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True to the Old Flag: A Tale of the American War of Independence, a novel by George Alfred Henty

Chapter 8. Quebec

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General Carleton, seeing that Montgomery's whole force was retained idle before St. John's, began to hope that the winter would come to his assistance before the invaders had made any serious progress. Unfortunately he had not reckoned on the utter incapacity of the officer in command of Fort Chamblee. Major Stopford of the Seventh Regiment had 160 men and a few artillerymen, and the fort was strong and well provided with provisions. American spies had found the inhabitants around the place favorable to the Americans. Major Brown was sent down by Montgomery with a small detachment, and, being joined by the inhabitants, sat down before the fort. They had only two six-pounders, and could have effected nothing had the fort been commanded by a man of bravery and resources. Such was not the character of its commander, who, after a siege of only a day and a half, surrendered the place with all its stores, which were of inestimable value to the invaders, who were upon the edge of giving up the siege of the fort; their ammunition being entirely exhausted; but the six tons of gunpowder, the seventeen cannon, mortars, and muskets which fell into their hands enabled them to carry on the siege of St. John's with renewed vigor. There was no excuse whatever for the conduct of Major Stopford in allowing these stores to fall into the hands of the Americans; as, even had he not possessed the courage to defend the fort, he might, before surrendering, have thrown the whole of the ammunition into the river, upon which there was a safe sally-port, where he could have carried on the operation entirely unmolested by the enemy. The colors of the Seventh Regiment were captured and sent to Congress as the first trophy of the war.

The siege of St. John's was now pushed on by Montgomery with vigor. Colonel Maclean, with 800 Indians and Canadians, attempted to relieve it, crossing the St. Lawrence in small boats. On nearing the other bank, they were received by so heavy a fire by the Americans posted there that they were obliged to retire without effecting a landing. Provisions and ammunition were now running short in St. John's, there was no hope whatever of relief from the outside, and the officer commanding was therefore obliged to surrender on November 14, after a gallant defense.

As there were only some fifty or sixty regulars in Montreal, General Carleton was unable to defend that town, and, upon the news of the fall of St. John's, he at once retired to Quebec, and Montreal was occupied by the Americans. In the meantime another expedition had been dispatched by the Americans under Arnold. This officer, with 1500 men, had started for Quebec from a point 130 miles north of Boston. Suffering enormous fatigue and hardship, the force made its way up the river; past rapids, cataracts, and through swamps they dragged and carried their boats and stores. They followed the bed of the river up to its source, and then, crossing the watershed, descended the Chaudiere and Duloup rivers on to the St. Lawrence, within a few miles of Quebec.

This was a wonderful march--one scarcely equaled in the annals of military history. Crossing the St. Lawrence in canoes, Arnold encamped with his little force upon the heights of Abraham. Such a daring attempt could not have been undertaken had not the Americans been aware of the extreme weakness of the garrison at Quebec, which consisted only of 50 men of the Seventh Regiment, 240 of the Canadian militia, a battalion of seamen from the ships-of-war, under the command of Captain Hamilton of the _Lizard_, 250 strong, and the colonial volunteers, under Colonel Maclean.

The fortifications were in a ruinous condition. It was fortunate that Colonel Maclean, who had come from the Sorrel, upon the surrender of St. John's, by forced marches, arrived on the very day on which Arnold appeared before the city. Directly he arrived Arnold attacked the city at the gate of St. Louis, but was sharply repulsed. He then desisted from active operations and awaited the arrival of Montgomery, who was marching down from Montreal. The flotilla in which Carleton was descending the river was attacked by the Americans, who came down the Sorrel, and was captured, with all the troops and military stores which it was bringing down. General Carleton himself escaped in a small boat under cover of night, and reached Quebec.

Captain Wilson's company had been attached to the command of Colonel Maclean, and with it arrived in Quebec in safety.

Upon the arrival of Montgomery with his army the city was summoned to surrender. A strong party in the town were favorable to the invaders, but General Carleton treated the summons with contempt, and turned all the inhabitants who refused to join in the defense of the city outside the town.

The winter had now set in in earnest, and the difficulties of the besiegers were great. Arnold's force had been much weakened by the hardships that they had undergone, Montgomery's by desertions; the batteries which they erected were overpowered by the fire of the defenders, and the siege made no progress whatever. The men became more and more disaffected and mutinous. Many of them had nearly served the time for which they had enlisted, and Montgomery feared that they would leave him when their engagement came to an end. He in vain tempted the besieged to make a sally. Carleton was so certain that success would come by waiting that he refused to allow himself to hazard it by a sortie.

The weather was fighting for him, and the besiegers had before them only the alternatives of taking the place by storm or abandoning the siege altogether. They resolved upon a storm. It was to take place at daybreak on December 31. Montgomery determined to make four attacks--two false and two real ones. Colonel James Livingstone, with 200 Canadians, was to appear before St. John's gate, and a party under Colonel Brown were to feign a movement against the upper town, and from high ground there were to send up rockets as the signal for the real attacks to commence--that led by Montgomery from the south and that under Arnold from the northwest--both against the lower town.

The false attacks were made too soon, the rockets being fired half an hour before the main columns reached their place of attack. The British were not deceived; but, judging these attacks to be feints, left but a small party to oppose them and marched the bulk of their forces down toward the lower town. Their assistance, however, came too late, for, before they arrived, the fate of the attack was already decided. The Americans advanced under circumstances of great difficulty. A furious wind, with cutting hail, blew in their faces; the ground was slippery and covered with snow.

Half an hour before the English supports arrived on the spot Montgomery, with his leading company, reached the first barricade, which was undefended; passing through this, they pressed on toward the next. The road leading to it was only wide enough for five or six persons abreast. On one side was the river, on the other a steep cliff; in front was a log hut with loop-holes for musketry, and a battery of two three-pounders. It was held by a party of 30 Canadians and 8 militiamen under John Coffin, with 9 sailors under Bairnsfeather, the captain of the transport, to work the guns. Montgomery, with 60 men, pushed on at a run to carry the battery; but, when within fifty yards Bairnsfeather discharged his pieces, which were loaded with grape-shot, with deadly aim. Montgomery, his aid-de-camp Macpherson, Lieutenant Cheeseman, and 10 others fell dead at the first discharge, and with them the soul of the expedition fled. The remaining officers endeavored to get the men to advance, but none would do so, and they fell back without losing another man. So completely cowed were they that they would not even carry off the bodies of their general and his companions. These were brought into Quebec next day and buried with the honors of war by the garrison.

The force under Arnold was far stronger than that under Montgomery. The Canadian guard appointed to defend the first barrier fled at the approach, but the small body of sailors fought bravely and were all killed or wounded. Arnold was shot through the leg and disabled. Morgan, who commanded the advanced companies, led his men on and carried the second barrier after an obstinate resistance. They were attacking the third when Maclean with his men from the upper town arrived. The British then took the offensive, and drove the enemy back, and a party, going round, fell upon their rear. Fifty were killed in Arnold's column, 400 taken prisoners, and the rest retreated in extreme disorder.

Thus ended the assault upon Quebec--an assault which was all but hopeless from the first, but in which Americans showed but little valor and determination. In fact, throughout the war, it may be said that the Americans, when fighting on the defensive behind trees and intrenchments, fought stubbornly; but that they were feeble in attack and wholly incapable of standing against British troops in the open.

It would now have been easy for Carleton to have sallied out and taken the offensive, but he preferred holding Quebec quietly. He might have easily driven the Americans from their position before the walls; but, with the handful of troops under his orders, he could have done nothing toward carrying on a serious campaign in the open.

Until spring came, and the rivers were opened, no re-enforcements could reach him from England, while the Americans could send any number of troops into Canada. Carleton, therefore, preferred to wait quietly within the walls of Quebec, allowing the winter, hardships, and disunion to work their natural effects upon the invaders.

Arnold sent to Washington to demand 10,000 more troops, with siege artillery. Several regiments were sent forward, but artillery could not be spared. Eight regiments entered Canada, but they found that, instead of meeting, as they had expected, an enthusiastic reception from the inhabitants, the population was now hostile to them. The exactions of the invading army had been great, and the feeling in favor of the English was now all but universal.

On May 5 two frigates and a sloop-of-war made their way up the river to Quebec. The Americans endeavored to embark their sick and artillery above the town. Re-enforced by the marines, the garrison sallied out and attacked the enemy, who fled with precipitation, leaving their provisions, cannon, five hundred muskets, and two hundred sick behind them. The British pursued them until they reached the mouth of the Sorrel.

The arrival of the fleet from England brought news of what had taken place since Captain Wilson's company had marched from Boston, a short time after the battle of Bunker's Hill. Immediately after the battle the colonists had sent two deputies, Penn and Lee, with a petition to Parliament for the restoration of peace. This petition was supported by a strong body in Parliament. The majority, however, argued that, from the conduct of the Americans, it was clear that they aimed at unconditional, unqualified, and total independence. In all their proceedings they had behaved as if entirely separated from Great Britain. Their professions and petition breathed peace and moderation; their actions and preparations denoted war and defiance; every attempt that could be made to soften their hostility had been in vain; their obstinacy was inflexible; and the more England had given in to their wishes, the more insolent and overbearing had their demands become. The stamp tax had been repealed, but their ill will had grown rather than abated. The taxations on imports had been entirely taken off save on one small item; but, rather than pay this, they had accumulated arms and ammunition, seized cannon belonging to the king, and everywhere prepared for armed resistance. Only two alternatives remained for the British nation to adopt--either to coerce the colonists to submission or to grant them their entire independence.

These arguments were well founded. The concessions which had been made had but encouraged the colonists to demand more. No good whatever would have come from entering into negotiation; there remained but the two alternatives. It would have been far better had Parliament, instead of deciding on coercion, withdrawn altogether from the colonies, for although hitherto the Americans had shown no great fighting qualities, it was clear that so small an army as England could spare could not permanently keep down so vast a country if the people were determined upon independence. They might win every battle,--might overpower every considerable force gathered against them,--but they could only enforce the king's authority over a mere fractional portion of so great an area. England, however, was unaccustomed to defeat; her spirit in those days was proud and high; and by a large majority Parliament voted for the continuance of the war. The next step taken was one unworthy of the country. It tended still further to embitter the war, and it added to the strength of the party in favor of the colonists at home. Attempts were made by the government to obtain the services of large numbers of foreign troops. Negotiations were entered into with Russia, Holland, Hesse, and other countries. Most of these proved ineffectual, but a considerable number of troops was obtained from Hesse.

The news of these proceedings excited the Americans to renewed efforts. The force under Washington was strengthened, and he took possession of Dorchester Heights, commanding the town of Boston. A heavy cannonade was opened on the city. The British guns answered it, but the American position gave them an immense advantage. General Howe, who was in command, at first thought of attempting to storm the heights, but the tremendous loss sustained at the battle of Bunker's Hill deterred him from the undertaking. His supineness during the past four months had virtually lost the American colonies to England. He had under his command 8000 troops, who could have routed, with ease, the undisciplined levies of Washington. Instead of leading his men out against the enemy, he had suffered them to be cooped up for months in the city, and had failed to take possession of the various heights commanding the town. Had he done this Boston might have resisted a force many times as strong as that which advanced against it, and there was now nothing left for the English but to storm the heights with enormous loss or to evacuate the city.

The first was the alternative which had been chosen when the Americans seized Bunker's Hill; the second was that which was now adopted.

Having adopted this resolution, Howe carried it out in a manner which would in itself be sufficient to condemn him as a military leader. Nothing was done to destroy the vast stores of arms and ammunition, and two hundred and fifty pieces of cannon were left for the colonists to use against England. No steps were taken to warn ships arriving from England of the surrender of the town. The consequence was that, in addition to the vast amount of stores captured in the town, numbers of the British storeships fell into the hands of the Americans--among them a vessel which, in addition to carbines, bayonets, gun-carriages, and other stores, had on board more than seventy tons of powder, while Washington's whole stock was all but exhausted.

But worse even than this hurried and unnecessary abandonment of vast munitions of war was the desertion of the loyalist population. Boston was full of loyalists, among whom were many of the wealthier and better-born persons in the colony, who, from the commencement of the troubles had left their homes, their fortunes, and their families to rally round the standard of their sovereign. The very least that Howe could have done for these loyal men would have been to have entered into some terms of capitulation with Washington, whereby they might have been permitted to depart to their homes and to the enjoyment of their property. Nothing of the sort was attempted, and the only choice offered to a loyalist was to remain in the town, exposed to certain insult and ill treatment, perhaps to death, at the hands of the rebels, or to leave in the transports for England or Halifax and to be landed here penniless and starving.

Howe's conduct in this was on a piece with his behavior throughout the campaign; but he was little, if at all, inferior to the other generals, who vied with each other in incapacity and folly. Never in the whole history of England were her troops led by men so inefficient, so sluggish, and so incapable as those who commanded her armies in the American Revolutionary War.

The first ships from England which arrived at Quebec were followed, a few days later, by the _Niger_ and _Triton_, convoy transports, with troops. The British now took the offensive in earnest. From the west Captain Forster marched from Detroit, with 40 men of the Eighth Regiment, 100 Canadians, and some Indians, against a pass called the Cedars, situated fifteen leagues above Montreal. This was held by 400 men with two cannon. As soon as the British force opened fire the Americans surrendered. The following day Forster's force, advancing, came upon 140 men under Major Sherbourne, who were marching to re-enforce the garrison at the Cedars. These were forced to retreat and 100 of them taken prisoners.

Arnold, with 700 men, advanced against the British force. The British officer, fearing that in case of an attack the Indians with him might massacre the prisoners, released the whole of them, 474 in number, under the promise that an equal number of British prisoners should be returned. This engagement was shamefully broken by the Americans, who raised a number of frivolous excuses, among others that prisoners taken by the British were ill treated--an accusation which excited the indignation of the prisoners themselves, some of whom wrote to members of Congress, stating that nothing could be kinder or more courteous than the treatment which they received.

While Forster was advancing toward Montreal from the west, Carleton was moving up against the Americans at Sorrel from Quebec. At the death of Montgomery, Wooster had taken the command of the main American force. He had been succeeded by Thompson, but the latter dying of smallpox, Sullivan took his place. The new commander determined to take the offensive against the English, and dispatched a force of about 2000 men to attack General Fraser, who held a post at a place called Three Rivers.

A Canadian peasant brought news to General Fraser of the approach of the Americans, and as he had received re-enforcements from below he determined to anticipate their attack. His movements were completely successful. Some of the Americans fought well, but the rest dispersed with but little resistance. Two hundred were killed and 150 taken prisoners. The rest succeeded in returning to Sorrel.

The main body of the British army now came up the river in their ships, and, as they approached Sorrel, Sullivan broke up his camp and retreated. At the same time Arnold, who commanded at Montreal, evacuated the town and joined Sullivan's army at St. John's.

Had the English pushed forward with any energy the whole of the American army of invasion would have fallen into their hands. They were completely broken in spirits, suffering terribly from sickness, and were wholly incapable of making any defense. Burgoyne, who commanded the advance of the English army, moved forward very slowly, and the Americans were enabled to take to their boats and cross, first to Isle-aux-Noix and then to Crown Point. An American historian, who saw them after they landed, says: "At the sight of so much privation and distress I wept until I had no more power to weep. I did not look into a tent or hut in which I did not find either a dead or dying man. Of about 5000 men full half were invalids. In little more than two months they had lost by desertion and death more than 5000 men."

Captain Wilson and his company were not present with the advance of the British troops. General Howe, after evacuating Boston, had sailed with his army to Halifax, there to wait until a large body of re-enforcements should be sent in the spring from England. General Carleton had, in his dispatches, mentioned favorably the services which the little company of loyalists from Boston had performed, and Lord Howe wrote requesting that the company should be sent down by ship to Halifax, as he was about to sail from New York to undertake operations on a large scale, and should be glad to have with him a body of men accustomed to scouting and acquainted with the country. Accordingly, the company was embarked in a transport and reached Halifax early in June. On the 11th they sailed with the army and arrived at Sandy Hook on the 29th. On July 3 the army landed on Staten Island, opposite Long Island, and soon afterward Lord Howe, brother of General Howe, arrived with the main army from England, raising the total force to nearly 30,000 men. It consisted of two battalions of light infantry, two of grenadiers, the Fourth, Fifth, Tenth, Seventeenth, Twenty-second, Twenty-third, Twenty-seventh, Thirty-fifth, Thirty-eighth, Fortieth, Forty-second, Forty-third, Forty-fourth, Forty-fifth, Forty-ninth, Fifty-second, Fifty-fifth, Sixty-third, and Sixty-fourth regiments of foot, part of the Forty-sixth and Seventy-first regiments, and the Seventeenth Regiment of light dragoons. There were, besides, two battalions of volunteers from New York, each 1000 strong. Had this force arrived, as it should have done, three months earlier, it might have achieved great things; but the delay had enabled the Americans to make extensive preparations to meet the coming storm.

Lord Howe brought with him a communication from Parliament, giving him and his brother full power to treat with the Americans on any terms which they might think fit. Upon his arrival Lord Howe addressed a letter to Dr. Franklin, informing him of the nature of his communication, expressing hopes that he would find in America the same disposition for peace that he brought with him, and requesting his aid to accomplish the desired end. Dr. Franklin, in answer, informed Lord Howe that, "prior to the consideration of any proposition for friendship or peace, it would be required that Great Britain should acknowledge the independence of America, should defray the expense of the war, and indemnify, the colonists for all damages committed."

After such a reply as this Lord Howe had no alternative but to commence hostilities, which he did by landing the army in Gravesend Bay, Long Island. The enemy offered no opposition to the landing, but retreated at once, setting fire to all the houses and granaries, and taking up a position on the wooded heights which commanded the line by which the English must advance.

The American main force, 15,000 strong, was posted on a peninsula between Mill Creek and Wallabout Bay, and had constructed a strong line of intrenchments across the end of the peninsula. The intrenchments were strengthened by abattis and flanked by strong redoubts. Five thousand remained to guard this post, and 10,000, under General Puttenham, advanced to hold the line of wooded hills which run across the island.

In the center of the plain, at the foot of these hills, stood the village of Flatbush.

The Hessian division of the British army, under General De Heister, advanced against this, while General Clinton, with the right wing of the English army, moved forward to attack the enemy's left.

This force marched at nine o'clock at night on August 26; General Sir William Howe himself accompanied it. The line of hills trended away greatly to the left, and the enemy had neglected to secure the passes over the hills on this flank; consequently, at nine o'clock in the morning, the British passed the range of hills without resistance, and occupied Bedford in its rear. Had Sir William Howe now pushed on vigorously, the whole of Puttenham's force must have been captured.

In the meantime the Hessians from Flatbush attacked the center of the Americans, and after a warm engagement, routed them and drove them into the woods with a loss of three pieces of cannon.

On the British left General Grant also advanced, and at midnight carried a strong pass on the enemy's left. Retiring, they held a still stronger position further back and offered a fierce resistance until the fires at Bedford showed that the English had obtained a position almost in their rear, when they retreated precipitately.

[Illus: Sketch of the British Position on Long Island.]

The victory was a complete one, but it had none of the consequences which would have attended it had the English pushed forward with energy after turning the American left. Six pieces of cannon were captured and 2000 men killed or taken prisoners. The English lost 70 killed and 230 wounded.

So impetuously did the English attack that even Sir William Howe admitted that they could have carried the intrenchments. He alleges he did not permit them to do so, because he intended to take the position by regular approaches and wished therefore to avoid the loss of life which an immediate assault would have occasioned. On the 27th and 28th regular approaches were commenced, but on the 29th, under cover of a fog, the Americans embarked in boats and succeeded in carrying the whole of their force, without the loss of a man, across to the mainland.

The escape of this body of men was disgraceful in the extreme to the English commanders. They had a great fleet at their disposal, and had they placed a couple of frigates in the East River, between Long Island and New York, the escape would have been impossible, and General Washington and his army of 15,000 men must have been taken prisoners. Whether this misfortune would have proved conclusive of the war it is now too late to speculate; but so splendid an opportunity was never before let slip by an English general, and the negligence was the more inexcusable inasmuch as the fleet of boats could be seen lying alongside of the American position. Their purpose must have been known, and they could at any moment have been destroyed by the guns of a ship-of-war taking up its position outside them.

Lord Howe dispatched the American General Sullivan, who had been taken prisoner on Long Island, to Congress, repeating his desire to treat. A committee of three members accordingly waited on Lord Howe, who informed them that it was the most ardent wish of the king and the government of Great Britain to put an end to the dissatisfaction between the mother country and the colonists. To accomplish this desire every act of Parliament which was considered obnoxious to the colonists should undergo a revisal, and every just cause of complaint should be removed, if the colonists would declare their willingness to submit to the authority of the British government. The committee replied that it was not America which had separated herself from Great Britain, but Great Britain had separated herself from America. The latter had never declared herself independent until the former had made war upon her, and even if Congress were willing to place America in her former situation, it could not do so, as the Declaration of Independence had been made in consequence of the congregated voice of the whole people, by whom alone it could be abolished. The country was determined not to return under the domination of England.

The negotiations were therefore broken off. Lord Howe published a declaration to the people of America, giving the answer of the committee to his offer of reconciliation. He acquainted them with the fact that the parent country was willing to receive into its bosom and protection all who might be willing to return to their former obedience. In taking this step, Lord Howe was convinced that a majority of the inhabitants of America were still willing to enter into an accommodation of the differences between the two powers, and the conviction was not ill founded. The declaration, however, produced but little effect, for the dominant section, that resolved to break off all connection with England, had acquired the sole management of affairs, and no offers which could possibly have been made would have been accepted by them.

Convinced that all further negotiations would be ineffectual, Lord Howe prepared to carry his army across from Long Island to New York, where the American army had taken up their post after the retreat from Long Island. The armies were separated by the East River, with a breadth of about thirteen hundred yards. A cannonade was kept up for several days. On September 13 some ships-of-war were brought up to cover the passage. Washington, seeing the preparations, began to evacuate the city and to abandon the strong intrenchments which he had thrown up. At eleven o'clock on the morning of the 15th the men-of-war opened a heavy fire, and Clinton's division, consisting of 4000 men in eighty-four boats, sailed up the river, landed on Manhattan Island at a place called Kipp's Bay, and occupied the heights of Inclenberg, the enemy abandoning their intrenchments at their approach. General Washington rode toward Kipp's Bay to take command of the troops stationed there, but found the men who had been posted at the lines running away, and the brigades which should have supported them flying in every direction, heedless of the exertions of their generals.

Puttenham's division of 4000 men was still in the lower city, and would be cut off unless the British advance should be checked. Washington therefore made the greatest efforts to rally the fugitives and to get them to make a stand to check the advancing enemy, but in vain; for, as soon as even small bodies of redcoats were seen advancing, they broke and fled in panic.

Howe, as usual, delayed giving orders for an advance, and thus permitted the whole of Puttenham's brigade, who were cut off and must have been taken prisoners, to escape unharmed. And thus, with comparatively little loss, the Americans drew off, leaving behind them only a few heavy cannon and some bayonets and stores.

So rapid had been their flight at the approach of the English that only fifteen were killed, two men falling on the English side. _

Read next: Chapter 9. The Surprise Of Trenton

Read previous: Chapter 7. In The Forest

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