Extract of a Letter from Crown Point: Account of the retreat of the Army from Sorel

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EXTRACT OF A LETTER DATED CROWN-POINT, JULY 3, 1776.

I wrote you last from the Sorel, immediately after the action of the 8th ultimo, near Trois Rivieres. I gave you a just account of it in my letter. We lost in the whole about two hundred and forty, amongst whom were Colonel Irvine and Lieutenant Eddie, of our regiment. We were a third part of the force in the engagement, and lost about a third of the men. The badness of the ground, great fatigue, and mistake of the way, prevented us from getting to the town at daybreak, otherwise we should have made one of the boldest attacks that late years have produced. The enemy, it is true, were treble our number; but we, being favoured with the surprise, and they unacquainted with our force, should have been very near carrying the place, or making an honourable exit, for it would have been conquer or die. Fate, however, determined otherwise. Our loss was considerable, and that of the enemy equal, if not greater. Something must have prevented them from acting with vigour, for had we been in their situation — possessing their advantages of artillery and shipping — we could have beat four times our number. We thought it prudent to retreat, in order to secure our boats, as we had no prospect of carrying the place, and made, I think, a good one, considering all things.

Just as I closed my last letter to you we heard the enemy' s cannon, and expected an attack at the Sorel; we prepared ourselves to receive them, but they did not approach that day. We had certain information that between five and ten thousand had arrived in Canada; that the greater part were in a few leagues of us; and that the Indians and Canadians, with some Regulars from near the Cedars, were preparing with a large body to take possession of a narrow part of the Lake, on this side St˙ Johns, and cut off our supplies of provisions and stores, while another part gets up the river St˙ Lawrence, and takes possession of Chambly. We had not above three thousand troops in Canada that were fit for duty, and a number equal to them were sick with the small-pox and other disorders, who, consuming the same quantity of provisions as the healthy, were a burden to us. We had

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many places to hold. The enemy' s shipping were masters of the St˙ Lawrence, and riding triumphant wherever they pleased. Above Deschambault there is no place that can be so fortified as to prevent vessels from passing. At several places between Chambly and the mouth of the Sorel the river St˙ Lawrence runs within a league, the mouth of which last river if the enemy once possessed, (which would have been done on the north side without coming near our batteries,) our retreat would be effectually cut off; and in case they should make any attempt that way, we had no prospect of a reinforcement to enable us to keep possession of Canada. In short, as we saw it was impossible, whilst the enemy commanded the waters of the St˙ Lawrence, it was agreed in Council that this place, being of the greatest consequence, ought to be fortified and secured, and we should immediately leave Canada and come here.

The troops were ordered from Montreal and other parts of the country to St˙ Johns. A sickly Army, and a large quantity of baggage and stores were to be conveyed away. In a few days, with great trouble and fatigue, we arrived at St˙ Johns, expecting every moment to meet the enemy. Part of our Army (the sick, amounting to upwards of three thousand) we sent off for Crown Point; with the rest we came to the Isle-aux-Noix, perhaps the most sickly spot in the world, where we waited for the return of the boats. The enemy came to the Sorel the night after we left it; and supposing us to be there, fired several shot against our works. They also got up to Montreal just after our men had left it.

On the 21st ultimo we met with a very great loss in our regiment. Captains McClane, Adams, and Rippie, Lieutenants McFerran, McCallister, and Hogg, and Ensigns Lusk and Culbertson, with four privates, went over from the Isle-aux-Noix to the western shore of the Lake, about a mile from the camp, but within sight, to fish and divert themselves. Captain McClane prudently proposed to carry arms, but was unfortunately overruled. Some Indians observed their motions, and while they were at a house drinking some spruce-beer, the savages surrounded them, killed Captain Adams, Ensign Culbertson, and two privates, whom they scalped in the most inhuman and barbarous manner, and carried off prisoners Captain McClane, Lieutenants Ferran, McCallister, and Hogg, and the other two privates; but a party coming to their relief from the camp, Captain Rippie and Ensign Lusk made their escape. The prisoners were doubtless carried directly to the Regulars at Montreal. We expect they will be exchanged in a short time. Some more of our people, I believe about six, were killed and scalped by the Indians the same day, about six miles above the Island, by the treachery of a Scotchman of the name of McDonald. However, our vigilance and attention have been such that nothing of the kind has since happened.

The enemy considering us intimidated, and apprehending we would not fight, sent several Indians and Canadians to line the waters and observe our motions. Colonels Wayne and Hartley having information that some persons were seen at the place where Captain Adams was killed, took a party over in the evening; when they saw a man on the top of the house looking at them, upon which they pushed forward through a swamp, found fresh tracks, saw Indian wigwams and fires; they pursued them for some distance, and took a fine horse and saddle, which some regular officer had been riding, but night prevented their overtaking the enemy. It was proposed that a party of one thousand men should go from the Isle-aux-Noix, by land, to the Isle-la-Motte, whilst the rest went in batteaus. Colonel Hartley was of the party, with two hundred and fifty Riflemen out of his regiment. They scoured the country, traversed disagreeable swamps, and destroyed the house, mills, &c˙, of the traitor McDonald before mentioned, who had fled the morning before they got to his house. Near the house, finding fresh tracks and fires, they renewed their pursuit, but could not overtake the enemy.