Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why Canada Is Not Part Of The United States

They moved in two parties in the dark and through the raging blizzard, footsteps muffled by the gathering snow.  The plan was to approach the lower city from opposite sides, meet in the center and then go over the wall into the upper city, surprising the sleeping garrison.

The larger group met resistance in the lower city.  The commander, a dynamic and inspirational leader, was wounded in the leg and had to be carried off the field but his subordinate, also a talented soldier, led the remaining men over the wall and into the city, where they then found themselves alone as the enemy troops rallied - where was the other contingent?

The smaller group, led by the overall commander of the little army, had entered the lower city at the other end.  Encountering a blockhouse they exchanged fire with the defenders, who fired a shot from their one cannon, before beginning to retreat.  It hit the commander in the head, killing him instantly.  His command fell apart, and in the ensuing confusion most of the men were captured.  One of the few to escape was a future Vice President of the United States.

Abandoned in the upper city, the other group fought on, but was surrounded and most, including the subordinate commander, were captured.  It was all over.

It was the early morning hours of December 31, 1775.  The commander of the larger group was Benedict Arnold (see September 1780), his subordinate was Daniel Morgan, who after confinement on a British prison ship would be repatriated and then, five years later, demolish a British force at the pivotal Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina (see October 1780).  The dead commander was Richard Montgomery, and the officer who escaped was Aaron Burr, who would survive to be American's third Vice-President, the killer of Alexander Hamilton, a organizer of a murky conspiracy to divide the newborn United States and the reigning rogue and scoundrel of the early American Republic.

(Montgomery, Arnold, Morgan, Burr)

The invasion of Canada was born out of the early successes of the American rebels.  By the summer of 1775, the Continental Army, under newly appointed General George Washington, besieged the British in Boston.  In New York, Fort Ticonderoga, recently captured in a daring raid led by Ethan Allen and Arnold, protected the Hudson River Valley.  To the north lay Canada, a British bastion and potential launching point for invasion against the rebellious colonies.  The Americans were also aware that most Canadians were French Catholics and only became subjects of the British Protestants since 1763.  Out of these circumstances arose the idea of an American attack on Canada with the expectation that the French settlers would rise in support.

The Americans advanced on two fronts.  About 1,200 men under General Richard Montgomery left Fort Ticonderoga, heading north towards Montreal, which he captured in mid-November, reaching the area around the city of Quebec (capital of British Canada) on December 2.  Upon his arrival, he found Colonel Arnold and 600 ragged soldiers, survivors of one of the epic marches in American history.

Arnold set out on his expedition with 1100 men (and carrying orders from General Washington to allow freedom of conscience for Canadian Catholics; "While we are Contending for own own Liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the Rights of Conscience in others; ever considering that God alone is the Judge of the Hearts of Men and to him only in this Case they are answerable", see All Possess Alike Liberty of Conscience), leaving from Fort Western (now Augusta, Maine) on September 25.  One  battalion was commanded by Captain Daniel Morgan consisting of his well-trained Pennsylvania and Virginia riflemen.  Little was known of the wild, wooded and wet route to Quebec City from Maine.  Arnold thought it was less than 200 miles; it was actually 350.   For the next 45 days the expedition battled heavy rain, snow, flooding, cold and starvation.  On November 9, the survivors reached the St Lawrence River opposite Quebec.  The American portion of Arnold's route was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and you can find an excellent fictional retelling of the ordeal in Kenneth Roberts' Arundel (1938).

The combined American force was about 1,200.  The British, well-provisioned inside the fortified city, totalled about 1,500.  The Americans had little artillery, were ill-equipped for the winter, and the enlistments of Arnold's men would expire on January 1. They also knew large British reinforcements would be arriving in the spring.  Montgomery and Arnold decided to take a chance and storm the city.

The snowstorm that started on the night of December 30, 1775 provided perfect cover for the Americans to approach the city and they moved out around 4am on December 31.  Though the attack went awry, despite the American casualties and the expiration of enlistments, Benedict Arnold refused to raise the siege, maintaining it despite being outnumbered three to one and not leaving the Quebec area until early May of 1776.  Montreal was recaptured by the British the next month.

With the failure of the expedition, America's dream of conquering (or liberating, depending on your perspective), Canada was ended; at least until it was revived, and again left unfulfilled, in the War of 1812.

The British attempted to move south into New York in the late summer and early fall of 1776 to take advantage of the disarray among the Americans.  Their plans were thwarted by Arnold who oversaw the building from scratch of a fleet of American gunboats to be used on Lake Champlain, which he used to battle the British to a standstill at the Battle of Valcour Island in October 1776, delaying British plans for a further advance until 1777.

The Americans put the year they gained to good use, building a large army in the Albany area, which  defeated and captured a British army commanded by Johnny Burgoyne.  Once again Benedict Arnold played a key role, rallying the Americans at a critical moment at the Second Battle of Saratoga and, once again, suffering a severe leg wound.  And Daniel Morgan's riflemen inflicted large casualties on the British forces in both Saratoga battles. The American victory led directly to the decision of the King of France to enter the war against England in support of the American rebels.

The Canada campaign contained quite a rogue's gallery on the American side.  In addition to Arnold and Burr, there was also James Wilkinson, who joined Arnold as an aide during his retreat from Quebec.  Wilkinson went on to become part of Horatio Gates' efforts to remove George Washington as commander of American forces, and later, when he commanded the United States Army in the 1800s, was in cahoots with Burr in his conspiracy, while also serving as a spy for Spain (for more, read The General Was A Spy).

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