Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)

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Eliza Hamilton

Eliza Hamilton

The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton
also available: Hardcover Audiobook eBook
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Gavin K. Watt's Revolutionary Canadian History 6-Book Bundle

Gavin K. Watt's Revolutionary Canadian History 6-Book Bundle

Fire and Desolation / Poisoned by Lies and Hypocrisy / and 4 more
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Fire and Desolation

Fire and Desolation

The Revolutionary War's 1778 Campaign as Waged from Quebec and Niagara Against the American Frontiers
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A New Invasion of Canada

A few weeks before the tail end of Burgoyne’s straggling, defeated columns reached the Atlantic coast, Major-General Horatio Gates, the victor of Saratoga, made a plan to attack St. John’s, Quebec. On November 15, he instructed the Continental ranger captain, Benjamin Whitcomb, to deliver a message to Colonel Timothy Bedel at Haverhill, in New Hampshire’s Cöos region. Without delay, Bedel was to raise three hundred volunteers for an attack on Canada, placing himself in command, with Whitcomb as his major.1 
Bedel had seen extensive service as a New Hampshire Provincial lieutenant at the reduction of Fortress Louisbourg and the capture of Havana, Cuba, during the Seven Years’ War. He was a member of New Hampshire’s provincial assembly and, in May 1775, had been appointed to command a company of rangers for service in the invasion of Canada, and simultaneously to act as the northern army’s de facto Indian agent. In 1776, he was promoted to colonel and ordered to return home to recruit his rangers to regimental strength. Once this was accomplished, he went back to Quebec, where his regiment was assigned an advanced position at The Cedars up the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. Bedel was absent at the Native settlement of Kahnawake when the British attacked The Cedars, forced his regiment to surrender, and defeated a relieving force. As a result, he was dismissed in disgrace. As Gates was pleased to appoint Bedel to the key role in this new venture into Canada, it seems that cooler heads had prevailed, and his explanations for being absent from The Cedars had been investigated and accepted.2 
Massachusetts-born Whitcomb was one of the most successful partisan leaders of the northern war. He also was a Seven Years’ War veteran of several campaigns in a Massachusetts Provincial regiment. At war’s end, he moved his family about — to New Hampshire, the Grants, and the Cöos region. When the new war broke out, he took his family back to southern New Hampshire and accepted a lieutenant’s commission and the recruiting officer’s role in Young’s company of Bedel’s Rangers. He served throughout the Canadian invasion, and during the retreat made his way back to Ticonderoga, where he volunteered for the hazardous assignment of scouting the British lines as far north as Montreal. According to one of his contemporaries, he was well-suited to this task. “Whitcomb was a presumptuous fellow, entirely devoid of fear, of more than common strength, equal to an Indian for enduring hardship or privation, drank to excess even when in the greatest peril, balls whistling around his head.” During one of his long-range scouts, he garnered lasting notoriety by sniping and mortally wounding a British brigadier from the cover of woods. This act earned him a death sentence from Quebec’s governor, Guy Carleton. Whitcomb was unmoved by this threat, and his skills as a scout and leader were recognized when he was promoted to captain and instructed to raise a two-company corps of Continental rangers. His rangers performed yeoman’s duty during the 1777 campaign, fighting as light infantry in the first battle of Saratoga. 
A second invasion of Canada had been in Gates’s mind even before he succeeded in defeating Burgoyne. Based on information gathered from Canadian Native spies, Colonel Moses Hazen of Congress’s Own Second Canadian Regiment had convinced the general that the majority of Quebeckers were pro-rebel and that the marginally garrisoned forts at St. John’s and Chambly were vulnerable to attack. In mid-September, he instructed Colonel Bedel to recruit a body of Abenaki warriors and, as noted, two months later, to raise three hundred New Hampshire and Vermont troops. This force was to launch an attack on St. John’s beginning February 1. Gates planned that Bedel’s raid would be followed in the spring by a full-scale expedition against Montreal employing Hazen’s two-hundred-man Canadien Regiment and five hundred volunteers to unite with Bedel. At least, that was Gates’s plan. 
So, he must have had a rude surprise when he discovered on December 3, 1777, that Congress had already made its own plans to mount a secret raid to destroy the British shipping locked in the winter’s ice at St. John’s and nearby ports on the Richelieu River, which in a stroke would remove the naval threat on Lake Champlain. Brigadier-General John Stark of New Hampshire, who had commanded the stunning defeat of Burgoyne’s unwise adventure near Bennington, was chosen to command this new strike into Quebec from his headquarters at Saratoga.
Congress’s decision to give Stark the command of the opening strike had the potential to be awkward, as he and Bedel were at odds. To ensure a prominent say in the venture, Gates, the perpetual plotter, contrived to get himself placed on the newly created Board of War. 
About this same time, Congress decided upon a full-blown “irruption into Canada” under the command of the young French adventurer, the Marquis de Lafayette. Following Stark’s initial attack to reduce shipping, a 2,500-man expedition would be mounted from Albany under Lafayette’s command, with Conway as his second and Stark his third; Bedel would be entirely sidelined. Lafayette was to occupy Montreal and wait there for reinforcements — presumably to be led by Gates — for the ultimate reduction of Quebec City, which would add a second major feather in the latter’s ambitious cap. 3 
Congress believed that Lafayette’s selection would be well-received by Quebec’s predominantly francophone population and calm any residual fears and resentments left over from the disastrous 1775 invasion. Six French gentlemen were appointed to attend Lafayette and serve as officers for the bodies of Canadiens to be raised in Canada. As the vast majority of Franco-Quebeckers had stubbornly resisted being co-opted by either side of the conflict during the three previous campaigns, this measure was undoubtedly optimistic. 4 
On January 24, Gates informed Stark of Congress’s plan to mount a major expedition against Canada with Lafayette in command, and that the Irish-born French Army career officer Major-General Thomas Conway, who was at the time the United States’ army’s  inspector-general, had been appointed second-in-command. Stark was instructed to act in concert with Lafayette and Conway to promote “the interest and political views of the United States in Canada.” It is interesting that Gates was the one to reveal the news of Conway’s appointment, as the pair of them had earlier toyed with the idea of Gates replacing General George Washington as supreme commander. 5 
Washington had been kept in the dark about Congress’s plan to invade Canada, and when the details came to his attention, he was anything but impressed, styling the venture a “child of folly.” Nor was Lafayette eager to accept the commission; Washington, however, persuaded him to take the role, while privately thinking the expedition would never materialize. The young Frenchman was enthused by the idea of a conquest, but, as an intimate of Washington’s, he undoubtedly knew of Gates’s and Conway’s manoeuvring, and unsuccessfully demanded that Conway be replaced by his personal friend Major General Baron Johann de Kalb, a German-born French officer. 6
The Board of War’s instructions to the marquis were over Gates’s signature as its president. They detailed the troops assigned to the expedition: Brigadier John Nixon’s Massachusetts Brigade; Colonel Goose Van Schaick’s 1st New York Regiment; Colonel Seth Warner’s Additional Regiment; Colonel James Livingston’s 
1st Canadian Regiment; Colonel Moses Hazen’s 2nd Canadian; Colonel Timothy Bedel’s New Hampshire Regiment; and Captain Benjamin Whitcomb’s Rangers. The board reasoned, “As most of the Troops ordered for this Service have been upon Duty in Canada, there will be no want of any other Guides than such as may be chosen from among them — Genl Stark, Colo Warner and Col Bedel, with the Assistant Deputy Quarter Master General Colonel Hazen, know every Road, Pass and Post in the Country — You have only to consult with them as you advance, and if absolutely necessary upon your Retreat.”
The QM general, the commissary general, and the commander of artillery were instructed to provide ammunition, provisions, stores, and carriages “requisite for the intended Service,” and Hazen was sent forward to expedite these orders. Lafayette was told, “You need therefore be under no concern for Supplies,” and that as the expedition’s “[s]uccess will depend principally upon the vigour, and alertness with which the Enterprise is conducted, the Board recommend it to you to lose no time — the rapidity of your motions and the consternation of the enemy will do the business.”
As a nod to the inclemency of the season, Lafayette was advised that the commissary of clothing at Albany had been ordered “to furnish all the Woollens, and every Comfort his Stores can afford.” Tentage was considered unnecessary, as his troops would be constantly in the woods at night and were “[well-]acquainted with the mode of covering themselves.” He was instructed, “Upon your gaining possession of St. Johns or Montreal, you will publish a Declaration of your Intentions to the Canadians, and invite them to join the army of the United States — Colonel Hazen’s Regiment of four Battalions is to be first completed to the Establishment and the Officers and Soldiers who inlist are to be allowed the Bounty and Reward offer’d them by Congress.”
Lafayette was given the latitude to judge the “political complexion of the Inhabitants.” If he thought it unwise or unnecessary to have the Canadians take “an open Part with these States,” he was to publish a Manifesto requiring their strict neutrality. If he discovered “a general disinclination of the Natives [i.e., the Canadiens] to join the American Standard,” he was to destroy all the works and vessels at St. John’s, Chambly, and Île-aux-Noix and retire to the settlements below, and then to Saratoga. 
If on the contrary the Canadians are ardently desirous of assisting to establish the Freedom and Independence of America, you will inform them that when they embark in the common cause, they must determine to receive the Resolves of Congress and the Currency of America, with that Reverence and Alacrity, which have ever been manifested in the Acts and Dealing of the Subjects of the United States. They are then to be requested to send Delegates to represent their State in the Congress of the United States and to conform in all Political Respects to the Union and Confederation established in them.

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