American Revolution: Major General Richard Montgomery

Battle of Quebec
Death of Montgomery by John Trumbull. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Richard Montgomery - Early Life:

Richard Montgomery was born in Ireland on December 2, 1738. The son a British officer and member of the Irish Parliament, Montgomery received an outstanding education at a school outside of Belfast. Moving to Dublin, he entered Trinity College in 1754. Though a gifted student, Montgomery did not complete his degree as his father encouraged him seek a military career.

Acquiescing, Montgomery accepted a commission as an ensign in the 17th Regiment of Foot on September 21, 1756 and prepared to take part in the French & Indian War.

Richard Montgomery - French & Indian War:

Departing their garrison at Galway on February 3, 1757, the regiment embarked for North America. Arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia in July, the 17th later moved to New York for winter quarters. Returning north the following year, the regiment and Montgomery took part in Major General Jeffery Amherst's successful siege of Louisbourg that summer. Distinguishing himself in the action, Montgomery was promoted to lieutenant. Transferred to New York, the 17th took part in Amherst's campaign against Fort Carillon in 1759. After capturing the fort, the 17th was assigned to garrison duty in the Mohawk Valley.

During the 1760 campaign season, Montgomery participated in the fighting for Montreal at Ile aux Noix and Fort Chambly.

Ordered to the Caribbean, the regiment took part in the capture of Martinique in February 1762 and Montgomery was among those who stormed Morro Castle during the attack on Havana that June. For his actions, he was promoted to captain. Returning to New York in August, the 17th remained inactive until the end of the war.

With the outbreak of Pontiac's Rebellion it was ordered to Albany in June 1763. During the voyage up the Hudson River, Montgomery's ship grounded.

While waiting for it to be refloated, he met Janet Livingston, the daughter of the powerful Robert Livingston. Assigned to Fort Stanwix, Montgomery remained there until 1764 when he applied to General Thomas Gage for leave citing health issues from his time in the Caribbean. His request was granted but with the requirement that he first participate in the upcoming campaign against the rebelling Native Americans. Doing so, Montgomery saw action across the Great Lakes region and learned a great deal about how to work with the Native Americans. Returning to New York, he departed for England that fall.

Richard Montgomery - Becoming an American:

In Britain, he began associating with a number of prominent Whig Members of Parliament such as Edmund Burke and Isaac Barre. Sympathetic to the American colonists' concerns as tensions rose with the government in London, Montgomery's changing politics began to affect his career. Following a successful recruitmenting assignment, he was passed over for promotion in 1771. Electing to sell his commission for £1,500, he left the army the following year and sailed for New York with the intention of becoming a gentleman farmer.

Arriving, he purchased a farm at King's Bridge just north of New York City.

Renewing his acquaintance with Janet Livingston, the two were married on July 24, 1773. Moving to Rhinebeck, NY, the couple began building large farm. As the Livingstons were prominent Patriots, Montgomery's politic views continued to shift towards the American cause. In the wake of the fighting at Lexington and Concord, Montgomery was elected to the New York Provincial Congress in May 1775. A moderate Patriot, he was reluctant to attend and hoped that an honorable reconciliation could be achieved with Britain. Due his experience, he was selected to aid in developing New York's defenses and finding supplies.

Richard Montgomery - American Revolution:

With the appointment of General George Washington to lead the Continental Army, New York was asked by the Second Continental Congress to nominate two men as generals.

On June 22, 1775, the government selected Philip Schuyler to be a major general and Montgomery a brigadier general. Though respecting Schuyler, Montgomery expressed concern over his appointment as he lacked military experience. Briefly meeting with Washington on June 25, Montgomery was made Schuyler's deputy and the two men were soon tasked with invading Canada through the Lake Champlain corridor.

With troops assembling at Fort Ticonderoga, Schuyler departed to negotiate with the Iroquois Confederacy in hopes of keeping them neutral. In command at the fort, Montgomery began pressing up the lake when word reached him that the British were seeking to build warships to control its waters. Joining Montgomery at Isle la Motte, the Americans pushed up to Ile aux Noix in the Richelieu River. From here, Montgomery conducted probing attacks against Fort St. Johns. With Schuyler's health declining, Montgomery increasingly took control of the army and the commander returned to Fort Ticonderoga on September 16.

That same day, Montgomery launched an attack against Fort St. Jean. Unable to storm the fort, he was forced to lay siege. While operations against the fort continued, Montgomery dispatched men to capture Fort Chambly to the north. This was successful and improved the morale of his men. Finally on November 2 the British garrison surrendered. Though a victory, the siege had badly delayed the campaign with winter approaching. Pushing north, Montgomery captured Montreal on November 13 without firing a shot and took possession of a nearby British flotilla.

Montgomery's warm treatment of the British prisoners led to angry comments from several of his officers. Though he considered resigning, several letters from Washington convinced Montgomery to remain in his post. Embarking 300 men, Montgomery moved downstream towards Quebec City. Approaching the city on December 2, he united with Colonel Benedict Arnold's column which had advanced north through the Maine wilderness. Surrounding the city, Montgomery issued an order to Major General Sir Guy Carleton to surrender. Refusing, Carleton prepared for the American attack.

Over the next few weeks, Montgomery began an ineffectual bombardment of the city while also encouraging its residents to rebel against British rule. Meeting with Arnold, the two planned an assault on the city which would become the Battle of Quebec. Within its walls, Carleton possessed a garrison of 1,800 regulars and militia. Aware of American activities in the area, he made efforts to enhance the city's formidable defenses by erecting a series of barricades. To attack the city, Montgomery and Arnold planned on advancing from two directions.

Montgomery was to attack from the west, moving along the St. Lawrence waterfront, while Arnold was to advance from the north, marching along the St. Charles River. The two were to reunite at point where the rivers joined and then turn to attack the city wall. Moving out on December 30, the assault began after midnight on the 31st during a snowstorm. Advancing past the Cape Diamond Bastion, Montgomery's force pressed into the Lower Town where they encountered the first barricade.

Forming to attack the barricade's 30 defenders, the Americans were stunned when the first British volley struck Montgomery in the head and thighs killing him. Their leader dead, the attack collapsed.

With Montgomery's death one of the most promising generals in American service was lost. Unknown to him, he had been promoted to major general on December 9. Well respected by both sides, Carleton ordered that Montgomery be given a proper funeral and he was buried at Quebec on January 4, 1776. In 1818, his remains were moved back to New York City and reinterred at St. Paul's Chapel. Learning of Montgomery's death, Washington commented, "In the death of this gentleman, America has sustained a heavy loss."

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