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Towards the end of May, large reinforcements arrived from England and Ireland, so that the British army in Canada amounted to about thirteen thousand 'men. The general rendezvous appointed for these Troops was at the Three Rivers,.. a long village about midway between Quebec and Montreal, which receives its name from its contiguity to a river that empties itself, by three mouths, into the St. Lawrence. The arny was greatly divided. A considerable body had reached the Three Rivers, and was stationed there under the command of General Frazer: another under General Nesbit lay near them on board the transports : a greater than either, with the Generals Carleton, Bourgoyne, Philips, and the German General Reidesel, was on its way from Quebec.
The distance from the Sorel was about fifty miles, and several armed vessels and transports full of troops, which had gotten about five miles higher up than the Three Rivers, lay full in the way.
General Thompson, who had commanded the army after the illness of General Thomas, understanding the party at the Three Rivers to consist of about eight hundred men, partly Canadians, under MLean, had detached Colonel St. Clair, with between six and seven hundred men, to attack his canıp, if it should appear practicable to do so with any probability of success. Colonel St. Clair ailvanced to Nicolet, where, believing himself not VOL. II.
strong enough for the service on which he had been ordered, he waited till he should receive further reinforcements, or additional instructions. At this time General Sullivan came up, and un
derstanding the enemy to be very weak at the · Three Rivers, ordered General Thompson to join
Colonel St. Clair at Nicolet, with a reinforcement of between thirteen and fourteen hundred men, and to take command of the whole detachment, which would then amount to about two thousand. With this detachment, General Thompson was to attack the enemy at Three Rivers, provided there was a favourable prospect of success.
General Thompson embarked in boats provided for the purpose, and coasting the south side of what is called the lake St. Peter, where the St. Lawrence spreads to a great extent, arrived at Nicolet, where he joined Colonel St. Clair. Believing himself strong enough to execute the service consigned to him, as his intelligence respecting the enemy was contradictory, making them from five to fifteen hundred, he fell down the river by night, and passed to the other side, with an intention of surprising the forces under General Frazer. The plan was to attack the village a little before break of day, at the same instant, by a strong detachment at each end, whilst two smaller corps were drawn up to cover and support them. Though this plan was well laid, and consider
able resolution was discovered in its execution, the concurrence of too many circumstances was necessary to give it success. It is probable that so hazardous an attempt would not have been made, but for a resolution of Congress, stating the absolute necessity of keeping possession of that country, and their expectation that the force in that department would contest every foot of ground with the enemy. The troops passed the armed vessels without being perceived, but arrived at the Three Rivers about an hour later than had been intended ; in consequence of which, they were discovered, and the alarm given at their landing. They were fired on by the ships in the river ; to avoid which, they attempted to pass through what appeared to be a point of woods, but was in reality a deep morass three miles in extent. They were detained some time in these bad grounds, and thrown into considerable confusion. These delays gave General Frazer full time to land some field pieces, and prepare completely for their reception, while General Nesbit fell in their rear, and entirely cut off their return to the boats. They advanced to the charge, but were soon repulsed; and finding it impracticable to return the way they came, were driven some miles through a deep swamp, which they traversed with inconceivable toil, and every degree of distress. The Britisli at length gave over the pursuit. FF 2
In this unfortunate enterprise, General Thompson and Colonel Irwin, second in command, with about two hundred men, were made prisoners; and from twenty to thirty were killed. The loss of the enemy was extremely inconsiderable *.
The whole military force in Canada now amounted to about eight thousand men; but of this, not one half were fit for duty. The rest were in hospitals, principally under the small pox. About two thousand 'five hundred effectives were with General Sullivan at the Sorel. The whole were in a state of total insubordination, much harassed with fatigue, and dispirited by their late losses, by the visible superiority of the enemy, and by the apprehension that their retreat would be entirely cut off. Under all these discouraging circumstances, General Sullivan formed the rash determination of defending the post at Sorel; and was only induced by the unanimous opinion of his officers, and a conviction that the troops would not support him, to abandon it a few hours before the enemy took possession of it. The same causes drew him reluctantly from Chamblee and St. John's; but he resolved to remain at the Isle Aux Noix till he should receive orders to retreat. He had been joined at St. John's by General Arnold, who had crossed over at Longueille just in time to
* Annual Reg. and MSS.
save the garrison of Montreal from falling into the hands of the enemy.
The Isle Aux Noix is a low unhealthy place, badly supplied with water, where the troops were so universally seized with fevers, as to compel General Sullivan to retire to the Isle La Motte, where he received the orders of General Schuyler to embark on the lakes for Crown Point.
The armed vessels on the Sorel and St. Lawrence were destroyed, and the fortifications of Chamblee and St. John's set on fire. All the baggage of the army, and nearly all the military stores, were saved.
The British army, during this whole retreat, had followed close in the rear, and taken possession of the different posts the Americans had occupied, immediately after they were evacuated.
On the Sorel the pursuit stopped. The Americans had the command of the lake, and the British General deemed it prudent to wrest it from them before he advanced further. To effect this, it was necessary to construct a number of vessels, which required time and labour. Meanwhile General Gates was ordered to take the command of this army, which was directed to be reinforced with six thousand militia. Of these, three thousand were to be furnished by Massachussetts, fifteen hundred by Connecticut, seven hundred and fifty by New Hampshire, and the same number by New York F F 3