Page images

The blockade of Quebec is raised.

CHAP. V. much embarrass the removal of his sick, and 1776. military stores. No existing object remained

to justify this hazard.

Under these impressions, general Thomas called a council of war on the fifth of May, in

which it was unanimously determined, that ade they were not in a condition to risk an assault,

and that the sick should be removed to the Three Rivers, and the artillery and other stores embarked in their boats, in order to move with the army higher up the river, to a more defensible position. On the evening of the same

day certain intelligence was received that a May 6. British fleet was below; and the next morning

five of their ships, which had with much labour and danger made their way up the river through the ice before it was deemed practi. cable, appeared in sight. They soon entered the harbour and landed some men, whilst the Americans were assiduously employed in the embarkation of their sick and stores; an operation carried on the more slowly, because the first appearance of the ships in the river deprived them totally of the aid expected from the teams and carriages of the Canadians.

At one o'clock Carleton made a sortie at the head of about one thousand men, formed in two divisions, and supported by six field pieces.

No intrenchments had been thrown up for the defence of the camp, and but three hundred men with one field piece, constituted the force


which could be brought into action. Thus CHAP. V. circumstanced, victory was scarcely possible, 1776. and could have produced no important effect, as the enemy would immediately retire under the cannon of the town; while defeat would certainly annihilate his little army. General Thomas therefore, with the advice of the field officers about him, determined not to risk an action, and ordered his troops to retreat up the river. This was done with much precipitation, and many of the sick, with all the military stores, fell into the hands of the enemy. Unfortunately, to their quantity were added two tons of powder just sent down by general Schuyler, and five hundred stand of small arms.

Much to the honour of general Carleton, he pursued the wise and humane policy of treating with great gentleness, the sick and other prisoners that fell into his hands.

The falls of Richelieu had been contemplated as a place of great natural strength, which, by being fortified and defended by a few armed vessels, might, in the event of failing in the attempt on Quebec, stop the progress of the enemy up the river, and thus preserve the greater part of Canada. General Montgomery had strongly recommended an early attention to this position, and it had been determined to fortify it; but the measures resolved on, had not been executed. Some armed gondolas were building up the river, but had not been completed in

[ocr errors]

CHAP. V. time; and in the present state of that place, it 1776. was entirely impracticable to maintain it.

The army continued its retreat to De Chambeau, where on the seventh, another council was called, in which it was agreed that they should retire to the mouth of the Sorel. The ships of the enemy were pressing up the river, and were then at Jaques Cartier about three leagues below De Chambeau, and, as they had no means of stopping them at the falls of Richelieu, would soon be above so as to subject the troops in their present position, to the same disadvantages to which they had been exposed before Quebec. In pursuance of this advice, the remaining sick were moved up the river; but general Thomas was determined to continue in his present position some time longer, by the information that large re-en. forcements were now passing the lakes, and might daily be expected; but those re-enforcements not arriving as his intelligence had induced him to hope, and the enemy advancing in force, he was obliged to retreat to the Sorel, where he was seized with the small-pox, of which he died.

The Americans in general were by no means satisfied with the conduct of this gentleman, to whom they, in some degree, attributed the disasters which ruined their affairs in Canada. This censure, however, was entirely unjust. He took command of the army when it was too

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


weak to maintain its ground; and when the chap. V. time for saving the sick and military stores 1776. had passed away.

The siege of Quebec, instead of being persevered in longer, ought certainly to have been abandoned at an earlier period. This was the real fault of those who commanded at this station. It is to be ascribed to the extreme reluctance always felt by inexperienced officers to disappoint the public expectation, by relinquishing an enterprise, concerning which sanguine hopes have been entertained, even after every reasonable prospect of success had vanished, and to encounter the obloquy of giving up a post, although it can no longer be with prudence defended. In the perseverance with which the siege of Quebec was maintained, these motives operated with all their force, and they received an addition, from the unwillingness felt by the Americans to abandon those of their friends who had taken so decisive a part in their favour, as to be incapable of remaining in safety behind them.

Whilst the power of the United Colonies in Canada was thus visibly declining, and their troops were driven by superior numbers from the vicinity of Quebec, a calamity entirely unlooked for befell them in a different quarter of the same province.

As the English were still in possession of several military posts in upper Canada, many


CHAP. V. considerations rendered it proper to station a 1776. body of troops above Montreal.' A point of

land called the Cedars, about forty miles above that place, which was recommended by the

facility with which it might be defended, was · selected for this purpose. It projected deep

into the St. Lawrence, and could only be approached on one side. To this place colonel Bedel had been detached, with three hundred and ninety continental troops, and two field pieces, which he mounted in some slight works he had thrown up for security. Against this post, general Carleton had very early in the spring planned an expedition, the execution of which was committed to captain Forster, who

commanded at a post held by the English on May 11. Oswegachie. He set out with a company of

regulars, and a few savages, and having prevailed on the warriors of a tribe of Indians

inhabiting the intermediate country to join in May 17. the expedition, he appeared before the works

of the Americans with about six hundred men. Two days previous to his appearance, colonel Bedel had received intelligence of his approach, and leaving the fort to be commanded by major Butterfield, had proceeded himself to Montreal to solicit assistance. Arnold, who then commanded at that place, immediately detached major Sherburne to the Cedars with one hundred men, while he prepared to follow in person at the head of a much larger force.

« PreviousContinue »