Benedict Arnold in the American Revolution





Late in August, 1775 the commander-in-chief, George Washington, had perfected his plan. Arnold was then at Cambridge making loud complaints of ill-usage upon Lake Champlain. The proposed expedition, promising wild adventure and the exercise of rare courage and skill, seemed to be suited to his nature, and Washington, to silence his complaints and to secure his services, commissioned him a colonel in the Continental Army, and gave him the command of the troops to be used, comprising eleven hundred hardy men selected from the forces at Cambridge. These were composed of New England musketeers and riflemen from Virginia and Pennsylvania under Captain Daniel Morgan. At the middle of September they sailed from Newburyport, in transports, for their general rendezvous at Fort Western on the Kennebec River, opposite the present city of Augusta. They were then on the verge of an uninhabited wilderness, excepting by a few Indian hunters. There they were furnished with bateaux wherewith to navigate shallow streams and little lakes; and at Norridgewock Falls, where Father Rale had his Indian mission, already mentioned, their first labors began. Their bateaux were drawn by oxen, and their provisions were carried on their backs around the falls--a wearisome task often repeated afterward. But they pressed on with cheerfulness toward the headwaters of the Kennebec, often wading and pushing their bateaux against swift currents. At length they left that stream, and over craggy knolls, tangled ravines, deep morasses and gentle brooks they made their way to Dead River--a portage of fifteen miles broken by three ponds. Upon the placid bosom of that sluggish stream, on the great watershed between the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic, they moved quietly, in fine weather, and were suddenly confronted by a lofty mountain capped with snow. At the foot of this hill Arnold encamped. Major Bigelow ascended to its summit, hoping to see the spires of Quebec; and it has been called Mount Bigelow to this day.

Sickness and desertion now began to reduce the number of effective men. It was late in October. Keen winds came from the north. They were thirty miles from Lake Megantic, the source of the Chaudiere, a tributary of the St. Lawrence, down which Arnold intended to voyage in the bateaux. When the expedition moved, a heavy rain had set in. Torrents came roaring from the hills and filled the Dead River to its brim. Its banks were soon overflowed and its channel was filled with drift-wood, among which several of the boats were overturned and much provision was lost. Food for only twelve days remained. A council of war determined to send the sick and wounded to Norridgewock, where Colonel Enos was yet with the rear division. He was ordered to come on with provisions for fifteen days. Instead of obeying, he returned to Cambridge with his whole division, where he was looked upon as a traitor or coward. Though acquitted by a court-martial, he was never restored to public favor.

Arnold's situation was now becoming critical. The rain changed to snow, and ice formed upon the still waters. The men were often compelled to wade in the freezing floods, waist deep, and push the bateaux before them. In that dreadful journey two women, wives of two soldiers, participated, wading with their husbands. At length Lake Megantic was reached, and they encamped on its borders; and the next day, Arnold, with fifty-five men, started to voyage down the Chaudiere to the nearest French settlement, there to procure provisions and send them back to the main army. It proved to be a most perilous undertaking. They had no guide. As soon as they entered the river, they found the current running swiftly over a rocky bed. They lashed their baggage and provisions to the bateaux, and committed themselves to the seething flood. They were soon among foaming rapids, when three of their vessels were dashed to pieces and their contents engulfed. No life perished. The men were saved by those in the other boats which were moored in shallow estuaries. This seeming calamity was a mercy in disguise, for, had they not been checked, the whole party, in a few minutes, would have been plunged over a fearful cataract, the sullen roar of which they could distinctly hear.

For seventy miles further, falls and rapids succeeded each other, when Sertigan was reached, and Indians were sent back to the main body with provisions, and to guide them to the settlements. This relief-party found the soldiers in a starving condition. Their boats and provisions had been destroyed, and they had slaughtered their last ox several days before. They had subsisted upon a scanty supply of roots, and tried to obtain mucilage by boiling their moose-skin moccasins, but in vain. A dog was killed and furnished soup for a few, and they were suffering the despair of hopelessly starving men when the Indians found them. A few days afterward, the whole army, united, were marching toward the St. Lawrence; and on the 9th of November they suddenly appeared on the heights of Point Levi, opposite Quebec, veiled in falling snow. To the eyes of the wondering people of that city, they seemed like a spectre army just fallen from the clouds. Morgan's riflemen, in their linen frocks, had been seen by the messenger, who carried the news of their arrival to Quebec. "They are vetuen toile" (clothed in linen cloth), said the messenger. The last word was mistaken for tole (iron plate), and this created a panic. The city was soon in a tumult. The drums beat to arms, and the garrison was strengthened.

Arnold relied upon the friendship for the Americans of a large portion of the inhabitants of Quebec, and believed they would compel the garrison to surrender, if he should appear with a force before the city. He was anxious to cross over at once, but was detained by a storm of sleet until the 13th. That night he crossed the river with five hundred and fifty men in birch canoes. They landed at Wolfe's Cove, ascended the ravine, and at dawn stood in battle array on the Plains of Abraham, where Wolfe had stood sixteen years before. Believing that a shout from his little army would bring out a friendly response from the city, he marched his men toward the two gates opening upon the Plains, and ordered them to give three cheers. He expected to bring out the regulars to attack him, when he hoped, by the assistance of the citizens, to be able to rush in and take possession of the town. But the commanders were wise enough to not open the gates, and the citizens were restrained by fear of the garrison. After making a ridiculous display of arrogance and folly a few days, by issuing proclamations and demanding the surrender of the city, all of which were treated with contempt by the commanders of the garrison, Arnold was startled by the news that Carleton was coming down the St. Lawrence with a force of Canadians and Indians, and information from his friends in the city, that the garrison were on the point of sallying out to attack him with field-pieces. He had no cannon, and his numbers were few, though the remainder had come over from Point Levi, and joined him; and he prudently fled up the river to Point aux Trembles (Aspen Trees Point), and there awaited instructions from Montgomery.

Impressed with the importance of taking Quebec to insure the conquest of Canada, Montgomery placed small garrisons in the forts at St. Johns and Chambly, and left Montreal in charge of General Wooster, preparatory to marching on the Canadian capital. He had heard that the British authorities there were much alarmed by the presence of Arnold. "They expect to be besieged," he wrote to Schuyler, "which, by the blessing of God, they shall be, if the severe season holds off and I can prevail on the troops to accompany me." Montgomery's greatest difficulty was involved in the last consideration. A large portion of his men were indisposed to go further, or remain longer than their enlistment papers compelled them to--the first of December. Day by day his army was melting away. The frequent appeals of General Schuyler and himself to Congress for reinforcements had not been responded to, and he took the responsibility of making an un-authorized engagement with troops who were willing to go. With the comparatively few men who agreed to follow him, he left Montreal on the 26th of September, and joined Arnold at Point aux Trembles, on the 3d of December, and took command of the combined troops. With woollen clothing which he took with him, Montgomery made Arnold's thinly-clad troops comfortable.





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