In the Bleak Midwinter

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I’m traveling this week, driving hundreds of miles (thank you, TSA), despite a snowfall that has the forecasters abuzz with dire warnings about a “winter storm.” I shiver merely watching the eddies from a heated house – and I marvel at the fortitude of some 600 Americans who assembled before Quebec 238 years ago this afternoon while a blizzard turned things dark as midnight by 4:15 PM. Why were they milling about on the Plains of Abraham when sensible men hibernated on a warm hearth? Because they loved liberty and wanted to help Canadians expel an invading empire from their farms and towns.

Our heroes had left Boston four months before on a brutal march through the northern wilderness that quickly degenerated into a nightmare of survival. They contended with whitewater rapids, dysentery and injuries, deceptive maps, and at least one hurricane. When their rations gave out, they ate – or tried to – their leather boots, lip salve and candles (both made from beef tallow), even a couple of pet dogs that had accompanied the troops.

And the march was the least of it: their goal, Quebec, was impregnable. Especially because they were there not to conquer the city but to invite its residents to join Americans in overthrowing Britain’s government. That meant circumventing the British soldiers occupying the city who were determined to keep their invitation from reaching the Quebecois. Walls 30 feet high protected Quebec on its bluff above the St. Lawrence River. Liberators could never dislodge Redcoats from such a fortress without a miracle, and miracles were in short supply just then…

But if anyone could work one, it was the indomitable American commander, Benedict Arnold. Read all about his dining on dog, enduring a Canadian winter, and other misadventures in my novel, Abducting Arnold.

12:49 pm on December 31, 2013