George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, 14 January 1776

From Brigadier General Benedict Arnold

Camp Before Quebec 14th Janry 1776

Dear Sir

I make no Doubt you will, soon hear, of Our Misfortune, on the 31. Ulto, and be very Anxious to know Our Present, Situation.1 Our loss, and repulse struck an Amaseing Panick, into both Officers, & Men, and had the Enemy improved their Advantage, Our affairs, here must have ben Intirely ruined It was not in my power to Prevail on the Officers to Attempt, saveing, Our Mortars, which had ben Placed in St Roque’s, of Course they fell into the hands of the Enemy2—Upwards of One hundred Officers, and Soldiers, Instantly set of for Montreal3 and it was, with the greatest difuculty I could persaude the rest to make a stand. The Panick soon subsided, I aranged the Men in such Order, as effectually, to Blockade the City, and enable them to Assist each other if Attacked. It was urged by the Officers, to move Our Ammunition, and Artillery Stores Of which we had a large quantity and tho’ the risque was great, I could not Approve the measure, as it would undoubtedly, have made Unfavourable, impressions, on the Minds of the Canadians, and Induced them to withdraw thier Assistance, which must have ended in Our Utter Ruin, I therefore put the best face on Matters and betrayed no marks of Fear. I have withdrawn the Cannon from Our Battery and placed them round the Magazine, Our Present force is only Seven hundred I am in Daily, expectation of a reinforcement from Montreal of two or three hundred Men, I expected Genl Wooster, but find he Cannot leave Montreal, Colo. Clinton is Just Arived,4 I have put on foot the raiseing A Regt of 2. or 3 hundred Canadians, which I make no Doubt of effecting, Our finances are very low, however I hope we shall be able to rub a long, Mr Price is our Only resource, and has exerted himself,5 I wait with great Anxiety the Arival of a reinforcement from below, I have Wrote the Honble Congress, my Opinion that five thousand Men will be Necessary to Insure us Quebec, tho it may posably be reduced with a less Number, it Appears a Blockade may Answear the Purpose, I think Quebec an Object of too Much Consequence, to trust it to the event, if reduced Five thousand Men will be Necessary for a Garison.6

Your favr of the 5 Ulto is Just Come to hand It gives me a most sensable pleasure, to have your Approbation of my Conduct, I beg you’d accept my Thanks for the Notice you have ben pleased to take of me, and my Officers, in your New Establishment Most of them are provided for in an unexpected, manner Not very pleaseing to me. Inclosed is a List of the killed and Wounded,7 Both Officers, & Men behaved with the greatest, Intrepidity, and had not the Genl ben basely deserted by his Troops we should doubtless have Carried the Town, my Detacht had Carried the First Battery, (my being, Wounded) & the loss of thire Guides retarded them much, after the Death of the General, they Sustained the Force of the whole Garrison, for a Considerable Time, who fired From under Cover and had every Advantage of Situation, their Retreat was Cut of by the Enemy’s gaining a Narrow, Defile thro’ which they were obliged to pass, they were overpowered by Numbers, and obliged to resign, tho deserveing a Better Fate.8 Govr Carleton treats them with Humanity, & has given leave for their Baggage to be sent in to them. I heartily Congratulate you on the Success of your Privateers I think the Ballance of the last years Accot is still in Our favour, tho’ we have met a severe Check here, I hope soon to have the pleasure seeing Genl Lee or some experiencd Officer here,9 I heartily Wish you the Protection & blesing of the Allmighty & am with very great respect & Esteem Dr Sir your Obedt Hble Servt

B. Arnold


1For the news of the American defeat at Quebec, see Schuyler to GW, 13 Jan. 1776.

2Capt. Isaiah Wool’s battery of five mortars at St. Roch, a northern suburb of Quebec, was captured on the evening of 1 Jan. by a task force sent out of the city by Governor Carleton.

3The enlistments of these men expired on 1 January. See Donald Campbell to David Wooster, 2 Jan. 1776, DLC:GW.

4Arnold wrote to David Wooster on 2 Jan.: “For God’s sake order as many men down as you can possibly spare, consistent with the safety of Montreal, and all the mortars, howitzers, and shells, that you can possibly bring” (Roberts, March to Quebec description begins Kenneth Roberts, ed. March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold’s Expedition. New York, 1938. description ends , 103–6). Wooster did not think it safe to send any troops immediately to Quebec. “We have,” he wrote to Schuyler from Montreal on 5 Jan., “but five or six hundred Men for the Garrisons of this Place, Chambly & St Johns, Many of the Troops insist upon going home, their Times of Inlistment being out. . . . I shall not be able to spare any Men to reinforce Colo: Arnold, this Place must be secured for a Retreat, if necessary, I called a Council of my Officers in this Place, who were to a Man agreed that I ought to remain here, I have therefore sent Colo: [James] Clinton with Mr [James] Price who I think may be of great service to him” (DLC:GW). A reinforcement of 100 men from Montreal did arrive at Quebec on 23 Jan., and Arnold expected 60 more men soon afterwards (Arnold to the Continental Congress, 24 Jan. 1776, Roberts, March to Quebec description begins Kenneth Roberts, ed. March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold’s Expedition. New York, 1938. description ends , 117–19).

James Clinton (c.1736–1812), the older brother of George Clinton, commanded the 3d New York Regiment in the Canadian campaign. On 8 Mar. 1776 Clinton became colonel of the 2d New York Regiment, and on 9 Aug. 1776 he was made a Continental brigadier general. Wounded when Fort Montgomery fell to the British in October 1777, Clinton escaped capture and served to the end of the war, participating in Sullivan’s expedition in 1779 and the Yorktown campaign in 1781.

5James Price, a wealthy English merchant in Montreal, loaned large sums of money to support the American army in Canada. Price, Richard Montgomery wrote Schuyler on 26 Dec. 1775, “has been a faithful friend to the Cause indeed. . . . His advice and assistance upon every occasion I have been much benefitted by—and when I consider that he has been the first mover of those measures which have been attended with so many and great advantages to the United Colonies, I cant help wishing the Congress to give him an ample testimony of their Sense of his generous and Spirited exertions in the cause of freedom” (DLC:GW). On 29 Mar. 1776 Congress appointed Price deputy commissary general of stores and provisions for the American forces in Canada.

6Arnold informed Congress on 11 Jan. that he had intelligence that Quebec was short of flour and meat. “It appears,” he continued, “a blockade must answer our purpose; it is possible it may not. Will it be prudent to trust an object of such vast importance to the event? With submission, I think it will not. What is to be done? A sufficient force employed to reduce it, by a regular siege, or assault? If the first is attempted, an addition of three thousand men to our present force will, I make no doubt, be thought necessary; if the latter, at least five thousand. The former, with a vast expense and great waste of ammunition, may prove unsuccessful; the latter, from the extensiveness of their works, I think cannot; and five thousand men will hardly be a sufficient garrison, if the place is taken. I beg leave to recommend the sending a body of at least five thousand men, with an experienced General, into Canada, as early as possible” (Roberts, March to Quebec description begins Kenneth Roberts, ed. March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold’s Expedition. New York, 1938. description ends , 109–12).

7The list, which is in Arnold’s writing, gives the names of six officers who were killed and seven officers who were wounded, including Arnold who was “Wounded in the leg.” It further reports: “Non Commission Officers & Privates killed & Wounded About Sixty Names Unknown. The whole Detachment Prisoners except Capt. [Matthew] Smith, [Aaron] Burr, & [David] Hopkins, 7 Subalterns & abt Two hundred Privates Sick & on Command” (DLC:GW).

8Two American columns, one led by General Montgomery and one by Arnold, attacked Quebec’s lower town from opposite directions on the night of 31 December. Montgomery intended that the columns meet in the lower town and then push into the upper town, but neither force reached its objective. Montgomery’s column, which attacked from the south along the St. Lawrence River, was stopped by sailors and militiamen defending a log house. Montgomery was killed with several of his officers and men in an attempt to storm the building, and his detachment subsequently retreated. Arnold’s column, which attacked from the north through the suburbs of St. Roch and Palais, carried the first barricade that it encountered but was repulsed at the next one. An enemy force attacking from the rear cut off the detachment’s retreat and obliged it to surrender. Arnold was evacuated to the hospital after his leg was shattered by a ball at the first barricade. For other accounts of the action received by GW, see Arnold to Wooster, 31 Dec. 1775, and Donald Campbell to Wooster, 31 Dec. 1775, both in DLC:GW.

9On 17 Feb. Congress ordered Charles Lee to take command of the army in Canada, but on 1 Mar. it decided to send him to the southern department (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 4:157, 175, 180–81).

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