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The prompt seizure of the lake fortresses had a marked effect upon the wavering Canadians.[6] Many joined us. More stood ready to do so whenever the signal for revolt should be given. Success begets confidence. The Americans were now led to believe that by throwing an army into Canada at once, the people would no longer hesitate to free themselves from the British yoke.

The time seemed the riper for it, because it was known that the strong places of Canada were but weakly guarded. Could Quebec and Montreal be taken, British power in Canada would be at an end.

With such promise held out before it, Congress resolved to make the attempt. Forces were ordered to both places. One body, under General Montgomery,[7] mustered at Ticonderoga. Ethan Allen went before it to rouse the Canadians, who were expected to receive the Americans with open arms. This army moved down the lake in October, taking St. John's and Chambly in its way, and Montreal a little later. The other, led by Colonel Arnold,[8] ascended the Kennebec to its head, crossed over to the Chaudière, which was followed to St. Lawrence, and came before Quebec at about the same time Montgomery entered Montreal. Montgomery hastened to Arnold with a handful of men. Together they assaulted Quebec on the morning of December 31. The attack failed, and Montgomery fell. The Americans lay before Quebec till spring, when the arrival of fresh troops, for the enemy, forced ours to retreat to Montreal. This, too, was abandoned. Our army then fell back toward Lake Champlain, setting fire to Chambly, and St. John's behind it. The enemy followed close, recapturing these places as our troops left them. Very little fighting took place, but the Americans were greatly disheartened by having constantly to retreat, and by the loss of many brave officers and men, who fell sick and died of smallpox. July 1 the army finally reached Crown Point, ragged, sickly, and destitute of everything. Weakened by the loss of five thousand men and three commanders, it was no longer able to keep the field. Instead of conquering Canada, it had been driven out at the point of the bayonet. The great question now was, whether this army could hold its own against a victorious and advancing enemy.

General Gates[9] took command of the army at this critical time. Convinced that he could never hope to hold both Crown Point and Ticonderoga and knowing Ticonderoga to be much the stronger, in a military view, he decided to remove the army to that place at once. This was promptly done.[10] The soldiers were set to work strengthening the old or building new, works, under the direction of skillful engineers. Of these new works the strongest, as well as most important, because they commanded Ticonderoga itself, were those raised on the peninsula opposite the fortress on the Vermont side, which was christened Mount Independence on the day the army heard that the colonies had declared themselves free and independent.

Having thrown a bridge across the strait, between Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, the Americans waited for the enemy to come and attack them, for with such leaders as Gates and Stark they felt confident of gaining the victory.

The British were equally active on their side. After driving the Americans from Canada, they next determined to make themselves masters of Lake Champlain, recover the forts they had lost, and so gain a foothold for striking a blow at our northern colonies.

For this purpose, they set about building a fleet at St. John's. Vessels were sent out from England, for the purpose, which were taken to pieces below the Chambly rapids, brought across the portage, and put together again at St. John's. By working diligently, the British got their fleet ready to sail early in October.

Well knowing the importance of keeping possession of the lake, the Americans turned Skenesborough into a dockyard and were straining every nerve to get ready a fleet strong enough to cope with the British. As everything needed for equipping it had to be brought from the sea-coast, the British had much the advantage in this respect, yet all labored with so much zeal, that our fleet was first ready for action. Gates gave the command of it to Arnold, who had once been a sailor, and whose courage had been tried so signally under the walls of Quebec.

By the middle of August, Ticonderoga was in fighting trim. The enemy's delays had given time to make the defenses so strong that an attack was rather hoped for than feared. Ignorant of the great preparations made at St. John's, the Americans also believed themselves strongest on the lake. Our fleet, therefore, went forward with confidence to the battle.

On the 11th of October, the British flotilla was seen coming up the lake. The rival forces met at Valcour Island, and the battle began. From noon till night the combatants hurled broadsides at each other without ceasing. The British then drew off to repair damages, meaning to renew the fight in the morning. This gave Arnold a chance to slip through them unperceived, for his vessels were so badly shattered that all hope of gaining the victory was given over. He was pursued and overtaken. Near Crown Point, the battle began again, but the enemy's superior forces soon decided it in his favor. Rather than surrender, Arnold ran his disabled vessels on shore, set fire to them, and with his men escaped to the woods.

Having thus cleared the lake, the British commander, Guy Carleton,[11] sailed back to St. John's, leaving Ticonderoga unmolested behind him, to the great astonishment of our soldiers, who said Carleton deserved to be hanged for not following up his victory over Arnold.

 

Illustration: Naval Battle, Lake Champlain.
Illustration: Naval Battle, Lake Champlain.

[A, American flotilla. B-C, British. D, Line of Retreat, when the British were forced back to E.]

 

FOOTNOTES:

[6] THE WAVERING CANADIANS. The Massachusetts revolutionary authority had been at work upon the wavering Canadians since 1774, with only partial success. (See note 2, preceding chapter.) The Americans thought the Canadians would seize the opportunity of freeing themselves, but events proved this opinion ill-grounded. A political connection between the Protestants of New England and the Catholics of Canada, except for mutual defense, could hardly be lasting, nor did the priests favor it. The military advantages were equally questionable, though great stress was laid upon them by Washington and Schuyler, even after the allegiance of the Canadians had been confirmed to the British side by the reverses our arms sustained. If we had conquered Canada, it would doubtless have been handed over to France again at the close of the war.

[7] GENERAL RICHARD MONTGOMERY, of Irish birth, had served under Amherst at the taking of Crown Point and Ticonderoga in 1759, settled in New York, been one of eight brigadiers created by Congress in June 1775; General Schuyler's illness threw the chief command, for which he proved himself eminently fitted, on Montgomery. His having served on this line was much in his favor.

[8] COLONEL BENEDICT ARNOLD had once been a soldier at Ticonderoga. He went there again with a commission from Massachusetts when the fortress was taken by Allen. He had also spent some time in Quebec. These facts had influence in procuring for him a command in the invading expedition.

[9] GENERAL HORATIO GATES, a retired British major, settled in Virginia, was made adjutant-general of the army, June 1775.

[10] THE REMOVAL OF THE ARMY from Crown Point to Ticonderoga was strongly opposed by Stark and others, and disapproved by Washington.

[11] GUY CARLETON, the British governor of Canada, though driven from Montreal by Montgomery, had successfully defended Quebec against him. He reconnoitered Ticonderoga but seems to have thought it too strong to be attacked with his force.