The joint American force was about 1,000 men, and their clothing, mainly uniforms captured from the British, was so like that of the British and Canadian defenders of Quebec that Montgomery had his men wear sprigs of hemlock in their caps to distinguish them!
Governor Carleton knew from experience what had happened to Generals Montcalm and Murray when they had tried to fight off invaders by battling on the Plains of Abraham. He resolved to sit tight in the city and force the enemy to do the attacking. If he could hold out until Spring, the British navy would arrive and save the situation. This eventually did happen.
General Richard Montgomery and Colonel Benedict Arnold saw their army dwindling through disease and desertion, so they decided to try a surprise attack. It was cleverly planned, preceded by a number of feints and diversionary moves around the city. The main assault was launched at 2 a.m. on December 31, 1775. Arnold led one force from the east into Lower Town. Montgomery approached from the west along the river’s edge. The British sentries were alert, and the invading forces were met with heavy gunfire.
Arnold was wounded, and Montgomery was killed as he led his men, waving his sword and shouting, “Come on, brave boys, Quebec is ours!”
The bitterly fought battle lasted all night. When Arnold was wounded, Daniel Morgan took over the leadership and his Virginian riflemen shot the gunners from the platforms. The Americans dragged ladders to the 12-foot walls and tried to climb over. One of the Canadian defenders was a giant named Charles Charland. He would throw down the ladders and even drag them inside the fort.
When daylight came, the Americans were exposed, and General Guy Carleton finally drove them off after more fighting. The failure of the attack did not end Washington’s resolve to take Quebec and he sent reinforcements. The Americans eventually had 3,000 men outside the walls, but they never launched another attack like the one on the last day of 1775. Soon after, they had to withdraw from Canada.
There is much more to this battle. To read more, I would recommend Richard Howe’s page (www.richardhowe.com); then there’s The Patriot Resource (www.patriotresource.com); another great site that covers this is The History of Canada Online (canadachannel.ca)
- Carleton Fails to Rescue Preston (tkmorin.wordpress.com)