On this day in 1775, Patriot forces under Colonel Benedict Arnold and General Richard Montgomery attempt to capture the city of Quebec under cover of darkness and snowfall. They fail, and the effort costs Montgomery his life.
On December 2, Arnold, Montgomery and their troops met on the outskirts of Quebec and demanded the surrender of the city. Governor Sir Guy Carleton rejected their demand, and on December 8 the Patriots commenced a bombardment of Quebec, which was met by a counter-battery by the British defenders that disabled several of the Patriots’ guns. Facing the year-end expiration of their troops’ enlistment, the Patriot forces advanced on the city under the cover of a blizzard at approximately 4 a.m. on December 31. The British defenders were ready, however, and when Montgomery’s forces came within 50 yards of the fortified city, the British opened fire with a barrage of artillery and musket fire. Montgomery was killed in the first assault, and after several more attempts at penetrating Quebec’s defenses, his men were forced to retreat.
Meanwhile, Arnold’s division suffered a similar fate during their attack on the northern wall of the city. A two-gun battery opened fire on the advancing Americans, killing a number of troops and wounding Benedict Arnold in the leg. Patriot Daniel Morgan assumed command and made progress against the defenders, but halted at the second wall of fortifications to wait for reinforcements. By the time the rest of Arnold’s army finally arrived, the British had reorganized, forcing the Patriots to call of their attack. Of the 900 Americans who participated in the siege, 60 were killed or wounded and more than 400 were captured.
The remaining Patriot forces then retreated from Canada. Benedict Arnold remained in Canadian territory until the last of his soldiers had crossed the St. Lawrence River to safety. With the pursuing British forces almost in firing range, Arnold checked one last time to make sure all his men had escaped, then shot his horse and fled down the St. Lawrence in a canoe.
Less than five years later, Benedict Arnold, then commander of West Point, famously turned traitor when he agreed to surrender the important Hudson River fort to the British for a bribe of £20,000. The plot was uncovered after British spy John Andre was captured with incriminating papers, forcing Arnold to flee to British protection and join in their fight against the country that he had once so valiantly served.