The Battle of Quebec: Definition & Summary

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

You've probably heard of major Revolutionary War battles like Bunker Hill and Ticonderoga, but what about the Battle of Quebec? In this lesson, you will learn about the main events and outcomes of the Battle of Quebec.

Start of the American Revolution

What do you do when confronted by a bully? Do you stand up for yourself or do let the bully say and do what they want to you? For the American colonists, the bullies were the King of England and Parliament, and by 1775, the colonists were ready to take these foes head-on. The American Revolution started in April 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Within a few short months, the Second Continental Congress was creating tactical plans to fight the British. One of these plans included sending troops into Canada, where the British had multiple forts and outposts. It would lead to the Battle of Quebec, which took place Dec. 31, 1775, during which British forces would defend Quebec City against American soldiers.

Invading Canada

In September 1775, two groups of American soldiers were sent to invade Canada. The first group was led by General Richard Montgomery. From Fort Ticonderoga in New York, the troops worked their way across Lake Champlain to Montreal. After capturing Montreal in November, the plan was for Montgomery to continue on to Quebec City.

General Richard Montgomery
General Richard Montgomery

The second set of troops was led by Colonel Benedict Arnold. (You may know his name, but not because of the Battle of Quebec--several years into the Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold switched sides and sold out his fellow Americans to the British, and so his name is generally used to call someone a traitor.) Arnold and his roughly 1,100 men were supposed to leave the Boston area and travel north through Maine to get to Quebec City. Unfortunately for Arnold and his troops, they became the victims of very poor planning. Not only were their maps of Maine's wilderness incorrect, they also ran out of food and supplies. By the time Arnold actually reached Quebec City, he only had about half of the men he started out with.

Colonel Benedict Arnold
Colonel Benedict Arnold

Attacking Quebec City

When Benedict Arnold reached Quebec in November, it was pretty obvious to him and his troops that there was no way they could capture the capital city. He and his troops sat and waited until Montgomery caught up to them so they could attack the city together. On Dec. 2, Montgomery arrived with roughly 300 men.

Meanwhile, inside Quebec City, lieutenant-governor Guy Carleton had plenty of time to figure out his strategy. Quebec City was already fortified by a large wall, but Carleton put his 1,800 troops to work building additional barricades to block any American troops that managed to get inside the city's walls.

The Battle of Quebec

By the end of December, both Montgomery and Arnold knew their time was running out. Most of the men in their troops had enlisted, and their service expired at the end of the year. The two leaders formulated a plan to attack Quebec City. Montgomery and his troops would approach from the west, while Arnold would attack the city from the north. On New Year's Eve, the Americans made their move at midnight as it was snowing.

Carleton knew they were coming and instructed the British troops to start firing on Montgomery's men. Montgomery was shot and killed. The Americans were shocked--they had only just started fighting and their leader was dead! Montgomery's troops began to retreat.

Death of General Montgomery painted by John Trumbull, 1786
Death of General Montgomery painted by John Trumbull 1786

Meanwhile, Arnold was moving on the other side of the city and had no idea that not only was Montgomery dead, but the other half of the American forces had stopped fighting. The British opened fire once again, this time shooting Arnold in the leg. He did not die, but Captain Daniel Morgan took over command. Under Morgan's direction, the Americans made it to the first barricade inside the city, but the British managed to surround them from all sides, forcing them to surrender. In total, the Americans suffered roughly 60 casualties and just over 400 were captured. The British, however, lost less than 30 men.

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