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Monadnock Moment No. 200
Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation -1763 to 1820
On November 1, 1775, Ebenezer Tolman of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire found himself deep in the frozen wilderness of northern Maine. Seven weeks earlier he had marched from Cambridge, Massachusetts with 1,100 other Colonial soldiers under the command of Benedict Arnold with orders from General Washington to march north in an attempt to capture Quebec from the British.
On the evening of November 1st Tolman wrote in his journal: "This morning started very early and hungry and little satisfied with our night's rest. Traveled all day very briskly, and at night encamped in a miserable situation. Here we killed a dog and we made a very great feast without either bread or salt, we having been 4 or 5 days without provisions..." The surviving troops were in a desperate situation without food in freezing weather and still 70 miles from inhabited settlements.
Soldier and historian Simon G. Griffin described Arnold's expedition as the "greatest adventure of the whole Revolutionary War." Thirteen Cheshire County men took part in this legendary march through the wilderness. The purpose of Arnold's expedition was to surprise the British forces at Quebec and capture the city, thereby convincing Canada to join the Revolutionary cause.
Tolman recorded in his journal that his battalion left Cambridge on September 13th, sailed to Maine, and plunged into the wilderness on September 25th. The men were wet much of the day and their clothes froze stiff at night. Rain began to fall and continued day after day. Many of the provisions were spoiled and the ground became a stew of black mud. Then snow began to fall. Many men became sick and were sent back the way they had come.
By the end of October their provisions were gone. The men dug roots from the frozen dirt and hoped to find wildlife to eat. More men weakened, became sick, and could not continue. There was nothing to be done for them and about 100 were left by the trail in a few days time. The soldiers stumbled up and down the hills. They began to eat their leather moccasins and breeches. Tolman wrote that they "staggered about like drunken men." Finally, just as survival seemed impossible, men from the front of the column came back toward them leading cattle and carrying provisions from the nearest settlements in Quebec.
Only 510 of the 1,100 men who began the march arrived at Quebec. They were emaciated, many almost naked, and they had little ammunition, but were determined to continue their mission. The troops laid siege to Quebec and then, at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of December 31, they waded through snow drifts to attack the city. Quebec had been reinforced with 1,800 British soldiers shortly before the Colonial forces arrived, however, and the attack was doomed to failure. More than 200 members of the Colonial force were killed or wounded and 372 were taken prisoner. Tolman and his comrades began seven months of miserable imprisonment. The British exchanged the prisoners in the summer of 1776.
Ebenezer Tolman reenlisted in the army for three years in 1777, but was unable to complete his term due to ill health. He moved to Nelson, New Hampshire after the war and died there in 1838 at the age of 90 years.
Cleck on Ebenezer Tolman to read his journal while on the Arnold expedition.