The hopes for the Battle of Quebec were high, especially after the success of the fall of Fort St. Jean. Afraid of having the threat of the British always in the north, George Washington sent General Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold to gain military control of Quebec.
Montgomery’s party headed out in August and began the attack on of Fort St. Jean, capturing it finally in November. They headed towards Quebec to meet with Arnold with a much smaller army than they had originally had (due to sickness, expired enlistments, and desertion).
They reached Quebec in December. The plan was for Montgomery’s party to attack from the south and Arnold’s from the east. After the Siege at Fort St. Jean, Arnold’s and Montgomery’s armies were in pretty rough shape. They had traveled nearly 600 miles overland, were literally starving, and since General Carleton had escaped the siege and begun shoring up Quebec, they had lost the element of surprise.
The American soldiers were ordered to maintain good relationships with the Canadians (The French who had settled Canada), who were selling supplies to both the English and the Americans, but the Americans were quickly running out of gold. Eventually, after the French refused to accept American paper money, they simply took what they needed from French merchants.
Arnold’s army arrived before Gen. Montgomery’s, who were still camped out at Fort St. Jean. By the time Montgomery arrived, winter was setting in hard, they were out of supplies, the outbreak of sickness had significantly reduced their numbers, and the men were desperate. They planned a direct assault on the walls during a storm. The element of surprise and the cover of the snow storm would hide them. However, an American deserter informed General Carleton of their plan.
On December 30, the blizzard arrived. Montgomery led his men towards the city and were ambushed. Montgomery died in the gunfire exchange. While this was happening, Arnold took his men around the north side. With “Liberty or Death!” pinned to their hats, they approached the city’s walls and were promptly fired on by the British regular troops. They stormed forward and were met with a street fooricade.
John Trumbull’s depiction of General Montgomery’s death
in the Battle of Quebec | Public domain painting.
The Americans overcame this obstacle and the rest of Arnold’s men pressed through the fooricade. They had fallen into a trap. A larger fooricade blocked further progress and they were attacked with musket fire from above. Arnold was shot in the leg and taken from the field. Almost 400 men surrendered, and the rest of Arnold’s army was either dead or had retreated—some 1,000 men. The Americans were soundly beaten in the battle of Quebec, and though Canada didn’t join the United States, the French did end up helping the Americans win the war.
Arnold and the remainder of his men stayed, waiting for reinforcements, but eventually abandoned the area when British reinforcements arrived the next Spring.