« PrejšnjaNaprej »
A CHALLENGE DECLINED. A BLOW MEDITATED.-A CAUTIOUS COUNCIL OF WAR.-PREPARATION FOR THE QUEBEC EXPEDITION.-BENEDICT ARNOLD THE LEADER.-ADVICE AND INSTRUCTIONS.-DEPARTURE.-GENERAL SCHUYLER ON THE SOREL.-RECONNOITERS ST, JOHN'S.-CAMP AT ISLE AUX NOIX. -ILLNESS OF SCHUYLER. — RETURNS TO TICONDEROGA. — EXPEDITION OF MONTGOMERY AGAINST ST. JOHN'S.-LETTER OF ETHAN ALLEN. HIS DASH AGAINST MONTREAL. ITS CATASTROPHE. A HERO IN IRONS. CORRESPONDENCE OF WASHINGTON WITH SCHUYLER AND ARNOLD.-HIS ANXIETY
HE siege of Boston had been kept up for several weeks without any remarkable occurrence. The British remained within their lines, diligently strengthening them; the besiegers having received further supplies of ammunition, were growing impatient of a state of inactivity. Towards the latter part of August there were rumors from Boston, that the enemy were preparing for a sortie. Washington was resolved to provoke it by a kind of challenge. He accordingly detached fourteen hundred men to seize at night upon a height within musket-shot of the enemy's line on Charlestown Neck, presuming that the latter would sally forth on the following day to dispute possession of it, and thus be drawn into a general battle. The task was
executed with silence and celerity, and by daybreak the hill presented to the astonished foe the aspect of a fortified post.
The challenge was not accepted. The British opened a heavy cannonade from Bunker's Hill, but kept within their works. The Americans, scant of ammunition, could only reply with a single nine-pounder; this, however, sank one of the floating batteries which guarded the Neck. They went on to complete and strengthen this advanced post, exposed to daily cannonade and bombardment, which, however, did but little injury. They continued to answer from time to time with a single gun; reserving their ammunition for a general action. “We are just in the situation of a man with little money in his pocket," writes Secretary Reed; "he will do twenty mean things to prevent his breaking in upon his little stock. We are obliged to bear with the rascals on Bunker's Hill, when a few shot now and then in return would keep our men attentive to their business and give the enemy alarms."*
The evident unwillingness of the latter to come forth was perplexing. "Unless the ministerial troops in Boston are waiting for reinforcements," writes Washington, "I cannot devise what they are staying there for, nor why, as they affect to despise the Americans, they do not come forth and put an end to the contest at once."
*Life of Reed, vol. i. 119.
Perhaps they persuaded themselves that his army, composed of crude, half-disciplined levies from different and distant quarters, would gradually fall asunder and disperse, or that its means of subsistence would be exhausted. He had his own fears on the subject, and looked forward with doubt and anxiety to a winter's campaign; the heavy expense that would be incurred in providing barracks, fuel, and warm clothing; the difficulty there would be of keeping together, through the rigorous season, troops unaccustomed to military hardships, and none of whose terms of enlistment extended beyond the first of January: the supplies of ammunition, too, that would be required for protracted operations; the stock of powder on hand, notwithstanding the most careful husbandry, being fearfully small. Revolving these circumstances in his mind, he rode thoughtfully about the commanding points in the vicinity of Boston, considering how he might strike a decisive blow that would put an end to the murmuring inactivity of the army, and relieve the country from the consuming expense of maintaining it. The result was, a letter to the major and brigadier-generals, summoning them to a council of war to be held at the distance of three days, and giving them previous intimation of its purpose. It was to know whether, in their judgment, a successful attack might not be made upon the troops at Boston by means of boats, in coöperation with an attempt upon their lines at Roxbury. "The success of such an enter
A CAUTIOUS WAR COUNCIL.
prise,” adds he, "depends, I well know, upon the Allwise Disposer of events, and it is not within the reach of human wisdom to foretell the issue; but if the prospect is fair, the undertaking is justifiable."
He proceeded to state the considerations already cited, which appeared to justify it. The council having thus had time for previous deliberation, met on the 11th of September. It was composed of Major-generals Ward, Lee, and Putnam, and Brigadier-generals Thomas, Heath, Sullivan, Spencer, and Greene. They unanimously pronounced the suggested attempt inexpedient, at least for the present.
It certainly was bold and hazardous, yet it seems to have taken strong hold on the mind of the commanderin-chief, usually so cautious. "I cannot say," writes he to the President of Congress, "that I have wholly laid it aside; but new events may occasion new measures. this I hope the honorable Congress can need no assurance, that there is not a man in America who more earnestly wishes such a termination of the campaign, as to make the army no longer necessary."
In the meantime, as it was evident the enemy did not intend to come out, but were only strengthening their defenses and preparing for winter, Washington was enabled to turn his attention to the expedition to be sent into Canada by the way of the Kennebec River.
A detachment of about eleven hundred men, chosen for the purpose, was soon encamped on Cambridge Common.
There were ten companies of New England infantry, some of them from General Greene's Rhode Island regiments; three rifle companies from Pennsylvania and Virginia, one of them Captain Daniel Morgan's famous company; and a number of volunteers; among whom was Aaron Burr, then but twenty years of age, and just commencing his varied, brilliant, but ultimately unfortunate career.
The proposed expedition was wild and perilous, and required a hardy, skillful, and intrepid leader. Such a one was at hand. Benedict Arnold was at Cambridge, occupied in settling his accounts with the Massachusetts committee of safety. These were nearly adjusted. Whatever faults may have been found with his conduct in some particulars, his exploits on Lake Champlain had atoned for them; for valor, in time of war, covers a multitude of sins. It was thought, too, by some, that he had been treated harshly, and there was a disposition to soothe his irritated pride. Washington had given him an honorable reception at head-quarters, and now considered him the very man for the present enterprise. He had shown aptness for military service, whether on land or water. He was acquainted, too, with Canada, and especially with Quebec, having, in the course of his checkered life,. traded in horses between that place and the West Indies. With these considerations he intrusted him with the command of the expedition, giving him the commission of lieutenant-colonel in the continental army.
As he would be intrusted with dangerous powers,