Richard Montgomery, Irish-born major general of the Continental Army, is killed at the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1776 during the American Revolutionary War.
Montgomery is born into a wealthy family in Swords, Dublin, on December 2, 1738. He attends Trinity College Dublin before dropping out to become a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the British Army. He serves with distinction during the Seven Years’ War, more commonly known as the French and Indian War, and is promoted several times, finally attaining the rank of captain before the end of the war. He is released from duty due to his health and returns to Great Britain to recover. In Britain, he discusses politics and affiliates with the Whigs political party in Parliament, who later supports American independence. When his health finally recovers, he resigns his commission from the British Army and moves to New York, settling into the life of a farmer. On July 24, 1773, he marries Janet Livingston, who is from an anti-British patriot family. He continues to cement his beliefs and begins to identify as an “American” rather than a “Briton.”
Eventually, Montgomery’s political beliefs turn into political action. In May 1775, he is elected as one of the ten deputies to represent Dutchess County in the New York Provincial Congress and is chosen to organize the militias and defenses of New York. After George Washington is chosen to be the commander of the Continental Army in June of the same year, the New York Provincial Congress is asked to choose two people for the rank major general and brigadier general for service in the new army. Philip Schuyler is appointed to the rank of major general. Montgomery protests the promotion, arguing that Schuyler does not have enough combat experience to be an effective leader. Later, the New York Provincial Congress appoints Montgomery as brigadier general because of his military experience. General Washington personally appoints the reluctant Montgomery to be Schuyler’s second in command. This move is just in time as Schuyler falls ill during at the start of the invasion of Canada, thus giving Montgomery control of the campaign.
Once in command, Montgomery begins a successful campaign in Canada as General Benedict Arnold is marching through the wilderness of modern-day Maine to meet him in Quebec. He captures numerous strongpoints and eventually the city of Montreal falls to the Patriots. His numerous victories and kind treatment of British prisoners take a toll on the Patriot militias under his command, who demand rest and the same provisions given to the British prisoners. The commanding general is reluctant to lead his soldiers, who he has seen as undisciplined. It takes a personal letter from General Washington to reassure him that there is insubordination and lack of discipline all throughout the Continental Army and that resignation is not the answer. Nevertheless, he continues to Quebec to meet Arnold and his army.
When Montgomery and his men arrive outside Quebec, his force consists of some 300 men compared to Arnold’s 1,000 men. Now a major general, he establishes siege lines around the city of Quebec and demands the surrender of the defenders within. The terms of surrender are rejected numerous times, leaving him and Arnold with no other choice but to assault the city. He hopes that snow will hide the movement of his troops, thus, he plans on waiting for snowfall in order to attack. General Arnold, however, is worried about his men. A December 31 enlistment expiration is looming, that could drastically reduce the size of the assaulting force. Montgomery discovers waiting for the right time is not an option and coordinates an attack for the early hours of December 31, 1775. That morning, Montgomery leads a group of his men toward the interior of Quebec. With sword drawn and lantern out, the Patriots advance toward a blockhouse where the British and Canadian defenders notice this movement and let loose a volley of grapeshot and muskets, which instantly kills Montgomery and the men close to him.
Montgomery’s body is discovered after the failed attacks by the Continentals. The British defenders of Quebec bring his body to General Guy Carleton, who orders it be buried with respect and dignity. He is laid to rest in Quebec on January 4, 1776. News of his death causes widespread mourning, both in America and in the British Isles. Many Patriots elevate his status to a hero and martyr for independence and the American cause, while British members of parliament, especially the Whigs, use his death to mark the failures in the British response to the insurrection in their colonies. In July 1818 his remains are reinterred in New York.
(From: “Richard Montgemery,” American Battlefield Trust, http://www.battlefields.org)