Revolutionary War: the Battle of Quebec



THE little army of republicans under Montgomery, less than a thousand in number, with two hundred Canadian volunteers led by Colonel James Livingston, pressed on toward Quebec from Point aux Trembles, and arrived before the town on the evening of the 5th of December. The general made his quarters at Holland House, two or three miles from the city, and on the following morning he sent a flag with a message to Governor Carleton, demanding an instant surrender of the post. The flag was fired upon. Montgomery, indignant at such treatment--such violation of the rules of war among civilized nations--sent a threatening letter to Carleton, and another to the inhabitants. These were taken into the city by a woman, and a copy of the latter was shot over the walls, into the town, on an arrow from an Indian bow. Carleton refused to have any intercourse with the "rebel general," and the latter prepared to assail the walled town with his handful of men, ill-clad, ill-fed, and exposed to storms and intense cold on the open Plains of Abraham.

The ground was too hard frozen to be penetrated with pick or spade, and the snow covered it in huge drifts; so Montgomery filled gabions (a sort of wicker-work baskets) with snow, poured water over the mass, which instantly congealed, and soon raised a huge ice-mound. Upon this glittering embankment Lamb placed in battery six 12-pound cannon and two howitzers. In the Lower Town he placed four or five mortars, from which he sent bomb-shells into the city and set a few buildings on fire. Montgomery made further unsuccessful efforts to communicate with the governor; and continued to throw shells into the city. At length some heavy round shot from the citadel shivered Lamb's crystal battery into fragments, and compelled him to withdraw. The cannon of the Americans made no impression on the heavy walls, and Montgomery was compelled to resort to other measures for taking the city. It was now determined to wait for expected reinforcements, but for a fortnight they waited in vain. The Congress were tardy in their actions; and for want of hard money Schuyler was almost powerless to procure men or supplies. He used his own personal credit largely, but he could not send on men. A friend in Montreal had helped Montgomery to the extent of his ability, and the general was left to his own resources. The terms of the enlistment of many of his men had almost expired, and the deadly small-pox had appeared among them. A web of fearful difficulty was thus gathering around the general; but worse than all was a quarrel between Arnold and some of his officers, which caused the latter and their men to threaten to leave the service unless they were placed under another commander. Montgomery, by the exercise of wisdom and justice, healed the dissensions; and at Christmas time a plan was arranged by a council of officers to assail the town at two points simultaneously; one division of the troops to be under the immediate command of the general, and another under Arnold. The latter was to make a night attack upon the Lower Town, setting fire to houses in the suburb St. Roque so as to consume the British stockade in that quarter, while the main body should attempt to take Cape Diamond Bastion, a strong part of the city walls on the highest point of the rocky promontory. It was determined to make the assault on the first stormy night.

At length the serene, cold days and nights were ended, and on the evening of the 30th of December (1775) a snow-storm set in. Montgomery's force was now reduced by sickness and desertion to seven hundred and fifty men, but the brave soldier was determined to assail the town with this handful. He gave orders for his troops to be ready to move at two o'clock in the morning of the 31st. Colonel Livingston was directed to make a feigned attack on St. Louis Gate and set it on fire, while Major Brown should menace Cape Diamond Bastion. Arnold was directed to lead three hundred and fifty men, with Lamb's artillery and Morgan's riflemen, to assail and fire the works in St. Roque, while Montgomery should lead the remainder below Cape Diamond along the narrow space between the declivity and the St. Lawrence, carry the defences at the foot of the rocks, and endeavor to press forward and join Arnold. Being thus in possession of the whole Lower Town, the combined forces were to destroy Prescott Gate, at the foot of Mountain street, and rush into the city. No doubt full success would have rewarded their efforts had not a Canadian deserter revealed the plot to Carleton, who caused his troops to sleep on their arms and to be ready for action at all points.

In order to recognize each other, the republican soldiers were ordered to fasten a piece of white paper to the front of their caps. On some of them they wrote the words of Henry, "Liberty or Death." The narrow path along which Montgomery led his men at the foot of the acclivity, was blocked with ice and snow, and a strong wind blew blinding sleet and cutting hail in the faces of the patriots. They pressed on, and passing a deserted barrier, they approached a block-house, at the foot of Cape Diamond, pierced for musketry and cannon. All was silent there. Believing the garrison not to be on the alert, Montgomery, burning with impatience to win success, shouted to his immediate followers--the companies of Captains Cheeseman and Mott--"Men of New York, you will not fear to follow where your general leads; push on, my brave boys, and Quebec is ours!" and rushed forward to surprise the garrison and take the battery. There were vigilant eyes and ears in the block-house. In the dim light of a winter's dawn, through the thick snow-vail, forty men watched the coming republicans; and when Montgomery shouted to his followers, and was within fifty yards of the works, they opened a deadly fire of grape-shot from their cannon. Montgomery, his aid McPherson, Captain Cheeseman and ten others were instantly killed. The remainder retreated to Wolfe's Cove, where the senior officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, rallied them, but did not renew the effort to reach Prescott Gate.

While these sad events were occurring on the St. Lawrence side of the town, Arnold was making his way near the St. Charles, along a narrow way filled with snow-drifts. The town was in an uproar. The bells were ringing; the drums were beating a general alarm; and cannon were beginning to thunder. The storm was raging violently, and Arnold was compelled to march in single file. Lamb had to leave his cannon behind in the drifts, and join the fighters with small arms. At a narrow pass Arnold was wounded in the leg, and was carried to the General Hospital, when the command devolved on Morgan. The troops pressed forward under their new leader, captured a battery, and fought fiercely for three hours to capture another, and succeeded. Then Lamb was severely wounded. Morgan was about to push on to attack Prescott Gate, when the sad news came that troops under Dearborn, stationed near Palace Gate, had been captured by a party who had sallied out of the city, and had then cut off the retreat of Arnold's division in front. At ten o'clock, after he had lost full one hundred men, Morgan was compelled to surrender with more than four hundred followers. A reserve force of Arnold's division had retreated, and were soon joined to those under Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell. So ended the siege of Quebec.





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