Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 3: War in Canada and the North (June 1775 to November 1776) - The Life of George Washington
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CHAPTER 3: War in Canada and the North (June 1775 to November 1776) - John Marshall, The Life of George Washington 
The Life of George Washington. Special Edition for Schools, ed. Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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War in Canada and the North (June 1775 to November 1776)
Invasion of Canada.—Carleton defeated.—St. Johns taken.—Montreal capitulates.—Expedition of Arnold.—He arrives before Quebec.—Retires to Point aux Tremble.—Montgomery lays siege to Quebec.—Unsuccessful assault on that place.—Death of Montgomery.—Blockade of Quebec.—General Thomas takes command of the army.—The blockade raised.—General Sullivan takes the command.—Battle of the Three Rivers.—Canada evacuated.—General Carleton enters Lake Champlain.—Defeats the American Flotilla.—Takes possession of Crown Point.—Retires into winter quarters.
During these transactions, events of great interest were passing still farther north.
1775The discontents which prevailed in Canada, and the removal of the troops destined for its defence, to Boston, inspired Congress with the daring design of taking possession of that province.
In June 1775, General Schuyler1 had been directed to repair to Ticonderoga, to secure the command of the lakes, to take possession of St. Johns and Montreal, if that measure should not be disagreeable to the Canadians, and to pursue such other steps as might conduce to the peace and security of the United Colonies.
Near three thousand men from New England and New York were designed for this service, and general Schuyler hastened to Ticonderoga.Map
Before the preparations were complete, or the soldiers assembled, the impatience expressed by the discontented in Canada, having rendered an immediate movement advisable, the troops then in readiness were ordered to the isle Aux Noix, at the junction of the Sorel with Lake Champlain, and the expected reinforcements were directed to meet at that place. General Schuyler having become dangerously sick, the command devolved on Montgomery,2 who, late in September, at the head of near two thousand men, laid siege to St. Johns.
Colonel M’Clean, with his regiment of royal Highland Emigrants and a few hundred Canadians, was posted near the junction of the Sorel with the St. Lawrence; and General Carleton3 had collected about a thousand men, chiefly Canadians, at Montreal. In attempting to effect a junction with M’Clean, he was encountered and entirely defeated at Longue isle, by a body of Americans under Colonel Warner. M’Clean, being immediately abandoned by his Canadians, and hearing that Arnold4 was approaching Point Levy, retreated to Quebec. On receiving this intelligence, St. Johns capitulated.
Oct. 1775This first success was nearly rendered useless by the expiration of the terms for which the soldiers were engaged. Before the General could induce them to march against Montreal, he was under the necessity of stipulating that all who wished it should be discharged at that place. Having effected this compromise, he proceeded against Montreal, while his floating batteries under Colonel Easton advanced up the river. After stipulating for theNov. 1775 rights of self-government, the town was surrendered; and Governor Carleton took refuge on board his flotilla. While preparations were making to attack the vessels, the Governor escaped in a dark night, in a boat with muffled oars, down the river to Quebec.
After garrisoning Montreal and the adjacent ports, Montgomery found the army which could follow him to Quebec, reduced to about three hundred men.
Foreseeing that the whole force of Canada would be concentrated about Montreal, General Washington had, in August, planned an expedition against Quebec, to be carried on by a detachment from his camp before Boston, which was to march by the way of Kennebec river; and passing through the then dreary wilderness lying between the settled parts of Maine and the St. Lawrence, to enter Canada about ninety miles below Montreal.
This arduous enterprise was entrusted to Colonel Arnold, and rather more than a thousand men were selected for the service. He commenced his march about the middle of September, and after encountering almost incredible hardships, arrived with two divisions of his army, on the 3d of November, at the first settlements on the Chaudiere, which empties itself into the St. Lawrence. The rear division had been compelled by the prospect of perishing with famine, to return from the Dead River, a branch of the Kennebec.
After allowing a short respite to collect the rear and to refresh the men, Arnold resumed his line of march, and, on the 9th of November, reached Point Levi, opposite Quebec. A high wind and the want of boats rendered it impossible to cross the river, and to take advantage of the consternation excited by his first appearance. While he was thus detained on the south side of the river, Colonel M’Clean entered the city and took measures for its defence.
At length the wind moderated, and Arnold, having collected some canoes, determined to attempt passing the river. Eluding the armed vessels which guarded the passage, and conquering a rapid current, he crossed over, the night of the 14th of November, and landed a short distance above the place which is rendered memorable by the disembarkation of Wolfe.5 After ascending the same precipice, he, too, formed his small corps on the heights near the plains of Abraham.
Counting on surprising the place, and finding the gates open, he proposed in a council of his officers to march immediately against Quebec, but was overruled. The next day he demanded a surrender of the town, but Colonel M’Clean prevented a measure which the fears of the inhabitants would probably have induced. Being without cannon, almost destitute of ammunition, and not superior to the garrison in numbers, he determined to retire to Point aux Tremble, about twenty miles above Quebec, there to await the arrival of Montgomery.
That General, after clothing his almost naked troops, proceeded with his usual expedition at the head of about three hundred men to Point aux Tremble, whence their united forces marched against Quebec. But Governor Carleton had entered the town and was preparing for a vigorous defence. The garrison amounted to fifteen hundred men, of whom eight hundred were militia. Montgomery’s effective force was stated by himself at eight hundred. Yet he determined to lay siege to the town.
His artillery was too light to make any impression on the walls, the weather was intensely cold, and a part of his army would soon be entitled to a discharge. Under these circumstances he resolved to risk an assault.
Of such materials was his little army composed, that it was necessary not only to consult the officers but the soldiers. Their approbation was obtained with some difficulty, and between four and five in the morning of the 30th of December, the several divisions moved to the assault under a violent storm of snow.
Montgomery advanced at the head of the New York troops round Cape Diamond, along the St. Lawrence to the first basin. A single piece was discharged, by which the General, with Captains M’Pherson and Cheeseman, the first of whom was his aid, together with his orderly sergeant and a private, were killed upon the spot. The whole division retreated, and left the garrison at leisure to direct its individual force against Arnold.
This officer marched at the head of his division along the St. Charles, to the first barrier on that side of the town, when he received a musket-ball in the leg which shattered the bone, and he was carried off the field. Morgan6 rushed forward to the battery at the head of his company, and received from one of the pieces, almost at its mouth, a discharge of grape-shot, which killed only one man. The barricade was instantly mounted, on which the battery was deserted. Morgan formed his company in the streets, but, being entirely ignorant of the town, thought it unadvisable to proceed farther until daylight should enable him to distinguish objects. He was soon joined by Colonel Greene, and Majors Bigelow and Meigs, with several fragments of companies amounting to about two hundred men. They advanced to the second barrier, where an obstinate conflict was maintained for some time. Being unable to gain it, Morgan proposed to cut their way back to the American camp. Uncertainty respecting the fate of the division led by Montgomery prevented the attempt. The number of the enemy soon increased so considerably that retreat became impossible, and the surviving Americans were made prisoners.
In this bold attack on Quebec, the loss on the part of the garrison was inconsiderable. That of the Americans was about four hundred men, three hundred and forty of whom were prisoners. It fell chiefly on Arnold’s division. Captain Hendricks of Pennsylvania, Lieutenant Humphries of Virginia, and Lieutenant Cooper of Connecticut, were among the slain. Captains Lamb and Hubbard, and Lieutenants Steele and Tisdale, were among the wounded. But the loss most deplored, and most fatal to the hopes of the American army, was that of their gallant general.
Richard Montgomery was a native of Ireland, and had served with reputation in the late war. After its termination he settled in New York, and took a decided part with the colonies in their contest with Great Britain. His military reputation was high throughout America; and his achievements, while commanding in Canada, show the bold, skilful, and active partizan; and, so far as a judgment can be formed of the capacity for conducting a large army from the judicious management of a small one, we cannot hesitate to allow him the talents of an able general.
Congress directed a monument, expressing the circumstances of his death, and the gratitude of his country, to be erected to his memory.
The Americans retired about three miles from Quebec, where they maintained the blockade. Arnold, on whom the command devolved, though severely wounded, and though his army, which never exceeded seven hundred men, was at one time reduced by the discharge of those whose terms of service had expired, to five hundred effectives, showed no disposition to sink under adverse fortune.
1776While the affairs of the colonies wore this gloomy aspect in Canada, Congress was indulging sanguine hopes of annexing that province to the Union. Nine regiments were ordered to be raised for its defence, and General Thomas, an officer of reputation, was directed to take the command. The intelligence of the disaster of the 31st of December did not arrest these measures, or change these hopes. In aid of their military operations, three commissioners were deputed to Canada, with instructions to establish a free press, and to propagate the opinions which prevailed through the United Colonies.
In March, reinforcements arrived, so as to increase the army to seventeen hundred men; but this number was soon reduced by the small-pox, and was still further weakened, by being spread over a circuit of twenty-six miles, and separated by three ferries. This division was indispensable to the maintenance of the blockade.
As the season of the year approached when reinforcements from England might be expected, Arnold determined to resume the siege of Quebec. His batteries were opened on the 2d of April; but he had not weight of metal to make a breach in the wall, nor an engineer capable of directing a siege, nor artillerists who understood the management of the pieces.
On the 1st of April, General Wooster had arrived; soon after which Arnold, believing himself to be neglected, obtained leave of absence, and took command at Montreal.
General Thomas reached the American camp on the first of May. He found an army consisting of nineteen hundred men, of whom less than one thousand were fit for duty. Among these were three hundred entitled to a discharge, who insisted on being immediately dismissed. This small force was so divided that not more than three hundred could be united at any one place. The magazines contained only one hundred and fifty barrels of powder, and provisions for six days; nor could adequate supplies be obtained from the country, as the Canadians no longer manifested a disposition to serve. The river too began to open below; and it was certain that the British would seize the first opportunity to relieve Quebec.
Amidst these unpromising appearances, General Thomas thought the hope of taking the town chimerical, and a longer continuance before it both useless and dangerous. Under this impression he called a council of war, which unanimously determined that the army was not in a condition to risk an assault, and that preparations should be made to move to a more defensible position.
May 6The next day five ships entered the harbor and landed some troops, while the Americans were employed in the embarkation of their sick and stores.
About noon General Carleton made a sortie7 at the head of a thousand men, supported by six field-pieces; and General Thomas, by the advice of his field officers, ordered a retreat, which was continued to the Sorel, where he was seized with the small-pox, of which he died.
After his death reinforcements arrived which increased the army in June to four or five thousand men, commanded by General Sullivan,8 who entertained hopes of recovering and maintaining the post at De Chambeau.
Towards the end of May the British army was augmented to thirteen thousand men, great part of whom were on their way to the Three Rivers. A strong corps, commanded by General Frazer, had reached that place, and several armed vessels and transports full of troops lay still higher up the river.
Before the arrival of General Sullivan, General Thompson, who commanded the army after the illness of General Thomas, understanding that the party at the Three Rivers was inconsiderable, had detached Colonel St. Clair with six or seven hundred men against that place. St. Clair, being informed that the party was much stronger than had been supposed, waited at Nicolet for farther orders. When his letter reached camp, General Sullivan had arrived, who immediately detached General Thompson at the head of fourteen hundred men, with orders to attack the enemy, should there be a prospect of success.
June 8, 1776The plan was to attack the village just before day; but the troops arrived an hour later than was intended, in consequence of which they were discovered when landing, and the alarm given. To avoid the fire of some ships lying in the river, they attempted to pass what appeared to be a point of woods, but was in reality a deep morass,9 three miles in extent. Their detention in this morass gave General Frazer full time to prepare for their reception, while General Nesbit cut off their return to their boats. The Americans advanced to the charge, but were soon repulsed, and driven some miles through a deep swamp. General Thompson and Colonel Irwin, with about two hundred men, were made prisoners, and from twenty to thirty were killed.
Notwithstanding his very great inferiority to his enemy, General Sullivan determined to defend the post at the Sorel, and was induced only by the unanimous opinion of his officers, and a conviction that the troops would not support him, to abandon it a few hours before the British took possession of it. The same causes drew him reluctantly from Chamblée and St. Johns, where he was joined by General Arnold with the garrison of Montreal. At the Isle aux Noix he received the orders of General Schuyler to embark on the lakes for Crown Point.
The armed vessels on the St. Lawrence and the Sorel were destroyed, and the fortifications of Chamblée and St. Johns set on fire.
The British army, during this whole retreat, followed close in the rear. At Sorel, the pursuit stopped. The Americans commanded the lake, and it could not be wrested from them until vessels of war should be constructed for the purpose.
While General Carleton was preparing to enter the lakes, General Schuyler was using his utmost exertions to retain the command of them; but so great was the difficulty of obtaining workmen and materials, that he found it impossible to equip a fleet which would be equal to the exigency. It consisted of fifteen small vessels, the largest mounting twelve guns, carrying six and four pound balls.10 At the instance of General Washington, the command of this squadron was given to General Arnold.
With almost incredible exertions, the British General constructed a powerful fleet; and afterwards dragged up the rapids of St. Therese and St. Johns a vast number of long boats11 and other vessels, among which was a gondola12 weighing thirty tons. This immense work was completed in little more than three months; and, as if by magic, General Arnold saw on Lake Champlain, early in October, a fleet consisting of near thirty vessels, the largest of which, the Inflexible, carried eighteen twelve-pounders. It proceeded immediately in quest of Arnold, who was advantageously posted between the island of Valicour and the Western main. Notwithstanding the disparity of force, a warm action ensued, which Arnold was enabled to sustain till night, by the circumstance, that a wind unfavorable to the British kept some of their largest vessels at too great a distance to render any service.
In the night Arnold attempted to escape to Ticonderoga; but was overtaken the next day about noon, and brought to action a few leagues short of Crown Point. He maintained the engagement for two hours, during which the vessels that were most ahead escaped to Ticonderoga. The galleys and five gondolas made a desperate resistance. At length one of them struck;13 after which Arnold ran the remaining vessels on shore and blew them up, having first saved his men.
On the approach of the British army, a small detachment which had occupied Crown Point, retired to Ticonderoga, which Schuyler determined to defend to the last extremity.
Nov. 1776General Carleton took possession of Crown Point, and advanced a part of his fleet into Lake George, within view of Ticonderoga. His army also approached that place; but, after reconnoitring the works, he thought it too late to lay siege to the fortress. Reembarking his army, he returned to Canada, where he placed it in winter quarters, making the Isle Aux Noix his most advanced post.
[1. ]Philip John Schuyler (1733–1804) of New York, descendent of one of New York’s most prominent old Dutch families, British Major in the French and Indian War, revolutionary patriot; in 1775 appointed one of the Major Generals in the Continental army, and commander of the Northern Department.
[2. ]Richard Montgomery (1738–75) of New York, Irish-born Brigadier General in the Continental army.
[3. ]Sir Guy Carleton (1724–1808), Major General in the British army, Governor of Canada from 1775 to 1778; later Commander in Chief of the British army in the American colonies from 1782 to 1783; named Lord Dorchester in 1786.
[4. ]Benedict Arnold (1741–1804) of Connecticut, in 1775 a Colonel in the Massachusetts militia, later a Brigadier and Major General in the Continental army; by 1779, a traitor to the American cause.
[5. ]James Wolfe (1727–59), British Major General who commanded the daring and successful attack on Quebec in 1759, in which he was mortally wounded; given such an important command at his young age by Prime Minister William Pitt, who sought to promote military talent.
[6. ]Daniel Morgan (1736–1802) of New Jersey (Pennsylvania?) and Virginia; in 1775 Captain of a Virginia rifle company; eventually Brigadier General in the Continental army.
[7. ]An attack by troops breaking out of a besieged place.
[8. ]John Sullivan (1740–95) of New Hampshire, in May 1776 Brigadier General in the Continental army.
[9. ]A marsh or swamp.
[10. ]As a military term, gun is restricted to cannon, and guns are identified by the size (weight) of cannonball they discharge; however, even in the eighteenth century the term more widely signified all firearms.
[11. ]Normally, the largest boat on a larger sailing vessel; in the shallow-water conditions of naval combat on Lake Champlain, such boats (propelled by oars) were employed independently of larger ships.
[12. ]Usually a flat-bottomed boat, pointed at both ends, rigged with two square sails on a single mast (though usually propelled by oars); it carried three or more guns (twelve- and nine-pounders) and roughly forty-five men. A galley was a larger such keelless boat, also largely propelled by oars, carrying more men and guns and with a hold and upper deck.
[13. ]Hauled down its flag, as a sign of surrender.