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Defense of Quebec

An American army, whose enlistments were due to expire on New Years Day, had laid siege to Quebec since December 6th and were now suffering from disease, starvation, and freezing in the Canadian winter.


Attack on Quebec City


To boost morale and take action before the army dissolvement, Generals Montgomery and Arnold decided to attack Quebec City on December 31st, 1775. Facing them were 1,800 British troops, mostly untrained provincials, volunteers, sailors, marines, and militia.


One unit stood out from the rest. Under the command of Captain Humphrey Owen, the detachment of 83 men from the 7th Royal Fusiliers provided a professional core of disciplined regulars to counter the American attack.


7th Royal Fusiliers Captain Humphry Owens defense of Quebec December 31, 1775

The detachment had Fusiliers draw from every company in the regiment, except the grenadiers. Consisting of five officers, one surgeon mate, one sergeant, six drummers, and seventy privates, these fusiliers formed the core around which Sir Guy Carleton built his defenses.


Defense of Quebec


Rather than attack Quebec head-on, General Montgomery led the first assault by going around the walls and attacking via the less secure coastal shore areas of the Saint Lawrence River. Just before the attack, General Montgomery shot rockets into the air to coordinate with General Arnold. He was to attack his objective at the same time as Montgomery. However, during the first assault, a blizzard decreased visibility and created further disorganization among the Americans.


Additionally, a small group of Canadians spotted the lanterns used by General Montgomery to guide his men and promptly opened fire at close range. A blast of grapeshot killed General Montgomery and those who were standing close to him. After Montgomery’s death, several of his men began to rout and flee.


Despite this, many continued to assault the city. The superior fortifications and defenses inside Quebec eventually forced the rest of Montgomery’s men to retreat. Thus, leaving General Arnold to fight the rest of the battle with his force.


General Arnold, who decided to move his troops around the northern part of the city, attacked and met the same resistance. Despite being coordinated with General Montgomery, General Arnold needed to cross a large amount of land. By the time General Arnold finally reached his target, the British and Canadians inside Quebec were well aware of the impending American attack due to Montgomery’s failed assault.


Arnold and his men were under almost constant musket and cannon fire during the march to the target. Nevertheless, they managed to reach their objective and begin entering the city. While crossing over an unmanned barricade, Arnold was shot in the leg and reluctantly left the field.


As a result, General Daniel Morgan took control of Arnold’s troops. Under Morgan, the remainder of Arnold’s forces managed to enter the city and reach the point where they were to link up with Montgomery’s forces. However, they had no idea that Montgomery was dead and that his attacks failed.

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775 oil painting completed in 1786 by the American artist John Trumbull
The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775

The confusion and pause in the combat gave Carleton enough time to reorganize the defenders of Quebec. They used the opportunity to attack the small group of Americans stuck in Quebec. When the two forces met, brutal street fighting began at close range.


Stuck in a narrow street with ineffective guns due to the weather, the Americans saw no other option than to surrender. By 9:00 in the morning, General Morgan and upwards of 400 Americans surrendered and were taken prisoner by the British.


Battle of Quebec facts british victory