Continental Soldier Caleb Haskell Gets Ready To March Home From Quebec

Continental soldier Caleb Haskell spent six miserable months marching to Quebec as part of Benedict Arnold’s ill-fated expedition, and by the spring of 1776 he was ready to go home.

Detail of 1795 map overlaid with Arnold's expedition route. A Cambridge; B Newburyport; C Fort Western; D Fort Halifax; E Great Carrying Place; F Height of Land; G Lake Megantic. Courtesy Boston Public Library.

Detail of 1795 map overlaid with Arnold’s expedition route. A Cambridge; B Newburyport; C Fort Western; D Fort Halifax; E Great Carrying Place; F Height of Land; G Lake Megantic. Courtesy Boston Public Library.

Arnold, always in search of glory, persuaded George Washington that the British would use Quebec to launch military operations against the Americans. Arnold had done business in the region and believed Quebec was lightly defended.

Continental Soldier Caleb Haskell

Caleb Haskell enlisted in the Continental Army Newburyport on May 5, 1775. He participated in the Siege of Boston until September, when he signed up for Arnold’s expedition. Arnold badly miscalculated the hardship his men would suffer on the march, which was twice as long as he planned. The men endured grueling portages up the Kennebec River. The boats leaked, ruining precious gunpowder and food supplies.

Haskell missed the actual assault on the fortified city as he was recovering from the smallpox that swept through the troops. He endured months of anxiety and hardship during the siege that followed. In his diary, he wrote:

February 28th, Wednesday. — Continues rainy; the going is exceeding bad.

March 1st, Friday.–Extremely cold. In the afternoon we had a number of shot fired at our guard house, but did no damage.

March 6th, Wednesday.–We had some rain this morning, but cold. We received our pay of Captain Smith for one month.

On March 14, Arnold tried to negotiate with the British, sending a flag into the city. “The enemy would take no letters from him, and ordered him back again, or they would fire on him immediately,” wrote Haskell.

Two days later, the men began preparing for another attack on the city, collecting material for fascines and batteries – as soon as the weather let up. Troops from all over began to arrive.

Sunday, March 17, was St. Patrick’s Day, and the Haskell joined other curious Protestant soldiers to go to a Catholic Mass.

As the weather cleared toward the end of March, fighting began again. Wrote Haskell:

April 3rd, Wednesday.–This morning we opened our battery at Point Levi; there was a hot cannonading on both sides all day; we received no damage; we had some rain in the evening; the snow is now five feet deep on a level.

On April 15, enlistments were up for Caleb Haskell and the other New England soldiers. “We intend to set out for New England soon,” he said. But on April 17, ‘the general desires we would stay a few more days in camp.’

They agreed, and a few days stretched into three weeks. At least they got paid. On April 20, Caleb Haskell received four pounds from Capt. Smith. That day,

…the enemy began a brisk fire upon our guard house at the ferry at different parts of the city; damaged the house much; drove us out of it into the battery but hurt no man.

On Sunday, April 28, Caleb Haskell wrote,

Fine pleasant weather; a number of troops arrived in camp from New England; we have a steady cannonading on both sides today.

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