"My Dear Children:
There is an event in the history of the American Revolution hitherto little noticed; as yet imperfectly described, and now at this late day almost forgotten; which would deserve and require the talents and genius of a Xenophon, to do real justice. . . ."
Thus wrote John Joseph Henry, rifleman of Captain Matthew Smith's company, concerning Benedict Arnold's expedition to Quebec in 1775. He could not know, dictating these opening lines of his journal to his daughter thirty-five years after the expedition, that one day the exploits of Arnold and his men would be the background of one of the greatest of American historical novels--Keneth Roberts' "Arundel". In "Arundel", Arnold's march to Quebec forms the principle episode of a book alight with the fire and energy of the Revolutionary period, an episode which created such interest in the expedition itself, apart from any fictitious coloring, that Roberts decided to arrange the original diaries and letters of the men who participated in the expedition and present them to the public in order that it might comprehend more fully the true tale of the journey, day by day.
Composed of Journals
So rifleman Henry's wish that Arnold's march be remembered as a stirring feat is realized with the publication of "March to Quebec". The book contains the diaries and journals of officers and common soldiers, including the journal of Henry himself, and the letters of Benedict Arnold which he dispatched during the expedition. There are accounts from members of all four of the division of the army, which followed closely upon each other. Some of the diaries are quite technical, dealing principally with the topography of the land traversed and the nature of river currents, while others are written in a freer and interesting manner.
Roberts has arranged the journals in the order of their historical importance, placing the most valuable ones at the front of the book. The first is the diary of Lieut. John Montresor, a British officer, who scouted the course which Arnold's party took fourteen years later. It is accurate on the whole with regard to details of geography, except for the fateful omission of any mention of the huge swamps around Rush and Spider Lake. Arnold, using this diary as his guidebook, almost lost his entire army in the uncharted bogs.
Arnold Diary Best
Arnold's own diary is printed following Montresor's, and is regarded by Roberts as being the most reliable account of the expedition. It is technical for the most part, confining itself to military details and the geography treated in Montresor's journal. The most readable of all the accounts is that of Henry, although Roberts calls attention to the possibility that Henry's account was written a long tome after the expedition, and is consequently less reliable.
Henry not only notes down the character of the country through which the expedition passed, but he also writes of the varied experiences, some tragic, some humorous, which he and his follows had upon the journey. He speaks of how they laughed each time a comrade would miss his footing in the Spider Lake bogs and sink to his waist, and a little later he tells how, after having carefully scraped all the dirt from them, they boiled moccasins in the hope that they would turn into some edible "oleaginous substance."
To those interested in American history, Roberts has rendered good service. He has brought before us the sufferings, the unconquerable energy and optimism of the men who fought our Revolution. The March to Quebec in itself was memorable, but the spirit of the men who wandered, stumbled, and always rose to continue is preserved in these edited first-hand accounts.