On this day in 1775, Continental Army Brigadier General Richard Montgomery takes Montreal, Canada, without opposition.
Montgomery’s victory owed its success in part to Ethan Allen’s disorganized defeat at the hand of British General and Canadian Royal Governor Guy Carleton at Montreal on September 24, 1775. Allen’s misguided and undermanned attack on Montreal led to his capture by the British and imprisonment in Pendennis Castle in Cornwall, England. Although a failure in the short term, Allen’s attack had long-term benefits for the Patriots. Carleton had focused his attention on suppressing Allen’s attack, while refusing reinforcements to Fort St. Jean, to which Montgomery’s expedition laid siege from August 21 to November 3, 1775. Fort St. Jean’s commander, Major Charles Preston, surrendered on November 3, fearful of the hardship the town’s civilians would face during a winter under siege. With the final fortification between Montgomery and Montreal in Patriot hands and Carleton’s defenses depleted by the conflict with Allen, Montgomery’s forces entered Montreal with ease on November 13.
After Montgomery’s success at winning Montreal for the Patriots, Carleton escaped and fled to Quebec City, where he and Montgomery would, in December, again face one another in a climatic battle that would determine the fate of the Patriot invasion of Canada.
Facing the year-end expiration of their troops’ enlistment, Patriot forces advanced on Quebec under the cover of a blizzard at approximately 4 a.m. on December 31, 1775. The British defenders under Carleton were ready, however, and when Montgomery’s forces came within 50 yards of the city’s fortifications, 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, Colonel Benedict 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 off 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.
Carleton had successfully snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and secured Canada for the British empire.