Saturday, December 4, 2010

Descriptions of the Battle of Longue-Pointe

On September 25, 1775, Colonel Ethan Allen made a mad dash at the city of Montréal that ended in disaster. Allen’s defeat is one of the more obscure episodes of the American Revolution, but it has captured the imagination of a number of Revolutionary War enthusiasts. Below is a portion of H. Charles McBarron’s painting of Allen’s defeat. Grizzled American woodsmen try to hold off a torrent of redcoats any way they can. Allen (at left), has a look of preternatural calm on his face, as he prepares to swing his musket down on some poor soldier’s head. In the background looms Montréal – the great unattainable prize.

Part of McBarron painting of Allen's defeat at Longue-Pointe (click to enlarge).

While McBarron’s painterly talents are praiseworthy (it is his painting of Washington at Monmouth that currently serves as my website banner), this is far from an accurate rendering of Allen’s defeat. Below are excerpts from a number of accounts of the battle. Among other things, they place Allen’s defeat further from the city, they indicate that most of the combatants were Canadians (not redcoats or woodsmen), and they indicate that the fighting, while desperate, did not become a melee.

It is largely on the basis of the following accounts that I will provide a relatively accurate description of Allen’s defeat (what is frequently referred to as the Battle of Longue-Pointe) in an upcoming post.

Letter from James Livingston to Richard Montgomery, dated September 27, 1775:

“Colonel Allen crossed over from Longeuil the day before yesterday, to attack the Town, with a party of his men and Canadians. General Prescott, hearing of his coming, engaged a number of people from the suburbs, at a half joe per man, to go out against Allen. They met near a league from town, when a smart engagement ensued, which lasted upwards of two hours. They had two field-pieces, and our party, after a long engagement, were obliged to retire, though the enemy, by all accounts, came off second best. I have sent off Mr. O' Hara, express, to Longeuil, to learn the true state of this battle. The Canadians that have returned to me, from the battle, agree, in general, that Mr. Allen is either dead or taken prisoner. This, if true, is a blow upon us. To-morrow we propose to have a consultation at Longeuil. Our greatest misfortune is the want of ammunition. Mr. Allen should never have attempted to attack the Town without my knowledge, or acquainting me of his design, as I had it in my power to furnish him with a number of men…”

Anonymous letter dated September 28, 1775, and subsequently published in the Quebec Gazette:

“On the 25th in the morning we were informed that Ethan Allen, with a party of Rebels and a number of Canadians were landed on this side of Long-Point, with an intention to march up and attack the town. We lost no time, but sent out to meet them 34 soldiers, 80 English volunteers, and 120 Canadian townsmen. We met them within three miles or less of the town, where they had taken shelter behind a barn, trees, and a natural breast-work which the banks of the little river Truteau afforded them. Our advanced party fired at two or three whom they saw: we never saw above that number at a time untill they took to their heels, which they did in a short while after our general fire began. A party of ours pursu'd them and took Ethan Allen their commander, 17 Yankeys, and 16 Canadians, prisoners. We march'd back to town destroying every boat and canoe we could find. I know not how many there was of the enemy; I think I saw about 100, most of them scamper'd towards the Wood. We killed five of them and wounded ten. On our side we lost Major CARDEN, had one soldier killed and one man shot through the thigh; Mr. Beaubassin was slightly wounded, and Mr. Alexander Paterson shot through the body as he boldly advanced towards the Rebels; his Spirit and activity can never be enough commended; we hope our brave friend will soon recover. This party was to have had thirty coppers a day, and the town of Montreal for plunder, but if they get it, they'll pay dear for it.”

Guy Johnson to William Legge, letter dated October 12, 1775:

“Allen their most daring Partizan advanced with a body of about 140 Rebels very near Montreal which was thrown into the utmost confusion, a body consisting of some Regulars, Volunteers and 32 officers and men of my Department with a few Indians marched to oppose them on the 25th of Sept. and engaged them within less than three miles of the Gates where the Rebels were defeated and Col. Allen being vigorously pressed by those of my Corps surrendered to Mr. Johnson one of my Officers.”

Account by “Nauticus,” published in the Quebec Gazette and dated October 19, 1775:

“On Monday the 25th of September, from day light till 9 o'Clock, were discovered several canoes passing and repassing, 'twixt Longueuil and the Island of Montreal; and on enquiry were found to be a party of Yankey Rebels, and Canadians, (who had join'd them from Chambly River) commanded by Ethan Allen, with intention (as they themselves confest afterwards) to invest and plunder the city of Montreal; which greatly alarmed the inhabitants, and occasioned the drum beating to arms. Immediately the Citizens in general both French and English, by His Excellency the Governor's direction assembled on the parade, and from thence part of them marched to the barracks, and after a short parley about eighty of the English Citizens and one hundred and twenty French, joined Major Campbell and Captain Crawford, with Ensign Campbell and a detachment of about thirty men of the 26th Regiment twenty of Colonel Guy Johnson's Indian department, with 6 or 8 Savages. The Troops Led the van, and the Citizens eagerly followed, and marched down the road to Long-point, destroying every canoe and water carriage as they went along for fear the Vilains, should escape, soon after an advanced party about ten in number fell in with the enemy, and found them lodged in houses, barns, behind trees, and in a natural breast-work formed by the banks of the little river Truteau, where they sustained a heavy fire for a few minutes before the main-body got up. Then the general fire began on both sides and continued about fifteen minutes, when the Rebels gall'd by a constant and steady platoon fire from the Regulars (who were within sixty yards of them, covered by the gable end of a house) and finding they were surrounded by a flanking party of our Volunteers, some of them gained way and the rest followed, and Allen, with thirty-five prisoners were taken. The loss of our side was Major CARDEN, a brave Officer, who tho' extremely corpulent was one of the first in the field, and unfortunately received a wound of which he expired in 8 hours after, one volunteer shot; a soldier of the 26th Regiment since dead of his wounds. Mr. Alexander Paterson shot thro' the body as he boldly advanced towards the Rebels, this GENTLEMAN'S conduct and courage is worthy of imitation he is now in a fair way of recovery. The Rebels had five killed on the field and ten wounded, two of which are since dead. In this party there were about one hundred and fifty who came to a general Skirmish. Several of the Citizens both French and English distinguished themselves on this occasion; but we cannot help recommending the behaviour of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Butler of the Indian department, who with about six or seven volunteers and one savage were the first up with ALLEN'S party, who being about sixteen in number, threw down their Arms and surrendered, when Allen immediately delivered his sword to Mr. Johnson.”

Guy Carleton to William Legge, letter dated October 25, 1775:

“The next morning it was rumoured the rebels had crossed the river in the night and were posted about three miles below the town. This was soon confirmed, the drums beat the alarm, all the old gentlemen and better sort of citizens, English and Canadian, turned out under arms; some of the lower classes followed their example; they were ordered to join the troops at the barracks and from thence to the further end of the Quebec suburbs. Captain Crauford with thirty soldiers marched first; a few, mostly colonists, then stepped forward and turned off the contrary way; the rest, with some officers who have retired or are on the staff and a few Indians, followed the troops very gallantly and hurried them forward without further command and without much order. They soon came up to the rebels’ post and in a little time put them to the rout. These were about one hundred and fifty in number, two-thirds Canadians: they say they expected all in the suburbs, some in the town, and many from the neighboring parishes, would have joined them and that they were to march in without opposition. Ethan Allen, their chief, and about thirty-five men were taken prisoners, five of these wounded. Major Carden, who was our senior officer in the action and very capable of conducting an affair of this sort, was mortally wounded; Mr. A. Patterson, an English merchant, received a bad wound but is likely to recover; three or four soldiers and discharged soldiers killed or wounded. This for a time gave a favourable turn to the minds of the people; some of the parishes now began to send in their quotas from the militia.”

Selection from Ethan Allen’s memoir:

“The town of Montreal was in a great tumult. General Carleton and the royal party, made every preparation to go on board their vessels of force, as I was afterwards informed, but the spy escaped from my guard to the town, occasioned an alteration in their policy, and emboldened Gen Carleton to send the force which he had there collected, out against me. I had previously chosen my ground, but when I saw the number of the enemy as they sallied out of the town, I perceived it would be a day of trouble, if not of rebuke; but I had no chance to flee, as Montreal was situated on an island, and the St Lawrance cut off my communication to General Montgomery's camp. I encouraged my soldiery to bravely defend themselves, that we should soon have help, and that we should be able to keep the ground, if no more. This, and much more, I affirmed with the greatest seeming assurance, and which in reality I thought to be in some degree probable.

“The enemy consisted of not more than forty regular troops, together with a mixed multitude, chiefly Canadians, with a number of English who lived in town, and some Indians; in all to the number of near five hundred.

“The reader will notice that most of my party were Canadians; indeed it was a motley parcel of soldiery which composed both parties. However, the enemy began to attack from wood-piles, ditches, buildings, and such like places, at a considerable distance and I returned the fire from a situation more than equally advantageous. The attack began between two and three o clock in the afternoon, just before which I ordered a volunteer by the name of Richard Young, with a detachment of nine men as a flank guard, which, under the cover of the bank of the river, could not only annoy the enemy, but at the same time, serve as a flank guard to the left of the main body.

“The fire continued for sometime on both sides; and I was confident that such a remote method of attack could not carry the ground provided it should be continued till night: but near half the body of the enemy began to flank round to my right; upon which I ordered a volunteer, by the name of John Dugan, who had lived many years in Canada, and understood the French language, to detach about fifty of the Canadians, and post himself at an advantageous ditch, which was on my right, to prevent my being surrounded. He advanced with the detachment, but instead of occupying the post, made his escape, as did likewise Mr Young upon the left, with their detachments. I soon perceived that the enemy was in possession of the ground, which Dugan should have occupied. At this time I had but about forty five men with me; some of whom were wounded; the enemy kept closing round me, nor was it in my power to prevent it; by which means, my situation, which was advantageous in the first part of the attack, ceased to be so in the last; and being almost entirely surrounded with such vast, unequal numbers, I ordered a retreat, but found that those of the enemy, who were of the country, and their Indians, could run as fast as my men, though the regulars could not. Thus I retreated near a mile, and some of the enemy, with the savages, kept flanking me, and others crowded hard in the rear. In fine, I expected, in a very short time to try the world of spirits; for I was apprehensive that no quarter would be given to me, and therefore had determined to sell my life as dear as I could. One of the enemy's officers, boldly pressing in the rear, discharged his fusee at me; the ball whistled near me, as did many others that day. I returned the salute, and missed him, as running had put us both out of breath; for I conclude we were not frightened: I then saluted him with my tongue in a harsh manner, and told him that, inasmuch as his numbers, were so far superior to mine, I would surrender provided I could be treated with honor, and be assured of good quarter for myself and the men who were with me; and he answered I should; another officer, coming up directly after, confirmed the treaty; upon which I agreed to surrender with my party, which then consisted of thirty one effective men, and seven wounded. I ordered them to ground their arms, which they did.


“The action continued an hour and three quarters by the watch, and I know not to this day how many of my men were killed, though I am certain there were but few. If I remember right, 7 were wounded; one of them, Wm. Stewart, by name, was wounded by a savage with a tomahawk, after he was taken prisoner and disarmed, but was rescued by some of the generous enemy; and so far recovered of his wounds, that he afterwards went with the other prisoners to England.

“Of the enemy, were killed a major Carden, who had been wounded in eleven different battles, and an eminent merchant, Patterson, of Montreal, and some others, but I never knew their whole loss, as their accounts were different. I am apprehensive that it is rare, that so much ammunition was expended, and so little execution done by it; though such of my party as stood the ground, behaved with great fortitude, much exceeding that of the enemy, but were not the best of marksmen, and I am apprehensive, were all killed or taken...”

Selection from the memoir of Simon Sanguinet, resident of Montréal:

“Nous étions dans cette situation au 24 Septembre 1775, quand Allein—un chef des Bastonnois — avec environ cent cinquante hommes du camp de la Pointe-Olivier—traversèrent de Longueuil au Courant Ste. Marie près Montréal à dix heures du soir—Il se logea chez plusieurs habitants, — Dans la nuit Allein, Loizeau et Dugand, vinrent dans plusieurs maisons du faubourg de Québec —particulièrement chez Jacques Roussain qui étoit passage de la ville à Longueuil—qui leur prêta des canots pour leur aider à traverser une partie des Bastonnois qui étoient encore au fort de Longueuil,—Il fut même les voir à Ste. Marie avec sept ou huit autres. Le Général Guy Carleton—ainsy que les citoyens de la ville—ignoroit queles Bastonnois fussent si près de la ville, jusqu'au vingt-cinq, à neuf heures du matin, qu’un nommé Deshotel, qui alloit à sa terre à la distance d’une lieue plus bas que Montréal, qui vit les Bastonnois dans plusieurs maisons, alors il revint aussitôt par les champs pour averter la ville, Dans l’instant l’on ferma les portes et l’on fit batter la générale—Aussitôt les citoyens canadiens at anglois de la ville se rendirent dans le Champ-de-Mars avec leurs armes, et de là à cour des casernes pour prendre des balles at de la poudre pour aller repousser l’ennemi. Cette demarche se fit d’eux mêmes—sans avoir reçu d’ordre, ny meme de permission du Général,—Pendant ce temps l’on vit plusieurs personnes—et surtout le Colonel Jamson, Surintendant des Sauvages, Clause et toutes les femmes et enfants des officiers qui—avec leur baggage—s’embarquèrent dans les navires qui étoient mouillés devant la ville.

“Les citoyens sortirent de Montréal au nombre d’environ trois cents canadiens et trente marchands anglois. Le reste des marchands anglois ne voulurent point y aller. C’est là où on reconnut le plus ouvertement les traìtres,—Il sortit aussitôt de la ville environ trente hommes de troupes. Les Bastonnois se replièrent dans une maison et une grange, et commencèrent à tirer. Le feu fut vif de part et d’autre. Des Canadiens cernèrent les Bastonnois du côté du bois, et leur coupèrent chemin,—Il fut fait prisonniers dans cette action environ trente-six bastionnois avec Allein qui étoit leur chef—Il y en eut plusieurs de blessés et tués et le reste prit la fuite—Nous eûmes le Major Carden—qui fut blessé—et le Sr Alexandre Paterson, marchand de distinction qui sont morts de leurs blessures—un soldat et un ouvrier tués et un manchonnier blessé,—Pendant le combat, le Général Guy Carleton et le Brigadier Prescot restèrent dans la cour des casernes avec environ quatre-vingt et quelques soldats, lesquels avoient leurs havresacs sur le dos et leur armes—prêts à s’embarquer dans le navires—si les citoyens de la ville etoient repoussés,—mais tout le contraire heureusement arriva—car ils revinrent victorieux avec leurs prisonniers que l’on mit à bord des navires,—Sitôt leur retour, les citoyens proposèrent au Général que s’il vouloit, il partiroit quatre-vingts ou cent citoyens à cheval et en calèche pour poursuivre les fuyards bastonnois, mais il les refusa. Cependant il étoit facile de tous les prendre, car une partie s’étoit sauvée à la coste St. Léonard et dans les bois,—Ils n’étoit question que d'aller s'emparer des canots qui étoient le long de la Longue-Pointe et de la Pointe-aux-Trembles, par ce moyen ils n'auroient pas pu traverser du côté du sud, ce qu'ils firent pendant la nuit suivante, mais non pas sans crainte.”


  1. You have not earned the right to critique H. Charles McBarron.

    You are nothing but a cut and paste hack.

    In addition, your painted toy soldiers look like a bad comic strip.

    Screw you.

    -James Wagner

  2. You clearly did not read very much of what I've written, which is a shame. I've long admired McBarron, and very little of what appears on this site is copy-and-paste material. But you're quite right that I'm no artist. Painting miniatures is but a hobby for me, an enjoyable way to unwind at the end of a long day.