The Investment | Arnold’s Expedition to Quebec


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    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.



      December 3 found the Americans cantoned from Pointe aux Trembles to old Lorette. They soon occupied, also, Beauport across the St. Charles, and “La Cardanière,” with headquarters at the Holland house on the St. Foy road. They were well supplied with clothing and ammunition, and with the cannon, mortars and howitzer brought from Montreal and Chambly made ready to prosecute the siege in a more vigorous manner. The whole army was in high spirits. The peasantry began to show open sympathy with the rebels, and Duggan, the hairdresser, commissioned a major in the Continental service, was recruiting among them with fair success. He fearlessly entered the suburb of St. Roque and disarmed many of the Canadians who were enrolled in the loyal militia.

      At the parish of St. Augustine, the American officers were entertained by the curate, Michael Berian, with hospitality and elegance. There was frequent interchange of such civilities between the officers and village priests, in spite of a mutual want of confidence. The officers wished to conciliate and attach the clergy to their interests; the priests hoped to secure protection for themselves and their flocks from the soldiery, and in some instances, to secure information for the enemy.

      By the 4th of December there was so much ice in the St. Lawrence that it was not possible for the provincials to cross and bring over more scaling ladders, and those which had been already constructed were found too short and clumsy for use in the snowdrifts. Carpenters were immediately set to work to construct others. Dearborn’s company – their captain having at last recovered from his illness and returned to them from the cabin on the Chaudière – was ordered to the General Hospital for quarters. Subsequently as many as four hundred of the Americans were quartered in the great hall or in the servants’ lodgings. This building we have already noticed. It was a chapel, nunnery and hospital, all under one roof. Dr. Senter now presided there. There were not many sick at first, but they soon became more numerous. The enemy continued to respect the place, and never fired upon it, though they often made it dangerous for the doctor to pass to and from the hospital and the quarters of the army. The provincial officers treated the nuns with respect and did everything they could to secure their peace and protect them from any insult; Montgomery especially won their esteem, but the soldiery they regarded as little better than imps of hell, though they could not complain that any discourtesy was shown them personally.

      On the 6th, two companies were sent to Beauport to watch the motions of the enemy. Captains Duggan and Smith took a vessel and six men, loaded with provisions and small stock, and $382 in cash which belonged to the government, not far from the Isle of Orleans. The people at La Point a la Caille, below Quebec, unloaded the supplies from a craft destined for the city. Though the Canadians seldom so openly showed the courage of their convictions, and were very little to be depended upon, their confidence and aid would surely keep pace with the increasing certainty of rebel success.

      The English, on the other hand, were once more cooped up in Quebec. However, the energetic measures of Governor Carleton had done much to restore confidence and prevent the occurrence of seditious meetings, and the city’s defenders were soon united and organized. Business men and others, worth three thousand and four thousand pounds, cheerfully did sentry duty, though a number of British merchants, weather-cocks in politics, had voluntarily withdrawn from the city to the Island of Orleans, to Charlesbourg, or to other places in the country where they had Villas, to await the result of the siege, and hail it with “God save the King” or “Congress forever!” according to circumstances. All others who would not enroll themselves in the militia had been compelled to leave the city.

      The first care of the garrison after Arnold’s retreat to Pointe aux Trembles was to secure stout spar timber for palisading a great extent of open ground between the Palace and Hope gates, and again from Cape Diamond, along the brow of the cape towards the castle St. Louis. They began palisading at Palace gate, behind the Hotel Dieu, loopholing for musketry, and constructed a projection in the form of a bastion as a defense for the line of pickets, and in the gorge of this wooden bastion erected a blockhouse, which made an excellent defense. The Halifax artificers, as soon as they arrived, were set to work at palisading the open ground on Cape Diamond, and framing and erecting a large blockhouse on the outside of Porte St. Louis, to serve as a captain’s guardhouse, and an outpost to prevent surprise; also another blockhouse on the Cape, under Cape Diamond bastion. At the same time a party was employed in laying platforms and repairing merlons and embrasures, while carpenters erected barricades, which we shall hereafter more particularly describe, at Pres de Ville and Sault au Matelot, the extremities of the Lower Town. All the windows of the houses next to the river side, facing the water, were blocked up, leaving only loopholes for musketry, that they might be used as forts in case the St. Lawrence should be frozen over. So steadily and rapidly was the work pushed that by December 1 there were one hundred and fifty pieces of artillery mounted and ready for service. Provisions for eight months had been accumulated, but they had not been able to secure more than a scant supply of hay, oats and firewood, the last, in a winter siege in such a climate, of great importance.

      On December 1, by strenuous exertions in recruiting, the garrison had increased their strength to a total, bearing arms, of eighteen hundred, as follows: 22 of the 4th battalion, Royal Artillery; 70 of the Royal Fusileers or 7th regiment; 230 Royal Emigrants, or 84th regiment; 330 British militia, 543 Canadians, 400 seamen, 50 masters and mates, 35 marines, 120 artificers.

      Hardly was Montgomery encamped before the city, when he sent forward to the walls a letter to Carleton demanding the surrender of the town, and couched in no less bombastic tones than the severely criticised letters of Arnold. This communication the guard on the rampart refused to receive, though it did at last reach Carleton through the agency of a woman who on some pretext or other gained admission to the city. By the Governor’s orders she was at once imprisoned, and a few days later drummed out of town.

      The only response to the letter was a heavy cannonade of the suburbs of St. Roque and St. John, from which the inhabitants had been warned. Montgomery immediately addressed the following proclamation to the citizens of Quebec, which, with sundry copies, both in French and English, of his letter to Carleton, he caused to be shot over the walls on arrows:

      My Brothers and Friends: The unfortunate necessity of dislodging the Ministerial troops compels me to besiege your town. It is with the greatest reluctance that I am compelled to resort to measures which may be disastrous to you. Your town a prey to flames at this season, a general assault upon ruined walls defended by a still worse garrison, confusion, carnage, pillage – the inevitable followers of an assault, – these thoughts fill me with horror. I entreat you to use every exertion in your power to obtain for me a peaceable entry. Doubtless you have had no faith in the base calumnies cast abroad to our disadvantage by the scoundrels in the pay of the Ministry. The arms of the Colonies have never been tarnished by any act of violence or inhumanity. We profess to come to … give liberty and peaceable enjoyment of property in this oppressed province, having always respected, as sacred, the property of individuals. Enclosed you will find my letter to General Carleton, because he has always cleverly evaded allowing you to have any knowledge which was proper to open your eyes to your interests. If he is still obstinate and you allow him to persist in enveloping you in a ruin in which perhaps he desires to hide his shame, my conscience will not reproach me with having failed to warn you of your danger.

      The investment of the city was now complete, and preparations were well under way for offensive operations. It was high time. Smallpox had broken out among the peasantry, and as the men fraternized, and in many instances, lodged with the people, it seemed certain that the army would soon have this new terror to contend with. Spies, both men and women, sent out from Quebec, were often taken, but it does not appear that they were ever executed. It is even charged that women of loose character were sent among the men by the British with the hope that they might thus infect the army with smallpox.

      While the New England and New York troops were completing the investment of the town, the riflemen amused themselves every day by popping at sentries from behind old walls and houses in the suburbs of St. John. Some of Carleton’s officers condemned his indulgence because he had not burnt all of these suburbs, since they served the enemy so well as an ambush, but his regard for the loss such an act would entail on the peasant and bourgeois proprietors held his hand, and he contented himself with destroying a few near the ramparts. Perhaps he also feared the ill-effect of so severe a measure upon the wavering Canadians.

      Arnold had ordered Captain Handchett to move forward and take quarters near the city, and upon that officer’s refusing to do so, on the same ground that he had before taken when ordered to move the heavy guns down the river – that the service was too dangerous -Arnold sent for Captains Topham, Thayer and Hubbard. These officers consented, and were, in consequence, exposed for three weeks to very imminent danger. Topham and Thayer had several balls fired through their quarters, one passing between them as they lay in their bed without hurting them.

      General Montgomery himself had an escape almost as narrow. On the 8th of December he called at Menut’s tavern, which was about a mile west of the town. A few minutes after he got out of his cariole, a cannon shot from the city killed his horse and demolished the vehicle.

      The arrival of the artillery, the lack of which had made Arnold’s first investment of the city almost ridiculously ineffective, now rendered it possible to conduct the siege in a somewhat more soldierly and impressive manner. Captain John Lamb, who with his battery of seventy men had come with Montgomery from New York, was in command of the guns, and his energies were for some days fully occupied in getting his cannon up from the shore of the river to the Heights of Abraham, and mounting them for the service they were to discharge. Meanwhile Montgomery and Arnold together visited the General Hospital on the St. Charles, and, guided by the trembling Mother Superior, ascended to the cupola, from whence they selected the site for their first battery. The soldiers at once began to erect a redoubt on this spot, taking advantage of an eminence on the road to St. Foy, about eight hundred yards to the southwest of St. John’s gate on the easterly slope of a hill. The fortification, if it can be dignified by that name, was made of fascines and of gabions filled with what little earth the men could scrape up from the frozen ground, and packed with snow. Water was poured freely over the whole and the mass allowed to freeze solid. It was such a weak defense that it seems almost criminal to have ordered men to serve there. The play of the guns of the enemy would be so lively upon the breastworks, when discovered, that the artillery men did not dare at first to labor during the daytime, and it was not until the 10th that the platforms were erected and the guns in position. The battery mounted, when complete, five small twelve-pounders and a howitzer.

      At daylight on the same day, before the Americans were ready to fire their first gun, the English discovered the battery, and immediately opened upon it. In short order it was bored through and through with their balls, and several of the cannoneers were wounded. The American artillerymen only succeeded in throwing a few shots into the city. But they had in a day or two repaired the damage, and pluckily stood to their guns, while the feeble breastworks were again riddled, a gun disabled and the howitzer dismounted. Two men were killed and five wounded by a single shot of the enemy, who, during the 13th, by the accuracy of their fire, seemed certain to render the position untenable.

      Immediately after these casualties, Montgomery with his aide, Burr, visited the breastworks, and finding Lamb and his brave fellows still engaged, remarked to the captain: “This is warm work, sir!” “It is, indeed,” replied Lamb; “and certainly no place for you.” “Why not?” inquired the General. ” Because there are enough of us here to be killed without the loss of you, which would be irreparable,” came the sturdy reply. Shortly afterward the plucky captain was ordered to cease firing and bring off his guns. The ice battery was a shattered ruin, and had proved a costly experiment.

      A mortar battery, which mounted two brass three-pounders, two royals and three howitzers, was also planted by the Americans near the center of the suburb of St. Roque, not more than 200 yards from the ramparts. But the shells were only of five and one-half inches and did no damage in the town, except to the roofs of houses; even the women came to laugh at them, and it seems certain that they killed no one. However, Dr. Senter notes that, “agreeable to prescription, fifty-five more of the firepills were given to the Carletonians last evening. Operated with manifest perturbation, they were, as usual, alarmed, bells beating, dogs barking, etc. Their cannonade still continued on the battery, but to no advantage. Forty-five more pills as cathartic last night.”

      To this fusillade the enemy responded with spirit, and with somewhat more effect. On the 14th alone the garrison fired three hundred and fifty-seven shot at the American works. A few men who had ventured too near the walls and were sheltered in a house in one of the suburbs were killed and several more were wounded, while Arnold himself was obliged to leave his quarters, two shots having passed through the house. For the most part, however, the exchange of hostilities, though noisy and persistent, inflicted little damage on either force.

      It is evident, indeed, from Montgomery’s letters to General Wooster, who remained in command at Montreal, that he never placed any serious reliance on his artillery, and knew very well that he was too feeble in that arm to make any breach in the city walls. His purpose was merely to deplete the enemy’s supply of ammunition, to annoy them, and to distract their attention from his real design, – an assault upon the city. The postponement of this from day to day was occasioned by the necessity of recruiting the strength and spirits of the men, of giving time for the officers to discover and study the approaches to the weakest points in the city’s defenses, and of waiting for a favorable opportunity – a dark night, stormy, but not too severely cold.

      Montgomery, before joining Arnold, had written a letter to his father-in-law, Robert R. Livingston, then a member of Congress, which shows a ready comprehension of the problems which would confront him at Quebec, and states so clearly the situation he had to deal with that part of it may be quoted here, as follows:

      I need not tell you, that, till Quebec is taken, Canada is unconquered; and that, to accomplish this, we must resort to siege, investment, or storm. The first of these is out of the question, from the difficulty of making trenches in a Canadian winter, and the greater difficulty of living in them, if we could make them; secondly, from the nature of the soil, which, as I am at present instructed, renders mining impracticable, and were this otherwise, from the want of an engineer having sufficient skill to direct the process; and thirdly, from the fewness and lightness of our artillery, which is quite unfit to break walls like those of Quebec. Investment has fewer objections, and might be sufficient, were we able to shut out entirely from the garrison and town the necessary supplies of food and fuel, during the winter; but to do this well (the enemy’s works being very extensive and offering many avenues to the neighboring settlements) will require a large army, and from present appearances mine will not, when brought together, much if at all exceed eight hundred combatants. Of Canadians I might be able to get a considerable number, provided I had hard money with which to clothe, feed, and pay their wages; but this is wanting. Unless, therefore, I am soon and amply reinforced, investment, like siege, must be given up.

      To the storming plan there are fewer objections; and to this we must come at last. If my force be small, Caxleton’s is not great. The extensiveness of his works, which, in case of investment, would favor him, will in the other case favor us. Masters of our secret, we may select a particular time and place for attack, and to repel this the garrison must be prepared at all times and places, a circumstance which will impose upon it incessant watching and labor by day and by night, which, in its undisciplined state, must breed discontents that may compel Carleton to capitulate, or perhaps to make an attempt to drive us off. In this last idea there is a glimmering of hope. Wolfe’s success was a lucky hit, or rather a series of such hits. All sober and scientific calculation was against him, until Montcalm, permitting his courage to get the better of his discretion, gave up the advantages of his fortress, and came out to try his strength on the plain. Carleton, who was Wolfe’s quartermaster-general, understands this well, and, it is to be feared, will not follow the Frenchman’s example. In all these views, you will discover much uncertainty; but of one thing you may be sure, that, unless we do something before the middle of April, the game will be up; because by that time the river may open and let in supplies and reinforcements to the garrison in spite of any thing we can do to prevent it; and again, because my troops are not engaged beyond that term, and will not be prevailed upon to stay a day longer.

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