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ARNOLD BLOCKADES QUEBEC HIS DIFFICULTIES ARRIVAL OF
TON-RETREAT OF THE AMERICANS-HALT AT POINT DESCHAM
IN a former chapter, we left Arnold before the walls of Quebec, wounded, crippled, almost disabled, yet not disheartened: blockading that "proud town" with a force inferior, by half, in number to that of the garrison. For his gallant services, Congress promoted him in January to the rank of brigadier-general.
Throughout the winter he kept up the blockade with his shattered army; though had Carleton ventured upon sortie, he might have been forced to decamp. That cautious general, however, remained within his walls. He was sure of re-enforcements from England in the spring, and, in the mean time, trusted to the elements of dissolution at work in the besieging army.
Arnold, in truth, had difficulties of all kinds to contend with. His military chest was exhausted; his troops were in want of necessaries; to procure supplies, he was compelled to resort to the paper money issued by Congress, which was uncurrent among the Canadians; he issued a proclamation making the refusal to take it in payment a penal offence. This only produced irritation and disgust. As the terms of their enlistment expired, his men claimed their discharge and returned home. Sickness also thinned his ranks; so that, at one time, his force was reduced to five hundred men, and for two months, with all his recruitments of raw militia, did not exceed seven hundred.
The failure of the attack on Quebec had weakened the cause among the Canadians; the peasantry had been displeased by the conduct of the American troops; they had once welcomed them as deliverers; they now began to regard them as intruders. The seigneurs, or noblesse, also, feared to give further countenance to an invasion, which, if defeated, might involve them in ruin.
Notwithstanding all these discouragements, Arnold still kept
up a bold face; cut off supplies occasionally, and harassed the place with alarms. Having repaired his batteries, he opened a fire upon the town, but with little effect; the best part of the artillerists, with Lamb, their capable commander, were prisoners within the walls.
On the 1st day of April, General Wooster arrived from Montreal, with re-enforcements, and took the command. The day after his arrival, Arnold, by the falling of his horse, again received an injury on the leg recently wounded, and was disabled for upward of a week. Considering himself slighted by General Wooster, who did not consult him in military affairs, he obtained leave of absence until he should be recovered from his lameness, and repaired to Montreal, where he took command.
General Thomas arrived at the camp in the course of April, and found the army in a forlorn condition, scattered at different posts, and on the island of Orleans. It was numerically increased to upward of two thousand men, but several hundred were unfit for service. The small-pox had made great ravages. They had inoculated each other. In their sick and debilitated state, they were without barracks, and almost without medicine. A portion, whose term of enlistment had expired, refused to do duty, and clamored for their discharge.
The winter was over, the river was breaking up, re-enforcements to the garrison might immediately be expected, and then the case would be desperate. Observing that the river about Quebec was clear of ice, General Thomas determined on a bold effort. It was, to send up a fire-ship with the flood, and, while the ships in the harbor were in flames, and the town in confusion, to scale the walls.
Accordingly, on the third of May, the troops turned out with scaling ladders; the fire-ship came up the river under easy sail, and arrived near the shipping before it was discovered. It was fired into. The crew applied a slow match to the train and pulled off. The ship was soon in a blaze, but the flames caught and consumed the sails; her way was checked, and she drifted off harmlessly with the ebbing tide. The rest of the plan was, of course, abandoned.
Nothing now remained but to retreat before the enemy should be re-enforced. Preparations were made in all haste to embark the sick and the military stores. While this was taking place, five ships made their way into the harbor, on the 6th of May, and began to land troops. Thus re-enforced, General Carleton sallied forth, with eight hundred or a thousand men. We quote
his own letter for an account of his sortie.
"As soon as part
of the 29th regiment with the marines, in all about two hundred, were landed, they, with the greatest part of the garrison, by this time much improved, and in high spirits, marched out of the ports of St. Louis and St. Johns, to see what these mighty boasters were about. They were found very busy in their preparations for a retreat. A few shots being exchanged, the line marched forward, and the place was soon cleared of these plunderers.'
By his own account, however, these "mighty boasters" had held him and his garrison closely invested for five months; bad burned the suburbs; battered the walls; thrown red-hot shot among the shipping; made repeated and daring attempts to carry the place by assault and stratagem, and rendered it necessary for soldiers, sailors, marines, and even judges and other civil officers to mount guard. One officer declares, in a letter, that for eighty successive nights he slept in his clothes, to be ready in case of alarm.
All this, too, was effected by a handful of men, exposed in open encampments to the rigors of a Canadian winter. If in truth they were boasters, it must be allowed their deeds were equal to their words.
The Americans were in no condition to withstand Carleton's unlooked-for attack. They had no intrenchments, and could not muster three hundred men at any point. A precipitate retreat was the consequence, in which baggage, artillery, every thing was abandoned. Even the sick were left behind; many of who n crawled away from the camp hospitals, and took refuge in the woods, or among the Canadian peasantry.
General Carleton did not think it prudent to engage in a pursuit with his newly-landed troops. He treated the prisoners with great humanity, and caused the sick to be sought out in their hiding-places, and brought to the general hospitals; with assurances, that, when healed, they should have liberty to return to their homes.
General Thomas came to a halt at Point Deschambault, about sixty miles above Quebec, and called a council of war to consider what was to be done. The enemy's ships were hastening up the St. Lawrence; some were already but two or three leagues distant. The camp was without cannon; powder, forwarded by General Schuyler, had fallen into the enemy's hands; there were not provisions enough to subsist the army
1 Carleton to Lord George Germain, May 14.
for more than two or three days; the men-of-war, too, might run up the river, intercept all their resources, and reduce them to the same extremity they had experienced before Quebec. It was resolved, therefore, to ascend the river still further.
General Thomas, however, determined to send forward the invalids, but to remain at Point Deschambault with about five hundred men, until he should receive orders from Montreal, and learn whether such supplies could be forwarded immediately as would enable him to defend his position.1
The despatches of General Thomas, setting forth the disastrous state of affairs, had a disheartening effect on Schuyler, who feared the army would be obliged to abandon Canada. Washington, on the contrary, spoke cheeringly on the subject. "We must not despair. A manly and spirited opposition only can insure success, and prevent the enemy from improving the advantage they have obtained.” 2
He regretted that the troops had not been able to make a stand at Point Deschambault, but hoped they would maintain a post as far down the river as possible. The lower it was, the more important would be the advantages resulting from it, as all the country above would be favorable, and furnish assistance and support; while all below would necessarily be in the power of the enemy.
The tidings of the reverses in Canada and the retreat of the American army, had spread consternation throughout the New Hampshire Grants, and the New England frontiers, which would now be laid open to invasion. Committees of towns and districts assembled in various places to consult on the arming state of affairs. In a time of adversity it relieves the public mind to have some individual on whom to charge its disaster. General Schuyler, at present, was to be the victim. We have already noticed the prejudice and ill-will, on the part of the New England people, which had harassed him throughout the campaign and nearly driven him from the service. His enemies now stigmatized him as the cause of the late reverses. He had neglected, they said, to forward re-enforcements and supplies to the army in Canada. His magnanimity in suffering Sir John Johnson to go at large, while in his power, was again misconstrued into a crime: he had thus enabled that dangerous man to renew his hostilities. Finally, it was insinuated that he was untrue to his country, if not positively leagued with her
1 General Thomas to Washington, May 8.
Washington to Schuyler, May 17.
These imputations were not generally advanced; and when advanced, were not generally countenanced; but a committee of King's County appears to have given them credence, addressing a letter to the commander-in-chief on the subject, accompanied by documents.
Washington, to whom Schuyler's heart had been laid open throughout all its trials, and who knew its rectitude, received the letter and documents with indignation and disgust, and sent copies of them to the general. "From these," said he, "you will readily discover the diabolical and insidious arts and schemes carried on by the tories and friends of government to raise distrust, dissensions, and divisions among us. Having the utmost confidence in your integrity, and the most incontestable proof of your great attachment to our common country and its interest, I could not but look upon the charge against you with an eye of disbelief, and sentiments of detestation and abhorrence; nor should I have troubled you with the matter, had I not been informed that copies were sent to different committees, and to Governor Trumbull, which I conceived would get abroad, and that you, should you find I had been furnished with them, would consider my suppressing them as an evidence of my belief, or at best of my doubts, of the charges."1
We will go forward, and give the sequel of this matter. While the imputations in question had merely floated in public rumor, Schuyler had taken no notice of them; "but it is now," writes he in reply to Washington, a duty which I owe myself and my country, to detect the scoundrels, and the only means of doing this is by requesting that an immediate inquiry be made into the matter; when I trust it will appear that it was more a scheme calculated to ruin me, than to disunite and create jealousies in the friends of America. Your Excellency will, therefore, please to order a court of inquiry the soonest possible; for I cannot sit easy under such an infamous imputation; since on this extensive continent, numbers of the most respectable characters may not know what your Excellency and Congress do of my principles and exertions in the common cause." He further adds: "I am informed by persons of good credit, that about one hundred persons, living on what are commonly called the New Hampshire Grants, have had a design to seize me as a tory, and perhaps still have. There never was a man so infamously scandalized and ill-treated as I am."
1 Washington to Schuyler, May 21.