Sunday, January 6, 2019

Episode 078: Advancing on Quebec

Back in Episode 72, Continental General Philip Schuyler and his second-in-command General Richard Montgomery slowly and deliberately took control of Lake Champlain, Fort Chambly, Fort St. Jean, and finally the city of Montreal. Opposing them in all of this was British Major General Guy Carleton. Carleton is the last of the major generals in North America that I have neglected to introduce. So, I thought now would be as good a time as any to get to know General Carlton.

Guy Carleton

Carleton did not come from an aristocratic family.  He was born to a respectable common family in Northern Ireland in 1724.  His father died when he was 14 and his mother married a minister.  He received little benefits or education.  As Protestant though, the army offered him a potential career as an officer.

In 1742, following the outbreak of the War of Austrian Succession, the 17 year old Carleton acquired a commission as an ensign in the British Army.  His unit participated in the Battle of Culloden where the Duke of Cumberland ruthlessly put down the Jacobite Uprising in Scotland.  Shortly after the battle, Carleton received a promotion to lieutenant.

Battle of Culloden 1746 (from Wikimedia)
Around this same time, he became friends with fellow officer James Wolfe.  Wolfe was only a young major at the time, but as the son of a general, his friendship helped Carleton to make connections with more senior officers.

After the war ended, career advancement became much more difficult.  Even so, in 1751, Carleton joined the 1st Foot Guards and soon got a promotion to captain.  Wolfe also got him to serve as guide to Charles Lenox, who would later become Duke of Richmond and Secretary of State for Southern Affairs.  If you did not come from a good family, the only path up the chain of command was to gain the favor of those in high places.  Richmond’s influence helped to propel Carleton’s career forward.

With the outbreak of the Seven Years War, Carleton moved up to lieutenant colonel. He served in the defense of Hanover against the French.  Unfortunately, his command did not do particularly well. Without good family connections and without notoriety in battle, chances for upward mobility began to wane.  Perhaps more significantly, Carleton made disparaging comments about the Hanoverian soldiers fighting with the British.  Word of this got back to George II, still Elector of Hanover, did not take well to one of his officers speaking critically about his fellow Hanoverians.

When now General Wolfe asked to bring Carleton to America for the Siege of Louisbourg, the King refused the commission.  A year later, now Major General Wolfe once again requested bringing his friend Carleton to serve as quartermaster for his army during the Siege of Quebec.  Once again, the King refused.  However, he finally relented after Lord Richmond got several influential officials to convince the King to change his mind.

Col. Carleton served with distinction at Quebec, but received a head wound and returned to Britain after the battle for recovery.  He recovered in time to serve in the West Indies during the end of the war, including a stint in Cuba where he commanded a young Captain Richard Montgomery.

After the war, in 1766, Carleton’s friend and patron Lord Richmond became Secretary of State for the Southern Department, which included North America.  He got Carleton transferred back to Quebec as military commander and also as Lt. Governor of Canada.  A prominent political position with no family background was unusual, and I think speaks to the impression he made on several highly influential men in government.  Of course, it was also probably helpful that King George II was dead by this time and could no longer hold a grudge against the young officer.

Sir Guy Carleton
(from Wikimedia)
When the Governor of Canada resigned in 1768, Carleton became  Captain General and Governor-in-Chief of Quebec province.  He apparently ran the colony well and was reasonably well liked.  In 1770 he returned to London, leaving his Lt. Gov. Hector Theophilus de Cramahé in charge.  Despite his name and French family background Cramahé was born in Ireland and had also served as a career officer in the British Army.

Carleton ended up spending several years in Britain, during which time he received a promotion to major general, lobbied for passage of the Quebec Act (one of the Coercive Acts), and married a 19 year old noble woman (he was 48 at the time).

He and his wife returned to Quebec in late 1774 in time to react to the outbreak of war in the spring of 1775.  When Benedict Arnold attacked St. Jean in May, Carleton immediately deployed troops, almost capturing Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys as a result.

Retreating to Quebec

Carleton had few soldiers though.  Before the war, he only had four regiments of regulars to control the entire province.  Following Lexington and Concord, North American Commander, General Thomas Gage ordered him to send two of those regiments to Boston, leaving Carleton with less than 800 regulars.

Carleton had committed almost all of his regulars to defending Fort St. Jean, just north of Lake Champlain.  As I discussed in Episode 72, his former subordinate, now Continental General Richard Montgomery laid siege to St. Jean in the fall of 1775, finally taking the fort in early November.  Carleton was in Montreal when St. Jean fell, and was nearly captured when Montgomery’s forces took the city a few days later.

Carleton attempted to move his small fleet downriver to Quebec.  With the wind against him, he soon found his fleet under attack by Col. James Easton’s artillery.  Easton sent word to Carleton that he was prepared to blow his fleet out of the water unless he surrendered.  Unable to get the winds on his side, Carleton agreed to surrender his fleet on November 15.  Easton had pulled off a bluff.  He had nowhere near enough cannon to destroy the ships.  If Carleton had attempted to push past the battery, he almost certainly would have brought the ships safely back to Quebec.

Although Carleton had surrendered his fleet, he opted not to surrender himself.  On the night of November 16, he dressed himself as a French peasant, got into a canoe, and quietly paddled past the patriot camp.  A few miles downstream, he found the home of a friendly local and caught a few hours sleep.  The next morning, he found a squad of patriots at the door demanding quarters.  While they argued with the owner, Carleton, still dressed as French civilian, simply walked out the door and began walking downstream.  He soon hailed a British ship, the Fell, and caught a ride back to Quebec. Meanwhile his second in command surrendered his fleet, with the crew was taken prisoner.

Arnold Emerges From the Wilderness

Two weeks ago, I described Arnold’s amazing march across the Maine wilderness to Quebec.  When word of his feat reached the colonies, Patriots everywhere celebrated.  They compared his march to Hannibal’s famous march across the Alps to attack Rome.

American forces advance on Quebec
(from Wikimedia)
Col. Roger Enos, who had abandoned Arnold and returned to Cambridge faced a court martial for abandoning the mission.  Fortunately for him the only witnesses in Cambridge were the officers who retreated with him. They all testified that his decision was perfectly reasonable and that they all would have died otherwise.  The fact that those who did not give up and made it through seems to contradict that notion, but the court acquitted Col. Enos.  Despite the acquittal, Enos resigned his commission a short time later, and spent the remainder of the war as an inconsequential militia officer in what is today Vermont.

On November 3, the same day Montgomery took Fort St. Jean, Arnold and most of his scattered force were within about 30 miles of Quebec.  Many of the nearly 650 soldiers were still scattered.  The wilderness march had left the men in terrible condition.  Some of the men had eaten their moccasins and were marching through snow barefoot. They needed time to eat and recover.  They also found that water had damaged most of their ammunition, so that they only had about five rounds per man.

Even so, Arnold’s force made its way toward Quebec, setting up camp on the other side of the river on November 8.  Had he arrived a few days earlier, he might have taken the city without a fight.  Gov. Carleton would have been down in Montreal.  Almost his entire army had been captured at St. Jean, and was by this time marching south as prisoners of war.

Loyalists Arrive at Quebec

Lt. Gov. Cramahé was in charge at Quebec.  His defense force consisted of a few hundred British sailors from the Navy ships at Quebec, along with some crew members collected from merchant vessels.  The French inhabitants of Quebec had zero interest in joining a militia to defend the city. They demanded Cramahé negotiate a surrender that would protect their property.

Allan Maclean
(from Wikimedia)
On November 8, though the same day Arnold’s men began to encamp across the river from Quebec, a ship, the Lizard, arrived from Newfoundland carrying guns, money, militia uniforms and about 100 volunteers under the command of Captain Malcolm Fraser, a retired British officer who had participated in the capture of Quebec during the French and Indian War.   A few days later, more support would arrive under the command of Lt. Col. Allen Maclean, another veteran officer of the British Army.  Mclean had raised a regiment of Scottish Highlander immigrants who had settled in Canada and New York since the end of the French and Indian War. Most were experienced combat veterans who formed into a regiment known as the Royal Highland Emigrants.

Cramahé, who days before had been contemplating how he would explain to officials in London how he had lost Quebec, happily turned over military command of the city to Maclean.  The new commander at once set to work building up defenses, and forcing any locals capable of fighting into a militia.  Within days, he had a force over over 1100 defenders, including about 200 from his Emigrants Regiment, along with about 50 sailors or artificers.  The bulk of the defenders were militia, about 90 more local Scottish volunteers, 300 militia from British settlers and another 480 from French settlers.

Maclean immediately set about turning his defenders into a military unit.  He did not have to worry about an immediate attack.  Arnold’s smaller force across the river was still recovering from its march.  On top of that, a terrible rainstorm made any assault impossible for several days.  Maclean took the time to drill his men, convince the civilians that the patriots would sack and loot the city if allowed inside, and required every capable man to do his duty.

Arnold Reaches Quebec

By November 13, the weather had calmed enough for Colonel Arnold to begin his assault.  Arnold had assembled about 40 canoes, meaning he would need multiple crossing to get his 650 men across the river.  He moved his men across overnight, but by morning only had 500 men across.

Arnold used the same path used by General Wolfe years earlier to lead his invading army up the cliffs to the Plains of Abraham.  There, he held a council of war to assault the city immediately.  Captain Morgan supported such an assault, but most of the other officers opposed the idea.  They did not have all of their men across the river most of their scaling ladders had not come across the river yet.  Without ladders or cannon, there was no way to get through or over the city walls.  They had also had several sentries detect their river crossing and were sure the defenders would be ready for them.

In fact, the defenders were not ready.  The main gate was unlocked and guarded by a single sentry.  Had they attacked that night, they probably would have been able to enter the city before anyone could put up a defense.  Instead, the Continentals took over farms and other building around the city and awaited reinforcements.

Quebec 1775 (from British Battles)
In the morning, Arnold marched his army out onto the Plains of Abraham.  The element of surprise was long gone.  The defenders had assembled on the city walls.  Arnold had hoped to tempt the to come out onto the fields and fight them.  Maclean and others, however, remembered that was how the French Commander Montcalm had lost the city to Wolfe and the British in the last war.  They wisely opted to stay behind their walls where the enemy could not reach them.

Around sundown, Arnold sent an officer with a letter for Cramahé offering terms of surrender.  Maclean, however, had no interest in allowing anyone to approach the city to discuss any surrender.  He had his men fire a cannon at the approaching officer who was accompanied by a flag of truce and a drummer.  The party fled back to safety.  The next morning, they tried again, only to be met with the same response.  Finally Arnold sent a woman with the letter.  By some accounts the woman was Jemima Warner, the same teenaged widow who had lost her husband on the march through the wilderness.  This time, the defenders allowed her to approach the city without firing on her.  She got the note to Col. Maclean, who promptly tossed the note into the fire and the woman into a prison cell.

He released the woman a few days later.  She returned to the patriot lines.  If it was Warner who delivered the message the release did her no good.  A few days later, a defender shot Warner in the head while she was delivering supplies to the soldiers on the front lines besieging Quebec.  She died instantly.

On November 16, Cramahé held a council of war to discuss whether Quebec should hold out or surrender.  Maclean attended the council and shut down any talk of surrender.  He pointed out that the defenders outnumbered the attackers by two to one.  Even of Montgomery’s force arrived and outnumbered them, they had the better defensive position behind walls and artillery.  They had enough food in the city to get through the winter and they expected a relief force from London in the spring if necessary.  Also, the enemy had not been able to cut off the city from outside resources.  They were still receiving food and fuel on the other side of town.  In the end, the council unanimously agreed to defend Quebec.

Two days later, on Nov. 18 Arnold gave up the siege and moved his soldiers about 20 miles upstream, in the direction of Montreal.  Arnold’s men were almost out of ammunition.  Until they received more supplies and reinforcements, they had no hope of taking Quebec.  As his men marched upstream, they watched the Fell sail past them toward Quebec.  It arrived carrying Gov. Carlton back to the city.

A frustrated Arnold wrote in a letter to Washington, that had he arrived only ten days earlier he would have taken the city.  That seems right.  Had Arnold assaulted the city before the Highlanders arrived, they almost certainly would have capitulated.  Taking Quebec probably would have been enough to get much of the local population to support the patriot cause.  Most of the locals just didn’t want to get caught on the losing side.  Since the sabotaged maps probably delayed Arnold by several weeks, Canada may owe its independence from the US to one loyalist mapmaker in New England.

Montgomery in Montreal

After the breaking the British force at St. Jean, Montgomery had an easy time taking Montreal as the few remaining defenders simply fled for Quebec.  Unfortunately for Montgomery, he promised some of his men that he would release them early from their enlistment once they captured Montreal.  The men’s enlistments ended at the end of December anyway.

Once Montreal fell, those soldiers, along with most of the rest of his army, demanded to be released from service.  They had taken Montreal as promised.  It was a cold and miserable winter and most of them were sick.  They were ready to go home.  Montgomery, however, knew that if they did not take Quebec that winter, the British would almost certainly send a relief force in the spring, which would not only retake Quebec, but would also likely move down to Montreal, St. Jean, and possibly keep going into New York.

Montgomery prepares for invasion of Canada
(from Wikimedia)
After several weeks, Montgomery convinced at least a portion of his army to stay, though nearly half packed up and went home.  Most of those leaving were New Englanders, including the Green Mountain Boys.  After Montreal, most of Montgomery’s reduced army consisted of a few hundred New Yorkers and a few Connecticut companies headed by Gen. Wooster as well as about 200 Canadian militia who had joined the cause.  Even most of these soldiers made clear to Montgomery that would stick it out another month, but when their enlistments ended on December 31, they would be heading home.  If Montgomery was going to take Quebec, he had a deadline.

Even Montgomery himself considered quitting.  After several of his officers attacked him for being too friendly with captured British officers and treating them too well, Montgomery told them he would resign his command since they did not like his leadership.  At this, the men immediately backtracked and apologized.  Even so, he sent word to Gen. Schuyler back at Ticonderoga that he was strongly considering resigning at the end the year.  Schuyler, after seeing half of Montgomery’s army pass through Ticonderoga on their way home, passed along Montgomery’s letter about leaving the army and included a letter of his own that said he was considering it as well.

Montgomery though, would see the current expedition to its end.  On November 28, he left a small force in Montreal, then moved to meet up with Arnold’s force closer to Quebec.  He advanced with about 300 soldiers and another 200 Canadian militia.  When they met up with Arnold’s depleted force on December 2, the combined force would total about 1100 men, plus a few field artillery pieces.  Arnold’s men were further heartened after Montgomery provided them with more food, ammunition, and winter clothing.

Meanwhile back in Quebec, Carleton took hope by the 1300 fighters that the Highlanders had put together as a defense force.  Carleton took things a step further and forced many more civilians to join in the defense or leave the city.  As a result, he soon hand a fighting force of about 1800 defenders.

Although outnumbered and attacking an entrenched enemy, Montgomery and Arnold were ready to begin their combined assault on Quebec.

- - -

Next  Episode 79: The Battle of Quebec, 1775

Previous Episode 77: Dunmore Proclamation and the Southern War

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Further Reading


Arnold Marches on Quebec:

Randall, Willard "March On Quebec" American Heritage Fall 2008, Volume 58,  Issue 5:

Randall, Willard "Why Benedict Arnold Did It" American Heritage: Sept/Oct 1990, Volume 41,  Issue 6:

Aaron Burr:

Daniel Morgan:

VIDEO: Thomas Desjardin author of "Through a Howling Wilderness" discusses the invasion of Quebec.  C-Span, March 22, 2006:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Codman, John Arnold’s Expedition To Quebec,  New York, MacMillan Co., 1901.

Dearborn, Henry Journal of Captain Henry Dearborn in the Quebec expedition, 1775, Cambridge: University Press, 1886.

Force, Peter American Archives, Series 4, Vol 2, Washington: Peter Force, 1837.

Henry, John J. An accurate and interesting account of the hardships and sufferings of that band of heroes, who traversed the wilderness in the campaign against Quebec in 1775,  Lancaster: William Greer, 1812.

Hill, George Benedict Arnold: A Biography, Boston: E.O. Libby & Co. 1858.

Kingsford, William The History of Canada, Vol. 5,  Toronto: Roswell & Hutchinson, 1887

Meigs, Return Journal of the expedition against Quebec: under command of Col. Benedict Arnold, in the year 1775, (Charles Bushnell, ed) New York: (Private Publisher) 1864.

Melvin, Andrew (ed) The journal of James Melvin, private soldier in Arnold's expedition against Quebec in the year 1775,  Portland, ME: Hubbard W. Bryant, 1902.

Smith, Justin Our Struggle for the Fourteenth Colony: Canada, and the American Revolution, Vol. 2, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1907.

Stocking, Abner An interesting journal of Abner Stocking of Chatham, Connecticut, detailing the distressing events of the expedition against Quebec, under the command of Col. Arnold in the year 1775, Catskill, NY: Eagle Office, 1810 (reprint 1921).

Thayer, Simeon & Edwin Stone The invasion of Canada in 1775: including the Journal of Captain Simeon Thayer, describing the perils and sufferings of the army under Colonel Benedict Arnold, in its march through the wilderness to Quebec, Providence: Knowles Anthony & Co. 1867.

Winsor, Justin (ed) Arnold's expedition against Quebec. 1775-1776: The Diary of Ebenezer Wild, Cambridge: John Wilson & Son, 1886.

Withington, Lothrop (ed) Caleb Haskell's diary. May 5, 1775-May 30, 1776. A revolutionary soldier's record before Boston and with Arnold's Quebec expedition, Newburyport: W.H. Huse, 1881.

Würtele, Fred C. Blockade of Quebec in 1775-1776 by the American revolutionists (les Bastonnais) Vol 1) Quebec: Daily Telegraph Job Printing House, 1905.

Würtele, Fred C. Blockade of Quebec in 1775-1776 by the American revolutionists (les Bastonnais) Vol 2) Quebec: Daily Telegraph Job Printing House, 1906.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)

Anderson, Mark The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony: America’s War of Liberation in Canada, 1774–1776, University Press of New England, 2013.

Beck, Derek The War Before Independence: 1775-1776, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2016.

Darley, Stephen Voices from a Wilderness Expedition: The Journals and Men of Benedict Arnold's Expedition to Quebec in 1775, Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse,  2011

Desjardin, Thomas A. Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold's March to Quebec, 1775, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005 (Book Recommendation of the Week).

Hatch, Robert Thrust for Canada, New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1979.

Lefkowitz, Arthur S. Benedict Arnold's Army: The 1775 American Invasion of Canada During the Revolutionary War, El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2008.

Martin, James Benedict Arnold: Revolutionary Hero, New York: NYU Press, 1997.

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution, New York: Viking Penguin, 2012.

Randall, Willard Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, William Morrow & Co. 1990.

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