18th Century Articles
Battle of Camden: False Hope
Siege of Yorktown
Winning Empire
The 1712-1736 Fox Wars
Margaret Cochran Corbin
The Return of Rogers' Rangers
George Washington and James Monroe
Benedict Arnold in Canada
Revolutionary War in the Caribbean

Roger Daene Articles
Operation Compass
British Infantry Tactics in WWI
WWI Tactics
Colonel Patrick O'Rorke
Benedict Arnold in Canada
Benedict Arnold in Canada 
By Roger Daene

The summer of 1775 began with the Americans laying siege to Boston. The Battle of Bunker Hill was a British victory, but the severe losses prevented them from being able to lift the siege. To the north, in the Hudson River Valley, a combined force under Captain Benedict Arnold and Colonel Ethan Allen of Vermont, had surprised the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga. Following the capture of Ticonderoga, Arnold led a bold attack on the British fleet on Lake Champlain. He either captured or destroyed all the British ships there. He was soon to prove that these two earlier successes were just portents of future events.

Arnold’s detractors accused him of misuse of the government funds that he had used to pay his troops and build a flotilla of ships. In the midst of these allegations of financial mismanagement, his beloved wife, Margaret, on July 19th died suddenly and without any apparent reason. He was left to raise three young sons. The summer of 1775 ended with personal and professional turmoil for Arnold.

Arnold joined General Philip Schuyler and WaArnold joined General Philip Schuyler and Washington in their discussions about Colonel Jonathan Brewer of Massachusetts plan to invade Canada. If captured, Canada might become an additional colony after the war. The main value of the capture of Canada would be the British would have to divert significant forces to its recapture and these would then not be available to crush the young revolution. [1]

General Richard Montgomery would lead the attack. His goals were to capture St Johns and Montreal. After he had secured Montreal, how would march to Quebec City. Arnold suggested to Washington that a diversionary invasion army march across the Maine wilderness and attack the city of Quebec. The goal was to divide the British forces and defeat them in detail. Arnold volunteered to lead the diversionary attack because he had shipped supplies to the British forces besieging the city of Quebec when General Wolfe defeated French General Montcalm in 1759.

On August 15th, Arnold presented to Washington the details of his plan for an attack on Quebec. [2] Arnold wanted the invasion launched immediately based on his connections with various prominent Montreal merchants, such as Thomas Walker, James Price, Isaac Todd, John Wells, and William Haywood. These merchants informed him that they would be willing to cooperate with the Americans to rid themselves of Governor Carleton and many of the French farmers desired to be free from the French landowners. Although they were eager to be free, they would not rise up until there was an American Army in Canada. The zeal of the French Canadians might dissipate if the Americans delayed too long in coming. The support of the French Canadians was so extensive that later, after the British investigated the parishes in Quebec. They discovered that 37 of the 50 parishes had supported the American cause. Another factor in launching the invasion immediately was the small British garrison of 600 regulars in Canada. The British garrison did not expect major reinforcements until late spring of 1776. The merchants argued that the lateness in the season would aid the invaders, as the British could not bring transport ships with any sizable reinforcements to Quebec. [3] 

Arnold’s plan was to lead 1000 chosen men who skilled in bateau handling. They would navigate up the Kennebec River, down the Chaudiére, and across the St. Lawrence to attack the city of Quebec. These men needed to be adept at moving through the woods and knowledgeable about boats. Arnold asserted that the sudden appearance of 1000 troops outside the walls of Quebec would entice the small garrison to capitulate. [4] On August 20th, Washington approved the plan with the condition that the northern department commander, General Philip Schuyler, agreed to the plan, which he did enthusiastically.

After receiving Schuyler’s approval of Arnold’s thrust through the Maine wilderness, Arnold received the rank of colonel in the Continental Army. Washington gave him the privilege of choosing 1,000 men from the approximately 17,000 men besieging Boston. Arnold inspected the various units besieging Boston. He wanted experienced woodsmen and those familiar with bateaux. He picked 1,050 men to form a new regiment. Attached to this newly formed regiment was a company of Virginia riflemen and two companies of Pennsylvania riflemen under Captain Daniel Morgan. Henry Dearborn would serve on Arnolds’ staff. Arnold’s newly formed regiment was mostly made up of veterans from the Battle of Bunker Hill.

He divided his command into four “divisions”. Morgan and his riflemen would form the first division and be the vanguard. Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Greene, Arnold’s second in command, led the second division. Major Return Jonathan Meigs of Connecticut led the third division. The acknowledged expert in logistics, Lieutenant Colonel Roger Enos, led the fourth division. Arnold’s aides were Eleazar Oswald, Mathias Ogden, and the nineteen year-old Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr invited a very beautiful Abernaki princess named Jacatacqua to accompany him. The men who saw her walking around in her native attire nicknamed her ‘Golden Thighs’. She would prove valuable in the Maine wilderness when the army was on the verge of starvation and annihilation. [5]

The plan was risky. First, several small shiThe plan was risky. First, several small ships would transport Arnold’s force from Newburyport, Massachusetts to the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine. Arnold’s men would march from the mouth of the Kennebec River to Gardinerstown and take possession of the two hundred bateaux that Arnold had contracted Reuben Colburn to build.

Unbeknownst to Arnold, the map he planned to use to navigate the wilderness was flawed. He relied heavily on the maps constructed by John Montresor, a British engineer after his trip through this same area in 1760 and again in 1761. Based on Montresor’s map and journal, Arnold estimated the trip to be 180 miles, but in reality the journey was 300 miles. Arnold did not realize until his army was freezing and nearly starving to death that Montresor had altered the map to render it useless to any enemy who might use it. [6]

Arnold’s army reached Newburyport and departed on schedule despite a bad storm. The storm helped to mask the movement of the fleet from the British, but made hundreds of the men violently ill in the holds of these small ships. Arnold interpreted the lack British ships in this heavily patrolled as a sign of Divine Providence and God’s blessing on the mission.[7]

Arnold and his men were surprised once they arrived at the Kennebec River. First, a severe draught the previous summer had lowered the level of the river appreciably. The exposed rocks made it impossible to sail halfway up the Kennebec River. [8] The second surprise would prove to be more deadly. The bateaus had been made with green lumber and needed to be re-caulked. Precious time was lost. [9]

Arnold used this time to maximum effect. Scouts were sent forward to determine the safest course to travel. A message from Natanis, the Abernaki chief and suspected spy for the British, claimed that the British were waiting in ambush with hundreds of Mohawk allies. Arnold’s scouts determined that this was not correct. Arnold ordered Natanis’ death for deliberately giving false information that caused a near panic in the army. [10]

On September 27th, 1775 as the young nation began its first foreign war. The first eight days did not bode well for the expedition. The river level was low and the men spent hours in the water manhandling the bateaux and then had to sleep in damp clothes. The army only covered 50 miles in the first eight days.

October 3rd was a turning point in the expedition’s fortunes. When the bateaux caught up with Arnold and the riflemen in the lead, the sight sickened Arnold. The combination of the poor construction of the bateaux and barrels allowed water to seep into the food. Much of the salted meat became rancid and the poorly constructed barrels ruined the flour and peas. Arnold had little choice but to order a halt to fix the barrels and bateaux. Each division departed when their barrels and bateaux were ready. On October 8th, Enos’ division was the last to leave, while the lead units reached the place marked on Montressor’s map as the Great Carrying Place. Arnold made his presence felt in each of the separated divisions. He moved from division to division to encourage the men to continue forward and got into mud himself to help manhandle supplies forward. [11]

On Sunday, October 14th the lead elements reached the third pond known as the West Carry Pond. Arnold records in his journal that the pond was nearly three and a half miles in length and two and a half wide. [12] After crossing the West Carry Pond, the lead elements ascended a fork shaped mountain. Private Henry, an eyewitness of the sight from this mountain, stated in his journal that they believed the ground on the plain below them to be as firm as a bowling green. Instead when they descended and attempted to cross this bowling green, their feet went through the wet turf and sank up to their knees. [13]

The weather itself now turned against Arnold. Rain fell constantly began to fall on October 20th. During the night of the 21st, Flashed floods threatened to wash away Arnold’s men and quickly they had to scamper to the top of a small hill to keep from being kept washed away. Arnold records in his journal that the water raised eight feet in nine hours. The flash floods destroyed several bateaux and more precious supplies were lost. [14]

Monday, October 23rd was a day of decision. As the men struggled to build fires using damp wood and attempted to dry their clothes, Arnold held a council of war. All in attendance also understood that the distances on the maps had been underestimated. Arnold knew that the army was reaching near starvation levels of rations, and hunting for food was out of the question as all game fled before the approaching army. Assured the worst was behind them, he encouraged them to press forward. The meager supplies, he argued, should sustain them until they reached the first French settlement on the Chaudiére. The arriving cold would aid them as the ground would become firm and they could make better time. [15]

Arnold ordered all the sick sent back with four days rations. While the remaining healthy soldiers and supplies continued forward, Benedict Arnold and a small party would go to the nearest French settlement to procure supplies and return to the main body as they struggled forward. [16] He promised to meet them somewhere between here and the French settlement in six days with supplies.

After Greene and Enos received Arnold’s orders on October 25th, Enos called a council of war. Greene objected to the council because Arnold was not present. Enos advocated returning to Cambridge, Maine because he and his men did not want to part with any of the remaining food or to continue trekking through the Maine wilderness with the onset of winter. Greene refused to disobey Arnold. Enos chose to return to Maine against orders. Enos’ desertion cost Arnold nearly one quarter of his remaining effectives. Any chance of success of storming the barricades at Quebec was slipping away. [17]

The consequences of the growing food shortages and the distance yet to travel were known even at the level of the private soldiers. Private George Morison of Henrick’s rifle company, attached to Greene’s division wrote that the men feared they would starve before reaching the French settlements. Morison states plainly that the prospect of famine was an enemy they were not prepared for and this shook their fortitude. [18]

Before Arnold left the lead elements of the army, he gave orders to all his division commanders to stay to the high ground and to avoid the low ground near the Great Swamp. Unfortunately, not all the divisions stayed on the high ground because either the orders arrived too late to alter their march or the commanders became lost. Morgan received the orders in time and avoided what befell the rest of the army. The combination of little food and the weather began to take a toll on all the divisions of Arnold’s command.

No documentation exists that records how many perished in the wilderness from falling through ice, killed in accidents, or fell out because they could not continue. In the summer of 1776, Private Simon Fobes escaped after being captured in the failed assault on Quebec, retraced the route the army had taken to get to Quebec. He writes that he found many human bones and bits of hair along the shore of the Chaudiére River. [19] However, all the men left behind did not perish. Private Jeremiah Greeman reports that between December 11th and 21st some of the sick who had been left behind in the woods made their way to the city of Quebec and returned to their units. [20]

Greene and Meigs’ commands were in danger of perishing in the swamp. Jacatacqua, Aaron Burr’s consort, brought two Penobscot warriors to talk to Greene. They had been following the column for several days. They offered to lead the column out of the swamps and to safety. They led this part of the army to the Chaudiére River. [21]

Starvation continued to plague the army. Greene’s division divided the remaining flour. Each man would get seven pints of flour that was to last seven days. One quarter of pint was to be eaten for breakfast, half a pint for lunch, and a quarter of a pint for supper. The meat supplies had all but run out. The men resorted to boiling raw hides that had laid in the bottom of the boats. They supplemented this meager diet by eating tree bark and made broth made from boiling shoes and cartridge boxes. Several men record the desperate measures taken to stave off starvation. Major Meigs reports in his journal that by November 1st his men were in such desperate straits that they devoured one or two dogs, including the dog’s feet and skins. [22] The dog had belonged to Captain Dearborn. [23] Captain Thayer records in his journal that he did not eat the dog because to do so would have been unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. Even though they were starving, they could not lower this barrier between them and their men.

As if on cue, on November 3rd, six days after Arnold had left the army to find food, and exactly on the day he said he would return, Captains Thayer and Captain Topham saw a remarkable sight on the path before them. Men were leading a herd of cattle toward them. The driver of the cattle stated that Arnold had sent the cattle and that they should immediately butcher and eat it. Meat was immediately sent to those in the rear of the column. It can be assumed that the weakest and those struggling to continue were at the rear of the column and in the most need of food.

At 10:30 p.m. on November 3rd, 675 men of the original 1080 men who had left Cambridge arrived in the French settlement of Sartigan. Abner Stocking of Hanchet’s company writes in his journal that in many ways the army resembled the Orangutan of New Spain. He was thankful that Colonel Arnold had gone on ahead and warned the inhabitants that his army was coming because their ragged clothes and strips of clothes covering their bloody feet might have frightened them. [24] Bloody footprints marked the path of the army into the settlement. Their long hair and the strain on the faces revealed the hazards of the completed journey. [25]

The inhabitants fed the army well with all kinds of meat, potatoes, vegetables, and hot bread. The officers urged moderation but some of the men disobeyed. Private Henry reports that several men preferred instant gratification and ate as much as they wanted. One rifleman from his company did this and died two days later. Henry reports, “The immediate distention of the stomach by food, after a lengthy fast, operates as a more sudden extinction of life than the total absence of the ailment.” [26]

Benedict Arnold now needed to gather the support of the local Abernaki Indians and French Canadians. Surprised, Arnold saw the Abernaki chief, Natanis, in the settlement. Arnold was informed that Natanis had not alerted the British or deceived Arnold about an impending Abernaki attack. Natanis had removed some trees to make Arnold’s way easier. Arnold then made an appeal to the Abernaki to join him. In a remarkable gesture, Arnold offered to pay any Indian the same pay and bonus pay that a Continental soldier received and even choose their own officers. Natanis and about 50 Abernaki warriors joined Arnold’s army. When Natanis gave a speech before his warriors, his words to Arnold had a prophetic meaning for the man he called, “Dark Eagle”. He said, “Dark Eagle will soar aloft to the sun. Yet when he soars the highest, his fall is the more certain.” [27] Ironically, Natanis’ words would come true when Arnold’s career reached its pinnacle as the course of the war was changed in America’s favor after the Battle of Saratoga. Although Arnold was thankful for the Native support, his greatest aid came from the French Canadian population. For example, John Caldwell, the manager of a large gristmill in the area, gave Arnold a large store of flour that he had stored away for when the Americans arrived. [28]

The newly fed army marched to the shore of the St. Lawrence and saw the prize: the city of Quebec. Any attempt for a surprise attack was lost when Morgan’s riflemen fired on a British landing party from the sloop HMS Hunter, now anchored in the harbor along with the frigate HMS Lizard, near the mill operated by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Caldwell of the British militia. [29] Arnold had to wait for an opportune moment to cross the river. While he waited, he planned his attack.

The physical layout of the city would determine Arnold’s plans. The city had been built upon the high ground at the narrows of the St. Charles River that flowed south into the St. Lawrence. Much of the present city now lay outside the original city walls. The part of the city that lay outside the city walls and was built on the downward slope was known as Lower Town. This area contained a large number of docks and warehouses and the narrow streets were lined with century-old houses. To the west of the city lay the Plains of Abraham.

Unlike the Marquis de Montcalm, who had left the city defenses in 1759 to meet the British Major General James Wolfe on the open Plains of Abraham, the British defenders under the command of Lieutenant Governor Hector Cramché did not intend to repeat Montcalm’s error. With Cramché’s permission, Captain Thomas Mackenzie of the HMS Hunter organized the defense of the city. The inhabitants’ loyalties were divided and this hampered the defense of the city. Many of the citizens refused to stand guard and many even tried to convince their fellow citizens to surrender the city. Colonel Allan McLean, who had been appointed by Governor Carleton to recruit a regiment, returned to Quebec with 200 Highlanders. Cramché appointed McLean as garrison commander. McLean ordered any meeting to be broken up if it discussed the possibility of surrendering the city. [30]

Arnold could not cross the St. Lawrence on the 12th because of the weather. He watched as nearly 200 Highlanders under McLean entered the city. These Scotsmen were veterans who had served in various Scottish regiments and had immigrated to New York after the French and Indian War ended. Arnold could do nothing as he watched the garrison grow from 300 to over more than 1,150 defenders as other various units marched into the city. Arnold understood that many and various delays had cost valuable days and cost him the probable quick capture of the city. [31]

Finally, by November 14th, Arnold ferried his army across the St. Lawrence in spite of the presence of the Royal Navy. He got the men across at night and by wrapping the oars in cloths so that they were more quiet and harder to detect. This move was reminiscent of Arnold’s crossing of Lake Champlain when he attacked Fort Ticonderoga by surprise. He wasn’t planning a surprise attack this time; he intended to bluff the city into surrendering.

To bluff the garrison into surrendering by convincing them that they faced certain defeat because of the overwhelming strength they faced, Arnold formed his men into a line nearly three hundreds yards wide with the ends of the line in the woods in order to give the impression of a much larger force. He sent his aid de camp, Matthias Ogden forward with a flag of truce. Ogden yelled to the defenders to surrender and be spared the depredations that would surely happen if the city were taken by storm. Colonel McLean did not answer verbally. He answered by firing the cannons firing at the American lines. Although this was clearly a breach in the code of conduct, McLean made it very clear that he had no intent of surrendering. Arnold withdrew his force to prepare to storm the city. [32]

After the bluff failed, news reached Arnold from several residents who fled the city that McLean was planning a probing attack. Due to the lack of ammunition and the number of useless muskets, Arnold had to withdraw 24 miles to Point aux Trembes and await Montgomery. As he withdrew, he and his army heard the Quebec garrison firing a salute to announce the arrival of Governor Carleton. [33]

If morale sagged as they trudged away from the city, morale soared to new heights with the arrival of Brigadier General Richard Montgomery. This was not Montgomery’s first trip to Quebec as he had been with Wolfe when the city was taken in 1759. He rose to the rank of captain before he resigned his commission and joined the rebel cause after the battles at Lexington and Concord. The British deemed him a traitor and a deserter, but the Americans loved him. [34]

Montgomery immediately assumed command of Arnold’s force because Montgomery outranked him. In addition to the three hundred reinforcements, he brought much needed artillery. Montgomery distributed warm winter clothing, fur lined blanket coats, hats, leggings, shoes and snowshoes from the captured British supplies from Montreal. Arnold’s men were finally warm and they didn’t care if the uniforms were British.

Captain Thayer describes Montgomery from the perspective of an officer. He writes in his journal, “He received us politely. He is a genteel appearing man, tall and slender of make, bald on the top of his head, resolute and mild, of an agreeable temper, and a virtuous General.” [35] On the other hand, Private Morrison records in his journal his impression of Montgomery from the perspective of a soldier. He writes:

“General Montgomery was born to command. His easy and affable condescension to both officers and men, while it forbids an improper familiarity, creates love and esteem; and exhibits him the gentleman and the soldier. He is tall and very well made; and possesses a captivating address. He is a native of Ireland. His recent successes give us the highest confidence in him. He complimented us highly for our patience and fortitude under all our late trials.” [36]

As Montgomery’s arrival transformed the morale of the American camp, Carleton’s entrance in the city changed the attitude of the city. Based on the knowledge that he possessed a strong defensive position with enough supplies for eight months for 5,000 people and his superiority in artillery, he concluded the only way the Americans could take the city was by a sudden surprise assault. [37] Carlton was certain he could withstand any American assault on the walls because the majority of his units were veterans. In addition to the veterans, he also possessed 350 French Canadian militia. On the other hand, the population within the city gave him cause for concern. Of the 1800 men in the city, he considered nearly one-third of them to be unreliable. As a consequence of his belief about the unreliability of the inhabitants, he expelled any male and his family who was unwilling to serve in the militia and all known American sympathizers. Carlton also enlisted the help of the church by denying the Sacraments and Christian burial to any who supplied Arnold with food. [38]

Arnold and Montgomery worked well together as they planned their assault on the city. Arnold never implied he was unhappy to place his command under Montgomery’s control because he respected Montgomery’s fighting spirit. In turn, Montgomery respected Arnold’s ability as a soldier and willingness to put himself in danger. They decided that a prolonged siege was impractical due to the lack of heavy artillery and proper siege equipment. Arnold and Montgomery also faced a deadline. The attack on Quebec had to be made before January 1st because the enlistment papers of many of the men would expire on December 31st. Arnold expected to lose most of his regiment on January 1st. Arnold and Montgomery made plans to launch a sudden assault, without preliminary artillery bombardments, which would begin when there was a severe snowstorm. They had to wait until there was an opportune moment. [39] The plan would consist of two separate attacking forces because both Arnold and Montgomery realized a frontal assault was futile. Each attacking force would follow the waters edge and run between the buildings on the water’s edge and the walls of the city. At the rear of the city, near the docks, were two entrances into the city. Barricades defended these entrances. Assuming they could run between the buildings and the city walls, they hoped to storm the barricades and enter the city before the British garrison was fully aware of their presence. At this entrance to city lay the warehouses of the merchants. Knowing that many of these merchants were friendly to the American cause, Arnold and Montgomery assumed the merchants would pressure Carlton to surrender the city rather than lose all the goods and merchandise.

On December 5th, the British defenders saw the American army had returned to re-establish the siege. The Americans still lacked proper siege equipment and had to improvise. Arnold ordered for an ice fort to be built in Ste. Foy. He then placed Captain Lamb’s cannons in it. Overnight, after pouring water into snow filled gabions, the fort was finished. McLean countered this by ordering all houses in Ste. Foy burned because they blocked his cannons’ efforts to demolish the ice fort. On December 11th the British guns, which were of heavier poundage and had greater range, quickly knocked out two of Lamb’s guns before the rest could be removed. [40]

Dearborn and Morgan’s riflemen were also employed as snipers and their constant accurate fire unnerved the British manning the walls. British Captain Thomas Ainslie comments about the snipers’ effectiveness. He called them sulking riflemen who wait and watch to fire on anyone walking on the ramparts. He stated that this is how the Americans wage war, by lying in wait to shoot a sentry. Even the savages do not fight this way. Indeed, he claims, only a Yankee would wage war this way! The British response to the riflemen was swift and effective. They turned the cannons on the houses of St. Roch wherever they suspected that the rebels were firing from. British cannon fire destroyed the ninety-year-old elaborate turreted Intendant’s Palace. [41]

On December 31st, a snowstorm began and did not abate, as had others. At eight p.m. the gale force winds shifted to the northeast. Ordered from their billets, the soldiers prepared for an attack. Benedict Arnold, dressed in his British white winter uniform, joined the 30 men of the advanced storming party. Captain Lamb planned to follow Arnold with the remaining 6-pound cannon mounted on a sleigh. As the men formed up for the assault, they waited for the signal to begin. [42] American troops placed a green sprig in their hats to differ them from the similarly dressed British troops.

At four a.m., rockets raced into the air to signal the beginning of the attack. Montgomery and his officers reached the foot of the barricade that ran from the foot of Cap Diamant to the water’s edge at five a.m. Montgomery immediately put some carpenters to work to cut a break At four a.m., rockets raced into the air to signal the beginning of the attack. Montgomery and his officers reached the foot of the barricade that ran from the foot of Cap Diamant to the water’s edge at five a.m. Montgomery immediately put some carpenters to work to cut a break in the palisade. He hoped that some element of surprise had been maintained because there was no British activity. Unaware that the British had spotted his troops moving by torchlight up the path and were waiting for them, Montgomery ordered Colonel Donald Campbell to hurry along the 350 men who had accompanied him and were still trudging up the path. Montgomery stepped through the breach with his officers. They saw a two-story log blockhouse to their right. As their men were struggling to get to the breach, Montgomery made a critical decision. He and the 14 officers who accompanied him rushed the log house, hoping they might capture it by surprise. Montgomery unsheathed his sword and in true 18th Century bravado led the charge to the blockhouse. When they got within 150 feet of the house, musket fire erupted from the ground floor and a cannon fired grapeshot. Montgomery was hit in each thigh, the groin, and his jaw. He died immediately. The only officer unscathed was Aaron Burr and he quickly made it back to the breach. The bodies of the rest of the officers littered the ground. Colonel Campbell arrived minutes later with the remainder of the command and made a decision that sealed the fate of the battle. Instead of choosing to take the blockhouse, he ordered a retreat without even attempting its capture. The men started to trudge back the way they had come, leaving their dead, wounded and dying officers in the snow in front of the log house. [43] Unbeknownst to Campbell, the loyalist officer in charge of the log house had to keep his 50 terrified militiamen and naval gunners at their post with threats.

Meanwhile, not knowing the fate of Montgomery, Benedict Arnold led his men from the front, as was his custom. The snow was falling heavier now and the men raced across the field toward the Palace Gate. The British poured strong enfilade fire into the advancing Americans. John Henry recorded in his journal about this gauntlet of fire. He said they ran several hundred yards forward toward what appeared to be storehouses. The road must have been very narrow, as they had to run signal file. Henry reports that they received a tremendous amount of fire and they could not return fire, as they couldn’t see those firing but could only see the musket fire. Henry reached the docks and ran head long into a rope that secured a boat. The rope caught him under the chin and he fell headlong 15 feet down a slope in which he injured his knee. He could not keep up with the assault. [44] Although unfortunate for the moment, he was not taken prisoner with the rest of the command.

Benedict Arnold’s men neared the first barricade. British militia aided by three light cannons defended the barricade. A musket ball ricocheted off a wall and lodged itself deep into the Achilles’ tendon in Arnold’s right leg. He pitched forward into the snow. He rose to his feet and attempted to continue forward by hopping on his one good leg. He urged his men forward to assault the barricade.  Mathias Ogden and Chaplain Spring braved musket fire to reach Arnold and convinced him to leave the field once the majority of his command had run passed him as they pressed their attack. [45] Private Henry, now wounded by his fall, records what he saw and the effects of Arnold leaving the field of battle. Henry reports that Arnold continued to cheer the men forward. In spite of his encouragement, Henry observed that many of the soldiers were discouraged by the loss of their general.

Morgan assumed command of the assault and captured the barricade defended by British loyalist. John Dunford, a member of the British militia writes in his unpublished memoirs that Captain MacCloud of the Highland Emigrants was the officer in charge of the barricade’s defenses. Dunford writes that he was “in the liquor” that night and that the enemy used the houses around the barricade to get behind the defenders because McCloud did not put the militia on alert. [46]

After the capture of the barricade, the American riflemen’s weapons were too wet to fire. The riflemen relieved the prisoners of their muskets and cartridge boxes. Morgan and his scouts proceeded carefully down the street to the second barrier. Surprisingly, the second barrier was undefended and the Upper Town entrance to the city was now open. Morgan’s officers encouraged him to wait until more reinforcements were brought up. The last flicker of victory was snuffed out as Morgan had to wait nearly 30 minutes until the reinforcements, who had lost their way, found him at the first barricade. By then, the British had recovered. [47]

The militia officers rallied the loyalists who had fled at the first barricade. More British troops arrived at the second barricade after Montgomery’s assault had been beaten back and surrounded Morgan’s command. In an act of sheer desperation, Morgan attempted to storm the now defended second barricade and escape the entrapment. With enfilade fire coming from both flanks and musket and grape shot coming from the second barrier, casualties mounted quickly as Morgan’s men attempted to capture the second barrier. Lieutenant Steele, Arnold’s scout, lost three fingers. Mathias Ogden was shot in the shoulder. Arnold’s artillery officer, Captain Lamb, who led his gunners as infantry after the cannon was abandoned, lost his left eye and several teeth as a round from the grapeshot tore into his left cheek, permanently disfiguring him. [48]

The fighting between the barricades degenerated into street fighting with opposing individuals fighting their own small battles in hallways, rooms, doorways and in the alleys, Major Meigs attempted to rescue Morgan and his men. He brought up nearly two hundred reinforcements, including the Abernaki chief Natanis and his warriors. Unfortunately for Morgan, Meigs too became lost in the city. [49] Dearborn also attempted to break through to Morgan’s men, but before he could reach Morgan, Colonel McLean dispatched 500 loyalists to attack Dearborn and his riflemen. The loyalists surrounded Dearborn, and the Deaborn’s riflemen could not return much fire due to wet weapons. Dearborn surrendered his entire command. [50]

With the failure of Meigs and Dearborn to reach him, Morgan surrendered his command too. In a final act of defense, Morgan would not surrender his sword to a British officer. He said he would rather be shot than hand over his sword to a British officer. Surrounded with loaded muskets aimed at him, Morgan surrendered his sword to a priest. [51] The battle ended by dawn. The British retained control of all parts of the city and the severely devastated rebel army counted their losses.

The news was grim. All the officers, who participated in the assault, except Colonel Campbell and Major Brown were killed, wounded, or captured. One hundred and thirty men had been killed, 360 prisoners taken, and nearly 100 of Montgomery’s New Yorkers deserted after the battle. The Aberaki Natanis had been wounded and taken prisoner too. [52] Nearly all the men who had accompanied Arnold across the Maine wilderness were either dead, wounded, or prisoners. Arnold wept bitterly at the loss of his friend, General Montgomery. [53]

Arnold sent a letter to General Wooster, commander of the American garrison in Montreal and requested reinforcements, cannons, and supplies. In his letter, he informed the general that he had 800 men in his entire command of whom 400 were French Canadian. Two hundred of these Canadians were under the command of Colonel James Livingston, an American who had been living in Canada before the war. [54] More French Canadians were streaming in every day and Arnold expected that his army would continue to grow, but he lacked artillery and supplies. Many of these recruits came without weapons or even snowshoes. Arnold had to borrow money from his friends in Montreal to equip and clothe these recruits. [55] The French Canadians continued to come to Quebec and helped to replenish Arnold’s depleted units. This continuing support from the locals showed that Carleton’s attempts to stifle support for Arnold was ineffective.

The accounts vary widely as to what transpired after the failed assault until spring. American accounts refer to the sporadic shelling of the city. John Dunford gives another perspective. His entry is filled with references to parties of militia being sent to the suburbs to gather firewood. The firewood was taken by destroying some of the housing and hauling away the wood. These scavenger parties were able to operate illustrates that there were precious few riflemen left in Arnold’s forces since prior to the assault they had made extensive use of this area to snipe at British troops. Dunford makes no mention of these sharpshooters but he makes repeated references to skirmishes with American patrols. [56]

Wooster arrived April 1st to inspect the situation for himself and ignored Arnold. [57] Feeling snubbed, Arnold wrote to Schuyler and requested a transfer to Montreal in which he could heal. His recent fall from his horse and the subsequent re-injuring of his wounded leg justified the transfer. Arnold’s request for a transfer was approved and he went to assume command of the Montreal garrison. [58]

On April 29th a congressional delegation arrived in Montreal to help to shore up support from the French Canadians. The delegation consisted of Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and Charles Carroll. Congress understood the need to replace Wooster because of his dilatory nature and sent Major General John Thomas as a replacement. He arrived in Quebec with several un-inoculated regiments even though General Washington had been informed him of a small pox outbreak in the besieging army. Upon arrival in Quebec, Thomas unwisely did not allow the new troops to be inoculated against small pox because of his Puritan background. Puritans condemned the practice because they believed that inoculations were an attempt to thwart the will of God. The day after the troops were dispatched to Montreal, Thomas contracted small pox. Even though he would be dead in two weeks from small pox, he would live long enough to see the end of the siege. [59]

Thomas saw the siege broken on May 6th when the HMS frigate Surprise and two smaller sloops arrived at Quebec ahead of a convoy of 15 transports that carried 10,000 troops. Ainslie reports in his journal that the garrison left their beds half dressed when the word spread that a ship flying the Union flag had arrived. Ainslie states that Governor Carlton led a sortie from the city and the sight of the redcoats routed the besieging American and French Canadians. Dunford refutes this by stating that the American retreat began with the sighting of British warships. [60]

Whether it was the sight of the British warships or the sortie that caused the siege to end is not critical. The fact is the siege ended and the Americans were in full flight. The flight from Quebec was so hasty and disorganized that Arnold in Montreal was not even aware of the retreat until it had been underway for four days. Even Arnold, who was always eager to charge into battle, realized that the American Army was too weak. He chose to salvage as much of the American army in Canada as he could. Because he lacked enough supplies and equipment to fortify and garrison in Montreal properly and therefore ordered a retreat. He ordered all supplies necessary to be seized from the Montreal merchants.

As Arnold prepared to leave Montreal, General John Sullivan arrived as a replacement for the now deceased General Thomas. He brought with him further reinforcements, which was another case of too little too late. Sullivan concurred with Arnold that retreat was the only option. The combined forces of Sullivan and Arnold numbered nearly 8,000 men. Using the same skill and dash that he had during the epic trip across the wilderness, Arnold skillfully began to withdraw the army to New York. He seized anything of value and destroyed everything that could not be taken and burned any dwellings so the British could not use them. He cut a swath of destruction across the Quebec countryside.

Arnold stripped everything of value from St. Jean. He even dismantled and shipped by bateaux a small British warship that was in the dry docks. The fort, dry-docks, and shipyards were all burned. Arnold ordered his rearguard into the remaining bateaux after the main body had crossed the river. Only Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson and Arnold remained on Canadian soil. Sitting on their horses in an exposed position they watched the approaching British troops. As the British grenadiers advanced on them, they wheeled their horses and raced toward the shore. Arnold drew a pistol and shot his horse dead to the shock of Wilkinson and the boat crew. He ordered Wilkinson to do the same and he did. Wilkinson got onto the bateaux first, followed by Arnold. Arnold was the last American to leave Canadian soil,. They pushed away from shore and made it to a safe distance as the British grenadiers reached the shore. [61]

Meanwhile in England, news reached the new secretary of state, Lord George Germain from Carleton that the Americans had been driven from Canada. Germain wrote back, “I am sorry you did not get Arnold, for of all the Americans, he is the most enterprising and dangerous.” [62]

In the end, what did the American invasion of Canada in the winter of 1775 and the subsequent collapse in the spring of 1776 accomplish? First, the British were not able to launch their major counterattack until late 1996. Benedict Arnold and a hastily scratched naval force would defeat the British invasion of Upper New York on October 11, 1776 at Valcour Island. If the British would have been able to launch their joint naval and land offensive in the spring of 1776, they would have captured the decaying fortress at Ticonderoga, as well as, the crucial waterway, the Hudson River and cut the colonies into two parts, the outcome of the war might have been different.

Even though Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery failed to capture Canada, Arnold established himself as a brave and capable officer. His men followed him devoutly and many in the colonies referred to him as “America’s Hannibal” as a result of his epic journey across the Maine wilderness. Except for a musket ball in the leg at the key moment of the battle, the Americans might have briefly captured Canada. It is doubtful if they would have retained control of Canada once major British reinforcements arrived in the spring of 1776.

Arnold would be called back to active service and because of his reputation as a fighting general, he was assigned to serve with General Gates when General Schuyler was replaced after the quick surrender of Fort Ticonderoga in the 1777 British invasion of New York from Canada.

Arnold would command some of the same men who had served with him in Quebec. The future Secretary of War under President Thomas Jefferson, Henry Dearborn, would serve again with Arnold. One of Daniel Morgan’s famed riflemen would end the life of British General Fraser and help to bring an end to the British hopes at the Battle of Bemis Heights. Arnold’s men would serve as the key formations that broke the back at the two battles at Saratoga. The two battles at Saratoga would turn the tide of the American War of Independence.

If Arnold had not established his reputation in the wilderness of Maine or in the streets of Quebec, another American general might have served as General Gates’ second in command. Another general might not have been so aggressive and the battle might have gone the other way. Another general might have obeyed Gates’ order to remain in his tent and the British might have broken the American lines at Bemis Heights.

It can be argued that America owes its independence to its greatest traitor since his reputation in Canada earned him a command at Saratoga. After Saratoga, the French recognized the fledgling American country and sent money, weapons, and later troops and ships that would guarantee our independence.

* * *

Show Footnotes and Bibliography

* * *

© 2024 Roger Daene

Published online: 07/03/2011.

Written by Roger Daene. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Roger Daene at:

About the author:
Roger Daene received his Master of Arts degree in History from Cleveland State University. He presently teaches for the University of Phoenix online and at their new campus in Jackson, Mississippi.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of
© 2024 - LLC
Featured Books

The Battle of Plassey 1757: The Victory That Won an Empire

Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814

The Battle of Camden: A Documentary History

British Civil War : The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660

Battles of the Revolutionary War