Contents Back Chapter III Home Exmouth
Edward Pellew - By Parkinson, C. Northcote, London, 1934
CHAPTER II - Saratoga
1 believe that the defence of Canada, and the co-operation of the Indians, depend upon the navigation of the Lakes. . . . Any offensive operation founded upon Canada must be preceded by the establishment of a naval superiority on the takes . . . . - The Duke of Wellington.
(13) THE elements of the campaign in which Pellew had his first experience of war need very clearly to be understood before the nature of his part in it can be appreciated. The character of the war itself must be grasped in order to see the campaign in its proper perspective.
The English colonies in America in the middle of the eighteenth century lay along the eastern seaboard. The population of all of them put together amounted, it was said, to between three and four millions. Of this population the most important section was the Nonconformist peasantry of New England. It was important because it was this group of colonists which was eventually to stamp its character on the whole population - a process which had already begun. Only in the nineteenth century was the process complete, but from the first its completion was inevitable, for New England was the district situated at the post of danger. The most northerly part of the English settlement, it was the part most directly opposed to the French in Canada; opposed also to the Indians, although not immediately concerned in their extermination. The states which form it were then purely agricultural in character and Presbyterian for the most part in religion. Their population was occupied in raising food and in selling their surplus produce to pirates. There was a little trade with the Indians, but neither that nor the private financing of piracy produced any great wealth; and as a result the land was sparsely inhabited, and destitute of roads or bridges. This was the case throughout the colonies. Consequently, for purposes of warfare, the only communications were the rivers and the sea. To go from north to south or from south to north, the best way was by sea; between east and west, by river. (14) Scantiness of population prevented a concentrated army from living on the country. Absence of roads largely supplies reaching an army except by water. So that any fighting there was to be done had to take place along the banks of a navigable river. Only there could an army be fed.
Now, two of the most important waterways in North America, the St. Lawrence with its tributaries, and the Hudson, had additional importance from the fact that the headwaters of the second are within a few miles of the source of the other's tributaries, the two together forming an almost continuous line of water communication between Quebec and New York. Maps given with this chapter have been simplified with the intention of illustrating this point, at the same time showing the importance of these rivers from another point of view. Viewed as a waterway they formed the back door leading from Canada to the English colonies, or from the English colonies to Canada, the only alternative to the normal sea route. Viewed as a barrier they almost make New England an island, and in their failure to do that succeed in making a peninsula with a very narrow neck. The peninsula is bounded by the sea on two of its sides, by the St. Lawrence on a third; while Lake Champlain, a tributary of the St. Lawrence, combined with the Hudson, all but completes the fourth.
Considering the lack of roads and bridges, the formidable quality of these rivers, when considered as barriers, will be apparent - the more so when it is stated that the point at which the river systems most nearly approach each other, was at that time an almost impassable forest. The depth of water which made movement between Quebec and New York possible made all movement from and into New England difficult, by confining all such movement to the few places where the rivers could easily be crossed. To hold these crossing, places while also commanding the sea was to surround New England, deprive the remaining colonies of the coherence which New England tended to give them, and destroy in detail and at leisure the unrelated military efforts of the colonists. To gain this overwhelming position there were three ways. One was to advance from New York up the Hudson, another to advance from Montreal up Lake Champlain, and the third was to advance from Lake Ontario up the Mohawk. The principal railways between New York and Canada still follow these routes, which now, as then, converge on Albany. For various reasons, the Mohawk (15) was the less satisfactory of the two routes connecting Albany and Canada. For our present purpose it may be ignored.
As has been seen, the Hudson and the St. Lawrence, with its tributaries, could be regarded either as a barrier or a communication. It must now be insisted upon that, in either capacity, these waterways favoured the invader of the English colonies rather than the colonies themselves. As a barrier this is obviously true. And as a route by which a commanding position on the line of that barrier might be
THE HUDSON AND ST. LAWRENCE - A BARRIER
reached, it is as clearly true. Considered as a mere line of attack, this route might appear as useful for invading Canada from New England as for invading and isolating New England by an advance from Canada. Such an appearance is illusory. It was not so. The line of waterways was chiefly suited for an invasion from Canada.
The reason for this is simple. The route between Montreal and New York runs north and south three hundred miles long in a straight line. The one end is therefore much colder than the other. In the eighteenth century the Canadian end was not only colder, it was also largely uncultivated, uninhabited even. A force moving in either direction through the wilderness, had to depend on water transport (16) which could only be used in summer when the rivers were not frozen. The advance by what was in any case a difficult route, if resisted in any degree, was bound to take months to accomplish. Thus to arrive at the other end meant to arrive in autumn with the winter to face in the enemy's country. The American winter is tolerable, and the food supply could be arranged by scattering the troops. The Canadian winter is not, and it was doubtful whether the food supply could be arranged at all. To invade the English colonies from Canada was to escape the Canadian winter and move into a land of comparative plenty. It was to indulge the normal European passion for moving southward. It was to gain a commanding position in an unfortified countryside. But to invade Canada from the English colonies was to find oneself in a barren and bitterly cold country with winter approaching, confronted by at least one fortress usually deemed impregnable, and with all communications cut by the freezing of the waterways by which one had come.
These are the geographical factors governing warfare in seventeenth - and eighteenth-century America. And it is only by grasping them that the events of successive wars can be accounted for. Bearing them in mind it will very readily be understood why a handful of French settlers in Canada were a serious menace to a more numerous population in New England; why the inhabitants of New England, alone among the colonists, were always eager to take Canada; and why they failed miserably whenever they tried to take it.
The attempt to take Canada from the English colonies was regularly made from 1690 onwards, and with unvarying ill-success. By themselves the colonists had not the slightest chance of succeeding, even had they possessed any aptitude for war - which in fact they did not. For fighting they had neither skill nor enthusiasm. When in difficulties they appealed to the King of England for help. The assistance given them sometimes took the form of troops. But the most important form of it was that afforded by the navy, which prevented the invasion of the colonies by sea and secured New England from isolation. The navy once took the colonists round by sea to attack Louisburg. Eventually the navy went a step further and took the chief share in driving the French out of Canada altogether, by placing an English army in the proper place at the proper time, while preventing reinforcements arriving from France. This was in 1760, and from that time the French menace (17) disappeared. Without English arms that menace would never have disappeared. For only to an English squadron with regular troops on board, was the taking of Quebec possible. The colonists could never have done it. The front door of Canada could only be broken in by England. It was more than doubtful whether the back door could be broken in by any one.
The colonists hardly recognized their indebtedness in this matter. What they did recognize was that the task of driving the French from Canada, once performed would not have to be performed again; and that, therefore,
THE HUDSON AND ST. LAWRENCE - A ROUTE
England could be of no further use to them, afloat or ashore. Indian warfare was the only kind of fighting they now contemplated, and in this no English assistance could help them. It was a kind of fighting of a very specialized order, against a cunning but cowardly enemy, and it was best understood by certain of the Presbyterian Irish among themselves.
This absence of further need for English help made the colonists very unwilling to pay anything towards the expenses entailed by the assistance they had already had. They would not pay for services rendered by a power from (18) which no further services were to be expected. Attempts to make them pay something towards these expenses led to dissatisfaction, rioting, and finally rebellion, within fifteen years of the withdrawal of the French from Canada.
In this rebellion Canada had no part, and although the Canadians were rather neutral than loyal, Canada thus became a potential base for an invasion of the colonies by George III's troops. The position was worse from the colonists' point of view than it had been in the days of French Canada. For the English troops could occupy the same threatening position the French had formerly occupied; while in addition, the navy threatened the whole length of the American seaboard. With English cruisers on the coast and in the navigable rivers, New England was already surrounded on three sides. It only needed an English army to fill up the loopholes on the fourth side, and the rebellion would be at an end. It would be at an end because the occupation of the line of the Hudson and Lake Champlain by a strong force would leave the rebels with two alternatives, each equally fatal to their cause. They would either have to allow the isolation of New England to take place without resistance. This would mean the speedy dispersion of their armies, which drew their meat supplies from the lands to the east of the Hudson and their bread from the opposite banks. Or else they could fight; and that for them meant to be beaten.
Reflecting on these facts which experience had taught them, the rebels decided that their best chance of avoiding both these alternatives was to take Quebec themselves before the English troops could collect there. With Quebec in their hands, the encircling movement they feared would be foiled from the start. It was as if they feared being bound by a chain fixed to the twin staples of Quebec and New York. To draw the staple at one end was to render the chain useless. So far the rebels judged the situation very correctly. They were right in deeming the capture of Quebec a desirable object, right in supposing speed to be essential to success; they turned out to be wrong in thinking themselves capable of the feat.
Now, so far, the tributary of the St. Lawrence most nearly approaching the upper waters of the Hudson has been referred to as Lake Champlain, but the tributary in question is not actually one lake. The water system consists of two long lakes of unequal size. Lake George, the smaller, falls into Lake Champlain, and Lake Champlain falls into the St. (19) Lawrence by means of a short stretch of river called the River Sorel or Richelieu. This river drains into the St. Lawrence at a point below Montreal and above Trois Rivieres. Two-thirds of the River Sorel, from the St. Lawrence up to St. John's, was not navigable, being closed by rapids. St. John's was therefore the point at which the navigation began of a water communication distinct from that of the St. Lawrence. This water communication, from St. John's to Fort George, was an unbroken stretch of water some two hundred miles long, two or three miles broad for most of its length, but ten miles broad at the middle of Lake Champlain, deep enough throughout for schooners and small craft. This waterway ran, in those days, through a wilderness of almost entirely uninhabited hills and forests, destitute of roads. So that the transporting of an army, either northward or southward, could only be accomplished by water. The artillery and baggage especially, which would naturally have gone by water in any part of the colonies, had here no alternative. To possess, therefore, a naval force on the lakes superior to that of the enemy was a certain method of stopping his advance. It was equally necessary as a preliminary to one's own advance.
At the beginning of the war, as a preparation for the invasion of Canada, the American colonists seized this superiority. Benedict Arnold, one of their officers, who had been a sailor, reached Lake Champlain with a small body of men. He seized a schooner he found there, and took his men down the lake in it to surprise St. John's, the post at which the English vessels on the lake were collected. These vessels were not manned, and the post was only held by a sergeant and a dozen men. Having taken these prisoner Arnold burnt all the vessels except a sloop, which he took away with him. He then evacuated the post.
That St. John's should be attacked was anticipated by the English. What they had not anticipated was that it should be attacked so soon. The force sent to garrison the post arrived a day too late to save it. As it turned out, it was this day's delay that lost us the war. The rebels had gained control of the lake. It was the only solid success their campaign brought them, but it was eventually decisive. This occurred in May 1775, while Pellew was still in the Mediterranean.
It has been related how an advance guard of the rebel army surprised a small but important military post. But the whole invasion of Canada, of which this was the opening (20) move, was in fact a surprise. The colonists, as we have seen, were taking an enormous risk in attempting an enterprise of this kind. It was a desperate venture, and one from which many of them never returned. But, at the outset, they had the advantage always enjoyed by those acting rashly: the advantage of also acting unexpectedly. The task they were attempting was so difficult that their opponents did not anticipate the attempt. This is not to say that the Governor of Canada was astonished when the rebel army appeared. On the contrary, he learnt about their movements as soon as they had begun to move against him. The element of surprise did not consist in his failure to hear about the invasion, but in his failure to expect it. When news arrived it was already too late. The troops in Canada had already gone elsewhere. The Governor, Sir Guy Carleton, commanded less than a thousand regular troops - and these were the only men he could rely on. Nor was there time to get reinforcements before the rebels arrived. Canada was all but defenceless.
On the other hand, if the colonists' strategy was daring, their movements lacked the speed such strategy implies. Perhaps this was unavoidable. At any rate, their unopposed march on Canada, for which Arnold had cleared the way, gave Sir Guy Carleton ample time to organize what resistance it was in his power to offer. The rebels advanced so slowly that it was September before they arrived in Canada. They were only about 2,700 strong by the time they gained a position on the St. Lawrence above Quebec. Carleton held them up for some time by throwing nearly all his regular troops into St. John's; which post the invaders had to besiege in form. They came, indeed, very near to being defeated by this fortress, and although it eventually fell, the advance had been delayed so long that the summer had gone before Montgomery, the rebel commander, could approach Quebec. He had started with 3,200 men, but the advance guard, still led by Arnold, lost 500 men from privation before the army reached the St. Lawrence. There was another delay at Montreal, and it was not until the end of December that Quebec could be attacked.
The difficulties of the Americans have been fully described, and we have seen that the chief result of them was a tardy arrival at the point of attack. But Sir Guy Carleton's position was not enviable, and he was sufficiently unaware of his opponents' troubles to think his situation even worse than it was. He had lost practically all his English troops (21) at St. John's, and he had been able to collect no more than 1,300 men to defend Quebec. Of this small garrison a part was unreliable. Apart from the half-company of regular soldiers he still possessed, his best troops were the sailors of H.M.S. Lizard, the captain of which ship landed with his entire crew to defend the town.
It was while waiting for the Americans to appear before Quebec that autumn, and after the fall of St. John's, that the last dispatches were sent to England before the St. Lawrence froze. Their tone was naturally gloomy, and the ministers in England did not expect to find Quebec still in English hands when communications should reopen in the following spring. They discussed plans for retaking the town during the winter, and at the end of December, Lord George Germain wrote to Lord Sandwich: 'Mr. Pringle will acquaint you with the particular situation of Quebec, and with the little encouragement given us by General Carleton to expect that he could hold out the town till succours could arrive in the spring' I take the General to be one of those men who see affairs in the most unfavourable light . . . .' The more optimistic of the ministers put their trust in the captain of the Lizard, Hamilton ; and in a hint contained in the last letters to come through before the St. Lawrence was closed by ice, that the rebels were in want of ammunition. Great exertions were made to relieve or retake Quebec in the spring, and the commissioning of the Blonde by Captain Pownoll was one item in the preparations.
Quebec, meanwhile, after communications with England ceased, soon found itself in much better case than the English Government believed. For the American attack at the end of December was a complete failure. Carleton beat off the rebels and Montgomery was not only defeated but killed.
Arnold was now in command of the invading army, and he was in a very bad position. His army had arrived so late in the year that retreat was impossible. The ice which cut Carleton off from the sea, as effectively cut off the rebels' retreat. Arnold could not return the way he had come. He could not storm Quebec. His only course was to stop where he was. This process was described as the siege of Quebec. The blockade was not altogether without reality, but it was doomed to failure by the nature of things. By encamping three miles upstream the colonists could undoubtedly eat a part of the food supply which would otherwise have gone to feed the garrison in Quebec. But, (22) in the depth of a Canadian winter, Sir Guy Carleton in his fortress could hardly be more uncomfortable than Arnold in his camp. The rebels could boast of shutting Carleton in his stronghold, but it was at a time of year when he can have had no temptation to leave it. He had to stay there for the winter in any case. The Governor's house at that time 'though not strictly elegant' was 'tolerably finished;' for him and his troops the siege merely meant confinement to the firesides they had never had the slightest intention of quitting. Supplies were certainly scarce in Quebec, and no immediate relief was to be expected, for the St. Lawrence is always frozen from December to April. But the scarcity cannot have been serious, or the Governor would have taken the trouble to drive the rebels farther up the river - which he might easily have done. Instead he preferred to leave them alone to face the winter as they might, and then deal with the survivors in the spring of 1776. For five months this situation remained unchanged. At the end of that period exposure and small-pox had reduced the numbers of the rebel army by less than two-thirds, but more than a half. There remained about a thousand fit for duty.
Early in May, Captain Charles Douglas appeared with a squadron. The Isis, his leading ship, broke up the ice, and the blockade of Quebec was at an end. The garrison's privations were over, but those of the besiegers were not. The ice farther up the river and in the lakes was not so easily broken, nor were there warships to break it. The Americans were still cut off from their friends. Indeed, they were even cut off from each other; for they had troops on both sides of the St. Lawrence and the English ships now divided them. They had to retire upstream before they could concentrate the few men they had. Captain Douglas had in fact forced his way up the St. Lawrence sooner than either side expected, zealously fulminating against the rebellion, which he regarded as 'the most insolent, the most ungrateful, that ever reared an opprobrious head against an indulgent parent state.' He brought with him a detachment of the 29th Regiment, as well as supplies ; in itself a proof that the indulgence of the parent state was no longer to be relied on. More proof was to follow, but for the present this detachment, with the marines of Douglas's three ships, the Isis, Surprise, and Martin sloop, was enough to induce the insolent and ungrateful Americans to retreat in haste. Sir Guy Carleton pursued them with his small army and defeated them at Trois Rivieres. The rebels retired slowly (23) to Montreal. They were not demoralized, for they also had been reinforced.
It is now necessary to return to the Blonde and to Pellew. The Juno and the Blonde frigates, with the fleet of transports carrying the Brunswick troops, had an uneventful passage. The officers of the Blonde had a very pleasant guest in General Burgoyne; and Burgoyne probably had no reason to complain of his entertainment. Before he sailed, Lord George Germain had reassured him on this point. He had written of Captain Pownoll: 'It seems he is rich and you need not fear putting him to expense.' Exactly what this meant it is for the reader to determine. On this voyage a mutiny had to be suppressed on one of the transports, and it is said that Pellew jumped overboard to save a seaman's life. The only other feature was Captain Pownoll's experiments in distilling salt water. The fact that he made them is interesting in that it shows what a different type of officer Pellew was now serving under.
The Blonde and her consorts arrived within a few weeks of Douglas's little squadron. They made Louisburg on May 13th, and on the 20th they spoke a schooner and heard that the rebels had raised the siege of Quebec, that Sir Guy Carleton was well, and that the Isis and Triton were already there. The Blonde made very slow progress up the St. Lawrence, owing to contrary winds. It was not until June 2nd that the wind veering to the eastward allowed her to run through the Traverse opposite the Isle of Orleans and drop anchor before Quebec. Most of the transports went up the river to Montreal at once, for that was now the headquarters of Carleton's army; but the Blonde stayed to land the money she carried for paying the troops, twenty chests of money, or about £91,000
The weather was fine, and the scene at Quebec must have been cheering and beautiful. With an after-knowledge of the event it is natural to look for omens of disaster in the preparations for a campaign we know to have failed. But there can have been no forebodings at this stage of the campaign. The whole scene must rather have suggested certain success. Below the great fortified rock, among the huddle of narrow streets at its foot, scarlet coats and bright bayonets heralded the re-conquest. And opposite the old French town the sunlit river was crowded with ships. The ships which had so recently relieved the town were there, the Isis and Surprise, with the Lizard still drawn up on the shore. Then there were the later arrivals, Carysfort, (24) Pearl; and now the new-comers, the Juno frigate and the beautiful French-built frigate Blonde. These, with their brightly painted sides chequered with the red of their open gun-ports, their white decks and squared yards, and the ordered activity on board them, were the symbolic reassertion of order and tradition. From the hills round about the settlers may have heard the shrill bugles across the water, and seen the white smoke eddying from the Castle and the shipping as the batteries and frigates each fired their thundering salute of twenty-one guns in honour of the King's birthday. Troops were pouring up the river in pursuit of a beaten enemy, and an able and popular soldier had come to lead them. Everything pointed to a speedy victory for the King. It is well to realize this. Only by doing so can the magnitude of the coming disaster be appreciated.
Captain Pownoll took his ship up to Trois Rivieres, which he reached on June 10th, after passing, with some difficulty, the rapids of Richelieu.
A river was to the eighteenth-century English army, and especially in this war, what a railway is now. Montreal was the railhead and the work which would now fall to goods trains was done by ships and rowing-boats. The Blonde was an item in Burgoyne's and Carleton's communications. Her crew had to take ammunition and artillery up to the front, guard prisoners, transport the wounded from the base to the hospitals, and safeguard the supplies.
Two days before the Blonde reached Trois Rivieres 'our troops had a skirmish with the rebel army (about 1,800) and took one him Thompson their General with several other officers and between 200 and 300 Prisoners. 'In two or three days' time the crew of the Blonde had an opportunity of seeing the unsavoury object which the phrase 'one Wm Thompson' seems to indicate. ' Mr Thompson, the Rebel General, and his Aid de Camp' were for a short time on board the Blonde when on their way, under escort, to Quebec. Many of the soldiers were landed at Trois Rivieres. On June 14th, 'General Frazier marched with 2,000 troops for Montreal, the rest of the troops with the Generals Burgoyne, Carleton, Phillips, going up the river in Transports.' Montreal was the base where men and supplies were gathered, and it was from there that the march against the enemy began.
This march was successful up to a point. Carleton was still in command of the whole force, but he put Burgoyne in charge of the column which went up the Richelieu or (25) Sorel to retake Forts Chambly and St. John's. The enemy did not care to dispute either of these posts, so that the advance resulted in what Burgoyne termed 'the precipitate flight of the rebels.' Arnold had not to retreat far before his command of Lake Champlain saved him from further pursuit. He took his forces to Crown Point and Ticonderoga and commenced to build more boats to defend the lake, which his two schooners still dominated. It was at this point that the English advance was held up, and it was now that the full importance of Arnold's stroke in the spring of the previous year became apparent. What he then gained was all that was gained in the campaign he initiated. The attack on Quebec had been an expensive failure. But this one solid advantage the Americans still retained. The rest of the year was spent in depriving them of it. And it was this delay which lost England the war.
To build one's own ships in the presence of the enemy one intends to destroy has about it a certain epic quality. It was the kind of feat the Elizabethans seemed to delight in, but which has become increasingly rare ever since their day. Captain Douglas's performance, which is now to be described, must have been one of the last instances of a naval officer building his ships before leading them to battle. It was a task for which the navy of that time was steadily becoming unfitted. But it was the only way by which the control of Lake Champlain could be regained, and its accomplishment was very creditable to those responsible for it.
When Burgoyne reached St. John's, he could do no more until the navy came to his assistance. What the soldiers required was that the long arm of the navy should extend itself by another two hundred miles. It is with this extension that we are now concerned.
On June 15th Commodore Douglas visited the Blonde on his way up to Montreal. He took Lieutenant Dacres from her to superintend the building of the boats for the lake service; he soon required the longboat also to carry up coils of rope, blocks and canvas. Presently the carpenter was sent for.
Meanwhile, Captain Pownoll kept his crew employed as well as he could. He had the ship varnished, the spars blacked. At other times the 'tween decks' were cleaned, sails were mended, and the ventilator worked. From time to time the hands were exercised in handling small arms, and made to practise firing 'vollies.' The crew had need of these occupations, for the Blonde had to remain off Point (26) Champlain for months, watching the stream of supplies and naval stores going up o the lakes. The longboat was more constantly employed in carrying ammunition. On the 12th of August yet further demands were made on the ship, for Pownoll 'sent a mate and 15 men for the Service of the Lakes;' and the day after he 'sent a midshipman and 20 men for the Service of the Lakes.' The master's mate referred to was a young man called Brown, the midshipman was Edward Pellew. They were followed a fortnight later by another party of thirty-four seamen. All the other frigates sent proportionate detachments, and some 200 seamen' from the transports volunteered for the service, making the total number of men employed on the lakes about 700.
Dacres, the officer sent from the Blonde, was the second lieutenant. Like his captain, he had been present at the taking of the Hermione - when he was in the Active. He was a man of some ability and lived to become an admiral.
St. John's, as we have seen, was the lowest point at which the river Sorel was navigable, vessels being prevented by the rapids of St. Terese and St. John's from passing between there and the St. Lawrence. All craft too large to be hauled overland a distance of about twenty miles, had to be built or rebuilt at St. John's, under cover of a battery to secure the work from interruption, and of an army to prevent the guns of the battery from being spiked. As the only boats small enough to be hauled past the rapids were too small to confront Arnold's schooners, Captain Douglas had to establish a miniature dockyard at St. John's and build there a flotilla capable of destroying the rebel ships. Speed was the first essential. In this, even more than in most campaigns, time was everything.
Time was on the side of the Americans, for their flotilla was already in existence, and every week's delay it could impose on the English advance was so much time gained for the rebellion. But other factors favoured the English. Chief of these was the factor of distance from home. The Americans were encamped in the middle of a wilderness, totally cut off, in practice, from any fresh supplies of naval stores. So that, while Arnold was prepared to dispute the command of the lake, he was unable to increase his flotilla very much. He had three schooners, three row-galleys, eight gondolas, a sloop and a cutter. Other craft he tried to build would not float for lack of tar. In his rear he had a strongly fortified camp to fall back upon, Ticonderoga; and he was (27) supported by a considerable army. But no amount of fortification can turn a camp into a town, and his vessels were limited in number by the lack of necessaries only a town can supply.
His opponents, on the other hand, had two towns and a fleet to draw upon, at a short distance from where they were building their flotilla. They had plenty of supplies and plenty of labour - even skilled labour. The number and size of their vessels was only limited by the short time at their disposal before autumn should prevent further operations taking place that year.
The destruction of Arnold's flotilla was, therefore, assured. The English knew what his force was, and had only to build a somewhat greater force to be certain of success. The question was, could it be done in time ? Work began on the flotilla at the beginning of July. Whatever was to be done that year - the taking of Ticonderoga, for instance - had to be finished before November. To regain the command of the lakes in four months was difficult. But what was required was to regain that command in two months, leaving two months for the soldiers to capture Ticonderoga. This proved to be impossible.
Captain Douglas began collecting materials and men in the latter half of June, and by the beginning of July, as we have seen, work at St. John's had begun. Douglas did not go there himself at first. Instead, he sent the genius of his party, Lieutenant Schanck, who had great mechanical skill and an aptitude for shipbuilding. This officer was joined by successive detachments as he found work for them, and the whole party was soon working in a fury of activity. Pellew arrived in the middle of August, and the rest of the Blonde's contingent was there before the end of the month.
Before describing what was actually done at St. John's, it is necessary to examine the problem which confronted Captain Douglas and the manner in which it was solved. This is the more necessary in that it was doubted afterwards whether his solution was the right one.
To gain control of Lake Champlain as quickly as possible was his object, and in attaining it he was necessarily governed by the abiding principle of naval warfare that a multiplying of small vessels is no substitute for large ones. Yet speed was required and it is large vessels which take long to build. From this dilemma Douglas escaped. He brought two schooners from the St. Lawrence as far up the Sorel as they would go - that is, to Chambly. There he had them (28) taken to pieces, transported piecemeal to St. John's, and there rebuilt. He purchased a ship of 180 tons which he found building on the stocks at Quebec, dismantled it, loaded the parts into thirty longboats borrowed from the transports, and sent them to Chambly, From there the timbers were taken overland to St. John's and reassembled. All this took time, however. August had gone before the keel of the ship from Quebec was laid. September was gone before she was finished. But these three vessels were the backbone of the flotilla, and without them nothing could be done. Besides these there was built a radeau, or armed raft, called the Thunderer, while a great number of smaller craft were transported from the St. Lawrence.
It was Captain Douglas himself who brought the parts of the ship, which was to be called the Inflexible. Before work began on her he had taken charge of the dockyard at St. John's. Lieutenant Schanck, however, the senior officer of the five lieutenants employed on this service, remained the controlling spirit among the carpenters. Equal to him in activity was Pellew, and probably, next to him, the most useful man there. Schanck fully appreciated his assistant, and in after years used to relate anecdotes of Pellew's energy on this occasion. One of these concerned the stepping of the masts of the Inflexible, immediately after launching her. There were two ways of stepping a ship's masts in those days. One, the navy way, was to put the ship alongside the sheer hulk in a big harbour. The other, the merchant service way, was to erect sheers on the vessel to be masted. In this case the latter method had to be adopted. 'On the day the Inflexible was launched, Pellew was on the top of the sheers trying to get in the mainmast, when - the machinery not being of the best - it gave way; and down fell mainmast, Pellew, sheers and all into the Lake. "Poor Pellew" exclaimed Schanck "He is gone at last;" not so however. He speedily emerged and was the first man to mount the sheers again. "Sir" the dear old man used to conclude "He was like a Squirrel." ' These are the words in which Schanck, when an old man and blind, used to tell the story to Pellew's children.
The conclusion of these shipbuilding activities is best told in the words of Captain Douglas himself. 'Having, for the space of six weeks, attended the naval equipment for the important expedition on Lake Champlain, I, on the 4th instant [i.e. October the 4th], saw, with unspeakable joy, the reconstructed ship, now called the Inflexible, and (29) commanded by Lieutenant Schanck, her re-builder, sail from St John's, twenty-eight days after her keel was laid, taking in her eighteen 12-pounders beyond the shoal which is on this side the Isle aux Noix, in her way up.
'The prodigies of labour which have been effected since the rebels were driven out of Canada, in creating, recreating, and equipping, a fleet of above thirty fighting vessels, of different sorts and sizes, and all carrying cannon, since the beginning of July, together with the transporting over land, and afterwards dragging up the two Rapids of St Terese and St John's, thirty long-boats, the flat-bottomed boats, a gondola weighing about thirty tons, and above four hundred battoes, almost exceed belief. His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief of the army, and all the other generals, are of the opinion, that the sailors of his Majesty's ships and transports have (far beyond the limits of their duty) exerted themselves to the utmost, on this great and toilsome occasion; nor has a man of that profession uttered a single word expressive of discontent, amidst all the hardships they have undergone; so truly patriotic are the motives by which they are actuated . . . .'
That the soldiers on the spot, such as Burgoyne, who had covered these building operations with his column of 6,000 men and batteries on the waterside at the foot of the lake, appreciated what the sailors had done is likely enough. But the fact remained that the flotilla was not completed until it was too late - and, as it turned out, fatally too late. And critics in England, who had not seen the difficulties to be overcome, blamed Douglas for building too large a flotilla and so wasting time.
This criticism was undeserved. To accuse Douglas of wasting time in building too many ships was to assume that it takes longer to build many ships than few. But this is not necessarily true. It must be remembered that there were 700 men working on the flotilla and that the vessels composing it were constructed simultaneously. Now, the most important vessels, the two schooners and the ship Inflexible, were those which took longest to construct. Without them the flotilla could not sail with any hope of success, so that the speed of completing the whole was determined by the speed of completing those three vessels. There was no point in putting all the men to work on these three tasks, for only a certain number of men can work on one ship at the same time. After a certain point the addition of further labour can only hinder. Some fifty men, (30) probably, could be profitably employed on each of the principal vessels. To have allotted more than the proper number would have been as unreal a reinforcement as a third man on a two-handed saw or a tenth member to the crew of a racing 'eight.' This being so Captain Douglas was perfectly justified in setting the remainder of his men on to other tasks. If the result was a larger flotilla than the occasion demanded this was no proof of his having wasted time. That he had more men than he needed is proved by his bringing 'above four hundred battoes' to the lake. For these 'battoes,' or batteaux, were small boats for carrying troops. They had nothing to do with the approaching naval conflict, but were to transport the army to attack Ticonderoga afterwards. Had there not been labour to spare, the bringing of these would have been left until after the lake had been cleared. It is true that the Inflexible and the two schooners were capable of destroying Arnold's force single-handed. But the construction of other vessels, or rather the transporting of them, made success more certain. Nor could it be a waste of time or skill or energy. They would all be needed sooner or later for transporting the army.
The flotilla which sailed from St. John's on the 4th of October was composed as follows: Douglas, who had appointed himself Commodore at Quebec, had given the command on the lakes to Captain Pringle, and this officer led the flotilla in the Maria schooner. Carleton sailed with him as a passenger. The Inflexible, which Lieutenant Schanck commanded, was, however, stronger than the flagship. The latter had only fourteen 6-pounders as compared with the eighteen 12-pounders of the former. Next in size was the other schooner Carleton, named in compliment to the general, and carrying twelve 6-pounders. This vessel was apparently manned by the Blonde's men. Dacres commanded her, Brown was second in command, and Pellew, who had been long since restored to the rank of master's mate, was third. More heavily armed than these was the radeau Thunderer, which Lieutenant Scott commanded. She carried six 24-pounders, six 12pounders, and two howitzers. This raft turned out to be useless, as did also the gondola. Both were too slow. The gondola had been captured from the rebels at Quebec, renamed Loyal Convert, and transported with infinite labour from the St. Lawrence to the lake. A gondola was a large flat-bottomed barge carrying guns. This one, which was commanded by Lieutenant Longcroft, had seven 9-pounders on board. (31) The flotilla was completed by twenty gunboats, each armed with a field-piece or howitzer, some even carrying a 24-pounder; and four longboats armed with smaller guns. There were, in addition, twenty other longboats; but these were unarmed and loaded with provisions for the use of the other vessels.
Arnold's flotilla must now be described in greater detail. He had originally intended to build a thirty-six gun frigate. But lack of materials other than timber had foiled his more ambitious schemes. He had no vessel equal to the Inflexible or her two consorts. His largest vessel was the schooner Royal Savage, armed with eight 6-pounders and four 4-pounders. Of his two other schooners, one called the Revenge carried four 6-pounders and four 4-pounders; and another had eight 4-pounders.
Then he had three row-galleys, more heavily armed than his schooners, but too slow to be effective. These carried twelve guns each, including two 18-pounders. Eight gondolas, a cutter and a sloop completed the force. The gondolas carried three guns each - an 18-pounder and two 12-pounders, The cutter had six guns. The force of the sloop is unknown.
From these figures, although there are sufficient unknown quantities to render exact calculation impossible, it is clear that the Americans had a slight superiority in weight of metal, and a considerable superiority in numbers of cannon.
Where they were at a disadvantage was in the quality of their boats. Most of their cannon were in row-galleys and gondolas, inferior, clumsy craft which could make but poor use of them. In seamanship they were greatly inferior to their opponents, but their local knowledge made up for this. The determining factor in the situation, however, was their lack of any vessel capable of meeting the Inflexible on equal terms. Should they encounter the English flotilla in open waters there was no reason why the Inflexible should not use a superior mobility to sink the entire American force, one vessel after another.
Arnold was well aware of this danger. The English had intended to keep as a secret the construction of the Inflexible. Indeed, they were convinced to the end that they had done so, merely because they had kept Arnold away from the lower end of the lake. In this they were partly mistaken, for Arnold at least knew that the English force was superior to his own. Of the exact details of its superiority he may indeed have been ignorant. But the appearance of (32) the English can hardly have been the surprise Captain Douglas intended it to be.
Arnold fully anticipated the destruction of his flotilla but relied upon being able to escape to Ticonderoga. This fort was a place of great strength; and General Gates had long since arrived there with forces which, added to the remnants of the troops which had tried to take Quebec, came to about 9,000 effectives. Crown Point was held as an advanced post. In anticipation of naval defeat the Americans built a boom across the narrows at the head of the lake to impede an attack on Ticonderoga. Arnold's object was to delay the English advance until the following year, and then retreat behind these fortifications. In this he succeeded. Losing the battle he won the campaign - won it, indeed, before the battle was fought.
Lake Champlain, as will be seen from the accompanying map, contains a number of islands. Going up the lake, the Isle de Motte is first passed. Then, to port, Long Island and Grand Island. Lastly, to starboard and close to the shore, Valcour or Valicour Island.
It was between Valcour Island and the mainland that Arnold posted his flotilla, drawn across a strait varying in width from half to three-quarters of a mile. The advantage he hoped to gain from this position lay in the existence of a shoal which he rightly supposed to be unknown to the English. By placing himself to the southward of this hidden obstacle, he hoped to lure his opponents to shipwreck. He naturally took it for granted that they would attack him by entering the northern end of the channel in which he was anchored. What he did not expect was that Captain Pringle should sail up the lake without first taking the trouble to find out where the enemy was. But that was what happened. Pringle seems to have been saved by his own lack of talent. He baffled Arnold by unexpected stupidity.
It was on the 4th of October that the Inflexible was completed. The whole flotilla sailed a few days later, on the 9th, and anchored for the night of October l0th between Grand and Long Islands. There was a north-east wind the next morning, and Pringle stood up the lake before it. He did not see Arnold's force until he had passed Valcour Island and so dropped to leeward of it. A glance at the map will show why. Arnold's ships were not, in fact, visible from any point in the middle of the lake below Valcour Island. Arnold had assumed that the English had (33) ascertained his position by scouting. They had done nothing of the sort. Pringle sailed past Valcour Island before sighting his adversary and then had to work up to
PLAN TO ILLUSTRATE THE SARATOGA CAMPAIGN AND THE ACTIONS ON LAKE CHAMPLAIN
windward before he could attack.
His annoyance at having to do so was more than equalled by Arnold's annoyance at seeing him do it. Captain Douglas reported afterwards - from information given him, (34) for he was not present - that the rebels 'were much surprised at the first sight of the van of our force; but ran into immediate and utter confusion the moment a three-masted ship made her appearance being a phenomenon they, never so much as dreamt of . . .' It seems fairly certain that this surprise and confusion was not caused by the unexpected strength of the British flotilla, but by its arrival from the wrong direction. Arnold had anchored his vessels behind the shoal with their guns pointing northward. The bulk of his force the row-galleys and gondolas, carried their heavy guns in the bows. These would therefore be anchored by the head facing to windward. To bring their 18-pounders to bear on the English craft working up from their leeward position would mean turning round to face the other way; or, in other words, anchoring by the stern. The hurried movements which the chuckling English interpreted as terror inspired by the sight of their masterpiece, the Inflexible were obviously their efforts to perform this evolution. As landsmen they would naturally run into 'utter confusion' while doing it. This confusion cost them their best schooner, the Royal Savage, which drifted to leeward until within range of the foremost of Pringle's flotilla. It was fired upon, and finally ran aground on the southern point of the island. The rest of the American force succeeded in forming a line to await the English attack.
They had plenty of time in which to do this, for Pringle was necessarily slow in working up to windward. Their position, when so formed, was a strong one, in that it was difficult to approach them against a headwind in so narrow a passage. Nevertheless, Arnold's situation was desperate. His plan had failed. The shoal he had hoped to see his opponent strike was now in his rear and more likely to impede his own escape. He had the windward position, which, as one wishing to avoid decisive action, was the last thing he wanted. Worst of all, the English lay across his line of retreat, between him and Ticonderoga.
In working into the passage separating Valcour from the mainland the gunboats of Pringle's flotilla soon distanced the other vessels. As rowing-boats the headwind mattered less to them. The sailing vessels were presently stopped altogether, unable to make headway against a wind blowing down the funnel formed by the cliffs on either side. For a time the gunboats fought the Americans single-handed. No other vessel could get into action until 'the Carleton schooner, commanded by Mr Dacres . . . by much (35) perseverance at last got to their assistance.' The remainder of the English flotilla could do nothing but silence the fire of the Royal Savage. Lieutenant Longcroft boarded this schooner, from which the crew had escaped ashore, and tried to turn her guns on the rebels. But she had to be set on fire, and eventually blew up.
Meanwhile the Carleton and the gunboats were hotly engaged on very unequal terms. Dacres anchored his schooner with a spring on her cable opposite the middle of the enemy line - this was the dangerous position in which accident had placed her. The master's mate, Brown, who was second in command, was badly wounded almost at once. Dacres was knocked senseless soon afterwards, leaving Pellew in command. His situation was thus, in his first action, one of not altogether enviable prominence. The schooner was badly hit, with half her crew killed or wounded, and there was no prospect of any other vessels coming to her assistance. Captain Pringle saw this, and made the signal of recall. 'I did not think it by any means advisable to continue so partial and unequal a combat,' he wrote afterwards. 'Consequently, with the approbation of his excellency, General Carleton, who did me the honour of being on board the Maria, I called off the Carleton and gunboats . . . .' It was easier for him to make the signal than for Pellew to obey it. The Carleton's cable was cut and her jib hoisted, but she would not go about. She was under a heavy fire, and Pellew had to do what no one else in the ship had the courage to do. He ran forward to the bowsprit to push the jib over to windward. This had no effect, however. The Carleton hung in stays. It would have gone hard with her but for two gunboats which came to her rescue. They 'towed her off through a very thick fire, until out of farther reach, much to the honour of Mr John Curling and Mr Patrick Carnegy, Master's mate and Midshipman of the Isis; and Mr Edward Pellew, mate of the Blonde, who threw the tow-rope from the Carleton's bowsprit.'
With the withdrawal of the Carleton the action came to an end. The rebels had, on the whole, suffered more than the English; especially in material. One of their gondolas, the Boston, had been sunk; and two others, damaged beyond repair, had to be sunk by their crews the following day. Casualties were probably more equal. The English gunboats had lost many men in killed and wounded. The Carleton had lost half her crew, eight being killed and six (36) wounded. The total loss on the English side was little short of forty.
Dacres had not been seriously hurt. Stunned only, he came round after the action and resumed command of the Carleton. The post of second-in-command and the certainty of promotion constituted Pellew's reward for his part in the affair. In reputation his gain was more considerable.
This action took place late in the day, and it was evening before the firing ceased. Pringle prepared to renew the battle next morning. In order to prevent Arnold escaping he drew up his flotilla in a line between the southern end of Valcour Island and the mainland. He could be sure that there was no escape for the rebels round the other end of the island as long as the wind held. Where his sailing craft could make no headway there was no risk of Arnold's vessels having any better success. Arnold was in a trap.
Next morning the first glimmering of light showed that the Americans had vanished. There must have been bitter recriminations among the English. What had happened was obvious. Arnold had taken advantage of a dark, foggy night. He had got under way in the middle of the night and silently slipped through the English line.
Pringle did not pursue immediately, probably owing to the necessity of repairing the Carleton's damages. Arnold could only have gone one way - towards Crown Point. And as the lake narrows towards the upper end, it could not be difficult to find him. He was, in fact, only eight miles up the lake, at that time, although still retreating. He had gained another precious day; and he gained one more while the Carleton was being put in order. But the end was inevitable. It came on the 13th, the second day after his masterly escape at Valcour Island. He was near Split Rock, in the upper narrows, when Pringle came up with his rear-guard. The Maria, Inflexible and Carleton had left the rest of the flotilla behind and fell upon the Americans single-handed. The action is best described in the words of the victor: 'Upon the 13th, I again saw eleven sail of their fleet making off to Crown Point, who, after a chase of seven hours, I came up with in the Maria, having the Carleton and Inflexible a small distance astern; the rest of the fleet almost out of sight. The action began at twelve o'clock and lasted two hours: at which time Arnold, in the Congress galley, and five gondolas, ran on shore, and were directly abandoned and blown up by the enemy; a circumstance they were greatly favoured in, by the wind (37) being off shore, and the narrowness of the lake. The Washington galley struck during the action, and the rest made their escape to Ticonderoga.'
The Success was complete. Out of the fourteen vessels which the Americans had brought into action, one was taken and nine destroyed. Eighty of the rebels had been killed or wounded in the two actions, and the crew of the Washington were prisoners. No others had been taken because the men on board the vessels which ran on shore had promptly vanished into the woods. Arnold led them, 'despite the savages' to Crown Point. As this post was no longer of any use, he paused there merely long enough to burn all the buildings. Then he retired to join Gates at Ticonderoga, leaving the lake in the hands of the English.
On the 14th, the day after the battle, Pringle's flotilla was off Crown Point; and there Carleton wrote his dispatch beginning: 'The rebel fleet upon Lake Champlain has been entirely defeated in two actions . . . . We have taken Mr. Waterburgh, the second-in-command, one of their Brigadier-generals, with two of their vessels . . . .' About the number of vessels taken he seems to differ from Captain Pringle, but the point is unimportant. Pringle also wrote a dispatch to the commodore. Both these were entrusted to Lieutenant Dacres. He had this honour as the only commissioned naval officer who had been engaged in both actions. As the bearer of good tidings, his task was a pleasant one. But one of the dispatches he carried, Carleton's, had a significant final sentence: 'The season is so far advanced, that I cannot yet pretend to inform your lordship whether any thing further can be done this year.'
The season was indeed far advanced. On the 14th, Dacres set off with his dispatches, and, on the day before, Captain Pownoll had taken the precaution of taking the Blonde downstream, below the rapids of Richelieu, as a preparatory step for escaping from the St. Lawrence before it should become impossible. He was off Quebec on the 2oth, and there, on the 22nd, the jubilant Dacres found him - having collected another dispatch, from Captain Douglas, the day before. He stayed only long enough to give the news; and within three days' time he was on his way to England in the armed tender Stag. He had, however, given glowing accounts of Pellew's conduct to Douglas; and these he later repeated to Lord Sandwich. Pellew was therefore fortunate in two respects. The dispatches recounting the events of the campaign were carried by a shipmate who had (38) appreciated his part in it. And the departure of that same person had left him in command of an armed schooner. Had he wished, he might have returned to the Blonde, and gone to England with his patron, Pownoll. In which case he would have been in London at the beginning of December, and received his commission as soon as he arrived. He received promises of promotion both from Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and from the Commander-in-Chief at New York, Howe; both these dependent on his quitting the lakes service, which was outside the Admiralty jurisdiction. Neither of these reached him until the following spring, but he knew, long before receiving them, that his promotion was decided upon. His deliberately delaying his promotion by remaining on the lakes was due to the following letter which Captain Douglas wrote him soon after seeing Dacres:
Isis, Quebec, Oct. 30, 1776.
Sir - The account I have received of your behaviour on board the Carleton Schooner, in different actions with the Rebels the on the Lakes, gives me the warmest satisfaction, and I shall not fail to represent it in the strongest terms to the Earl of Sandwich and also to my Lord Howe and recommend you as well deserving a Commifsion for your Gallantry; and as Lieutenant James Dacres, your late Commander, will no doubt obtain rank for his conduct when he reaches England, I am desired by General Sir Guy Carleton to give you the Command of the Schooner in which you have so bravely done your duty, as a mark of his approbation.
I am etc etc
Capt. of H.M. Ship Isis
To Mr. Edward
This command with its opportunity for further distinction was more attractive to Pellew than immediate promotion. He decided to remain on the lakes.
As the Blonde was about to sail for England on the 10th of November, and as the vessels on the lakes had no official existence, he was transferred on November 2nd to the Garland, Captain Pearson. Had he really had to serve in that ship his service would have been uneventful enough. For the Garland was a twenty-gun ship which spent the winter on shore in the Cul de Sac, near Quebec, with a house built over its upper deck, and three stoves on board 'to (39) preserve the People from the Inclemency of the Weather.' There she remained until the autumn of 1778. But Pellew's entry on her books was purely nominal. He was probably never on board her. Instead, he was the proud commander of a ship of his own; indeed, he finished his first campaign as a sort of commander-in-chief.
He was not the only man to be rewarded on account of the victory on the lakes. Carleton was made a Knight of the Bath, Pringle was posted, Dacres promoted to the rank of master and commander, while Douglas was given a baronetcy and an 'act of indemnity, too, for any breaches made in the forms of office.' This last was necessary, for Douglas had not only, as he himself put it, 'created and recreated ships and vessels . . . using apart of our guns in them on Lake Champlain, with a great many other eccentric acts', but also offended flag-officers by acting too independently. According to Shuldham, he had been guilty of 'unprecedented and presumptuous behaviour . . . in first making himself a commodore and then disposing of promotions . . . without . . . any power or authority whatever.'
On receiving the news of his victory the Government was in a mood to overlook a multitude of such offences. Nevertheless, some of his appointments were not confirmed. Pellew's would hardly have been among these in any case, but his command was, as we have seen, outside the Admiralty jurisdiction.
It is now necessary to return to the point at which the narrative of the operations on Lake Champlain was broken off, on October 14th. On that day Carleton was with the flotilla off Crown Point and still in doubt as to his immediate plans. The problem confronting him was one of time. He had first to calculate how long it would take to drive the Americans out of Ticonderoga; and then to guess whether the lake would be frozen before he had done it. On the very day of the second action on the lake, the Blonde was nervously dropping downstream towards the sea; and other ships were doing the same. It was impossible to say exactly when the winter would set in. There was no likelihood of a hard frost in October, but there was no chance of the lake remaining open until the end of November. The middle of November was the latest time for operations to cease for the year. By the second week in that month, at latest, the troops would have to be back somewhere near St. John's. If there should be a hard frost while he was still besieging Ticonderoga, Carleton would be almost cut off from (40) supplies, and would have to march about a hundred and fifty miles across the snow before obtaining any.
If Ticonderoga was to be taken that year, the whole operation would have to be finished within four weeks. In that time Carleton would have to sail back to St. John's, embark the troops, guns, and stores, bring them to Crown Point, disembark them, march fifteen miles through the woods, storm a strong fortress, and retire to his starting point. Ticonderoga was a difficult place to take, inaccessible by nature and fortified by Kosciusko. An able and resolute general held it with 9,000 men and a hundred cannon. To take it in a fortnight would be a very creditable feat. Allowing that time for its capture, and allowing a week in which to retreat to St. John's afterwards, there remained a week for bringing up the army to its position before Ticonderoga. Was this time sufficient ?
Pondering this question, Carleton sailed with the flotilla to St. John's. There he found Burgoyne and Phillips with the advance guard of some six thousand bayonets. The rest of the troops were miles in the rear. Some of them, the Germans had only just arrived at the base. At St. John's the generals held a consultation and made their calculations as to time, weather, and supplies. Burgoyne and Phillips were for risking an immediate attack, Carleton against it and with good reason. He overruled his subordinates and decided to go into winter quarters. He was well satisfied with what had been done already. Before finishing operations for the year he proposed to make a demonstration against Ticonderoga, with the object of inducing the. Americans to stay there for the winter. Apart from this, he considered the campaign as finished for the year.
Once this decision had been reached, there was a general exodus among the officers of both services, all anxious to avoid staying in Canada for the winter. Most of the men-of-war had to leave in any case, to avoid being locked up in the St. Lawrence. Within a few days, Douglas announced his intention of returning to England with the Isis. Burgoyne decided to go with him. Pringle went home to get his promotion. Pellew's shipmate Brown, who had lost an arm and was hardly expected to live, was taken home in the Blonde. Pownoll, in sailing on November 10th, was one of the last to go. Indeed, he sailed none too soon. On the 11th there was ice in the river; by the 13th there was 'a great Deal of Ice;' and on the 15th it began to snow.
Meanwhile, during the last days
of October and the first (41)
The object of these operations was, as we have seen, to convince the American general that his fortress was in danger of immediate attack. If Gates could be kept in suspense for a few weeks, his whole force would remain at Ticonderoga until it was too late for it to depart. Otherwise, most of his troops would return to their own country, partly for the same reason why Burgoyne returned to London and Bath, partly to strengthen the armies operating against Howe in the south. Carleton wished to keep them where they would be cold, ill-fed, and useless. It was the object of the Americans, on the other hand, to find out what his real intentions were, and act accordingly.
To accomplish his purpose Carleton sent some battalions to Crown Point by water, in order that the approach of his whole army might be rumoured; and at the same time he sent his flotilla to reconnoitre the narrows at the head of the lake. This last move was intended to heighten the rebels' impression of his activity, while preventing them from discovering how many men there were at Crown Point.
Simultaneously, Arnold set out in a rowing-boat to reconnoitre Crown Point and discover, if he could, the nakedness of the land.
The result was that Arnold very narrowly escaped capture. Pellew, in a similar boat, sighted him and gave chase; but the lake is only about a mile wide above Crown Point, so that Arnold's boat reached the shore just in time to allow him to disappear once more into the woods.
Whether it was that Arnold had already found out what he wanted to know before Pellew sighted him, or whether Gates found out some other way, it is sufficient to state that Carleton's feint failed in its object. Gates decided that he had nothing to fear until the following spring, and accordingly sent most of his troops away. On November 2nd, the two brigades Carleton had brought to Crown Point were withdrawn, and his whole force went into winter quarters, those at St. John's being nearest the enemy. The campaign was over for the year, and Ticonderoga was still in the hands of the Americans. Arnold had won.
At the same time it is clear that Carleton's decision was perfectly sound. It is true that, had the attempt to take Ticonderoga been made that year, it might very well have succeeded. And it is true that, had it succeeded, the disaster (42) at Saratoga would have been averted, and the war accordingly won. But Carleton could not have anticipated all this. He could not foresee the blunder of the following year which resulted in Howe's failing to co-operate with the invasion from Canada. From the data before him he drew the correct conclusion that to attack Ticonderoga at the end of October would be a hazardous undertaking. In differing from him about this, Burgoyne did not show superior wisdom but merely ignorance of the climate. Carleton is not to be blamed for the fact that his wisdom combined with the folly of others to lose the war.
The campaign of 1777 began with Burgoyne's reappearance at Quebec on May 6th, with orders to supersede Carleton in the command of the army to invade the rebellious colonies. As troops were to be left to defend Canada, only 7,000 men could be spared to form Burgoyne's army, apart from auxiliaries which turned out to be useless. This number was sufficient to cope with the rebels provided that another army should be advancing simultaneously up the Hudson. For with that other force moving on Albany from the south while Burgoyne moved on it from the north, the troops which Burgoyne commanded would have to encounter only half the Americans. The other half would be facing the other way. This was the theory of the campaign, and no fault can be found with it. Where the scheme broke down was in one startling feat of incompetence at home, the result of which was that Howe, the general who should have advanced up the Hudson, received no orders to do so. Through his ignorance of the Government's intentions, 14,000 men were removed from the mouth of the Hudson and sent elsewhere at the very time they should have been moving up it. Burgoyne had therefore to confront, not half, but the whole of an immensely superior force. He was speedily surrounded, cut off from supplies and forced to surrender.
The taking of Ticonderoga in 1776 would almost certainly have prevented this disaster. The success of Arnold's flotilla in saving it for that year, combined with the failure to send Howe his orders, had doomed the invasion from Canada before it began. But of this those taking part in it were unaware.
There were heavy rains in that spring of 1777, and the consequent bad condition of the roads delayed the concentration of the army, artillery, and baggage, at the foot of the lake. Once the guns had been dragged from the St.Lawrence to Lake Champlain the transport difficulty disappeared. For there the flotilla, with a host of batteaux, was ready to convey the whole force to its destination. The possession of the lake was not disputed below Ticonderoga, and the new commander of the flotilla, Captain Lutwidge, had only to transport the army to a point near Ticonderoga and then await the result.
By the end of June the concentration had been carried out, and the whole force embarked and taken by water to attack the fortress. There was very little resistance. Gates had kept his main forces farther back, and St. Clair, the officer he had left at Ticonderoga, had only 2,000 soldiers under his command. He was forced to evacuate the place within a week, and at the beginning of July the flotilla was able to demolish the boom which the Americans had built across the narrows, and on which they had expended so much care and material. Booms have never been very effective as obstacles to shipping, and this one gave no trouble to Lutwidge and his sailors. One who witnessed the operation thought that it took about as long as it did to describe it.
Once the boom was demolished the English flotilla went in pursuit of St. Clair and his troops. These had escaped by water in the galleys which the naval campaign of the preceding year had left them, with a host of small craft loaded with cannon and stores. So little time had the boom gained for the rebels that nearly all their stores, a hundred cannon, and two out of their five galleys were taken in the course of this retreat. There was no fighting, but St. Clair's troops succeeded in escaping to Fort Edward, and later from there to Stillwater. All their remaining vessels on the lakes were destroyed. At this point the naval part of the campaign comes to an end. Nothing further was done on the lakes during the rest of the war, the English remaining in possession until 1781.
As it happened, however, Pellew was the only naval officer to see the end of the campaign. Although from the time of Burgoyne's unwise decision to follow the rebels to Fort Edward overland, instead of going by water to Fort George, the sailors, as such, could be of no further use to him, the general wanted a party of them to act as pioneers. Of this party Pellew was given the command. For a young man of twenty he was thus brought into a curiously conspicuous position, as the commander of an independent force and the only naval officer serving with the army. (44) With the details of the fighting which followed, this book is not directly concerned. Pellew was a seaman, and his presence at Saratoga was accidental; one might almost say irrelevant. It is enough for our present purpose to follow the outline of the now inevitable tragedy.
Throughout that summer the English force fought its way southward, its numbers lessening from disease and casualties, the strength of the enemy steadily increasing. As the distance grew between the troops and the waterway by which they had come, the problem of how to feed the army became more and more insoluble. The headwaters of the Hudson were reached by the end of the summer, but there was no news of troops approaching the rendezvous from the south. And now the autumn was approaching, with the rains which would soon make transport still more difficult, the country still more impassable, disease still more prevalent. It was an attempt to solve the difficulty of supplies, by surprising one of the rebels' magazines, that first brought Burgoyne into serious danger. Its failure emboldened the Americans to close round the dwindling army; by September they were working round to the rear of the English to cut off their retreat. It was Pellew who constructed the bridge by which, on September 10th, the army crossed the Hudson to Saratoga, Then, on the 18th, the fatal blow was struck. An American force surprised a part of the flotilla, at the head of Lake George. Communications with Canada were now cut; with that force in his rear, the English general knew that the end would come in a few weeks - perhaps in a few days - unless he could bring the enemy to battle.
But a battle was what the Americans, knowing their advantage, were careful to avoid; and the end would have come even more quickly than it did but for Pellew gaining the last success of the campaign. The enemy had captured a barge on the Hudson carrying the greater part of the remaining supplies. It was Pellew and his seamen who recaptured the vessel. The feat was performed under a heavy fire. In towing the barge out, the tow-rope was cut by a shot; and Pellew swam out with the rope in his mouth to re-fix it. Had there been any possibility of relief within the next few days, this might have been the saving of the army. As it was, disaster was staved off for a while - that was all.
At last, disheartened by heavy rains, destitute of supplies, reduced to some 3,500 effectives Burgoyne's army was entirely surrounded. In the fighting which accompanied (45) the last efforts to prevent this, Pellew's younger brother, John Pellew, an ensign in the army, was killed. He was only seventeen years old when he died. This loss must have made those last sad days doubly sad for Edward Pellew. At the council of war which was presently held he was present as the commander of the naval contingent protesting against the proposed surrender and offering to lead his seamen out of the trap. He was, very properly, overruled. On October 13th, firing ceased, and the remains of a gallant army laid down their arms. 'No more honourable attempt of British officers and men to achieve the impossible is on record.'
Pellew was, of course, included in the capitulation. But it was now that he benefited by his gallant little action of a few days before. For Burgoyne had seen him recapture the barge on the Hudson and took the opportunity of rewarding him for it.
It is oddly characteristic of 'Gentleman Johnny' Burgoyne that he should have found time on the day after the capitulation to thank Pellew by letter for an act which most men would have forgotten at that moment. But John Burgoyne was never so dignified as in this time of his defeat, and the end of what might have been a brilliant career. He was a fine man, and his letter is worth quoting in full:
Camp at Saratoga
14th Oct'r 1777
It was with infinite pleasure that General Phillips and Myself observed the Gallantry and adrefs with which you conducted your attack upon the provision vefsel in the hands of the Enemy. The Courage displayed by your little party, was deserving of the succefs which attended it; and I send you my sincere thanks, together with that of the Army, for the important service you have rendered them upon this occasion, and without which they would have suffered very serious inconvenience.
N.B. This vefsel contained 650 barrels of provisions, which had been taken from the Troops the day before, and was two thirds of the Provisions remaining.
With this letter came a more solid reward. Burgoyne sent him home with dispatches. Indeed, it was the least he (46) deserved. For, as the general probably knew, his promotion had been delayed by his remaining with the army; and would have been delayed indefinitely by his remaining a prisoner.
He set off at once, as he had need to do in order to be able to leave the St. Lawrence that year. He reached Quebec in a fortnight, and sailed for England with Carleton's dispatches as well as Burgoyne's. He was the bearer of evil tidings, both for the Government and for his own family. He also carried a letter of recommendation from Carleton to Lord Sandwich, describing him as 'a young man to whose Gallantry and Merit during two severe Campaigns in this Country, I cannot do justice.' But this testimonial was rather gratifying than necessary. His promotion had been decided upon the year before. As far as his career was concerned, the sole result of the campaign of 1777 was the loss of a year's seniority.
On reaching London, he presented himself for examination at the Admiralty, to find that his examination was to consist in being made to describe the whole of the Saratoga campaign - which he was well qualified to do. His promotion followed; and with the granting of his commission as lieutenant, this, the first phase of his life, may be said to have ended.