Battle of Quebec (1775)

Battle of Quebec (1775)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict= Battle of Quebec

caption=Illustration of a British charge at the " Battle of Quebec " by Allan Daniel. Arnold's men are correctly depicted in summer uniforms, while the British are shown in heavy overcoats.
partof=the American Revolutionary War
date=December 31, 1775
place=Quebec City, Canada
result=Decisive British victory
commander1=Richard Montgomery
Benedict Arnold
James Livingston
commander2=Guy Carleton
casualties1=48 Killed
34 Wounded
372 Captured [Major General Richard Montgomery: The Making of an American Hero (2002) pg.170]
casualties2=5 Killed
14 Wounded [Major General Richard Montgomery: The Making of an American Hero (2002) pg.170]
The Battle of Quebec was an attempt on December 31, 1775, by American colonial rebels to capture the Canadian city of Quebec and enlist French Canadian support for the American Revolutionary War. The British commander, General Guy Carleton, could not get extensive help because the St. Lawrence River was frozen, and had to rely on the French-speaking militia of the city, who turned out in high numbers.

Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold were the two primary rebel commanders in the assault, which failed. The battle was the climax of the rebels' invasion of Canada and put an end to any hopes of French Canada rising in rebellion with the colonists. The battle didn't actually repulse the invasion; this occurred six months later with the arrival of 4,000 troops, who forced the Continentals to leave Quebec.


Arnold's Arrival

On November 9, the 600 survivors of Arnold march from Boston to Quebec, arrived outside of the city, on the Plains of Abraham. Despite the troops terrible conditions, Arnold immediately began to gather ships so they could cross the St. Lawrence River, and attack the walls of the city. [Wood p.44] Arnold was prepared to cross the river on the night of the 10th, but a storm arrived, delaying the crossing until the night of the 13th. [Wood p.44] After crossing the river, Arnold moved his troops to within a mile and a half of the walls. [Wood p.44]

Despite being outnumbered 1,200 to 600, Arnold demanded the city's surrender. [Wood p.46] However, both envoys he sent were targeted by the British cannon, and their request, declined. Arnold lacked any artillery, each man had only 5 cartridges, and over 100 of his muskets were unserviceable. [Wood p.46] Arnold concluded that he could not take the city by force, so he blockaded the city on its west side. On November 18, the Americans received news that the British were planning an attack with 800 men on them. A council of war decided that they could not continue the blockade, and Arnold began to move his men 20 miles upriver to Aspen Point, where they could find shelter. [Wood p.46]

Montgomery's Arrival

On December 2, Montgomery arrived from Montreal. As soon as Montgomery arrived, Arnold turned command of his force over to him. Montgomery brought with him 300 men, clothing, winter uniforms, ammunitions, provisions, and artillery. [Wood p.47] The two commanders quickly turned back towards Quebec, and put the city under siege. [Wood p.47]

Montgomery sent a personal letter to Carelton, demanding surrender. He used a woman as the messenger, but the request was declined, and the letter burned. Ten days later, he tried again, with the same result. [Wood p.47]

American Preparations

On December 10, the largest battery of artillery was put into position, 700 yards from the walls. The frozen ground prevented the Americans from entrenching the artillery, so they froze the snow, turning it into a solid wall. [Wood p.47] Montgomery realized he was in a very difficult position. He did not have siege artillery, so he could not assault the city, he could not dig entrenchments in the frozen ground, Arnold's men enlistments were up at the end of December, no ammunition was on the way from the colonies, and he could not wait until Spring, because British reinforcements would be on the way. [Wood p.48] Montgomery believed his only chance to take the city was during a snowstorm at night, when his men could storm the walls unnoticed. [Wood p.48]

A snowstorm arrived on the night of December 27, but it died down, and Montgomery was forced to call off the attack. A Rhode Island sergeant had deserted, and carried the plan of attack to the British, so Montgomery was forced to change his plan. The new plan called for two feints against Quebec's West Walls, and converging attacks on the lower town. [Wood p.48] Arnold would lead an attack and smash through the walls at the north end of the lower town. Montgomery would follow along the St. Lawrence and break through the walls of the Lower Town, and meet up with Arnold, and they would then launch a combined assault on the North Town. [Wood p.49] The new plan was only confided in the senior officers. [Wood p.49]

British Preperations

Carelton was aware that the lower town was the weakest point of his defenses. He made two log barricades, and erected Palisades along the St. Lawrence shoreline, covering them with his cannon. [Wood p.49] Carelton assigned his forces to defensive positions along the walls and the inner defenses. [Wood p.49]


Montgomery's Assault

A storm broke out on December 30, and Montgomery once again gave orders for the attack. He saw the flares set off by Captain Jacob Brown, signaling the start of the feint attack against the west walls. [Wood p.49]

Montgomery led his force of 300 men down the steep, snow-heaped path towards the outer defences. The storm had turned into a blizzard, making the advance a struggle. Eventually, Montgomery's men arrived at the palisade of the outer defences. The advance party contained carpenters, who sawed their way though the wall. Montgomery himself sawed the sencond Palisade, and led 50 men down a street. [Wood p.50] Montgomery and his storming party saw a two story building and began to charge at it. Fire broke out from the blockhouse, and Montgomery was instantly killed from a burst of grapeshot, which shot him through the head. The rest of the men fled back towards the palisade. Most of the storming party was killed or wounded, only Aaron Burr and a couple of others escaped unhurt. [Wood p.50] Captain Campbell led the remaining men back to the Plains.

Arnold's Assault

Arnold was unaware of Montgomery's death and his attack's failure, and he advanced with his main body towards the northern barricades of the lower town. Arnold had found all but one of his units accounted for, and left orders for the missing one to join in on the assault when they arrived. [Wood p.50]

Arnold and his advance party managed to pass the gates and the British gun batteries undetected. However, the advance party came to a row of buildings, and heavy fire broke out from the walls above them. [Wood p.51] It was impossible to return fire to the defenders on the walls, so Arnold ordered his men to run forward under heavy fire. [Wood p.51] Arnold and his men soon advanced down a narrow street, where they were once again under fire. Arnold was organizing his men in an attempt to take the barricade, when he was shot in his ankle, and carried to the rear. [Wood p.51] Daniel Morgan took command of the forces. [Wood p.51] Under his command, they captured the first barricade. But while awaiting further orders, the Americans were attacked from the street and surrounding row houses by hundreds of militia. A British counterattack reoccupied the first barricade, trapping Morgan and his men within the narrow streets of the city. With no way of retreat and under heavy fire, all of Morgan's men surrendered. By 10:00, the battle was over, with Morgan surrendering himself and the last pocket of Continental resistance in the city. Of Arnold's command, over 30 of his men were killed (20 more were later found after the spring thaw and several more drowned while fleeing across the frozen rivers), and 426 prisoners were taken along with Morgan. At least 12 more colonists of Montgomery's brigade were killed or wounded on the southern riverbank after the attack. The British commander, Guy Carleton, reported his losses as one British naval officer and five French Canadian militia killed, with four British soldiers and 15 militia wounded.


Arnold refused to give up and retreat; despite being outnumbered three to one, the sub-freezing temperature of the winter and the mass desertions of his men after their enlistments expired on December 31, 1775—laid siege to Quebec. This siege had little effect on the city.

Arnold, now a Brigadier General, was reinforced with Wooster's brigade in March 1776, bringing their strength to 2,000 men.

While the Continental rebels were unable to mount a new assault on the city, the siege continued until John Burgoyne's division of 4,000 men arrived on May 6, 1776, which forced the colonial army to retreat south, back to New York.


Clément Gosselin and his spy network drafted a report on the state of Quebec in October 1778 for Congress, which was planning another attack on the British in Quebec with the help of the French. But the plan was not implemented. In 1780 yet another attempt was considered, but George Washington, fearing he could not hold Quebec even if he took it, wrote Moses Hazen a letter explaining that he could not again risk being forced to leave Quebec and causing misery for the Québécois who might support him. [Washington's letter to Hazen in 1780.]



* Major General Richard Montgomery: The Making of an American Hero, by Michael P. Gabriel (2002)
* History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
* The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward
* [ James Livingston third attack]
* [ Chronology of the American invasion of Canada (Quebec 1775)]
* [ British Battles]

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