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Chapter 54:

The siege of Quebec.

November—December, 1775.

The day before Montgomery entered Montreal,
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Carleton, with more than a hundred regulars and Canadians, embarked on board some small vessels in the port to descend to Quebec. He was detained in the river for several days by contrary winds, and moreover he found the St. Lawrence, near the mouth of the Sorel, guarded by continental troops under Easton. On the seventeenth of November, Prescott, the brigadier who had so lately treated Allen with insolent cruelty, surrendered the flotilla of eleven sail with all the soldiers, sailors, and stores on board; but in the darkest hour of the previous night, Carleton, entering a small boat in the disguise of a peasant, had been safely paddled through the islands that lie opposite the Sorel. Touching as a fugitive at Trois Rivieres, he arrived on the nineteenth at Quebec, where his presence diffused joy and confidence among the loyal. Thus far he had shown [200] great poverty of resources as a military chief; but his
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humane disposition, his caution, his pride, and his firmness were guarantees that Quebec would be pertinaciously defended. Besides, he had been Wolfe's quartermaster general, and had himself witnessed how much of the success of his chief had been due to the rashness of Montcalm in risking a battle outside of the walls.

The rapid success of Montgomery had emboldened a party in Quebec to confess a willingness to receive him on terms of capitulation. But on the twenty second, Carleton ordered all persons who would not join in the defence of the town, to leave it within four days; and after their departure he found himself supported by more than three hundred regulars, three hundred and thirty Anglo-Canadian militia, five hundred and forty three French Canadians, four hundred and eighty five seamen and marines, beside a hundred and twenty artificers capable of bearing arms.

Montgomery had conquered rather as the leader of a disorderly band of turbulent freemen, than as the commander of a disciplined army. Not only had the troops from the different colonies had their separate regulations and terms of enlistment, but the privates retained the inquisitiveness and self-direction of civil life; so that his authority depended chiefly on his personal influence and his powers of persuasion. Now that Montreal was taken and winter was come, homesickness so prevailed among them that he was left with no more than eight hundred men to garrison his conquests, and to go down against Quebec. He was deserted even by most of the Green Mountain Boys, who at first were disposed to share his winter [201] campaign. The continental congress, which was eager

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for the occupation of Canada, took no seasonable care to supply the places of his men as their time of enlistment expired.

On the twenty sixth, leaving St. John's under the command of Marinus Willett of New York, and entrusting the government of Montreal to Wooster of Connecticut, and in the spirit of a lawgiver who was to regenerate the province, making a declaration that on his return he would call a convention of the Canadian people, Montgomery embarked on board three armed schooners with artillery and provisions and three hundred troops; and on the third day of De-

cember, at Point aux Trembles, made a junction with Arnold. ‘The famine-proof veterans,’ now but six hundred and seventy five in number, were paraded in front of the Catholic chapel, to hear their praises from the lips of the modest hero, who, in animating words, did justice to the courage with which they had braved the wilderness, and to their superior style of discipline. From the public stores which he had taken, they received clothing suited to the terrible climate; and about noon on the fifth, the little army, composed of less than a thousand American troops, and a volunteer regiment of about two hundred Canadians, appeared before Quebec, in midwinter, to take the strongest fortified city in America, defended by more than two hundred cannon of heavy metal, and a garrison of twice the number of the besiegers.

Quick of perception, of a hopeful temperament, and impatient of delay, Montgomery saw at a glance his difficulties, and yet ‘thought there was a fair prospect of success.’ He could not expect it from a [202] siege, for he had no battering train; nor by investing

Chap. LIV.} 1775. Dec.
the place, which had provisions for eight months; there could therefore be no hope of its capture but by storm, and as the engagements of the New England men ended with the thirty first of December, the assault must be made within twenty six days. He grieved for the loss of life that might ensue, but his decision was prompt and unchanging. The works of the lower town were the weakest; these he thought it possible to carry, and then the favor of the inhabitants in the upper town, their concern for their property, the unwarlike character of the garrison, the small military ability of Carleton, offered chances of victory.

The first act of Montgomery was a demand for the surrender of the city; but his flag of truce was not admitted. On the sixth he addressed an extravagant and menacing letter to Carleton, which was sent by a woman of the country, and of which a copy was afterwards shot into the town upon an arrow; but Carleton would hold no communication with him, and every effort at correspondence with the citizens failed.

Four or five mortars were placed in St. Roc's, but the small shells which they threw did no essential injury to the garrison. Meantime a battery was begun on the heights of Abraham, about seven hundred yards southwest of St. John's gate. The ground was frozen and covered with deep snow, so that earth was not to be had; the gabions and the interstices of the fascines were therefore filled with snow; and on this water was poured in large quantities, which froze instantly in the intense cold. On the fifteenth, the [203] day after the work was finished, a flag of truce was

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again sent towards the wall with letters for the governor; but he refused to receive them or ‘hold any kind of parley with rebels.’ Montgomery knew that Carleton was sincere, and if necessary would sooner be buried under heaps of ruins than come to terms. The battery, consisting of but six twelve-pounders and two howitzers, had been thrown up only to lull the enemy into security at other points; it was too light to make any impression on the walls, while its embankment was pierced through and through, and its guns destroyed by the heavy artillery of the fortress. Some lives were lost, but the invaders suffered more from pleurisy and other diseases of the lungs; and the smallpox began its ravages.

A faint glimmer of hope still lingered, that the repeated defiance would induce Carleton to come out; but he could not be provoked into making an attempt to drive off the besiegers. ‘To the storming we must come at last,’ said Montgomery. On the evening of the sixteenth, a council was held by all the commissioned officers of Arnold's detachment, and a large majority voted for making an assault as soon as the men could be provided with bayonets, hatchets, and hand grenades. ‘In case of success,’ said Montgomery, ‘the effects of those who have been most active against the united colonies must fall to the soldiery.’ Days of preparation ensued, during which he revolved his desperate situation. His rapid conquests had filled the voice of the world with his praise; the colonies held nothing impossible to his good conduct and fortune; he had received the order of congress to hold Quebec, if it should come into his [204] hands; should that fortress be taken the Canadians

Chap. LIV.} 1775. Dec.
would enter heartily into the Union and send their deputies to congress. ‘Fortune,’ said he, ‘favors the brave; and no fatal consequences are likely to attend a failure.’

One day the general, accompanied by his aidede-camp, Macpherson, the pure-minded, youthful enthusiast for liberty, went out to meditate on ‘the spot where Wolfe had fallen, fighting for England in friendship with America.’ He ran a parallel in his mind between the career of Wolfe and his own; he had lost the ambition which once sweetened a military life, and a sense of duty was now his only spring of action; if the Americans should continue to prosper, he wished to return to the retired life in which he alone found delight; but said he, ‘should the scene change, I shall be always ready to contribute to the public safety.’ And his last message to his brother-in-law was: ‘Adieu, my dear Robert; may your happy talents ever be directed to the good of mankind.’

As the time for the assault drew near, three captains in Arnold's battalion, whose term of service was soon to expire, created dissension and showed a mutinous disaffection to the service. In the evening of the twenty third, Montgomery repaired to their quarters, and in few words gave them leave to stand aside; ‘he would compel none; he wanted with him no persons who went with reluctance.’ His words recalled the officers to their duty, but the incident hurried him into a resolution to attempt gaining Quebec before the first of January, when his legal authority to restrain the waywardness of the discontented would cease. At sundown of Christmas he reviewed [205] Arnold's battalion at Morgan's quarters, and ad-

Chap. LIV.} 1775 Dec.
dressed them with spirit; after which a council of war agreed on a night attack on the lower town. For the following days the troops kept themselves in readiness at a moment's warning. In the interval the intention was revealed by a deserter to the garrison, so that every preparation was made against a surprise; two thirds of the men lay on their arms; in the upper town, Carleton and others not on duty slept in their clothes; in the lower, volunteer pickets kept watch; and they all wished ardently that the adventurous attempt might not be delayed.

The night of the twenty sixth was clear, and so cold that no man could handle his arms or scale a wall. The evening of the twenty seventh was hazy, and the troops were put in motion; but as the sky soon cleared up, the general, who was tender of their lives, called them back, choosing to wait for the shelter of a favorable night, that is, for a night of clouds and darkness with a storm of wind and snow.

For the next days the air was serene, and a mild westerly wind brightened the sky. On the thirtieth a snow storm from the northeast set in. But a few hours more of the old year remained, and with it the engagement of many of his troops would expire; Montgomery must act now, or resign the hope of crowning his career by the capture of Quebec. Orders were therefore given for the troops to be ready at two o'clock of the following morning; and that they might recognise one another, each soldier wore in his cap a piece of white paper, on which some of them wrote: ‘liberty or death.’

It was Montgomery's plan to alarm the garrison [206] at once, along the whole line of their defences.

Chap. LIV.} 1775. Dec.
Colonel James Livingston, with less than two hundred Canadians, was to attract attention by appearing before St. John's gate, on the southwest; while a company of Americans under Brown was to feign a movement on Cape Diamond, where the wall faces south by west, and from that high ground, at the proper time, were to fire a rocket, as the signal for beginning the real attacks on the lower town, under Arnold from the west and north, under Montgomery from the south and east.

The general, who reserved for his own party less than three hundred Yorkers, led them in Indian file from head quarters at Holland House to Wolfe's Cove, and then about two miles further along the shore. The path was so rough that in several places they were obliged to scramble up slant rocks covered with two feet of snow, and then, with a precipice on their right, to descend by sliding down fifteen or twenty feet. The wind, which was at east by north, blew furiously in their faces, with cutting hail, which the eye could not endure; their constant step wore the frozen snow into little lumps of ice, so that the men were fatigued by their struggles not to fall, and they could not keep their arms dry.

The signal from Cape Diamond being given more than half an hour too soon, the general with his aidede-camps, Macpherson and Burr, pushed on with the front, composed of Cheesman's company and Mott's; and more than half an hour before day they arrived at the first barrier, with the guides and carpenters. The rest of the party lagged behind; and the ladders were not within half a mile. Montgomery and Cheesman [207] were the first that entered the undefended bar-

Chap. LIV.} 1775. Dec.
rier, passing on between the rock and the pickets which the carpenters began to saw and wrench away. While a message was sent back to hurry up the troops, Montgomery went forward to observe the path before him. It was a very narrow defile, falling away to the river precipitously on the one side, and shut in by the scarped rock and overhanging cliff on the other, so that not more than five or six persons could walk abreast; a house built of logs and extending on the south nearly to the river, with loopholes for musketry and a battery of two three-pounders, intercepted the passage. It was held by a party consisting of thirty Canadian and eight British militiamen under John Coffin, with nine seamen under Barnsfare, the master of a transport, as cannoniers. The general listened, and heard no sound; and it was afterwards thought that the guard was not on the alert; but lights from lanterns on the plains of Abraham, as well as the signal rockets, had given the alarm; and at daybreak, through the storm, the body of troops was seen in full march from Wolfe's Cove. At their approach to the barrier, ‘a part of the guard was scared with a panic;’ but Coffin, who during the siege ‘had never missed an hour's duty,’ restored order, and the sailors stood at their guns with lighted linstocks.

Montgomery waited till about sixty men had joined him inside of the row of pickets; then exclaiming, ‘Men of New York, you will not fear to follow where your general leads; push on, brave boys; Quebec is ours!’ he pressed forward at double quick time to carry the battery. As he appeared on a little rising in the ground, at a distance of fifty yards or less from the mouths of the cannon, which were loaded [208] with grapeshot, Barnsfare discharged them with dead-

Chap. LIV.} 1775. Dec.
ly aim. Montgomery, his aid Macpherson, the young and gallant Cheesman, and ten others, instantly fell dead; Montgomery from three wounds. With him the soul of the expedition fled. Mott was eager to go forward; but some of the men complained that their arms were wet; one or more of the officers thought nothing further could be attempted with wearied troops and no arm but the bayonet; fireballs were thrown by the enemy to light up the scene; their musketeers began to fire from the loopholes of the blockhouse; and Donald Campbell, who assumed the command of the Yorkers, encountered the reproach of ordering an immediate retreat, which was effected without further loss.

On the northeastern side of the lower town, Arnold led the forlorn hope, which consisted of more than twice as many troops as followed Montgomery. The path along the St. Charles had been narrowed by masses of ice thrown up from the river; and the battery by which it was commanded might have raked every inch of it with grape shot, while their flank was exposed to musketry from the walls. As they reached Palace Gate, the bells of the city were rung, the drums beat a general alarm, and the cannon began to play. The Americans ran along in single file, holding down their heads on account of the storm, and covering their guns with their coats. Lamb and his company of artillery followed with a fieldpiece on a sled; the fieldpiece was soon abandoned, but he and his men took part in the assault.

The first barricade was at the Sault au Matelot, a jutting rock which left little space between the river [209]

Chap. LIV.} 1775. Dec.
beach and the precipice. Near this spot Arnold was severely wounded in the leg by a musket ball and carried off disabled; but Morgan's men, who formed the van, rushed forward to the portholes and fired into them, while others, Charles Porterfield the first, Morgan himself the second, mounted by ladders, carried the battery, and took its captain and guard prisoners. But Morgan was at first followed only by his own company and a few Pennsylvanians. It was still very dark; he had no guide; and he knew nothing of the defences of the town. The cold was extreme; so that the men were hoar with icicles. Their muskets were made useless by the storm. The glow of attack began to subside, and the danger of their position to appear. They were soon joined by Greene, Bigelow, and Meigs, so that there were at least two hundred Americans in the town; and they all fearlessly pressed on in the narrow way to the second barricade, at the eastern extremity of Sault au Matelot street, where the defences extended from the rock to the river. Under the direction of Greene, heroic efforts were made to carry them. With a voice louder than the northeast gale, Morgan cheered on his riflemen; but though Heth and Porterfield and a few others in the front files ascended the scaling ladders, it was only to see on the other side rows of troops prepared to receive them on hedges of bayonets if they had leaped down. Here was the greatest loss of life; some of the American officers fell; others received several balls in their clothes; and the assailants, of whose arms nine out of ten had been rendered useless by the storm, were exposed in the narrow street to a heavy fire from houses on both sides. A retreat was [210] thought of; but the moment for it soon went by;
Chap. LIV.} 1775. Dec.
though some few escaped, passing over the shoal ice on the St. Charles. Near daylight, about two hundred of the Americans withdrew from the streets, and found shelter in houses of stone, from which they could fire with better effect. It was then that Hendricks, while aiming his rifle, was shot through the heart. But the retreat of Campbell, and the certainty that the other attacks were only feints, left Carleton free to concentrate all his force against the party of Arnold. By his orders a sally was now made from Palace Gate, in the rear of the Americans, by Captain Laws, with two hundred men; they found Dearborn's company divided into two parties, each of which successively surrendered; and then the remnant of the assailants, ‘the flower of the rebel army,’ ‘was cooped up’ within the town. Morgan proposed that they should cut their way through their enemies; but retreat had become impracticable; and after maintaining the struggle till the last hope was gone, at ten o'clock they surrendered. Thus Greene, Meigs, Morgan, Hendricks, the hardy men who had passed the wilderness with purposes of conquest, made for themselves a heroic name, but found their way only to death or a prison. To the captives Carleton proved a humane and generous enemy. The loss of the British was inconsiderable; that of the Americans, in killed or wounded, was about sixty; in prisoners, between three and four hundred.

When the battle was over, thirteen bodies were found at the place now known as Pres-de-Ville. The body of Cheesman, whose career had been a brief but gallant one, had fallen over the rocks. In the pathway [211] lay Macpherson, a youth, as spotless as the new-

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fallen snow which was his winding sheet; full of genius for war, lovely in temper, honored by the affection and confidence of his chief; dear to the army, leaving not his like behind him. There, too, by his side, lay Richard Montgomery, on the spot where he fell. At his death he was in the first month of his fortieth year. He was tall and slender, well limbed, of a graceful address, and a strong and active frame. He could endure fatigue, and all changes and severities of climate. His judgment was cool, though he kindled in action, imparting confidence and sympathetic courage. Never himself negligent of duty, never avoiding danger, discriminating and energetic, he had the power of conducting freemen by their voluntary love and esteem. An experienced soldier, he was also well versed in letters, particularly in natural science. In private life he was a good husband, brother, and son, an amiable and faithful friend. The rectitude of his heart shone forth in his actions, which were habitually and unaffectedly directed by a nice moral sense. He overcame difficulties which others shunned to encounter. Foes and friends paid tribute to his worth. The governor, lieutenant governor, and council of Quebec, and all the principal officers of the garrison, buried him and his aide-de-camp, Macpherson, with the honors of war.

At the news of his death ‘the whole city of Philadelphia was in tears; every person seemed to have lost his nearest relative or heart friend.’ Congress proclaimed for him ‘their grateful remembrance, profound respect, and high veneration; and desiring [212] to transmit to future ages a truly worthy example of

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patriotism, conduct, boldness of enterprise, insuperable perseverance, and contempt of danger and death,’ they reared a marble monument ‘to the glory of Richard Montgomery.’

In the British parliament, the great defenders of liberty vied with each other in his praise. Barre, his veteran fellow-soldier in the late war, wept profusely as he expatiated on their fast friendship and participation of service in that season of enterprise and glory, and holding up the British commanders in review, pronounced a glowing tribute to his superior merits. Edmund Burke contrasted the condition of the eight thousand men, starved, disgraced, and shut up within the single town of Boston, with the movements of the hero who in one campaign had conquered two thirds of Canada. ‘I,’ replied North, ‘cannot join in lamenting the death of Montgomery as a public loss. He was brave, he was able, he was humane, he was generous; but still he was only a brave, able, humane, and generous rebel. Curse on his virtues, they've undone his country.’ ‘The term of rebel,’ retorted Fox, ‘is no certain mark of disgrace. All the great assertors of liberty, the saviors of their country, the benefactors of mankind in all ages, have been called rebels. We owe the constitution which enables us to sit in this house to a rebellion.’

So passed away the spirit of Montgomery, with the love of all that knew him, the grief of the nascent republic, and the eulogies of the world.

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