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By a strange reverse of fortune we are driven to the sad necessity of abandoning Canada. I had the most sanguine hopes of collecting our army together, and driving the enemy below Dechambeau, in which I doubt not I should have succeeded, had not Burgoyne, with a strong party, arrived in Canada, and readied the Three Rivers the night before our people made the unfortunate attack upon that place under General Thompson. The particulars of this engagement I have not before had in my power to give you. I find our loss to amount to about a hundred and fifty. Colonel Wayne sustained the greatest, as his men began the attack, and behaved with great bravery, as did the Colonel himself. In short, all the officers behaved with great spirit, except some few of low rank ; and had not the number of the enemy been so superior, I doubt not the point Avould have been carried, in which case I should have pushed for Dechambeau, which, if secured, would have given us the command of the country. But this defeat convinced us that we came too late for the important purpose.
I was determined, however, to hold Sorel, as it seemed the pleasure of Congress. But, after taking unwearied pains to fortify that post, and to collect the main body of the army to defend it, I found but twenty-five hundred at that place, and about a thousand more at the other garrisons, most of the latter being under inoculation, and those regiments, which had not the smallpox, expecting every day to be taken down with it. At the same time the British Heel, to the amount of thirty-six sail, had advanced into the Lake near us, and sixty-six lay at Three Elvers. The encampment of the enemy was, to appearance, very large, and every account proved their number to be exceedingly superior to ours. The Canadians, too, as far as the enemy advanced, were obliged to take arms or be destroyed. In this state of affairs I was much embarrassed, yet was determined to hold my ground at all hazards.
But, to my great mortification, I found myself at the head of a dispirited army, iilled with horror at the thought of seeing their enemy. Indeed, I was much surprised to see the scattered remains of this army, when I had them collected together. The smallpox, famine, and disorder, had rendered them almost lifeless. The flight from before Quebec, the fate of those at the Cedars, and the total loss of Sherburne's party, had, be fore my arrival with my brigade, destroyed all spirit among these troops ; but, upon our arrival, their spirit seemed to return. But, when they found this party defeated, and the number of the enemy increasing, I found a great panic again taking place among both officers and soldiers. I had no less, I believe, than forty officers, who begged leave to resign their commissions upon the most trivial pretences, and this even Extended to Field-Officer?. The prevailing opinion was, that the enemy, instead of attacking our works, would get round us, and cut off our communication with the upper country, and destroy our retreat. This, indeed, they had completely in their power, as we had not force to dislodge them. I soon found, that how ever strongly I might fortify Sorel, my men would in general leave me upon appearance of the enemy.
In this state of affairs I called a Council of all the Field-Officers, with the Baron de Woedtke, and they were almost unanimously for quitting the ground. General Arnold was not present, but his opinion you have, as well as that of Colonel Hazen and Colonel Antill, in the inclosed letters. I then immediately decamped, taking with us every article, teven to a spade. The enemy, having a fair wind, was at our works in an hour after we left them. Our guards at Bertier, not coming in at the time they were ordered, were met by the enemy, forced to leave nine bateaux, and take to Chamblee by land. This was all the loss we sustained. We retreated as far as Chamblee. This post not being tenable, we removed our bateaux over the rapids, with all the baggage and stores, except three pieces of cannon, which were too heavy to bring over the rapids, and indeed they were but bad pieces of ordnance at best. I then proceeded to St. John s, where every thing arrived in safety. We burnt the garrison at Chamblee, with the gondolas and vessels there, leaving nothing but ruin behind us in the fort. We pulled up all the bridges in our way to St. John s. General Arnold did the same in the other road from Montreal, from which place he made a very prudent and judicious retreat, with an enemy close at his heels.
When we got to St. John s, another Council was held, where it was unanimously agreed, that to attempt holding St. John's would be to expose the whole army to inevitable ruin, as our communication might be easily cut off, and the whole army fall a sacrifice. Previous to this, I received the resolves of Congress for six thousand militia, which I laid before the Council. They were all of opinion, that this would rather weaken than strength en our army, and further, that they could not possibly arrive in season to save us from a powerful army close at our heels. They were fully of opinion that, in the present unhealthy state of the army, it would be best to move to Crown Point, fortify that post, and build armed vessels to secure the navigation of the Lake. Upon this we immediately stripped the garrison of every article, took our bateaux, and retreated to this island. Further than this I could not go, without your or General Washington's orders, or the directions of Congress. I therefore send on the sick, the looks and numbers of which will present you with the most dismal spectacle ever furnished from one army in this quarter of the globe. I have sent on General Arnold to give direction. at Crown Point, and receive your orders. The men, who are fit for duty, I shall retain here, ready to execute any orders you will please to communicate.
Thus, dear General, I have given you an imperfect account of my unfortunate campaign. Claiming no merit, except in making a safe and regular retreat, and although driven to it by inevitable necessity (as the Grand Post was lost before my arrival, and put beyond my power to regain), and although it was before an army much more powerful than mine, yet I am sufficiently mortified, and sincerely wish I had never seen this fatal country, unless I had arrived in season to have done some good to my country, and answered the expectations of Congress. Dear General, believe me to be, with the greatest respect,
Your most obedient servant,
- John Sullivan
- Correspondence of the American Revolution; Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, Volume I., Jared Sparks, 1853