On December 10, the Americans set up their largest battery of artillery 700 yards (640 m) from the walls. The frozen ground had prevented the Americans from entrenching the artillery, so they froze some snow, turning it into a solid wall. This battery was used to fire on the city, but the damage it did was of little consequence. Montgomery realized he was in a very difficult position. He did not have siege artillery, so he could not assault the city, and he could not dig entrenchments in the frozen ground. The enlistments of Arnold’s men ended at the end of December, and no ammunition was on the way from the colonies. Furthermore, because British reinforcements were likely to arrive in the spring, he would either have to act or withdraw. Montgomery believed his only chance to take the city was during a snowstorm at night, when his men could storm the walls unnoticed.
While planning the attack on the city, Christophe Pélissier, a Frenchman living near Trois-Rivières, came to meet with Montgomery. Pélissier, who was politically supportive of the American cause, operated an ironworks at Saint-Maurice. Montgomery discussed the idea of holding the provincial convention with him. Pélissier recommended against holding a convention until after Quebec City had been taken, as the habitants would not feel free to act in that way until their security was better assured. The two did agree to have Pélissier’s ironworks provide munitions (ammunition, cannonballs, and the like) for the siege, which he did until the Americans retreated in May 1776 (at which time Pélissier also fled, eventually returning to France).
A snowstorm arrived on the night of December 27, but it died down, and Montgomery was unable to attack. A Rhode Island sergeant 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 western walls, to be led by Jacob Brown and James Livingston, which would converge with attacks that would be mounted on the lower town. 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 Upper Town. The new plan was only exposed to the senior officers.
John Trumbull’s 1786 Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on QuebecA storm broke out on December 30, and Montgomery once again gave orders for the attack. Jacob Brown led 100 militia men, and Livingston 200, as they headed to the northern gates. Montgomery commanded a force of about 300 New York men, with Arnold leading the largest force of about 600, along with a six-pound (2.7 kg) cannon, against the lower town. When Brown was in position, sometime between 4 and 5 am, he fired flares and his men began to fire on the Cape Diamond Bastion while Livingston’s opened fire on the St. John’s Gate. Montgomery and Arnold, seeing the flares, set off for the lower town.
Montgomery led his men down the steep, snow-heaped path towards the outer defenses. The storm had turned into a blizzard, making the advance a struggle. Eventually, Montgomery’s men arrived at the palisade of the outer defenses. The advance party contained carpenters, who sawed their way though the wall. Montgomery himself sawed the second Palisade, and led 50 men down a street. Montgomery and his storming party saw a two story building and began to charge at it. Fire broke out from this blockhouse, which in fact housed a small contingent of defenders armed with muskets and cannons, and Montgomery was instantly killed, shot through the head by a burst of grapeshot. The rest of the men fled back towards the palisade. Most of the storming party was killed or wounded; only Aaron Burr and a few others escaped unhurt. One of the uninjured officers led the few remaining men back to the Plains.
Arnold, unaware of Montgomery’s death and his attack’s failure, advanced with his main body toward the northern barricades of the lower town. They managed to pass the gates and the British gun batteries undetected. However, as the advance party came to a row of buildings, heavy fire broke out from the walls above them. It was impossible to return fire to the defenders on the walls, so Arnold ordered his men to run forward. Arnold and his men soon advanced down a narrow street, where they once again came under fire. Arnold was organizing his men in an attempt to take the barricade when he was shot in his ankle. After he was carried to the rear, Daniel Morgan, the noted rifleman who was then a lieutenant colonel leading one of Arnold’s regiments, took command of the forces. Under his command, they captured the first barricade, but were stymied in their advance by the narrow twisting streets, and by damp powder. Morgan and his men holed up in some buildings to dry out their powder and rearm, but they eventually came under increasing fire as Carleton, having realized the attacks on the northern gates were feints, began concentrating his forces in the lower town. 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 am, the battle was over, with Morgan surrendering himself and the last pocket of Continental resistance in the city.
Of Arnold’s command, more than 30 of his men were immediately killed and about 350 prisoners were taken along with Morgan. Twenty more casualties were later found after the spring thaw and several more drowned while fleeing across the frozen rivers. At least 12 more colonists of Montgomery’s brigade were killed or wounded on the southern riverbank after the attack. General Carleton reported his losses as one British naval officer and five French Canadian militia killed, with four British soldiers and 14 militia wounded.
NEXT MONTH: BATTLE OF QUEBEC (CONT.)