The March to Quebec

After improving the defenses of Crown Point on Lake Champlain during the spring of 1775, Arnold met with Washington and proposed an expedition to the Continental Congress to attack the British in Quebec. The attack would have two thrusts, with one force attacking Montreal and another attacking Quebec City. In 1775, the capture of these two cities would effectively mean the conquest of all of Canada. This would deny the British the ability to sail across the Atlantic Ocean into the St. Lawrence River, and then into convenient staging areas for attacks on the rebels. The plan was sound and Washington approved it in August, sending word to Major General Philip Schuyler, commander of the northern theater of war.

In mid-September, Washington sent Arnold (now a colonel in the Continental army) formal orders to lead the invasion of Quebec. Arnold’s route would cover 350 miles, including a 200-mile amphibious slog through Maine wilderness, and lead to an assault from across the St. Lawrence river, a novel and hopefully unexpected avenue of attack. Financing the expedition with his own money, Arnold and his troops, 1,100-men strong, left Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 19th. They marched to Newburyport, then left Massachusetts by boat, sailing to the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine. The group landed upriver at Gardinerston, where Arnold commissioned the construction

In Canada near Lake Megantic, the last days of October greeted Arnold’s men with wind, snow, ice and extremely cold waterways. The situation was almost unimaginable. Hardship piled upon hardship. More bateaux were lost. Men were eating dogs and shoe leather; some died from starvation. However, just as all seemed lost, horses and cattle appeared out of nowhere. Saving the day, Arnold had gone ahead to nearby Sartigan, and immediately secured supplies for his men, paying for them on the strength of his personal credit.

Now just sixty or so miles from Quebec, Arnold had only 600 men left in his army, losing 300 to Enos and 200 to the grim reaper. He was made aware that a letter to a friend in Quebec had been intercepted by the British, and the element of surprise had been lost. Still, he pressed on, and through snowstorms and mud the men finally reached the St. Lawrence River at Point Levi, opposite Quebec City, on November 8th. The March to Quebec was almost over.

A massive windstorm prevented Arnold from crossing the river until November 14th. Worse, by that date the city’s already-imposing, high-walled upper town had been reinforced by the British. Arnold knew he now had to wait for General Montgomery’s forces to arrive before an attack could be launched. Unknown to him, competent General Guy Carleton had sneaked into the city on the 16th, taking command of its defenses. During a blizzard on December 31st, Arnold and Montgomery attacked Quebec City together. The latter was killed, Arnold was shot in the left leg, and the invasion failed miserably.

of bateaux for the waterway-laced trek through Maine. From there, stops included Fort Western (in present-day Augusta), and Skowhegan. The group reached nearby Norridgewock, after which nothing but wilderness loomed, in the first week of October. Already it was clear that the trail would not be easy. It was geographically uphill, portages or “carrying places” could be taxing (and there would be many), the weather seemed ominous, and most problematic of all, the bateaux had been poorly constructed and were leaking. Food was lost and gunpowder turned into black paste.

As the party advanced northward toward the end of October, heavy rains became frequent, snow appeared, bateaux were lost, and men were getting hungry and sick. One of Arnold’s subordinates, rear division commander Lt. Colonel Roger Enos, abandoned the mission, taking his division and its supplies all the way back to Cambridge. (A furious Washington ordered that he be court-martialed.) Arnold kept things together, inspiring his men, but it was obvious at this point that the march to Quebec might very well end unrealized, and in disaster.

Meanwhile, the attack on Montreal was slowly gaining ground. Its commander, talented Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, achieved the surrender of crucial Fort St. John’s (St.-Jean) on November 2nd after a long siege. Eleven days later, he entered Montreal without a shot being fired. The British had left, and along with them Governor (and General) Guy Carleton, whose escape to Quebec City would seal the fate of Arnold's expedition two months later.