THE DRUMS BEAT TO ARMS, and the city was thoroughly aroused.
It was hardly daylight on the morning of November ninth, 1775, when Arnold's men appeared upon the river shore, just opposite the citadel of Quebec. His daring spirit was moved to an immediate advance. That instant of time was one of those which contain vast possibilities, and Arnold was a man peculiarly prompt to seize opportunities for daring adventure.
He resolved to cross at all hazards, with numbers however small, if canoes or any other floating fabric could be applied to the movement of men; but it was just then, as already stated, that the Storm King held mastery by day and by night for three successive days, and even Arnold must obey and wait.
During this interval there occurred substantial changes in the character and condition of the garrison of Quebec.
Colonel Allen McLean, who had been operating with General Carleton in the western zone, had abandoned it upon the successful advancement of Montgomery's army to Montreal, and retreated in safety to Quebec, reaching that fortress with one hundred and seventy "Royal Scotch," on the twelfth day of November.
On the fifth, one hundred carpenters arrived from Newfound land. The deputy-governor, Cramahe, had in fact commenced to repair the defenses as early as September, and the arrival of Arnold was at the last moment of possible success. Two vessels of war, the Lizard and the Hunter, lay in the harbor, and the crews of merchant vessels were also impressed into the service.
Arnold, unapprised of the reinforcement of the garrison, took advantage of his enforced delay, and secured thirty birch-bark canoes for the use of his troops. On the night of the thirteenth of November, by making three trips for the purpose, he crossed the river with seven hundred and fifty men. Daylight revealed his movements, and prevented his return to Point Levi for the last detachment of one hundred and fifty men, and all the ladders which had been prepared for storming purposes.
The landing had been made at Wolfe's cove, a deep notch in the bank up the river just below Sillery, and indelibly associated with the name of that brave soldier who captured Quebec in 1759. Was the name suggestive? That was indeed a little army which Arnold was about to hurl against the parapets, where Wolfe "died happy in victory."
They climbed the steep ascent undisturbed, took their position about half a mile in front of St. Ursula bastion, between the gates of St. John and St. Louis, aroused the garrison by loud huzzahs, and sent forward a formal flag with the demand for immediate surrender.
At that very moment, the army of Arnold was but poorly pre pared for meeting an enemy. Over one hundred of their muskets were unserviceable, many cartridges were ruined, and much powder was spoiled. A careful inspection disclosed the fact that the sound ammunition only averaged five rounds per man.
The flag elicited no reply; and a second flag, accompanied by threats of terrible things unless the surrender should be immediate and complete, was fired upon.
It was entirely unnecessary for McLean's Royal Scotch to make a sortie upon the American army. Their steadfast hold upon the city, not only repressed any efforts of disaffected citizens to open the gates to that army; but was a warning to Arnold that his victory must be won by storming the fortress itself.
It is historically true, that Morgan, Febiger and other officers of equal merit, painfully realized the contrast with those expectations which had inspired their departure from Cambridge, and had sustained them in the perils of the wilderness.
Arnold now learned, for the first time, of the reinforcements which had reached Quebec; and was also advised, by personal acquaintances, that a sortie from the city would soon be made, and that general Carleton had escaped from Montreal and was on his way to the city.
For two or three days the formalities of a blockading force were kept up, guards were posted upon the roads leading to Lorette, St. Foy and Three Rivers, thus cutting off all country supplies of wood or meat which were intended for the garrison ; but on the nineteenth
Arnold retired to Point Aux Trembles, to await the arrival of Montgomery.
On that very day, Washington sent a communication to Congress in which the following words occur:
"It is likely that General Carleton will, with what force he can collect, after the surrender of the rest of Canada, throw himself into Quebec, and there make his last effort."
Carleton was at Aux Trembles in the morning, barely missed Arnold, and entered Quebec during the afternoon of the nineteenth. His first official act was to require all persons who refused to aid in defense of the city, to leave it within four days. Upon removal of these dangerous elements, his available force consisted of at least three hundred regulars, three hundred and thirty Anglo-Canadian militia, five hundred and forty-three French Canadians, four hundred and eighty-five seamen and marines, and one hundred and twenty artificers, fit for duty.
The sole dependence of Arnold was now upon Montgomery, and he sent Captain Ogden with an urgent request, that he would come to his aid with artillery and at least two thousand men.
That officer had indeed occupied Montreal, which was an open city, but by reason of the expiration of terms of enlistments and the unwillingness of the troops to serve any longer, so far from home, he was left with only about eight hundred men as the month of November drew to its close. Even the Green Mountain boys had returned home, greatly to his disgust. The loss in numbers, however, did not represent the real state of his army. Officers and men were alike fractious, dictatorial and self-willed. They claimed the right to do just as they pleased, and to obey such orders only as their judgment approved.
General Schuyler's letter books, and orderly book, and the letters of Montgomery written during that campaign, are very extraordinary exhibitions of the characters of the two men, of their appreciation of the issues of the day, and of their wise and unremitting efforts to secure an exact and thorough army discipline. The aspiration for national liberty had evoked a sense of personal liberty, which was eminently destructive of all real liberty.
The American army at Montreal, at Ticonderoga and at Cambridge, was so intractable and so short-sighted, as very nearly to fulfill Milton's apothegm, "License they mean, when they cry Liberty!"
The effort of Montgomery to provide humanely for prisoners of war, was not only treated with contempt, but was made the excuse for insubordination and outrage. On one occasion he tendered his resignation; but canceled it when due apology was made. Schuyler had trouble in the same direction, and officers refused to take clothing and food to suffering prisoners until he made his authority stringent.
Another difficulty grew out of the refusal of troops to serve under generals from other colonies than their own. Colonies had their distinctive military codes, which limited the obligation of the men. To serve in the continental army involved some abnegation of self, and the surrender of the individual will to that of authority.
Montgomery could not, at that time, go to the support of Arnold, without leaving a competent officer in command. It seemed as if the armies at Ticonderoga and Montreal were about to melt away entirely; and both generals were ready to retire from the service, when Washington addressed them a letter, quite characteristic of himself and of the crisis.
"God knows," wrote Washington, "there is not a difficulty that you both [Schuyler and Montgomery] complain of, which I have not, in an eminent degree, experienced, that I am not every day experiencing; but we must bear up against them and make the best of mankind as they are, since we cannot have them as we wish. Let me therefore conjure you and Mr. Montgomery to lay aside such thoughts [of leaving the service]; thoughts injurious to yourselves and extremely so to your country, which calls aloud for gentlemen of your abilities."
Late in November, General Wooster arrived at Montreal. With a patriotism characteristic of the man, and especially complimented by Washington, this officer waived his rank in the Connecticut army, and accepted continental assignment, which was below that of Montgomery by one day's date of commission. He took command of the Montreal district, and Montgomery with about three hundred men and a few pieces of artillery, started for the relief of Arnold and the capture of Quebec. A sufficient supply of clothing which had been captured upon the first occupation of the city, was taken on board the vessels for Arnold's command.
Montgomery landed at Point Aux Trembles, on or about the first day of December, and swelled the combined army to a force of nearly one thousand men. This included the detachment originally left at Point Levi, which had subsequently crossed the river with safety.
The strongest fortress in America defended by two hundred heavy cannon, and a garrison of nearly or quite two thousand effective men, was to be subjected to the assaults of this handful of men.
The advance was made during a driving snow storm, through drifts ten feet high; and yet the army was quartered in houses of the suburb of St. Roche, on the Charles river, before dark, December fifth.
December sixth, Montgomery demanded the surrender of the city. This communication eliciting no response, another was sent. This contained exaggerated statements of his force, and threatened dire results, if resistance should be prolonged. No reply was made.
December ninth, a battery of six small guns and two mortars was established about seven hundred yards from St. John's gate. The ground was too hard for earthworks, and snow with water poured over it and frozen, supplied the filling, which with gabions and fascines was made to answer for cover to the battery. The small caliber of the guns((rendered them useless, and on the sixteenth of December it was determined to resort to assault, as the only means of gaining access to Quebec.
At this juncture, three of Arnold's captains refused to serve under him any longer. Their time of service would expire at the end of the month, and there was every indication that open mutiny would re place the harmony which had thus far prevailed. An earnest appeal from Montgomery restored them to duty.
The weather had become so cold that men could not handle their arms except for a few minutes at a time, and the month was drawing to its end. On Christmas, the officers held a council, and resolved to make an assault as soon as the weather would permit. The next night was one of intense cold even for that latitude, and great suffering ensued. Succeeding moderation of temperature induced immediate preparation for offensive action; but it was not until the night of the thirtieth, when but one day of legal service remained for a large portion of the troops, that the preparations were complete.
The army was divided into four divisions. The Canadians about two hundred in number, under Colonel Livingston, of Chambly, and Major Brown with his own companies, were to demonstrate in front of St. John and St. Louis gates, and at Cape Diamond bastion, while Montgomery and Arnold were to make bona fide attacks through the lower town. The signal for these attacks was to be a discharge of rockets at Cape Diamond.
Montgomery commanded the New York militia and a part of the Eastern. He was to advance from the south and west, directly under Cape Diamond, while Arnold from the north and west, with Lamb's artillery, Morgan's riflemen, and other troops, was expected to pass along the head of the stone jetty, and meet Montgomery at Mountain street, when an attempt would be made upon the city by the rear, at Prescott gate.
Montgomery moved his men to Wolfe's cove, and at least two miles up the river, and then followed the narrow passage which is left between Cape Diamond and the river. His course was almost directly north-east, and in the face of drifting snow, which soon changed to fine hail, rendering it impossible to recognize his men at the distance of a few feet, and equally impossible to communicate orders except by messengers. Men's breathing soon covered the face with ice, the single trail became hard and slippery after a few had led the way, and the march was along a ledge where a single careless step would precipitate a man to an abyss on the right.
Unexpectedly, and half an hour too soon, the rocket signal put the garrison on the alert. Lanterns flashed on the parapet, and Montgomery with a mere handful of men had just passed under Cape Diamond, while his principal force, with the ladders, still struggled through the snow half a mile in the rear. It was a moment of intense interest!
The first barrier of timber and pickets extending from the slate rock upon which Cape Diamond rested, to the river precipice, had been left to its intrinsic excellence as an obstruction, and was without a guard.
Hatchets and saws made quick work! Sending a messenger to the rear to hurry men forward, Montgomery with his aid, McPherson, and parts of Cheeseman's and Mott's companies, pushed through this barrier, and advanced upon the second, which consisted of a log-house, loop-holed for muskets, and defended by two pieces of cannon.
The pathway now descended and approached the foot of King's Yard. Only three or four men could march abreast, yet Montgomery, as soon as sixty men were collected, advanced to force the defenses. A master of a transport with a few seamen, and not more than thirty-eight militia, manned the block-house. The forlorn hope was already within a hundred feet of the barrier. Montgomery shouted, "Men of New York, you will not fear to follow where your general leads; push on, Quebec is ours!" Suddenly the lighted matches sparkled like fire-flies in the gloom; a whirl of grape-shot swept the narrow pathway, and Montgomery, McPherson, Cheeseman, and ten others were instantly killed!
In vain, Captain Mott urged the survivors to renew the advance. A continuous fire from the loop-holes of the block-house and repeated discharges of grape, were followed by the descent of fire-balls from the heights to light up the scene of conflict, and as daylight began to appear, the whole detachment could be seen in full retreat.
Montgomery lay stiff and cold in death; but his memory, honored by the garrison which rescued his body, and buried it with the honors of war, is ever a theme of praise; and that perpetual tribute is the spontaneous offering of foes and friends alike.
Arnold moved on his errand with equal promptness, and under equally trying risks. The ice had gorged, and had been forced upon the shore by the heavy tides, so that his men also were confined to a narrow(passage along the rock. The north-east storm beat with un-broken force upon their left flank, and the eddies of wind which curled about the cliff, lifted great drifts in their path.
Arnold led the advance with merely five picked men. Morgan's riflemen and Lamb's artillery followed, the latter dragging a field-piece on a sled. It was soon abandoned.
Already they had passed the stone jetty ; had passed the Palace gate, and were pushing forward into the narrow street of Sault au Matelot, where, under a projecting rock in a narrow passage, a barrier had been established and was strongly supported.
The advance had been so far made, and as yet no report of fire arms gave notice that Colonel Livingston had made his demonstration before St. John's gate, to occupy the garrison, and divert their attention from the assault upon the Lower town. But in its place, the beat of drums, and the roar of cannon, gave warning of the hot welcome which awaited the assailants.
A storm of grape and musketry received Arnold's advance! At the first discharge his right knee was shattered by a musket ball, and he was carried back to St. Roche. Morgan and Lamb passed on, planted ladders, and the first barrier was gained.
At the end of the same street, and not far from the anticipated union with Montgomery's column, a second barrier, supported by a well defended stone house, was in the way. Once it was surmounted by Morgan, but only to learn that a strong force was posted in its rear. Seizing houses for cover, and answering back the fire from other houses across the street, the fight continued for nearly four hours. Ignorant of the localities, but determined not to recede, Morgan fought on. Lamb was wounded, nearly sixty of his men had fallen, and still the expected command of Dearborn did not come to his support. A well conceived sortie from the Palace gate had been made under General Carleton's orders, and Dearborn's company, divided into two detachments, were already prisoners of war.
Hopeless of success, unsupported, destitute of ammunition, and without bayonets, apprised of the fate of Montgomery and his companions, Morgan also surrendered his command, and entered Quebec, but as a prisoner of war. Thus failed the second movement as the first failed; and four hundred and twenty-six officers and men, one half of the entire American force, were with him prisoners of war.
They were captives, but let it be recorded to the perpetual memory of General Carleton, that these captives were treated with soldierly respect. When his officers complained of his kindness toward rebels, his answer was characteristic, and more and more to be valued as England and America enjoy the fruits of comity and peace.
"Since we have tried in vain to make them acknowledge us as brothers, let us at least send them away disposed to regard us as first cousins."
Arnold withdrew to a distance of three miles from the town, entrenched himself as well as he could, confined his operations to shutting the city off from supplies, and his share in the campaign of 1775 closed.
The invasion of Canada came to a full stop. The invasion of the colonies was to follow its abandonment. Of the brave men who took part in those exciting events, many had a future history; and their after conduct will bear testimony of the value of the experience which so thoroughly tested their patriotism and valor.
Morgan was General Morgan, of Morgan's riflemen.
Meigs and Febiger are associated with the forlorn hope of Stony Point.
Greene defended Red Bank on the Delaware.
Thayer was heroic at Fort Mifflin.
Lamb fought at Montgomery and Yorktown.
Oswald is identified with Monmouth.
Porterfield was killed in the battle of Camden.
Many of these began their training at Bunker Hill, and, through the wilderness and before Quebec, continued their education in the art of war.