

      Most of them had seen service of some sort, in spite of their youth. Captain Thayer had been a member of the famous “Rogers’ Rangers,” and his hairbreadth escape from the massacre of Fort William Henry was terrifying enough to have excused his devoting the remainder of his life to his peaceful occupation as a maker of periwigs. Captain Dearborn, a young man of twenty-four, who had educated himself to be a physician, but was destined to pursue a semi-military, semi-political career, with no little distinction, had received his baptism of fire at Bunker Hill. Christian Febiger, a young Danish emigrant with a imilitary education, had won his spurs in the same battle, and acted as adjutant of the expedition. Besides the regular officers, there were a number of commissioned volunteers, all youths, some almost striplings. Among them were – Aaron Burr,the son of the president of Princeton College, and afterward famous in American history; Matthias Ogden of New Jersey; Eleazer Oswald, who served as Arnold’s private secretary; Charles Porterfield of Virginia; Rev. Samuel Spring of Newburyport, the chaplain, and a few others. The commissariat, which promised to prove a most difficult department to conduct, appears to have been organized by Captain Farnsworth and an assistant, Jeremiah Wheelwright.

      On September 13, all preparations being completed, the second battalion left Cambridge on their march for Newburyport, the port of embarkation for the mouth of the Kennebec. That day they reached Malden and there passed the night. At five in the afternoon of the same day the first battalion followed, and quartered that night at the meeting-houses at Mystic and Medford. On the following day both battalions continued their march – the second camping at Beverly, while the first, passing through the towns of Malden and Lynn, encamped at Salem and Danvers. The weather was hot and sultry. At sunset on the 15th the second battalion reached Newburyport, the first following them next morning. The men were quartered, some in the Presbyterian meeting-house, some in two of the ropewalks, some at Davenport’s Inn, while the riflemen spread their tents in a field near Rolfe’s lane. The officers were entertained by Mr. Nathaniel Tracy and Mr. Tristram Dalton. The detachment received an ovation upon its arrival, and the patriotic citizens of old Newbury were lavish in their hospitality.

      Meanwhile Arnold remained at Cambridge, doubtless to receive his final orders, until the morning of the 15th, an unlucky Friday. It is highly probable, too, that Washington held him back for the very latest despatches from Schuyler, who wrote Washington on the last day of August that Montgomery was to leave Crown Point that day. Stopping at Salem for dinner, and to arrange for the forwarding of some two hundred pounds of ginger, and two hundred and seventy blankets received from the Committee of Safety, he arrived at Newburyport at ten o’clock the same evening.

      He brought with him not only General Washington’s instructions for the conduct of the expedition, but also a liberal supply of printed hand-bills containing a manifesto addressed to the people of Canada, which were to be distributed broadcast as soon as the Chaudière settlements should be reached. The detailed orders, outlining the cornmander’s duty in specific emergencies, and the somewhat inflated rhetoric of the manifesto, hardly demand insertion here, but it is worthwhile to print Washington’s general letter of instruction to Colonel Arnold, in order that we may understand the spirit in which the invasion of Canada was undertaken, and appreciate the sincere hopes which were then entertained by the patriot leaders, of widespread and effective cooperation on the part of the Canadians themselves. The letter is as follows:

      CAMP AT CAMBRIDGE, 14th September, 1775.


      Sir: – You are intrusted with a command of the utmost consequence to the interests and liberties of America. Upon your conduct and courage, and that of the officers and soldiers detached on this expedition, not only the success of the present enterprise, and your own honor, but the safety and welfare of the whole continent may depend. I charge you, therefore, and the officers and soldiers under your command, as you value your own safety and honor, and the favor and esteem of your country, that you consider yourselves as marching not through the country of an enemy, but of our friends and brethren, for such the inhabitants of Canada, and the Indian nations, have approved themselves in this unhappy contest between Great Britain and America, and that you check, by every motive of duty and fear of punishment, every attempt to plunder or insult the inhabitants of Canada. Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any Canadian or Indian in his person or property, I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment, as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it shall not be disproportioned to its guilt, at such a time and in such a cause.

      But, I hope and trust, that the brave men who have voluntarily engaged in this expedition, will be governed by far different views, and that order, discipline and regularity of behavior, will be as conspicuous as their valor. I also give it in charge to you to avoid all disrespect of the religion of the country, and its ceremonies. Prudence, policy, and a true Christian spirit, will lead us to look with compassion upon their errors without insulting them. While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case, they are answerable.

      Upon the whole, sir, I beg you to inculcate upon the officers and soldiers the necessity of preserving the strictest order during the march through Canada; to represent to them the shame, disgrace, and ruin to themselves and their country, if they should by their conduct turn the hearts of our brethren in Canada against us; and, on the other hand, the honors and rewards, which await them, if by their prudence and good behavior they conciliate the affections of the Canadians and Indians to the great interest of America, and convert those favorable dispositions they have shown into a lasting union and affection. Thus wishing you, and the officers and soldiers under your command, all honor, safety, and success, I remain, Sir,

      Your most obedient humble servant,


      Special instructions were also given to Arnold concerning the son of Lord Chatham, who was known to be at this time traveling in Canada. This young man was to be shown every mark of deference and respect, should he by any chance fall into the hands, of the expedition. “You cannot err,” wrote Washington, “in paying too much honor to the son of so illustrious a character and so true a friend of America.” The opportunity to give effect to these instructions never presented itself, but their spirit shows how deep and genuine was the grateful affection which Chatham’s sturdy defense of the principle of liberty had aroused in the breast of the truest American patriots.

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