Battle of Quebec

Death of Montgomery

Battle of Quebec

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The successful capture of Fort Ticonderoga on May 10th, 1775 by American General Benedict Arnold and Major General Ethan Allen marked a turning point in the Colony’s war effort. Now, the British weaponry stored at Fort Ticonderoga, especially the cannons, can be turned against the British in the ongoing Siege of Boston. Reinvigorated by the ease at which the Continental Army and Militias took the Fort, American General Philip Schuyler made plans to invade Canada. The rationale behind this invasion was to gain support for an Anti-British rebellion in Quebec among the numerous French Canadians that lived there.

However, the invasion of Canada did not get off to a good start. On September of 1775 Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys”, which was the name given to his Vermont based militia, would try to singlehandedly capture Montreal. However, Allen’s force of a little over 100 men would be easily defeated, which resulted in Allen’s capture and imprisonment. Additionally, during the beginning stages of the invasion, General Schuyler fell ill and was unable to lead his army and gave command to General Richard Montgomery who captured Montreal by Early-November of 1775. Despite the capture of Montreal, the British General and Governor of Quebec Guy Carleton was able to fortify Quebec in the meantime.

With these gains, General Montgomery was to march his army north while General Arnold was to go around New England. This was so that the two armies could surround Quebec from the east and the west across the Saint Lawrence River. By the time the two armies met outside of Quebec, the Americans just barely had over 1000 troops at their disposal where the British, who had been fortifying the city, had organized a local defense force of nearly double the Americans strength. Even worse, an outbreak of smallpox ravaged the Continental camps set up outside Quebec, destroying the American’s ability to attack. Additionally, the overall objective of swaying French-Canadian support was a total failure, as the Canadians did not end up revolting against the British but rather took up arms against the Americans in order to defend their homes in Quebec.

The Americans, suffering from disease, facing starvation, lacking proper supplies, and freezing in the Canadian winter, attacked the fortified city of Quebec on December 31st of 1775. Rather than attack the fortified city walls head on, General Montgomery led the first assault of the city by going around the walls and attacking the city via the less secure coastal shore areas of the Saint Lawrence River. Just before the attack, General Montgomery shot rockets into the air to coordinate with General Arnold, who was to attack his objective at the same time as Montgomery. However, during the first assault a blizzard decreased visibility and served to create further disorganization among the Continentals. Additionally, a small group of Canadians spotted the lanterns used by General Montgomery to guide his men and promptly opened fire at close range. A blast of grapeshot killed General Montgomery and those who were standing close to him. After the death of their general, several of Montgomery’s men began to rout and flee. Despite this, many of General Montgomery’s men continued to assault the city. However, the superior fortifications and defenses inside Quebec eventually forced the rest of Montgomery’s men to retreat. Thus, leaving General Arnold to fight the rest of the battle with his army.

General Arnold, who decided to move his troops around the northern part of the city, attacked and met the same resistance. Despite being coordinated with General Montgomery, General Arnold needed to cross a larger amount of land. By the time General Arnold finally reached his target, the British and Canadians inside Quebec were well aware of the impending American attack due to Montgomery’s failed assault. As a result, during the march to the target, Arnold and his men were under almost constant musket and cannon fire. Nevertheless, Arnold and his men managed to reach their objective and begin entering the city. While crossing over an unmanned barricade, Arnold was shot in the leg and reluctantly left the field. As a result, General Daniel Morgan took control of Arnold’s troops. Under Morgan, the remainder of Arnold’s forces managed to enter the city and reach the point where they were to link up with Montgomery’s forces. However, they had no idea that Montgomery was dead and that his attacks failed. The confusion and pause in the combat gave Carleton enough time to reorganize the defenders of Quebec and attack the small group of Americans stuck in Quebec. When the two forces met, brutal street fighting began at extremely close range. The Americans, who were stuck in a narrow street and ineffective guns due to the weather, saw no other option than to surrender. By 9:00 in the morning, General Morgan and upwards of 400 Americans surrendered and were taken prisoner by the British.

Even though the assaults in Quebec were failures, the wounded General Arnold still managed to organize the survivors to maintain the encirclement of the city. With the help of resupply from the southern Canadian forts, the small number of Americans attempted to starve out the defenders inside Quebec. However, in May of 1776 a British fleet arrived to reinforce the area and forced Arnold to leave Canada. The failure to capture Quebec ended the American campaign in Canada. The invasion did not rally French Canadian support for revolution and the British garrison killed, injured, and captured some of the best American leaders alongside countless patriot militiamen.          

Battle Facts

Result

British Victory
COMMANDERS
Forces Engaged
3,000

American

1,200

British

1,800
Total Estimated Casualties
534

American

515
50
killed
34
wounded
431
missing & captured

British

19
5
killed
14
wounded