FIVE THOUSAND MEN PERISHED by disease or the casualties of battle during the last two months of the campaign for the con quest of Canada, which commenced in 1775 and ended early in the summer of 1776.
Arnold's expedition reached Quebec. Montgomery also reached Quebec. At the end of their assault, the remnant of both commands was less than five hundred effective men. Up to March first, 1776, including all reinforcements, the number never exceeded seven hundred able-bodied men, present at one time for duty.
During the month of March the army increased to about seven teen hundred effective men. The detached guards, upon Orleans Island, at Point Levi and on both sides of the river, left but a small force to protect earth-works, to say nothing of the absurdity of any assault upon Quebec.
Small-pox broke out in the camp. Many enlistments were to expire April fifteenth, and no rational reason could be urged upon the dispirited men to induce their reenlistment.
Supplies became scarce, and continental money had no value. Arnold made proclamation on the fourth of March, that paper money then put in circulation, would be redeemed in four months, and that those who refused to take it should be treated as enemies. Already every promise of sympathy from the people had vanished, and when General Wooster arrived to take command on the first of April, he found that the army itself was fast melting away. That there had been much kind feeling toward the colonies on the part of very many Canadians is manifest from the success which attended the efforts of Colonels Livingston and Allen and Major Brown to organize Canadian battalions as soon as Montgomery appeared in force before St. John.
Ramsey writing in 1793, particularly notices the fact that the American express messengers freely passed between Montreal and Quebec without molestation, everywhere receiving kind treatment; and that a Mr. Price actually advanced five thousand dollars in specie to relieve the embarrassments of the officers who could not purchase supplies with continental money. This was a large amount when it is considered that Congress was able to send but a little over sixteen thou sand dollars, at a time when a hundred thousand was actually needed. On the second day of April General Wooster examined the British works and declared his purpose to begin active work. A few small cannon and two small mortars, then in position, were vigorously exercised to see what they could do : but their light metal was simply insignificant and made no impression upon the parapets of Quebec.
During this time, scattered all the way from Albany on the Hudson river to Montreal, there could have been found companies of the regiments which Congress had sent to Canada, and which Washington and the colonies could so poorly spare at such a crisis.
On the day of Wooster's sham cannonading, Arnold's horse fell with him and bruised his wounded limb, so that he was confined to the bed, and to his reflections upon the progress of the campaign thus far realized. As soon as able to move he retired to Montreal on leave of absence.
As spring approached and the ice broke up, the ground thawed, and it became simply impossible to move troops over the intermediate country to their support, and the river was not sufficiently open for transportation purposes. On the first of May, General Thomas, a man of culture, wisdom and courage, assumed command of the troops, then amounting to hardly nineteen hundred men, of whom less than a thousand, including officers, were fit for duty. Among those really effective, not less than three hundred claimed a discharge, their term of legal service having expired. The previous separation of the army into detachments, for the sake of blockading Quebec and cutting off supplies from the country, involved the constant use of three ferries, so that it was impossible upon any short notice to rally more than three hundred men to resist an attack, and even the medical appointments could not be kept up to their best efficiency.
At the time of his arrival the army was increased to the nominal strength, all told, of about three thousand men; but this accession was simply a contribution to the grave, a stimulus to the growing dislike of the provincials, and the assurance of a more speedy expenditure of supplies and an ultimate retreat.
The ice was moving rapidly. Reinforcements were known to have left England and Ireland, and there was no possibility of substantial, offensive activity.
A fire-ship was prepared and floated toward the shipping then in the channel, but it did no harm, and the men in charge had a narrow escape from capture. The supply of powder had been reduced to one hundred and fifty barrels, and the store of provisions on hand was barely sufficient for six days of economical use.
A council of war was held, and an immediate retreat to the Three Rivers was decided upon as the only means of saving the army from starvation or capture.
Orders were issued for the embarkation of the sick and the artillery except one gun; and orders were also sent to Orleans Island, Point Levi, and other points where detachments were stationed, in order to make the utmost expedition before the garrison should learn of the design.
On the very next day, during the confusion incident to the emergency, the frigate Surprise, the Isis, 54, and the sloop of war Martin, arrived with two companies of the Twenty-ninth regiment, which were promptly landed as well as a considerable force of marines.
General Carleton did not wait for these new forces to rest, but sallying forth at one o'clock in the afternoon with nearly a thousand men and six pieces of artillery, he made a vigorous attack upon the American position. One piece of artillery, and about three hundred men constituted the resisting force then available, and General Thomas wisely retreated, and in order, but with necessary precipitation.
Nearly a hundred prisoners, beside the sick in hospital, his stores, baggage, and artillery were captured, and with these, nearly two tons of powder, and five hundred muskets, which had arrived that very morning from General Schuyler. Some of the sick, many of them still suffering with the small-pox, dragged themselves along, thoroughly desperate in their purpose to work their way homeward rather than remain as captives, and the retrograde movement was not interrupted until the army reached Deschambault, about fifty-eight miles toward Montreal. The command made no halt during the march, and the night was one of fearful terrors to the hungry and weary command, staggering through woods, streams, and swamps, with everything to discourage, and nothing to hope for except to escape from the con quest of Canada.
Dr. Gordon writing from Roxbury, July nineteenth of that year, says, "Their condition could not be expressed in words."
The army rested a few days at Deschambault. A council of war decided that there could be no safety short of Sorel. The British fleet had followed fast after them, and were even then at anchor at Jacques Cartier, only nine miles below their camp. This fleet had been largely increased. On the eighth of May, the Niger ship of war arrived from Halifax, convoying three transports and bringing the Forty-seventh regiment, and on the tenth the Triton arrived with other transports loaded with veterans and the European contingent.
General Thomas proceeded directly to Sorel, where he found four regiments awaiting orders. Additional battalions arrived in a few days. Here he was taken down with the small-pox, and died on the second June.
On the first of June, General Riedesel arrived with Brunswick troops, and Burgoyne with troops from Ireland. These reinforcements swelled the command of General Carleton to nine thousand nine hundred and eighty-four effective men, and preparations were made to take the offensive in force, and expel the American troops from Canada.
General Sullivan arrived at Sorel on the sixth of June, and assumed command. His words were to the point. "I can reduce the army to order, and put a new face upon our affairs here."
To Washington he wrote,—"I am determined to hold the most important posts, so long as one stone is left upon another." He did not appreciate the position, neither did Congress.
A single minor operation of this disastrous campaign is worthy of mention at this stage of the narrative.
There is a narrow pass in the St. Lawrence river above Perrot Island, nearly forty-three miles above Montreal, and a projecting point called the Cedars.
Sir John Johnson, who had previously stirred up Indian aggression upon New York settlements, had received a British commission as Colonel, and was engaged in exciting the Indians of the north-west, and from Detroit eastward, to offensive movements against the American forces then in Canada.
Colonel Bedell of New Hampshire, who had been associated with Colonel Livingston and Major Brown in the capture of Chambly, during 1775, had been assigned to post command at the Cedars with a garrison force of three hundred and ninety troops and two field pieces.
On the fifteenth of May a hostile force consisting of forty regulars of the Eighth regiment from Detroit, one hundred Canadians, and five hundred savages under Colonel Beadle and Captain Foster, but without artillery, descended from the lakes and approached the fort.
Colonel Bedell hastened to Montreal for reinforcements, leaving Major Butterfield in command.
Major Sherburne started for the fort the next day with one hundred and forty men, and was soon followed by General Arnold with a still larger detachment. The facts as stated by Gordon, Stedman, Marshall, Bancroft, and other writers, British and American, do not substantially differ from the finding of the standing committee upon Indian affairs which was reported to Congress, and adopted by that body on the tenth of July, 1776, except as to the extent of injury done by the Indians. Congress received an exaggerated report of the matter. A brother of General Sullivan, who was one of the prisoners, wrote shortly after the so-called massacre that "Captain Foster treated them well after the surrender, or to the utmost of his ability."
The transaction is memorable as one of the incidents attending the evacuation of Canada, and more particularly as the occasion of a formal notice to Generals Howe and Burgoyne on the part of Congress, that the Americans would measure out exact and literal retaliation for any departure from the rules and usages of honorable warfare. Major Butterfield having plenty of ammunition and provisions for nearly thirty days, without permitting his officers to sally out and attack the enemy as they desired to do, surrendered his whole command upon the simple condition that they should be prisoners to the British forces and not to the Indians, and that their baggage should not be plundered.
On the day following, Major Sherburne, who brought reinforcements, was attacked as he approached the fort, and fought with great courage for nearly an hour, but finally surrendered, when hotly pressed by superior numbers, and upon advices of the fate of the garrison. A cartel of exchange was enforced, coupled with the condition that "they would not in words, writing or signs, give the least information to government enemies, or to their adherents now in arms, in the least prejudice to his majesty's service," thus practically doubling the exchange, and this was made the condition of their exemption from Indian outrage.
Captain Foster stated in the preamble to the cartel, that he "found from their threats and menaces that the inevitable consequences of savage custom, to put prisoners to death, would ensue;" hence the stipulations made.
The British took a strong position at Vaudreuil and Perrot Island. Arnold, with seven hundred men, made an attempt to dislodge them and rescue the prisoners, but the British commander so positively threatened to turn the prisoners over to the Indians in case of attack, that Arnold himself signed the proposed cartel, withdrew from St. Anne to La Chine and then returned to Montreal. It was an illustration of the far reaching effects of the cowardice or incompetency of a single post commander.
The narrative left General Sullivan at Sorel, and General Carle ton on the eve of aggressive action.
The rendezvous appointed for the advancing British troops was at Three Rivers, about equally distant from Montreal and Quebec, and General Fraser had taken command of that station.
Burgoyne, Riedesel and Phillips had started by land and water, to concentrate the army at that point.
General Nesbit was near Three Rivers, on transports, under convoy. Gordon puts the British effective force at thirteen thousand men but he makes no allowance for the percentage of non-effectives, clerks and detachments, which reduce an army within twenty-four hours after a regular muster. Few of the battalions sent to America were full, and any estimate of forces based merely upon the number of battalions, is invariably an error.
At this stage of affairs, General Sullivan having a force of about five thousand men at Sorel, called a council of war and resolved to occupy and hold Three Rivers. He was under the impression that the British force at that post was less than seven hundred men, probably not more than five hundred for duty.
Colonel St. Clair was already at Nicholet with nearly eight hundred men. Colonels Wayne, Maxwell and Irvine, with sufficient force to make an aggregate of two thousand men, were sent down the river and through Lake St. Peter to join him. The command of the expedition was assigned to General Thompson.
Chief Justice Marshall, in his life of Washington, supplies a fact in this connection which reconciles other historical accounts, and shows that during the four days which intervened between the death of General Thomas and the arrival of General Sullivan, General Thompson was in command, and that he sent St. Clair to Nicholet for the purpose of surprising the British post at Three Rivers. General Thompson, under the order of General Sullivan, whom he must have advised of the state of affairs, on his arrival, reached Nicholet, a little after midnight, or early in the morning, of the seventh of June. He kept his command under cover during the day, and crossed the St. Lawrence early in the evening of the seventh, landing at Point Du Lac. Their movement was not a secret. If it had been, the result would have been fully as disastrous. With morning light they found them selves flanked by a swamp and compelled to march along the river. This exposed them to the fire of the shipping which they had safely passed under cover of the night, to the fire of artillery which had been landed on the beach by General Fraser, to conflict with a force three times their number, and to a class of risks never contemplated in their detail "to take and occupy Three Rivers."
Where Wayne went there was a fight, always. That was his business.
Bancroft thus sums up the scene: "The short darkness of that latitude was soon over; as day began to appear, the Americans, who were marching under the bank of the river, were cannonaded from the ships ; undismayed they took their way through a thickly wooded swamp, above their knees in mud and water ; and after a most wearisome struggle of four hours reached an open piece of ground, where they endeavored to form. Wayne began the attack and forced the party to run; his companions then pressed forward in column against the breast-works, which covered the main body of the enemy. They displayed undisputed gallantry ; but being outnumbered three to one, were compelled to retire."
The battle was soon over. One hundred and fifty prisoners were left in the hands of the British troops, including General Thompson and Colonel Irvine.
The men, scattered and disheartened, found their boats, and Three Rivers was not taken.
Sullivan wrote—"I now think only of a glorious death, or a victory obtained against superior numbers."
The Congressional commission had already advised that Canada be abandoned. Congress, however, voted to sustain the offensive and was still legislating to maintain that army as late as July eighth. Sullivan's officers finally advised retreat.
The British fleet came up the river under a favorable wind on the fourteenth of June, and when they were within one hour's sail of Sorel, .Sullivan broke up his camp and started' for St. John's.
Arnold held on to Montreal with three hundred men until the fleet
was within twelve miles of the city, and then crossed to La Prairie, without interruption.
Sergeant Lamb, of the Royal Welsh Fusileers, then a private soldier, published his diary of the events of that campaign. He says— "The sufferings of the Americans were indeed great, obliged to drag their batteries up the rapids of the Sorel, by mere strength, often to their middle in water, and encumbered with great numbers laboring under that dreadful disease, the small-pox, which is so fatal in America. It was said that two regiments, at one time, had not a single man in health, another had only six, and a fourth only forty, and two more were nearly in the same condition. While the Americans were retreating, they were daily annoyed by the remonstrances of the inhabitants of Canada, who had either joined or befriended them. Many of the Canadians had taken a decided part in their favor, rendered them essential services, and thereby incurred the heavy penal ties annexed to the crime of supporting rebellion. These, though Congress had assured them but a few months before, that, 'they would never abandon them to the fury of their common enemies' were from the necessity of the case, left exposed to the resentment of their rulers."
On the seventeenth, says Bancroft, "all that was left of the invading army met at St. John's."
"On the eighteenth, the emaciated, half-naked men, broken in strength and in discipline, too weak to have beaten off an assault from the enemy, as pitiable a spectacle as could be seen, removed to Isle Aux Noix, where Sullivan proposed to await express orders from Schuyler." This island was low, badly supplied with water, and so unhealthy, that Sullivan retired to Isle La Motte, where he received orders from General Schuyler to retire to Crown Point, which post he reached during July.
Colonel Trumbull visited the post, and thus states the condition of the troops. "I did not look into a tent or hut in which I did not find either a dead or dying man." "I wept till I had no more power to weep," said a physician who attended the troops.
"Everything about them, their clothes, their blankets, the air, the very ground they trod on, was infected with the pestilence." "More than thirty new graves were made every day."
Sergeant Lamb's statement was not exaggerated. The official muster rolls showed that on account of sickness or inoculation, there were single regiments without a man fit for duty.
Canada was free from the pressure of American troops. Burgoyne re-occupied St. John's. Gates had superseded Sullivan, and he was promised additional troops to the number of six thousand men, viz., three from Massachusetts, fifteen hundred from Connecticut, seven hundred and fifty from New Hampshire, and seven hundred and fifty from New York; but none entered Canada. The death of Montgomery was the pivot event of the entire campaign.
His plan contemplated the establishment of strong posts at Jacques Cartier, the Narrows, and at Montreal, and the occupation of the plains of Abraham by ten thousand men. More than this number was actually assigned to operations in Canada, but if all had reached Quebec, they could not have been maintained at that number, unless all other operations were sacrificed.
A committee of Congress gave good reasons for the failure of the invasion, viz., undertaken too late in the fall, — enlistments too short and the consequent haste which forced immature expeditions for fear there would be no men to undertake them— want of specie, and the small-pox.