In 1775, the Americans began looking longingly towards Canada. Ever since the success at Ticonderoga, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had been saying, "Send us to Montreal and Quebec! Let us take them as we took Crown Point and Ticonderoga!"
Washington knew what a grand thing it would be for the American army to get possession of these cities; but he also knew something which very few beside himself knew; and that was, that the American army had not enough powder to carry on their work, where they were, much longer unless help came. For this reason he held back some time. Many officers and soldiers heaped abuse upon Washington's head for this, and nearly accused him of being cowardly. He endured their blame however, for he dared not let it be known how low the powder supply was growing.
Finally, in the early fall two armies were ordered into Canada. One under General Montgomery, the other under Benedict Arnold. General Montgomery led his division up through New York and down the St. Lawrence to Montreal, while Benedict Arnold led his division up through Maine.
Montgomery's soldiers were a wretched looking set—ragged and dirty, shoeless and hatless,—but still willing to march on and fight for their loved country. On reaching Montreal they found that the British soldiers had been all called into the colonies, and that the city was therefore without defence. Of course the city was taken with little or no trouble, and in the army marched. It is a terrible thing to ransack a city as this army ransacked Montreal, but as long as wars go on these things must be done; and since it has to be done here, we cannot but be glad that it was our own brave men who fell upon the riches of this city. Such treasures as they did find! not so much money, but food and clothing! Blankets and warm shirts, jackets and trousers, stockings and shoes!
They thought it almost worth while to have marched all this distance just to be once more warmed and clothed and fed. They remembered, too, the other soldiers who were coming up through Maine, and would soon be with them, and they carried off enough of all these good things for them, as well.
Montgomery, leaving a part of his soldiers to hold Montreal, now marched on to Quebec, where Arnold was to join forces with him.
When Arnold came, he had a terrible story to tell. Their march up through Maine had been almost as terrible as the "Winter at Valley Forge," of which you will read later on. The army had come up the Kennebec River in boats, and when they had come to places where they could not push along their boats, they had carried them on their backs until open places again were found.
It had been so bitterly cold! they had marched waist deep through icy water, and had lain down in their wet clothing night after night in the freezing forests. Their clothes ragged enough when they set out, could now hardly be kept together; their shoes, in this five-hundred-mile march, had been worn to nothing, and many a soldier had frozen his feet. Their provisions, too, had given out, and many of the soldiers had eaten the leather of their shoes and knapsacks, so hungry were they.
Many of these poor men, overcome by starvation and sickness, had turned back discouraged. Some of them afterwards succeeded in getting back to Massachusetts, but more died lost in the forests.
Arnold had with him a brave young man named Aaron Burr, who acted the part of a hero in this terrible march, and in the attack that followed. When Montreal was reached, Burr started on another hundred miles to tell Montgomery that Arnold's forces were ready to join him in the attack on Quebec.
It was now December—the last day of the year. A severe snowstorm was raging—a real blizzard, we should call it now—and in the very midst of it, the command came for the attack upon Quebec.
Now there were very few soldiers in the city, and it would have been a very easy thing to take this city—as easy as it had been to take Montreal—only that this city was a "walled city," and more than that, it was situated high up on bluffs or cliffs overlooking the river. You can see how hard it was for the army outside to get up to this city, and how easy it was for the army within the city to sweep them down with their fire.
A terrible, almost hand to hand battle followed. One battery had been taken by the Americans, and they were just attacking the second.
"Follow me, my brave boys," called Montgomery, "and Quebec is ours!"—but just then, down came a volley of grape shot from the garrison above, striking dead this brave leader and mowing down the soldiers on every side of him. Dismayed at the loss of their leader, the men in the rear turned and fled—and Quebec was lost to our side.
When young Aaron Burr, who was standing beside Montgomery in the foremost ranks, saw his leader wounded, he caught up the falling body, and, staggering under the load, dragged it down the bluffs beyond the reach of the fire of the enemy.
Arnold remained for some time in Canada, hoping to find a chance to attack the city again; but the soldiers in the city were on the watch, and before very long British soldiers arrived to help them; then there seemed nothing for him to do but to march home with the broken army, and so leave Canada to the British.