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Battle of Quebec (1775)

Battle of Quebec (1775)



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On December 31, 1775, during the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), Patriot forces under Colonel Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) and General Richard Montgomery (1738-75) attempted to capture the British-occupied city of Quebec and with it win support for the American cause in Canada. The attack failed, and the effort cost Montgomery his life. The Battle of Quebec was the first major defeat of the Revolutionary War for the Americans.

Battle of Quebec: Background

In September 1775, with the authorization of the Second Continental Congress, two expeditions of American troops began an advance toward the province of Quebec. General Richard Montgomery and his forces proceeded up Lake Champlain and successfully captured Montreal on November 13 before heading to Quebec City. Colonel Benedict Arnold led his men through the wilderness of present-day Maine, approaching the city directly. In mid-November, Arnold arrived on the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City. He requested the city’s surrender but was rebuffed. Deciding he lacked sufficient resources to fight, Arnold was forced to wait for Montgomery to join him with his troops and supplies.

In early December 1775, Montgomery, Arnold and their men met on the outskirts of Quebec and demanded the surrender of the city. General Guy Carleton (1724-1808), the governor of the province of Quebec, rejected their demand.

Battle of Quebec: December 31, 1775

Facing the year-end expiration of their troops’ enlistment, the American forces advanced on Quebec under the cover of snowfall in the early morning hours of December 31. The British defenders were ready, however, and when Montgomery’s forces approached the fortified city, the British opened fire with a barrage of artillery and musket fire. Montgomery was killed in the first assault, and after several more attempts at penetrating Quebec’s defenses, his men were forced to retreat.

Meanwhile, Arnold’s division suffered a similar fate during their attack on the northern wall of the city. A two-gun battery opened fire on the advancing Americans, killing a number of troops and wounding Arnold in the leg. Patriot Daniel Morgan (1736-1802) assumed command and made progress against the defenders, but halted at the second wall of fortifications to wait for reinforcements. By the time the rest of Arnold’s army finally arrived, the British had reorganized, forcing the Patriots to call off their attack. Of the approximately 1,200 Americans who participated in the battle, more than 400 were captured, wounded or killed. British casualties were minor.

After the defeat at Quebec, the battered and ailing Patriots remained outside the city with the help of additional supplies and reinforcements, carrying out an ineffectual siege. However, with the arrival of a British fleet at Quebec in May 1776, the Americans retreated from the area.

Benedict Arnold: Traitor

Less than five years after the Battle of Quebec, Benedict Arnold, then commander of West Point, famously turned traitor when he agreed to surrender the important Hudson River fort to the British in return for money and a command in the British army. The plot was uncovered after British spy John Andre (1750-80) was captured with incriminating papers, forcing Arnold to flee to British protection and join in their fight against the country that he had once so valiantly served. Arnold soon became one of the most reviled figures in American history, his name synonymous with the word traitor.


Supporting the Continental Army was the 1st Canadian Regiment. The 1st Canadian Regiment was later incorporated into the 2nd Canadian Regiment, which fought on the side of the Americans until the end of the war. They were unable to return to their homes in Canada.

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Battle of Quebec (1775) - HISTORY

Now in the early morning hours of December 31, the American Commanders have ideal conditions to put their attack plan in motion. At 2:00 am the muster was called in the Continental camp. General Montgomery with his 300 men would attack the city along the river from the west and Colonel Arnold with his larger force of 700 men would attack from the east. In the middle of the business district in Lower Town, the two columns would meet and turn north, heading up a winding road to Upper Town. At 4:00 am, Montgomery set off rockets signaling to Arnold that he was in position. Montgomery and his 300 men continued to advance along following a narrow path between the cliff and the St. Lawrence River, passing beneath the Cape Diamond Bastion and forced their way through two wooden stockades. The snow was now falling so hard that Montgomery had to squint to see the outline first house in Lower Town. What he could not see was his outnumbered enemy now only a few yards distant.

A small group of Canadian militia under the command of Captain Joseph Chabot and Lieutenant Aleixandre Picard, and a few sailors under Captain Adam Barnsfare, were on the alert. As the Americans approached, Chabot and Picard warned their citizen soldiers not to open fire until the command was given. Matches for the Captain Barnsfare&rsquos cannons were lit. When the Americans were less then 50 yards from the house, the command was given. A devastating volley of canister, grapeshot and musket balls ripped thru the unsuspecting Americans, killing Montgomery, his aide-de-camp and a battalion commander. The panicked army fled back to their camp leaving their wounded and dead in the snow.

Benedict Arnold having seen the three signal rockets from Montgomery advanced with his main body towards the northern barricades. They were fired upon by Carleton&rsquos ad hoc force manning the walls of the city. &ldquoWe could see nothing but the blaze from their mussels of their muskets.&rdquo wrote American Private John Henry. Upon reaching a street barricade at Sault au Matelot, a musket ball tore into Arnold&rsquos leg. He attempted to continue but soon gave up, allowing himself to be carried from the field. His men, now under Daniel Morgan&rsquos command, fought their way through the first barricade and raced through the Lower Town, pouring over another unmanned barricade. They reached the rendezvous point and waited for Montgomery&rsquos forces, unaware that Montgomery was already dead.

Carleton used these precious moments to reorganize his troops. When Moragan&rsquos impatients finally got the better of him, he ordered his men to move on. Carleton was ready for him. The Americans staggered through the twisting streets leading to Upper Town as musket fire poured down on them from houses and barricades. Carleton, meanwhile, maneuvered some men into the unmanned barricade, which had been abandoned by the Americans. There was no escape route. The Americans had been cut off.

American Private John Henry further wrote: "Confined in a narrow street, hardly more than 20 feet wide. scarcely a ball, well aimed or otherwise, but must take effect upon us. The enemy having the advantage of the ground in front, a vast superiority of numbers and dry and better arms, gave them an irresistible power in so narrow a space. About nine o'clock, it was apparent to us all that we must surrender it was done."

The Americans had suffered heavy casualties. Their Commanding Officer, Richard Montgomery, was dead and over four hundred men had surrendered. The seige of the city would drag on into spring, but the Quebec garrison had supplies to sustain it. Arnold was finally forced to retreat with the arrival of fresh British troops. The invasion was over.

The Battle of Quebec was not the end of the invasion but it was the climax. It proved that the British could work effectively with their French Canadian allies. Men like General Guy Carleton, Lieuntenant Governor Hector Cramahé, Captain Joseph Chabot, Lieutenant Aleixandre Picard, Captain Adam Barnsfare, Captain Jean Baptiste Bouchette, Colonel Allan Maclean and others had showed courage, daring and tenacity in fighting off the invading American army. Canada was saved. In less than 40 years, the Americans again would invade Canada and again British Soldiers and French Canadian Militia would combine to defeat them.


1775 Quebec Battle Re‐enacted

QUEBEC, Oct. 5—American forces attacked Quebec yesterday for the second time in 200 years and lost again, as planned, but this time Canadian crowds applauded the invaders.

Thousands of ordinary citizens clapped hands as the Americans marches from the scene of their carefully reconstructed defeat in the 1775 battle of Quebec, and applauded again as the Americans, dressed in Revolutionary uniforms and carrying 18th century weapons, paraded through the streets of this French‐speaking city later in the day.

Although the event was planned as part of the observance of the bicentennial of the American Revolution, many Canadians seemed to recall the occasion as a turning point in their own national history:

If you had won we might have become the 14th American colony,” one Canadian spectator remarked to an American visitor. “We aren't going to be the 51st state either,” he added.

“You had your chance 200 years ago and you blew it,” the American replied goodnaiuredly.

The light‐hearted exchange reflected attitudes rooted in brushes between American and British ‐ French forces during the Revolution and in the War of 1812 in what was then a British colony and is now Canada.

Before the ill‐fated attack on Quebec, then a British citadel commanding a strategic section of the great St. Lawrence River, the American colonial troops had effected a bloodless occupation of Montreal, which the British had left undefended in order to reinforce Quebec.

The Americans were unsuccessful in later engagements, too consequently, as Canadians view history, the War of 1812 was the first one that the United States lost, although Americans regard the outcome as a victory over the British.

For reasons of convenience and climate, yesterday's reenactment was held on the wrong date in the wrong place.

The actual battle occurred in a snowstorm on Dec. 31. 1775, in the city's streets. Moving the date to Oct. 4, as it turned out, gave the participants the sunny, if slightly chilly, weather the planners had hoped for.

Instead of se‐enacting the fighting where it happened, in the old quarter of the city, the action was moved to the expansive, hilly greensward known as the Plains of Abraham, where British forces had defeated the French 16 years before the American invasion.

The earlier battle insured that all Canada would be under British rule, although the Province of Quebec and a few other pockets remain enclaves of French language and culture, and a seat of animosity toward Englishspeaking Canadians, to this day.

Canadian volunteers led by Victor Suthern, an authority on revolutionary times from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, impersonated the British and French soldiers who routed a somewhat larger force of Americans, killing 40 and capturing about 400.

“It shows what we can do when French and English get together in this country,” Ross Osborne a Montreal stockbroker who impersonated a British officer in a mock battle, told a Canadian reporter.

With both sides firing flintlocks, loading in the old way with real gunpowder but without bullets, the Americans charged the defending forces, on a hill at the arranged hour of 11 A.M.

Bagpipes played “Yankee Doodle,” drumbeats sounded and the Americans shouted taunts and rallying cries in archaic language. Powder smoke drifted in a cloud over the thousands of spectators who lined the field, against a backdrop of skyscraper hotels and office buildings.

American General Falls

Following the script, the impersonator of the American general, Richard Montgomery, fell to the ground, simulating the general's death. Col Benedict Arnold also fell, wounded in the leg. An American pointed his flintlock at a Canadian, fired, and screamed: “I got you, I got you point blank, dam‐ mit, fall down!”

In an hour it was over, with the Americans surrendering. A few minutes later the nearby brasseries—the French equivalent of British pubs—and French‐style restaurants were filled with lunchtime customers in the uniforms of both sides in the simulated battle, drinking together.

Some Canadian nationalists, who complain that Americans exercise an unhealth economic and cultural domination of Canada, seem convinced that the United States still harbors ambitions to annex this country. An imagined American military invasion was the theme of a popular Canadian novel last year.

The State Department was reported to have had misgivings about the effect on relations between Canada and the United States of publicly re‐enacting the attack on Quebec at a time when the two countries are at odds on a host of issues. These range from high prices charged for Canadian oil and natural gas to unauthorized deletion of commercials from American television programs picked up from the air and piped to Canadian viewers for a fee by cable operators here.

However, some 1,400 Americans in revolutionary uniforms or other costumes of the time, including wives and children, have been greeted warmly by Canadians wherever they have gone in the city since their arrival Thursday.

The volunteer invaders, all history buffs, started out in two contingents, one leaving Cambridge, Mass., on Sept. 22, the other setting out from New York City eight days later, in 75 United States Army trucks provided by the Maine National Guard, and a collection of private vehicles. Each group paused in towns along the way to demonstrate how colonial troops lived.

A typical Revolutionary encampment in tents, with authentic reproductions of the field equipment of the time, was set up on open ground in front of the castlelike Quebec armory in a prominent site in the city. Most of the Americans ate and slept in the armory.


American Revolution: Battle of Quebec (1775)

The Battle of Quebec (French: Bataille de Qu󩯬) was fought on December 31, 1775, between American Continental Army forces and the British defenders of Quebec City early in the American Revolutionary War. The battle was the first major defeat of the war for the Americans, and it came with heavy losses. General Richard Montgomery was killed, Benedict Arnold was wounded, and Daniel Morgan and more than 400 men were taken prisoner. The city's garrison, a motley assortment of regular troops and militia led by Quebec's provincial governor, General Guy Carleton, suffered a small number of casualties.

Montgomery's army had captured Montreal on November 13, and early in December they joined a force led by Arnold, whose men had made an arduous trek through the wilderness of northern New England. Governor Carleton had escaped from Montreal to Quebec, the Americans' next objective, and last-minute reinforcements arrived to bolster the city's limited defenses before the attacking force's arrival. Concerned that expiring enlistments would reduce his force, Montgomery made the end-of-year attack in a blinding snowstorm to conceal his army's movements. The plan was for separate forces led by Montgomery and Arnold to converge in the lower city before scaling the walls protecting the upper city. Montgomery's force turned back after he was killed by cannon fire early in the battle, but Arnold's force penetrated further into the lower city. Arnold was injured early in the attack, and Morgan led the assault in his place before he became trapped in the lower city and was forced to surrender. Arnold and the Americans maintained an ineffectual blockade of the city until spring, when British reinforcements arrived.

In the battle and the following siege, French-speaking Canadians were active on both sides of the conflict. The American forces received supplies and logistical support from local residents, and the city's defenders included locally raised militia. When the Americans retreated, they were accompanied by a number of their supporters those who remained behind were subjected to a variety of punishments after the British re-established control over the province.


Battle of Quebec (1775) - HISTORY

This was originally posted on this site on December 31, 2010.


Plaque erected in Quebec City marking the spot of American General Richard Montgomery’s death. “Here stood the Undaunted Fifty safeguarding Canada, defeating Montgomery at the Pres de Ville Barricade on the last day of 1775, Guy Carleton commanding at Quebec.”

Two hundred and thirty-five years ago tonight, American soldiers attacked the city of Quebec during a raging blizzard in a desperate attempt to capture Canada early in the Revolutionary War. Two separate American expeditions converged in the vicinity of Quebec City in December 1775. One led by General Richard Montgomery had moved up Lake Champlain from Albany, captured Montreal, and came to Quebec from the southwest. The other force, commanded by Benedict Arnold, had originated in Cambridge from the colonial forces gathered around Boston in the aftermath of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill. George Washington had ordered Arnold to lead a force through the wilderness of Maine and approach Quebec from the southeast. Inland portions of Maine were so wild and unexplored, however, that both Washington nor Arnold grossly underestimated the distances involved. By the time they reached Canada, more than half of Arnold’s force had either died or turned back.

Because Canada had only become a British possession sixteen years earlier, the Americans hoped to recruit many French Canadian residents to their cause, but most either ignored the Americans or sided with the handful of British defenders of the city. Without a popular uprising and lacking artillery sufficient to overcome the walls of the city, Montgomery and Arnold decided that their only chance of success was to attack during a snowstorm. The opportunity arose on New Year’s Eve. Montgomery led his force from the west along the banks of the Saint Lawrence. Arnold would come in from the northeast, skirting the walls of the upper city. The Americans hoped to first capture the lower city and then move upward to the main portion of Quebec.

Montgomery’s force met with some initial success, but the snow obscured a heavily defended British-Canadian blockhouse. As Montgomery and his aides passed nearby, those inside fired a cannon which wiped out the American command group, causing the rest of the force to immediately retreat. Arnold fared little better. He made it into the lower city, but the narrow streets of the old town restricted his ability to maneuver. Arnold was shot in the foot and was evacuated by his men. Those who stayed behind were soon surrounded and surrendered.

In the aftermath of the battle, Arnold and the surviving Americans loitered around Quebec for some time, but the knowledge that no American reinforcements were en route and the certainty that a large British force would arrive from Europe as soon as the St Lawrence melted led Arnold to withdraw to the colonies. No further attempt to capture Canada was made by the Americans. Ironically, the 8,000-man British Army that arrived that spring was the same one that advanced down Lake Champlain in 1777 and ultimately surrendered to the Americans in the Saratoga campaign.

Below shows the plaque where the American force led by Benedict Arnold was stopped by the British and Canadian defenders. Here stood her old and new defenders uniting, guarding, saving Canada, defeating Arnold at the Sault-au-Matelot barricade on the last day of 1775, Guy Carleton commanding at Quebec


Conquering a Continent: The Battle of Quebec

T he French and Indian War was in its fifth full year, and the tables had turned in Britain’s favor. As the larger conflict, the Seven Years’ War, raged throughout the globe, in North America, the British were one swift strike away from conquering the continent. The French in the Ohio River Valley, Great Lakes region, and Upstate New York had been thrown back on their heels and sent scurrying north into Canada leaving the road open for a British thrust against Montreal and Quebec. For the summer of 1759, the latter city, the capital of New France, would be placed in the crosshairs by an army commanded by Major General James Wolfe. If Quebec, situated along the most important water highway in Canada, the Saint Lawrence River, should fall, the French in North America would be squeezed into the region around Montreal. Pending any catastrophic failures by Britain’s army and navy and their allies elsewhere in the world, it would only be a matter of time than before New France was conquered.

Thirty-two year old James Wolfe had served in the British Army for almost eighteen years when he was given command of the roughly 9,000-man force that was tasked with defeating the French in and around Quebec City in 1759. He was hard-nosed and did not always get along with his subordinate generals, Robert Monckton, George Townshend, and James Murray. The previous year he had been a brigadier general under Jeffry Amherst during the successful siege and capture of the fortress city of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, and afterward led a campaign of destruction against the fishing villages of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. He then returned to England and secured a major generalship and command of the Quebec expedition. He arrived in Halifax in April 1759 and began training his force and preparing plans for his campaign.

Wolfe’s army was composed predominantly of professional British soldiers. Several hundred North American ranger units also complimented his force, which he described as, “… the worst soldiers in the universe.” He did not have much respect for colonial troops. On June 26, Wolfe’s men began landing at Ile d’Orleans in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River just to the east of Quebec City. Across the river, the French commander, the Marquis de Montcalm, prepared to oppose them.

The Marquis de Montcalm and Quebec’s Defenders

Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm, had been in command of France’s regular troops in North America since 1756. During that time he had put together an impressive string of victories at places like Fort Oswego, Fort William Henry, and Fort Carillon. As the attack on Quebec loomed, he was given command of all military forces on the continent, including the Canadian militia and marines. The previous harvest had not been good in Canada, and his army and the civilians in the city were on short rations, but relief came during the spring of 1759 when ships arrived carrying food and supplies. With this, Montcalm was determined to hold onto the city at all costs. He dug trenches outside the city and along the Saint Lawrence’s northern shoreline extending for nearly ten miles, welcoming a frontal assault from Wolfe. His army, consisting of over 3,500 French regular troops, included thousands more Native American allies and Canadian militiamen who were not accustomed to fighting in open fields against professional enemy soldiers. This important disadvantage would play a large part in Montcalm’s ultimate defeat.

An engraving of General James Wolfe's failed attack on the Montmorency River, July 31, 1859. Library of Congress

When General Wolfe’s army began landing at Ile d’Orleans and subsequently Point Levis (directly across the river from the city) to the east of Quebec, he had initially hoped to force a landing on the northern shore just a few miles downstream at Beauport. However, he quickly discovered that Montcalm had heavily fortified the landing site, throwing a monkey wrench into his plans. This did not deter Wolfe, however, and by July 12, he had placed ten mortars and cannon at Point Levis and began bombarding the city itself. More guns were brought up and the bombardment continued for weeks in an effort to demoralize those within Quebec City.

The best chance to defeat Montcalm was to force him out of his defenses and into an open field battle. Wolfe understood that his vigorously trained and superior disciplined regular troops would have the upper hand against lesser-numbered French regulars and their militia. His first attempt to accomplish this occurred on July 31, when he landed a force of grenadiers, light infantry, and rangers near Montmorency Falls further downstream from Beauport hoping to ford the Montmorency River and reach a position in the rear of the French lines. It failed miserably. Montcalm guessed correctly that an attack was coming from that direction and rushed men there to meet the enemy. The river’s tide prevented Wolfe from getting all of his troops in position on time and frontal assaults launched from the beach were beaten back with heavy losses. The British retreated, leaving behind 443 men killed and wounded. The first attempt to force a landing on the Quebec side of the river had failed, but it would not be the last. Wolfe turned his attention further upriver, where he hoped his prospects for victory would be more fruitful.

As the weeks passed following the debacle at Montmorency, the British probed the northern shore west of Quebec for a secure landing spot. During this time, Wolfe grew sick with a severe fever and kidney stones and believed his days were numbered. He recovered enough, however, to begin moving his army upriver about eight miles from the city not far across from Cap Rouge. It was decided that the landing would be made at Anse au Foulon, where a narrow gap and trail led to the top of the cliffs just two miles west of the city.

At four in the morning, September 13, Lieutenant Colonel William Howe (who would serve as the commander of the British Army in America during the Revolutionary War) came ashore with the light infantry and surprised and overwhelmed the enemy outpost above the landing site. The conditions for rowing the army into position that early morning had been perfect for Wolfe. Montcalm was caught off guard.

After securing the landing zone, Wolfe began moving his attack force of roughly 4,400 regulars onto the Plains of Abraham, an open field about a mile wide and a half a mile long in front of the city’s western defenses. Responding to the threat as quickly as could be done, Montcalm rushed some 1,900 French regulars and 1,500 militiamen and Native Americans to meet the British line. This was the open field fight that Wolfe had been yearning for ever since the campaign began.

Benjamin West's depiction of the death of British General James Wolfe during the Battle of Quebec, painted in 1770. Wikimedia Commons

As the French commander formed his men up in a line of battle, the British waited patiently across the field to receive their attack. Montcalm ordered his troops forward, and almost immediately his militiamen’s lack of experience and training in open combat became apparent as their formations wavered and some failed to advance close enough to the enemy line to fire effectively. One British participant described what happened next:

The French Line began … advancing briskly and for some little time in good order, [but] a part of their Line began to fire too soon, which immediately catched throughout the whole, then they began to waver but kept advancing with a scattering Fire.—When they had got within about a hundred yards of us our Line moved up regularly with a steady Fire, and when within twenty or thrity yards of closing gave a general [fire] upon which a total [rout] of the Enemy immediately ensued.

The battle was over in just fifteen minutes as the British swept forward, claiming the field and capturing hundreds of prisoners. Both sides each lost over 600 men killed and wounded, including both respective commanders. Wolfe was mortally wounded and died a hero on the field. Montcalm, too, was hit by grapeshot in the abdomen and died the next morning. Five days later, Quebec surrendered. The French retreated further downstream to Montreal, attacked and failed to retake Quebec the next spring, and surrendered in whole on September 8, 1760, effectively ending all major military operations in North America during the French and Indian War. The battle for the continent between Britain and France was over.


Seeking to draw Canada into the revolution, American commanders set out to seize the city of Quebec, which was held by a small garrison of 100 British regulars under the command of Guy Carleton, the Governor of Canada, and Col. Allen Maclean. The British were supported by hundreds of poorly-armed militia, using mostly muskets and a few bayonets city fortifications were in disrepair and supplanted by wooden barricades erected within the urban districts.

Two expeditions were launched toward Quebec. Brigadier General Montgomery came up via Lake Champlain General Benedict Arnold took his armies through the backcountry of Maine. Meanwhile, General Washington maneuvered his armies to block the British from sending reinforcements north. In late October 1775, the American forces came within view of the City of Quebec. In November 1775, Arnold took his forces across the St. Lawrence River onto the Plains of Abraham, where he summoned the city's garrison to come out and fight. (During the Seven Years War, Gen. Montcalm had done so, and was defeated.) Getting no response, Arnold attacked at night, but his forces were beaten back many were captured, making a repeat assault impossible. With this British victory the Americans left Canada and there was never another serious attempt to bring Canadians into the American Revolution against the British.


American Revolution – Invasion of Canada

Fort Chambly, Québec, shown in a 32-cent stamp (Corel Professional Photos). During the American attack on Québec, 31 December 1775, American General Richard Montgomery and his leading officers were killed (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-46334).

Eastern North America in 1775: The British Province of Quebec, the British thirteen colonies on the Atlantic coast and the Indian Reserve (as of the Royal Proclamation of 1763). Modern state boundaries are shown.

In 1775 at the start of the American Revolution, rebel forces invaded Canada, occupying Montréal and attacking the town of Québec. American privateers also raided Atlantic ports, and revolutionary sympathizers in Nova Scotia attempted a rebellion in that colony. Although the rebel forces were defeated in Canada, the 13 American colonies won their war for independence from Britain, sparking another kind of invasion – a wave of Loyalist emigration that would change the make-up of Canada.

Québec Act

In the late 18th Century, disputes over taxes and other matters of colonial administration in the 13 American colonies had created a simmering dissatisfaction with British imperial rule. The passing by the British Parliament of the Quebec Act in 1774 led to further anger. The Act guaranteed religious freedom for Roman Catholics and restored French civil law in the conquered colony of Québec – raising the ire of anti-Catholic American Protestants. The Act also greatly enlarged Québec's territory to include, among other areas, the unsettled lands of the Ohio valley. This constrained the desires of Americans such as future rebel leader George Washington, to expand the American colonies westward. These frustrations broke into open war between United States rebels and British forces at Lexington, Massachusetts on 19 April 1775.

The American rebels mounted a propaganda campaign for support in what is now Canada. They attracted some sympathy inside Québec particularly in Montréal, where there was some pro-American activity. Officially, however, the French Canadian clergy, land owners and leading citizens adopted a policy of support for the British, and otherwise most of the common people in the Canadian and Maritime colonies remained neutral and reluctant to become involved in the Revolution to the south. Canadian Governor Sir Guy Carleton (Lord Dorchester) also had little success in raising a militia to help counter the American rebels.

Invasion of Québec

In September 1775 rebel General Richard Montgomery led American forces on the first major offensive of the war, seizing the forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point in northern New York, and Fort Chambly in Québec. With 1,700 militia troops, Montgomery then captured Fort Saint-Jean outside Montréal in November – prompting Carleton to abandon Montréal and flee to Québec. The Americans occupied Montréal without a fight on 28 November.

Meanwhile, a second American invasion force led by General Benedict Arnold managed, despite hardships, faulty maps, near starvation and desertions, to bring about 700 men through the Maine wilderness to the St. Lawrence River and to the fortress of Québec. Arnold waited outside Québec until December, when Montgomery joined him with 300 additional men.

During a snowstorm on 31 December, the Americans assaulted Québec, which was defended by a garrison of 1,800 British soldiers and militiamen under Carleton. The Americans attacked from two directions. Arnold and his men penetrated some distance into Lower Town, but Arnold himself was wounded in the ankle and carried away from the fighting. His forces later surrendered under counterattack.

Montgomery's force was repulsed after the general and his leading officers were killed by rifle fire in their initial assault on the other side of Lower Town. In total, 60 Americans were killed and 426 wounded at Québec. On the British side six were killed and 19 wounded.

Siege and Retreat

Under Arnold's command, the remaining uncaptured Americans tried to maintain a siege of the town through the winter, but it was ineffective. The group was easily routed when the spring thaw brought 4,000 British troop reinforcements led by British General John Burgoyne. The Americans abandoned Montréal on 9 May, 1776 and the remains of the force was defeated at Trois Rivieres in June. The survivors then retreated to New York, ending their invasion.

The American invasion left bitter memories among Canadians, and drove many American sympathizers into exile from Québec. However, there had been little active support for the American rebels: clergy and land owners remained staunchly loyal to the Crown and, after some delay in choosing sides, so did the merchant class – many of whom had shared the American resentment at having to pay taxes to Britain.

The American invaders had expected French Canadians to pick up arms against the British and fight alongside them, but they badly misjudged Canadian sentiment. Most ordinary habitants remained determinedly neutral – refusing to take up arms against either their British rulers, or the American rebels.

Burgoyne and his British soldiers pursued the retreating Americans out of Canada, leading a counter-invasion southward via Lake Champlain in New York. Burgoyne, however, overextended himself. In the first great American victory of the Revolutionary war, Burgoyne's force was defeated and surrendered at Saratoga on 17 October 1777.

Rebel Actions in Nova Scotia

As in previous conflicts such as the Seven Years War, Nova Scotia remained an uncertain battleground during the Revolution, thanks in part to its French Acadian population. The provincial Assembly in Halifax voted in favour of loyalty to the Crown, but illegal town meetings gave secret support to the rebels in New England.

Nearly every important coastal outpost outside Halifax suffered from American privateering. In 1776, a force of New England rebels and disaffected Nova Scotians – hoping to launch a rebellion and seize the entire colony – made a futile attack on Fort Cumberland (Fort Beauséjour). The Fort's garrison held out until British troops arrived from Halifax, defeating the attackers and crushing the rebellion.

Loyalist Legacy

Despite the American rebels' failed efforts to bring their revolution to Nova Scotia and Canada, they did win their war against Britain in the 13 colonies. Prominent American colonists signed the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776. After a protracted struggle, British forces surrendered in October 1781. Two years later the Treaty of Paris formally recognized the United States of America.

The main consequence for the British colonies to the north was the emergence of a republican state – a powerful, continental neighbour of whom Canadians, Maritimers and their colonial rulers would remain suspicious for decades to come.

The Revolution also triggered the exodus of more than 80,000 Loyalist refugees out of the United States, about half of whom migrated into Québec and the Maritimes. Loyalist settlement greatly influenced the politics and culture of what would eventually become the nation of Canada, and determined that its development would differ profoundly from the United States (see Canada and the United States).


Battle of Quebec (1775) - HISTORY


Plaque erected in Quebec City marking the spot of American General Richard Montgomery’s death. “Here stood the Undaunted Fifty safeguarding Canada, defeating Montgomery at the Pres de Ville Barricade on the last day of 1775, Guy Carleton commanding at Quebec.”

Two hundred and thirty-five years ago tonight, American soldiers attacked the city of Quebec during a raging blizzard in a desperate attempt to capture Canada early in the Revolutionary War. Two separate American expeditions converged in the vicinity of Quebec City in December 1775. One led by General Richard Montgomery had moved up Lake Champlain from Albany, captured Montreal, and came to Quebec from the southwest. The other force, commanded by Benedict Arnold, had originated in Cambridge from the colonial forces gathered around Boston in the aftermath of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill. George Washington had ordered Arnold to lead a force through the wilderness of Maine and approach Quebec from the southeast. Inland portions of Maine were so wild and unexplored, however, that both Washington nor Arnold grossly underestimated the distances involved. By the time they reached Canada, more than half of Arnold’s force had either died or turned back.

Because Canada had only become a British possession sixteen years earlier, the Americans hoped to recruit many French Canadian residents to their cause, but most either ignored the Americans or sided with the handful of British defenders of the city. Without a popular uprising and lacking artillery sufficient to overcome the walls of the city, Montgomery and Arnold decided that their only chance of success was to attack during a snowstorm. The opportunity arose on New Year’s Eve. Montgomery led his force from the west along the banks of the Saint Lawrence. Arnold would come in from the northeast, skirting the walls of the upper city. The Americans hoped to first capture the lower city and then move upward to the main portion of Quebec.

Montgomery’s force met with some initial success, but the snow obscured a heavily defended British-Canadian blockhouse. As Montgomery and his aides passed nearby, those inside fired a cannon which wiped out the American command group, causing the rest of the force to immediately retreat. Arnold fared little better. He made it into the lower city, but the narrow streets of the old town restricted his ability to maneuver. Arnold was shot in the foot and was evacuated by his men. Those who stayed behind were soon surrounded and surrendered.

In the aftermath of the battle, Arnold and the surviving Americans loitered around Quebec for some time, but the knowledge that no American reinforcements were en route and the certainty that a large British force would arrive from Europe as soon as the St Lawrence melted led Arnold to withdraw to the colonies. No further attempt to capture Canada was made by the Americans. Ironically, the 8,000-man British Army that arrived that spring was the same one that advanced down Lake Champlain in 1777 and ultimately surrendered to the Americans in the Saratoga campaign.

Below shows the plaque where the American force led by Benedict Arnold was stopped by the British and Canadian defenders. Here stood her old and new defenders uniting, guarding, saving Canada, defeating Arnold at the Sault-au-Matelot barricade on the last day of 1775, Guy Carleton commanding at Quebec

7 Responses to The Battle of Quebec: December 31, 1775

Many of my ancestors lived in Quebec at the time. Lots of Irish came in that way because it was way cheaper than going to the US direct. I think the word today would be “awkward”!!

An excellent historical novel detailing the march through Maine and the hardships endured is Arundel by Kenneth Roberts (author also of Northwest Passage, the 1940 film starring Spencer Tracy and a young Dr. Marcus Welby, Robert Young) . However my favorite Roberts historical novel is Oliver Wiswell, a history of the Revolution told from the perspective of the Tory sympathizers with George III and Great Britain

Paul, thanks for the book recommendations. I’ve seen the movie “Northwest Passage” and enjoyed it very much so I’ll check out the other novels by Roberts.

In one of those delightful ironies that make history such a fascinating topic to study, Northwest Passage does have a connection to this post about the American attack on Quebec. Northwest Passage was the story of Robert Rogers, the foremost American hero of the French and Indian War. Born in Methuen, Massachusetts, Rogers created “Rogers Rangers” during the war and established the “Rangers’ Creed” which is still used by Army Rangers today.

When the American Revolution began, Rogers still retained a captain’s commission in the British Army. Rogers was ambivalent about the Revolution and was really just looking for a job. The British weren’t interested so he sought to join the Americans. He was interviewed by George Washington who did not trust him and who had Rogers banished. Rogers ended up in the British Army. His one claim to fame in the Revolution is that it was he who captured Nathan Hale, the young American spy who said “I only regret that I have one life to give for my country” just before they hanged him.

Rogers died in debt and squalor in England and that’s the connection to this post. That’s exactly what happened to Benedict Arnold after he betrayed America and went over to the British side.

Dick, the sports teams at Methuen High School are called “The Rangers,” if my memory is correct. Does this go back to Robert Rogers and the local history connection there? Seems like it would. … Pause … Answered my own question with a quick check on Wikipedia …: “Methuen High School’s athletic teams play in the Merrimack Valley Conference. Their big rivals are the Andover Golden Warriors, Central Catholic Raiders of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the Haverhill Hillies. On Thanksgiving Day, the American football team plays fellow Merrimack Valley foe, the Dracut Middies. The teams first met in a non-Thanksgiving Day game in 1935 and did not play again until the Thanksgiving series started in 1963. The school colors are blue and white and their mascot is the Ranger, named after Rogers’ Rangers, the precursor of the U.S. Army Rangers, which was founded by town resident Robert Rogers.”

I was not aware that Robert Rogers was from Methuen! I have both seen the movie and read the book. A quick Amazon search shows 2 recent biographies of Rogers plus 2 editions of his personal journal, one of which is illustrated and annotated. The Amazon-published review of “War on the Run” states (incorrectly?) that Rogers was born in “the wilds of New Hampshire” in 1731.

i need the information of why did the war start

Trasna

Exploring connections between Lowell and Ireland by introducing Irish writers to American readers.


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