Canadian Genealogy | Chronicles of Canada

 

Canadian Research

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland

Northern Territories

Nova Scotia

Nunavut

Ontario

Prince Edward Island

Quebec

Saskatchewan

Yukon

Canadian Indian Tribes

Chronicles of Canada

 

Free Genealogy Forms
Family Tree Chart
Research Calendar
Research Extract
Free Census Forms
Correspondence Record
Family Group Chart
Source Summary

 

New Genealogy Data
Family Tree Search
Biographies

Genealogy Books For Sale

Indian Mythology

US Genealogy

 

Other Websites
British Isles Genealogy
Australian Genealogy

 


FREE Web Site Hosting at
Canadian Genealogy

 

 

 

Beleaguerment, 1775-1776

When Carleton finally turned at bay within the walls of Quebec the British flag waved over less than a single one out of the more than a million square miles that had so recently been included within the boundaries of Canada. The landward walls cut off the last half-mile of the tilted promontory which rises three hundred feet above the St Lawrence but only one hundred above the valley of the St Charles. This promontory is just a thousand yards wide where the landward walls run across it, and not much wider across the world-famous Heights and Plains of Abraham, which then covered the first two miles beyond. The whole position makes one of Nature's strongholds when the enemy can be kept at arm's length. But Carleton had no men to spare for more than the actual walls and the narrow little strip of the Lower Town between the base of the cliff and the St Lawrence. So the enemy closed in along the Heights' and among the suburbs, besides occupying any point of vantage they chose across the St Lawrence or St Charles.

The walls were by no means fit to stand a siege, a fact which Carleton had frequently reported. But, as the Americans had neither the men nor the material for a regular siege, they were obliged to confine themselves to a mere beleaguerment, with the chance of taking Quebec by assault. One of Carleton's first acts was to proclaim that every able-bodied man refusing to bear arms was to leave the town within four days. But, though this had the desired effect of clearing out nearly all the dangerous rebels, the Americans still believed they had enough sympathizers inside to turn the scale of victory if they could only manage to take the Lower Town, with all its commercial property and shipping, or gain a footing anywhere within the walls.

There were five thousand souls left in Quebec, which was well provisioned for the winter. The women, children, and men unfit to bear arms numbered three thousand. The 'exempts' amounted to a hundred and eighty. As there was a growing suspicion about many of these last, Carleton paraded them for medical examination at the beginning of March, when, a good deal more than half were found quite fit for duty. These men had been malingering all winter in order to skulk out of danger; so he treated them with extreme leniency in only putting them on duty as a 'company of Invalids.' But the slur stuck fast. The only other exceptions to the general efficiency were a very few instances of cowardice and many more of slackness. The militia order-books have repeated entries about men who turned up late for even important duties as well as about others whose authorized substitutes were no better than themselves. But it should be remembered that, as a whole, the garrison did exceedingly good service and that all the malingerers and serious delinquents together did not amount to more than a tenth of its total, which is a small proportion for such a mixed body.

The effective strength at the beginning of the siege was eighteen hundred of all ranks. Only one hundred of these belonged to the regular British garrison in Canada--a few staff-officers, twenty-two men of the Royal Artillery, and seventy men of the 7th Royal Fusiliers, a regiment which was to be commanded in Quebec sixteen years later by Queen Victoria's father, the Duke of Kent. The Fusiliers and two hundred and thirty 'Royal Emigrants' were formed into a little battalion under Colonel Maclean, a first-rate officer and Carleton's right-hand man in action. 'His Majesty's Royal Highland Regiment of Emigrants,' which subsequently became the 84th Foot, now known as the 2nd York and Lancaster, was hastily raised in 1775 from the Highland veterans who had settled in the American colonies after the Peace of 1763. Maclean's two hundred and thirty were the first men he could get together in time to reach Quebec. The only other professional fighters were four hundred blue-jackets and thirty-five marines of H.M.SS. Lizard and Hunter, who were formed into a naval battalion under their own officers, Captains Hamilton and McKenzie, Hamilton being made a lieutenant-colonel and McKenzie a major while doing duty ashore. Fifty masters and mates of trading vessels were enrolled in the same battalion. The whole of the shipping was laid up for the winter in the Cul de Sac, which alone made the Lower Town a prize worth taking. The 'British Militia' mustered three hundred and thirty, the 'Canadian Militia' five hundred and forty-three. These two corps included practically all the official and business classes in Quebec and formed nearly half the total combatants. Some of them took no pay and were not bound to service beyond the neighborhood of Quebec, thus being very much like the Home Guards raised all over Canada and the rest of the Empire during the Great World War of 1914. All the militia wore dark green coats with buff waistcoats and breeches. The total of eighteen hundred was completed by a hundred and twenty 'artificers,' that is, men who would now belong to the Engineers, Ordnance, and Army Service Corps. As the composition of this garrison has been so often misrepresented, it may be as well to state distinctly that the past or present regulars of all kinds, soldiers and sailors together, numbered eight hundred and the militia and other non-regulars a thousand. The French Canadians, very few of whom were or had been regulars, formed less than a third of the whole.

Montgomery and Arnold had about the same total number of men. Sometimes there were more, sometimes less. But what made the real difference, and what really turned the scale, was that the Americans had hardly any regulars and that their effectives rarely averaged three-quarters of their total strength. The balance was also against them in the matter of armament. For, though Morgan's Virginians had many more rifles than were to be found among the British, the Americans in general were not so well off for bayonets and not so well able to use those they had; while the artillery odds were still more against them. Carleton's artillery was not of the best. But it was better than that of the Americans. He decidedly overmatched them in the combined strength of all kinds of ordnance--cannons, carronades, howitzers, mortars, and swivels. Cannons and howitzers fired shot and shell at any range up to the limit then reached, between two and three miles. Carronades were on the principle of a gigantic shotgun, firing masses of bullets with great effect at very short ranges--less than that of a long musket-shot, then reckoned at two hundred yards. The biggest mortars threw 13-inch 224-lb shells to a great distance. But their main use was for high-angle fire, such as that from the suburb of St Roch under the walls of Quebec. Swivels were the smallest kind of ordnance, firing one-, two-, or three-pound balls at short or medium ranges. They were used at convenient points to stop rushes, much like modern machine-guns.

Thanks chiefly to Cramahe, the defenses were not nearly so 'ruinous' as Arnold at first had thought them. The walls, however useless against the best siege artillery, were formidable enough against irregular troops and makeshift batteries; while the warehouses and shipping in the Lower Town were protected by two stockades, one straight under Cape Diamond, the other at the corner where the Lower Town turns into the valley of the St Charles. The first was called the Pres-de-Ville, the second the Sault-au-Matelot. The shipping was open to bombardment from the Levis shore. But the Americans had no guns to spare for this till April.

Montgomery's advance was greatly aided by the little flotilla which Easton had captured at Sorel. Montgomery met Arnold at Pointe-aux-Trembles, twenty miles above Quebec, on the 2nd of December and supplied his little half-clad force with the British uniforms taken at St Johns and Chambly. He was greatly pleased with the magnificent physique of Arnold's men, the fittest of an originally well-picked lot. He still had some 'pusillanimous wretches' among his own New Yorkers, who resented the air of superiority affected by Arnold's New Englanders and Morgan's Virginians. He felt a well-deserved confidence in Livingston and some of the English-speaking Canadian 'patriots' whom Livingston had brought into his camp before St Johns in September. But he began to feel more and more doubtful about the French Canadians, most of whom began to feel more and more doubtful about themselves. On the 6th he arrived before Quebec and took up his quarters in Holland House, two miles beyond the walls, at the far end of the Plains of Abraham. The same day he sent Carleton the following summons:

SIR;--Notwithstanding the personal ill-treatment I have received at your hands--notwithstanding your cruelty to the unhappy Prisoners you have taken, the feelings of humanity induce me to have recourse to this expedient to save you from the Destruction which hangs over you. Give me leave, Sir, to assure you that I am well acquainted with your situation. A great extent of works, in their nature incapable of defense, manned with a motley crew of sailors, the greatest part our friends; of citizens, who wish to see us within their walls, & a few of the worst troops who ever stilled themselves Soldiers. The impossibility of relief, and the certain prospect of wanting every necessary of life, should your opponents confine their operations to a simple Blockade, point out the absurdity of resistance. Such is your situation! I am at the head of troops accustomed to Success, confident of the righteousness of the cause they are engaged in, inured to danger, & so highly incensed at your inhumanity, illiberal abuse, and the ungenerous means employed to prejudice them in the mind of the Canadians that it is with difficulty I restrain them till my Batteries are ready from assaulting your works, which afford them a fair opportunity of ample vengeance and just retaliation. Firing upon a flag of truce, hitherto unprecedented, even among savages, prevents my taking the ordinary mode of communicating my sentiments. However, I will at any rate acquit my conscience. Should you persist in an unwarrantable defense, the consequences be upon your own head. Beware of destroying stores of any kind, Publick or Private, as you have done at Montreal and in Three Rivers--If you do, by Heaven, there will be no mercy shown.

Though Montgomery wrote bunkum like the common politician of that and many a later age, he was really a brave soldier. What galled him into fury was 'grave Carleton's' quiet refusal to recognize either him or any other rebel commander as the accredited leader of a hostile army. It certainly must have been exasperating for the general of the Continental Congress to be reduced to such expedients as tying a grandiloquent ultimatum to an arrow and shooting it into the beleaguered town. The charge of firing on flags of truce was another instance of 'talking for Buncombe.' Carleton never fired on any white flag. But he always sent the same answer: that he could hold no communication with any rebels unless they came to implore the king's pardon. This, of course, was an aggravation of his offensive calmness in the face of so much revolutionary rage. To individual rebels of all sorts he was, if anything, over-indulgent. He would not burn the suburbs of Quebec till the enemy forced him to it, though many of the houses that gave the Americans the best cover belonged to rebel Canadians. He went out of his way to be kind to all prisoners, especially if sick or wounded. And it was entirely owing to his restraining influence that the friendly Indians had not raided the border settlements of New England during the summer. Nor was he animated only by the very natural desire of bringing back rebellious subjects to what he thought their true allegiance, as his subsequent actions amply proved. He simply acted with the calm dignity and impartial justice which his position required.

Three days before Christmas the bombardment began in earnest. The non-combatants soon found, to their equal amazement and delight, that a good many shells did very little damage if fired about at random. But news intended to make their flesh creep came in at the same time, and probably had more effect than the shells on the weak-kneed members of the community. Seven hundred scaling-ladders, no quarter if Carleton persisted in holding out, and a prophecy attributed to Montgomery that he would eat his Christmas dinner either in Quebec or in Hell--these were some of the blood-curdling items that came in by petticoat or arrow post. One of the most active purveyors of all this bombast was Jerry Duggan, a Canadian 'patriot' barber now become a Continental major.

But there was a serious side. Deserters and prisoners, as well as British adherents who had escaped, all began to tell the same tale, though with many variations. Montgomery was evidently bent on storming the walls the first dark night. His own orders showed it.

Head Quarters, Holland House, Near Quebec, 15th December 1755.

The General having in vain offered the most favorable terms of accommodation to the Governor of Quebec, & having taken every possible step to prevail on the inhabitants to desist from seconding him in his wild scheme of defending the Town--for the speedy reduction of the only hold possessed by the Ministerial Troops in this Province--The soldiers, flushed with continual success, confident of the justice of their cause, & relying on that Providence which has uniformly protected them, will advance with alacrity to the attack of works incapable of being defended by the wretched Garrison posted behind them, consisting of Sailors unacquainted with the use of arms, of Citizens incapable of Soldiers' duty, & of a few miserable Emigrants. The General is confident that a vigorous & spirited attack must be attended with success. The Troops shall have the effects of the Governor, Garrison, & of such as have been active in misleading the Inhabitants & distressing the friends of liberty, equally divided among them, except the 100th share out of the whole, which shall be at the disposal of the General to be given to such soldiers as distinguished themselves by their activity & bravery, to be sold at public auction: the whole to be conducted as soon as the City is in our hands and the inhabitants disarmed.

It was a week after these orders had been written before the first positive news of the threatened assault was brought into town by an escaped British prisoner who, strangely enough, bore the name of Wolfe. Wolfe's escape naturally caused a postponement of Montgomery's design and a further council of war. Unlike most councils of war this one was full of fight. Three feints were to be made at different points while the real attack was to be driven home at Cape Diamond. But just after this decision had been reached two rebel Montrealers came down and, in another debate, carried the day for another plan. These men, Antell and Price, were really responsible for the final plan, which, like its predecessor, did not meet with Montgomery's approval. Montgomery wanted to make a breach before trying the walls. But he was no more than the chairman of a committee; and this egregious committee first decided to storm the unbroken walls and then changed to an attack on the Lower Town only. Antell was Montgomery's engineer. Price was a red-hot agitator. Both were better at politics than soldiering. Their argument was that if the Lower Town could be taken the Quebec militia would force Carleton to surrender in order to save the warehouses, shipping, and other valuable property along the waterfront, and that even if Carleton held out in debate he would soon be brought to his knees by the Americans, who would march through the gates, which were to be opened by the 'patriots' inside.

Another week passed; and Montgomery had not eaten his Christmas dinner either in Quebec or in the other place. But both sides knew the crisis must be fast approaching; for the New Yorkers had sworn that they would not stay a minute later than the end of the year, when their term of enlistment was up. Thus every day that passed made an immediate assault more likely, as Montgomery had to strike before his own men left him. Yet New Year's Eve itself began without the sign of an alarm.

Carleton had been sleeping in his clothes at the Recollets', night after night, so that he might be first on parade at the general rendezvous on the Place d'Armes, which stood near the top of Mountain Hill, the only road between the Upper and the Lower Town. Officers and men off duty had been following his example; and every one was ready to turn out at a moment's notice.

A north-easterly snowstorm was blowing furiously, straight up the St Lawrence, making Quebec a partly seen blur to the nearest American patrols and the Heights of Abraham a wild sea of whirling drifts to the nearest British sentries. One o'clock passed, and nothing stirred. But when two o'clock struck at Holland House Montgomery rose and began to put the council's plan in operation. The Lower Town was to be attacked at both ends. The Pres-de-Ville barricade was to be carried by Montgomery and the Sault-au-Matelot by Arnold, while Livingston was to distract Carleton's attention as much as possible by making a feint against the landward walls, where the British still expected the real attack. Livingston's Canadian fighting 'patriots' waded through the drifts, against the storm, across the Plains, and took post close in on the far side of Cape Diamond, only eighty yards from the same walls that were to have been stormed some days before. Jerry Duggan's parasitic Canadian 'patriots' took post in the suburb of St John and thence round to Palace Gate. Montgomery led his own column straight to Wolfe's Cove, whence he marched in along the narrow path between the cliff and the St Lawrence till he reached the spot at the foot of Cape Diamond just under the right of Livingston's line. Arnold, whose quarters were in the valley of the St Charles, took post in St Roch, with a mortar battery to fire against the walls and a column of men to storm the Sault-au-Matelot. Livingston's and Jerry Duggan's whole command numbered about four hundred men, Montgomery's five hundred, Arnold's six. The opposing totals were fifteen hundred Americans against seventeen hundred British. There was considerable risk of confusion between friend and foe, as most of the Americans, especially Arnold's men, wore captured British uniforms with nothing to distinguish them but odds and ends of their former kits and a sort of paper hatband bearing the inscription Liberty or Death.

A little after four the sentries on the walls at Cape Diamond saw lights flashing about in front of them and were just going to call the guard when Captain Malcolm Fraser of the Royal Emigrants came by on his rounds and saw other lights being set out in regular order like lamps in a street. He instantly turned out the guards and pickets. The drums beat to arms. Every church bell in the city pealed forth its alarm into that wild night. The bugles blew. The men off duty swarmed on to the Place d'Armes, where Carleton, calm and intrepid as ever, took post with the general reserve and waited. There was nothing for him to do just yet. Everything that could have been foreseen had already been amply provided for; and in his quiet confidence his followers found their own.

Towards five o'clock two green rockets shot up from Montgomery's position beside the Anse des Meres under Cape Diamond. This was the signal for attack. Montgomery's column immediately struggled on again along the path leading round the foot of the Cape towards the Pres-de-Ville barricade. Livingston's serious 'patriots' on the top of the Cape changed their dropping shots into a hot fire against the walls; while Jerry Duggan's little mob of would-be looters shouted and blazed away from safer cover in the suburbs of St John and St Roch. Arnold's mortars pitched shells all over the town; while his storming-party advanced towards the Sault-au-Matelot barricade. Carleton, naturally anxious about the landward walls, sent some of the British militia to reinforce the men at Cape Diamond, which, as he knew, Montgomery considered the best point of attack. The walls lower down did not seem to be in any danger from Jerry Duggan's 'patriots,' whose noisy demonstration was at once understood to be nothing but an empty feint. The walls facing the St Charles were well manned and well gunned by the naval battalion. Those facing the St Lawrence, though weak in themselves, were practically impregnable, as the cliffs could not be scaled by any formed body. The Lower Town, however, was by no means so safe, in spite of its two barricades. The general uproar was now so great that Carleton could not distinguish the firing there from what was going on elsewhere. But it was at these two points that the real attack was rapidly developing.

The first decisive action took place at Pres-de-Ville. The guard there consisted of fifty men--John Coffin, who was a merchant of Quebec, Sergeant Hugh McQuarters of the Royal Artillery, Captain Barnsfair, a merchant skipper, with fifteen mates and skippers like himself, and thirty French Canadians under Captain Chabot and Lieutenant Picard. These fifty men had to guard a front of only as many feet. On their right Cape Diamond rose almost sheer. On their left raged the stormy St Lawrence. They had a tiny block-house next to the cliff and four small guns on the barricade, all double-charged with canister and grape. They had heard the dropping shots on the top of the Cape for nearly an hour and had been quick to notice the change to a regular hot fire. But they had no idea whether their own post was to be attacked or not till they suddenly saw the head of Montgomery's column halting within fifty paces of them. A man came forward cautiously and looked at the barricade. The storm was in his face. The defenses were wreathed in whirling snow. And the men inside kept silent as the grave. When he went back a little group stood for a couple of minutes in hurried consultation. Then Montgomery waved his sword, called out 'Come on, brave boys, Quebec is ours!' and led the charge. The defenders let the Americans get about half-way before Barnsfair shouted 'Fire!' Then the guns and muskets volleyed together, cutting down the whole front of the densely massed column. Montgomery, his two staff-officers, and his ten leading men were instantly killed. Some more farther back were wounded. And just as the fifty British fired their second round the rest of the five hundred Americans turned and ran in wild confusion.

A few minutes later a man whose identity was never established came running from the Lower Town to say that Arnold's men had taken the Sault-au-Matelot barricade. If this was true it meant that the Pres-de-Ville fifty would be caught between two fires. Some of them made as if to run back and reach Mountain Hill before the Americans could cut them off. But Coffin at once threatened to kill the first man to move; and by the time an artillery officer had arrived with reinforcements perfect order had been restored. This officer, finding he was not wanted there, sent back to know where else he was to go, and received an answer telling him to hurry to the Sault-au-Matelot. When he arrived there, less than half a mile off, he found that desperate street fighting had been going on for over an hour.

Arnold's advance had begun at the same time as Livingston's demonstration and Montgomery's attack. But his task was very different and the time required much longer. There were three obstacles to be overcome. First, his men had to run the gauntlet of the fire from the bluejackets ranged along the Grand Battery, which faced the St Charles at its mouth and overlooked the narrow little street of Sous-le-Cap at a height of fifty or sixty feet. Then they had to take the small advanced barricade, which stood a hundred yards on the St Charles side of the actual Sault-au-Matelot or Sailor's Leap, which is the north-easterly point of the Quebec promontory and nearly a hundred feet high. Finally, they had to round this point and attack the regular Sault-au-Matelot barricade. This second barricade was about a hundred yards long, from the rock to the river. It crossed Sault-au-Matelot Street and St Peter Street, which were the same then as now. But it ended on a wharf half-way down the modern St James Street, as the outer half of this street was then a natural strand completely covered at high tide. It was much closer than the Pres-de-Ville barricade was to Mountain Hill, at the top of which Carleton held his general reserve ready in the Place d'Armes; and it was fairly strong in material and armament. But it was at first defended by only a hundred men.

The American forlorn hope, under Captain Oswald, got past most of the Grand Battery unscathed. But by the time the main body was following under Morgan the British blue-jackets were firing down from the walls at less than point-blank range. The driving snow, the clumps of bushes on the cliff, and the little houses in the street below all gave the Americans some welcome cover. But many of them were hit; while the gun they were towing through the drifts on a sleigh stuck fast and had to be abandoned. Captain Dearborn, the future commander-in-chief of the American army in the War of 1812, noted in his diary that he 'met the wounded men very thick' as he was bringing up the rear. When the forlorn hope reached the advanced barricade Arnold halted it till the supports had come up. The loss of the gun and the worrying his main body was receiving from the sailors along the Grand Battery spoilt his original plan of smashing in the barricade by shell fire while Morgan circled round its outer flank on the ice of the tidal flats and took it in rear. So he decided on a frontal attack. When he thought he had a fair chance he stepped to the front and shouted, 'Now, boys, all together, rush!' But before he could climb the barricade he was shot through the leg. For some time he propped himself up against a house and, leaning on his rifle, continued encouraging his men, who were soon firing through the port-holes as well as over the top. But presently growing faint from loss of blood he had to be carried off the field to the General Hospital on the banks of the St Charles.

The men now called out for a lead from Morgan, who climbed a ladder, leaped the top, and fell under a gun inside. In another minute the whole forlorn hope had followed him, while the main body came close behind. The guard, not strong in numbers and weak in being composed of young militiamen, gave way but kept on firing. 'Down with your arms if you want quarter!' yelled Morgan, whose men were in overwhelming strength; and the guard surrendered. A little way beyond, just under the bluff of the Sault-au-Matelot, the British supports, many of whom were Seminary students, also surrendered to Morgan, who at once pressed on, round the corner of the Sault-au-Matelot, and halted in sight of the second or regular barricade. What was to be done now? Where was Montgomery? How strong was the barricade; and had it been reinforced? It could not be turned because the cliff rose sheer on one flank while the icy St Lawrence lashed the other. Had Morgan known that there were only a hundred men behind it when he attacked its advanced barricade he might have pressed on at all costs and carried it by assault. But it looked strong, there were guns on its platforms, and it ran across two streets. His hurried council of war over-ruled him, as Montgomery's council had over-ruled the original plan of storming the walls; and so his men began a desultory fight in the streets and from the houses.

This was fatal to American success. The original British hundred were rapidly reinforced. The artillery officer who had found that he was not needed at the Pres-de-Ville after Montgomery's defeat, and who had hurried across the intervening half-mile, now occupied the corner houses, enlarged the embrasures, and trained his guns on the houses occupied by the enemy. Detachments of Fusiliers and Royal Emigrants also arrived, as did the thirty-five masters and mates of merchant vessels who were not on guard with Barnsfair at the Pres-de-Ville. Thus, what with soldiers, sailors, and militiamen of both races, the main Sault-au-Matelot barricade was made secure against being rushed like the outer one. But there was plenty of fighting, with some confusion at close quarters caused by the British uniforms which both sides were wearing. A Herculean sailor seized the first ladder the Americans set against the barricade, hauled it up, and set it against the window of a house out of the far end of which the enemy were firing. Major Nairne and Lieutenant Dambourges of the Royal Emigrants at once climbed in at the head of a storming-party and wild work followed with the bayonet. All the Americans inside were either killed or captured. Meanwhile a vigorous British nine-pounder had been turned on another house they occupied. This house was likewise battered in, so that its surviving occupants had to run into the street, where they were well plied with musketry by the regulars and militiamen. The chance for a sortie then seeming favorable, Lieutenant Anderson of the Navy headed his thirty-five merchant mates and skippers in a rush along Sault-au-Matelot Street. But his effort was premature. Morgan shot him dead, and Morgan's Virginians drove the seamen back inside the barricade.

Carleton had of course kept in perfect touch with every phase of the attack and defense; and now, fearing no surprise against the walls in the growing daylight, had decided on taking Arnold's men in rear. To do this he sent Captain Lawes of the Royal Engineers and Captain McDougall of the Royal Emigrants with a hundred and twenty men out through Palace Gate. This detachment had hardly reached the advanced barricade before they fell in with the enemy's rearguard, which they took by complete surprise and captured to a man. Leaving McDougall to secure these prisoners before following on, Lawes pushed eagerly forward, round the corner of the Sault-au-Matelot cliff, and, running in among the Americans facing the main barricade, called out, 'You are all my prisoners!' 'No, we're not; you're ours!' they answered. 'No, no,' replied Lawes, as coolly as if on parade 'don't mistake yourselves, I vow to God you're mine!' 'But where are your men?' asked the astonished Americans; and then Lawes suddenly found that he was utterly alone! The roar of the storm and the work of securing the prisoners on the far side of the advanced barricade had prevented the men who should have followed him from understanding that only a few were needed with McDougall. But Lawes put a bold face on it and answered, 'O, Ho, make yourselves easy! My men are all round here and they'll be with you in a twinkling.' He was then seized and disarmed. Some of the Americans called out, 'Kill him! Kill him!' But a Major Meigs protected him. The whole parley had lasted about ten minutes when McDougall came running up with the missing men, released Lawes, and made prisoners of the nearest Americans. Lawes at once stepped forward and called on the rest to surrender. Morgan was for cutting his way through. A few men ran round by the wharf and escaped on the tidal flats of the St Charles. But, after a hurried consultation, the main body, including Morgan, laid down their arms. This was decisive. The British had won the fight.

The complete British loss in killed and wounded was wonderfully small, only thirty, just one-tenth of the corresponding American loss, which was large out of all proportion. Nearly half of the fifteen hundred Americans had gone--over four hundred prisoners and about three hundred killed and wounded. Nor were the mere numbers the most telling point about it; for the worse half escaped--Livingston's Montreal 'patriots,' many of whom had done very little fighting, Montgomery's time-expired New Yorkers, most of whom wanted to go home, and Jerry Duggan's miscellaneous rabble, all of whom wanted a maximum of plunder with a minimum of war.

The British victory was as nearly perfect as could have been desired. It marked the turn of the tide in a desperate campaign which might have resulted in the total loss of Canada. And it was of the greatest significance and happiest augury because all the racial elements of this new and vast domain had here united for the first time in defense of that which was to be their common heritage. In Carleton's little garrison of regulars and militia, of bluejackets, marines, and merchant seamen, there were Frenchmen and French Canadians, there were Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen, Orcadians, and Channel Islanders, there were a few Newfoundlanders, and there mere a good many of those steadfast Royal Emigrants who may be fitly called the forerunners of the United Empire Loyalists. Yet, in spite of this remarkable significance, no public memorial of Carleton has ever been set up; and it was only in the twentieth century that the Dominion first thought of commemorating his most pregnant victory by placing tablets to mark the sites of the two famous barricades.

As soon as things had quieted down within the walls Carleton sent out search-parties to bring in the dead for decent burial and to see if any of the wounded had been overlooked. James Thompson, the assistant engineer, saw a frozen hand protruding from a snowdrift at Pres-de-Ville. It was Montgomery's. The thirteen bodies were dug out and Thompson was ordered to have a 'genteel coffin made for Mr Montgomery,' who was buried in the wall just above St Louis Gate by the Anglican chaplain. Thompson kept Montgomery's sword, which was given to the Livingston family more than a century later.

The beleaguerment continued, in a half-hearted way, till the spring. The Americans received various small reinforcements, which eventually brought their total up to what it had been under Montgomery's command. But there were no more assaults. Arnold grew dissatisfied and finally went to Montreal; while Wooster, the new general, who arrived on the 1st of April, was himself succeeded by Thomas, an ex-apothecary, on the 1st of May. The suburb of St Roch was burnt down after the victory; so the American snipers were bereft of some very favorite cover, and this, with other causes, kept the bulk of the besiegers at an ineffective distance from the walls.

The British garrison had certain little troubles of its own; for discipline always tends to become irksome after a great effort. Carleton was obliged to stop the retailing of spirits for fear the slacker men would be getting out of hand. The guards and duties were made as easy as possible, especially for the militia. But the 'snow-shovel parade' was an imperative necessity. The winter was very stormy, and the drifts would have frequently covered the walls and even the guns if they had not promptly been dug out. The cold was also unusually severe. One early morning in January an angry officer was asking a sentry why he hadn't challenged him, when the sentry said, 'God bless your Honor! and I'm glad you're come, for I'm blind!' Then it was found that his eyelids were frozen fast together.

News came in occasionally from the outside world. There was intense indignation among the garrison when they learned that the American commanders in Montreal were imprisoning every Canadian officer who would not surrender his commission. Such an unheard-of outrage was worthy of Walker. But others must have thought of it; for Walker was now in Philadelphia giving all the evidence he could against Prescott and other British officers. Bad news for the rebels was naturally welcomed, especially anything about their growing failure to raise troops in Canada. On hearing of Montgomery's defeat the Continental Congress had passed a resolution, addressed to the 'Inhabitants of Canada' declaring that 'we will never abandon you to the unrelenting fury of your and our enemies.' But there were no trained soldiers to back this up; and the raw militia, though often filled with zeal and courage, could do nothing to redress the increasingly adverse balance. In the middle of March the Americans sent in a summons. But Carleton refused to receive it; and the garrison put a wooden horse and a bundle of hay on the walls with a placard bearing the inscription, 'When this horse has eaten this bunch of hay we will surrender.' Some excellent practice made with 13-inch shells sent the Americans flying from their new battery at Levis; and by the 17th of March one of the several exultant British diarists, whose anonymity must have covered an Irish name, was able to record that 'this, being St Patrick's Day, the Governor, who is a true Hibernian, has requested the garrison to put off keeping it till the 17th of May, when he promises, they shall be enabled to do it properly, and with the usual solemnities.'

A fortnight later a plot concerted between the American prisoners and their friends outside was discovered just in time. With tools supplied by traitors they were to work their way out of their quarters, overpower the guard at the nearest gate, set fire to the nearest houses in three different streets, turn the nearest guns inwards on the town, and shout 'Liberty for ever!' as an additional signal to the storming-party that was to be waiting to confirm their success. Carleton seized the chance of turning this scheme against the enemy. Three safe bonfires were set ablaze. The marked guns were turned inwards and fired at the town with blank charges. And the preconcerted shout was raised with a will. But the besiegers never stirred. After this the Old-Countrymen among the prisoners, who had taken the oath and enlisted in the garrison, were disarmed and confined, while the rest were more strictly watched.

Two brave attempts were made by French Canadians to reach Quebec with reinforcements, one headed by a seigneur, the other by a parish priest. Carleton had sent word to M. de Beaujeu, seigneur of Crane Island, forty miles below Quebec, asking him to see if he could cut off the American detachment on the Levis shore. De Beaujeu raised three hundred and fifty men. But Arnold sent over reinforcements. A habitant betrayed his fellow-countrymen's advance-guard. A dozen French Canadians were then killed or wounded while forty were taken prisoners; whereupon the rest dispersed to their homes. The other attempt was made by Father Bailly, whose little force of about fifty men was also betrayed. Entrapped in a country-house these men fought bravely till nearly half their number had been killed or wounded and the valiant priest had been mortally hit. They then surrendered to a much stronger force which had lost more men than they.

This was on the 6th of April, just before Arnold was leaving in disgust. Wooster made an effort to use his new artillery to advantage by converging the fire of three batteries, one close in on the Heights of Abraham, another from across the mouth of the St Charles, and the third from Levis. But the combination failed: the batteries were too light for the work and overmatched by the guns on the walls, the practice was bad, and the effect was nil. On the 3rd of May the new general, Thomas, an enterprising man, tried a fireship, which was meant to destroy all the shipping in the Cul de Sac. It came on, under full sail, in a very threatening manner. But the crew lost their nerve at the critical moment, took to the boats too soon, and forgot to lash the helm. The vessel immediately flew up into the wind and, as the tidal stream was already changing, began to drift away from the Cul de Sac just when she burst into flame. The result, as described by an enthusiastic British diarist, was that 'she affoard'd a very pretty prospect while she was floating down the River, every now & then sending up Sky rackets, firing of Cannon or bursting of Shells, & so continued till She disappear'd in the Channell.'

Three days later, on the 6th of May, when the beleaguerment had lasted precisely five months, the sound of distant gunfire came faintly up the St Lawrence with the first breath of the dawn wind from the east. The sentries listened to make sure; then called the sergeants of the guards, who sent word to the officers on duty, who, in their turn, sent word to Carleton. By this time there could be no mistake. The breeze was freshening; the sound was gradually nearing Quebec; and there could hardly be room for doubting that it came from the vanguard of the British fleet. The drums beat to arms, the church bells rang, the news flew round to every household in Quebec; and before the tops of the Surprise frigate were seen over the Point of Levy every battery was fully manned, every battalion was standing ready on the Grand Parade, and every non-combatant man, woman, and child was lining the seaward wall. The regulation shot was fired across her bows as she neared the city; whereupon she fired three guns to leeward, hoisted the private signal, and showed the Union Jack. Then, at last, a cheer went up that told both friend and foe of British victory and American defeat. By a strange coincidence the parole for this triumphal day was St George, while the parole appointed for the victorious New Year's Eve had been St Denis; so that the patron saints of France and England happen to be associated with the two great days on which the stronghold of Canada was saved by land and sea.

The same tide brought in two other men-of-war. Some soldiers of the 29th, who were on board the Surprise, were immediately landed, together with the marines from all three vessels. Carleton called for volunteers from the militia to attack the Americans at once; and nearly every man, both of the French- and of the English-speaking corps, stepped forward. There was joy in every heart that the day for striking back had come at last. The columns marched gaily through the gates and deployed into line at the double on the Heights outside. The Americans fired a few hurried shots and then ran for dear life, leaving their dinners cooking, and, in some cases, even their arms behind them. The Plains were covered with flying enemies and strewn with every sort of impediment to flight, from a cannon to a loaf of bread. Quebec had been saved by British sea-power; and, with it, the whole vast dominion of which it was the key.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The Father of British Canada, A Chronicle of Carleton, 1915

 

Chronicles of Canada


Add/Correct a Link

Comments/Submit Data


Copyright 2002-2017 by Canadian Genealogy
The WebPages may be linked to but shall not be reproduced on another site without written permission.