The Court Martial of Roger Enos(ii)

JurisdictionUnited States,Federal
Publication year2021
CitationVol. 74 Pg. 299
Connecticut Bar Journal
Volume 74.

74 CBJ 299. The Court Martial of Roger Enos(II)


The Court Martial of Roger Enos(II)

By Richard G. BELL (fn*)

This first, and main, part of this article appears in 73 Conn. Bar J. at 428 (1999). It describes the general background of the invasion of Canada by American forces in 1775, Colonel Benedict Arnold's march through the Maine wilderness to Quebec, the defection of Major Roger Enos and his division constituting about one quarter of Arnold's army, and the subsequent court martial of Enos which resulted in his acquittal. Most of the material describing these events lies on well-marked paths of historical research, capably studied and presented by professional scholars far more competent than this author. It is presumptuous to think that any new facts or conclusions will emerge from my review of these familiar subjects. However, they have long fascinated me, and my professional curiosity was especially aroused by the details of the court martial itself, which I do believe to be an obscure and little known event.

The audacity of the Canadian invasion seems even more striking today. The grand strategy was for a two-pronged attack. One army under General Richard Montgomery was to proceed north down the familiar Lake Champlain highway to take Montreal. (fn1) Leading the other prong was Benedict Arnold: his small army of about a thousand men would proceed by bateaux up the Kennebec River in northwestern Maine, and thence across a vaguely depicted route through the wilderness to the fortress city of Quebec. (fn2) These expeditions commenced in, respectively, the late summer and early fall of 1775. This was after Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, and after Ticonderoga had been taken. General Gage's British army in Boston was then besieged by a polyglot force of colonials composed largely of New Englanders. It was commanded by, of all people, a Virginian appointed by the Continental Congress on June 15, 1775. His name, of course, was


George Washington and his assumption of this command -more than anything else - transformed armed American resistance into a revolution. (fn3) That would become more apparent later. At this time, in the fall of 1775, these men thought of themselves for the most part as Englishmen; disgruntled to be sure, but seeking no more - and no less - than was their due. It was as Englishmen that they had been offended and deprived by a punitive and confiscatory government, and it was as Englishmen that they deserved better. So they had petitioned their King at the Second Continental Congress in July of 1775. (fn4) The Declaration of Independence was almost a year away; there was not yet any sense of nationhood, no sense of a "United States." Yet, so charged were the feelings of the time, the majority of the colonies had supported the armed resistance that broke out in Massachusetts in April of 1775. The Continental Congress, so weak and primitive in many respects, was astonishingly efficient in June of 1775 in its ability to establish not only articles of war, but also a supreme command structure and an oversight mechanism that linked the performance of the military arm to the will of the Congress. (fn5) It is also a striking fact that the first instinct of the army created was not defensive but aggressive: not just in be


sieging Gage's forces in Boston, but in seizing what was perceived to be a golden opportunity in the north. The Continental Congress was as taken by the Canadian notion as was the Commander-in-Chief. both mistakenly thought that Canada would fall into the American net like an overripe plum. (fn6)

Enos's defection from Arnold's march - reducing the army by approximately 230 effectives - occurred on October 25, 1775. This was the time when the army was entering the most dangerous stage of its journey. That fact made it all the more egregious in the eyes of those who persevered through the wilderness to Quebec. Enos arrived back in Cambridge, the point of departure, on November 23, 1775. Washington had been advised of Enos's intended return, and was waiting for him. A Court of Inquiry, a preliminary hearing, was convened on November 25 and a General Court Martial of the Line on December 1. However, the only witnesses at Enos's court martial were junior officers of his own command. (fn7) They, of course, had returned with him, and they had their stories well rehearsed. Other officers of Arnold's army who would have contradicted this testimony and painted a far different and far darker picture of Enos's actions were at this very time falling into formation in the snows outside Quebec to welcome the arrival of General Richard Montgomery, late victor at Montreal. (fn8)

On the basis of the limited evidence presented, the court had no choice but to acquit Enos. We are therefore left with the unsatisfying result of the court martial, one that has the sense of being incomplete. That is so because the great question remains. The furious attack on Quebec on December 31, 1775, which cost Montgomery his life and Arnold a severe


wound to the leg, was a desperate gamble that failed. Could it have been different? Would the presence of Enos's division have been sufficient to turn the tide in favor of the Americans? This addendum examines that question, and I'm grateful to the journal editors for the opportunity to do so. Mercifully, it stops there, because once begun, the process of sheer speculation is seductive. For instance, could the Americans have held Quebec even if they could have taken it? If so, how would that have affected subsequent military strategy? If it could have been held, how and to what extent would Canada have been integrated into the American Union? The fact that none of these questions had been thought through very carefully by Washington or anyone else in the Continental Congress says something about how rash an act was the invasion itself. But Richard Montgomery's personal motto was the spirit of the day, and was precisely on point: Audaces fortuna juvat Fortune favors the brave. (fn9) It does just that, but sometimes with unintended longer-term results. It is no stretch to say that the taking of Quebec in 1775 would have electrified not only the colonies, but certainly the British as well. It could have been a seminal, watershed event in the approaching conflict, affecting it and the result in ways we cannot now imagine.


Arnold reached the south shore of the Saint Lawrence with about 675 men. (fn10) On the night of November 13, 1775, he began to cross to the north shore, beneath the cliffs of Quebec. He had had great difficulty finding enough canoes and other small craft. Nothing larger was available. In anticipation of his crossing, the defenders had tried...

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