Buckskin, moccasins and long rifle—a rifleman’s war
Later in life ‘Johnny’ Henry decided to put his adventures in writing for the benefit of his children, and in so doing has left posterity an invaluable first hand record of a little reported episode of the American Revolutionary War. In 1775 Congress endorsed a plan to invade Canada at Quebec. Command was given to Benedict Arnold and notable among his troops were three companies of men well accustomed to the wilderness of the Eastern Woodlands—the renowned riflemen under Captain Daniel Morgan, the famous pioneer and frontiersman. One of their number was the author of this riveting account. Henry, with five companions, under Lieutenant Steele were specially selected to scout ahead and break the trail for the following army. The small party set off in birch-bark canoes and what followed makes for a classic account of soldiering through a hostile land, ever in fear of ambush by hostile Indians and struggling to overcome and to subsist in the harsh terrain. Henry barely survived the ordeal and yet these events were merely the beginnings of his experiences. Readers who are fascinated by the adventures of early colonial backwoodsmen will find much to interest them in this book. The attack on Quebec was a ragged affair with both Arnold and Morgan wounded in street fighting. Local militia decided the issue and the assault was ultimately a failure with over half the American army forced to surrender. Previously published as ‘The Campaign Against Quebec,’ this Leonaur edition has been re-titled so that modern readers will readily understand its content; it is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
January 1st.—When we came to Craig’s house, near Palace-Gate, a horrible roar of cannon took place, and a ringing of all the bells of the city, which are very numerous, and of all sizes. Arnold, heading the forlorn hope, advanced, perhaps, one hundred yards, before the main body. After these, followed Lamb’s artillerists. Morgan’s company, led in the secondary part of the column of infantry. Smith’s followed, headed by Steele, the captain, from particular causes, being absent. Hendrick’s company succeeded, and the eastern men, so far as known to me, followed in due order.<br>
The snow was deeper than in the fields, because of the nature of the ground. The path made by Arnold, Lamb, and Morgan, was almost imperceptible, because of the falling snow: covering the locks of our guns, with the lappets of our coats, holding down our heads, (for it was impossible to bear up our faces, against the imperious storm of wind and snow,) we ran along the foot of the hill in single file. Along the first of our run, from Palace-Gate, for several hundred paces, there stood a range of insulated buildings, which seemed to be store-houses, we passed these quickly in single file, pretty wide apart. The interstices were from thirty to fifty yards. In these intervals, we received a tremendous fire, of musketry from the ramparts above us. Here we lost some brave men, when powerless to return the salutes we received, as the enemy was covered by his impregnable defences. They were even sightless to us, we could see nothing but the blaze from the muzzles of their muskets.<br>
A number of vessels of various sizes, lay along the beach, moored by their hawsers or cables to the houses. Facing after my leader, Lieutenant Steele, at a great rate, one of those ropes took me under the chin, and cast me headlong down, a declivity of at least fifteen feet. The place appeared to be either a dry-dock, or a sawpit. My descent was terrible; gun and all was involved in a great depth of snow. Most unluckily, however, one of my knees received a violent contusion on a piece of scraggy ice, which was covered by the snow. On like occasions, we can scarce expect in the hurry of attack, that our intimates should attend to any other, than their own concerns. Mine went from me, regardless of my fate. Scrabbling out of the cavity, without assistance, divesting my person and gun of the snow, and limping into the line, it was attempted to assume a station, and preserve it.<br>
These were none of my friends—they knew me not. We had not gone twenty yards, in my hobbling gait, before I was thrown out, and compelled to await the arrival, of a chasm in the line, where a new place might be obtained. Men in affairs such as this, seem in the main, to lose the compassionate feeling, and are averse from being dislodged from their original stations. We proceeded rapidly, exposed to a long line of fire from the garrison for now we were unprotected by any buildings. The fire had slackened in a small degree. The enemy had been partly called off to resist the general, and strengthen the party opposed to Arnold in our front.<br>
Now we saw Colonel Arnold returning, wounded in the leg, and supported by two gentlemen, a Parson Spring was one, and in my belief, a Mr. Ogden, the other. Arnold called to the troops, in a cheering voice, as we passed, urging us forward, yet it was observable among the soldiery, with whom it was my misfortune to be now placed, that the colonel’s retiring damped their spirits. A cant term “We are sold,” was repeatedly heard in many parts throughout the line. Thus proceeding enfiladed by an animated but lessened fire, we came to the first barrier, where Arnold had been wounded in the onset.<br>
This contest had lasted, but a few minutes, and was somewhat severe, but the energy of our men prevailed. The embrasures were entered when the enemy were discharging their guns. The guard, consisting of thirty persons, were either taken or fled, leaving their arms behind them. At this time, it was discovered that our guns were useless, because of the dampness. The snow, which lodged in our fleecy coats, was melted, by the warmth of our bodies. Thence came that disaster. Many of the party, knowing the circumstance, threw aside their own, and seized the British arms. These were not only elegant, but were such, as befitted the hand of a real soldier. It was said, that ten thousand stand of such arms, had been received from England, in the previous summer for arming the Canadian militia. Those people were loath to bear them in opposition to our rights.<br>
From the first barrier to the second, there was a circular course along the sides of houses, and partly through a street, probably of three hundred yards, or more. This second barrier, was erected across, and near the mouth of a narrow street, adjacent to the foot of the hill, which opened into a larger, leading soon into the main body of the lower town. Here it was, that the most serious contention took place: this became the bone of strife. The admirable Montgomery, by this time, (though it was unknown to us,) was no more; yet, we expected momentarily, to join him. The firing on that side of the fortress ceased, his division fell under the command of a Colonel Campbell, of the New-York line, a worthless chief, who retreated, without making an effort, in pursuance of the general’s original plans.<br>
The inevitable consequence, was, that the whole of the forces on that side of the city, and those, who were opposed to the dastardly persons employed to make the false attacks, embodied and came down to oppose our division. Here was sharpshooting. We were on the disadvantageous side of the barrier, for such a purpose. Confined in a narrow street, hardly more than twenty feet wide, and on the lower ground, scarcely a ball, well aimed or otherwise, but must take effect upon us. Morgan, Hendricks, Steele, Humphreys, and a crowd of every class of the army, had gathered into the narrow pass, attempting to surmount the barrier, which was about twelve or more feet high, and so strongly constructed, that nothing but artillery, could effectuate its destruction.