American Revolution: Siege of Fort St. Jean

Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery
Brigadier General Richard Montgomery during the American Revolution. Public Domain

Siege of Fort St. Jean - Conflict & Date:

The Siege of Fort St. Jean was conducted September 17 to November 3, 1775, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

Armies & Commanders

Americans

British

Siege of Fort St. Jean - Background:

Less than a month after the war began at Lexington and Concord, American forces moved against Fort Ticonderoga at the south end of Lake Champlain.

Capturing the fort on May 10, Colonels Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen then moved north to raid Fort St. Jean on the Richelieu River. Attacking on May 18, Arnold succeeded in capturing a small warship before returning south to Fort Ticonderoga. Alerted to the American incursion, the governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton began directing reinforcements to the area. Shifting his headquarters to Montreal, Carleton next decided to concentrate the defense of region on Fort St. Jean. To hold the fort in the short term, Carleton sent Major Charles Preston with 140 men to reinforce the garrison. As the summer progressed, Preston's command grew to around 750 men.

Siege of Fort St. Jean - The American Plan:

In June 1775, the Continental Congress directed Major General Philip Schuyler to advance up Lake Champlain and initiate the invasion of Canada. Reaching Île-aux-Noix in the Richelieu River on September 4, Schuyler began probing towards Fort St.

Jean two days later. Landing near the fort, Schuyler and Brigadier General Richard Montgomery came under attack by around 100 Native Americans led by Claude de Lorimier and Gilbert Tice. Retreating back to their camp, American forces received a bleak report regarding the strength of the fort's garrison.

Though concerned, Schuyler elected to push forward with an attack on the fort after being reinforced by Connecticut and New York militia. A second foray towards Fort St. Jean on September 10, with Montgomery in command, proved unsuccessful.

Siege of Fort St. Jean - The Siege Begins:

Schuyler planned a third advance for September 13, but inclement weather led to its delay. In poor health, the American commander's constitution began to fail and he turned operations over to Montgomery. Further reinforced, Montgomery led the army against Fort St. Jean on September 16. Landing the next morning, his men advanced on the fort and a detachment under Colonel John Brown moved to block the road north to Montreal. As the day progressed, his command interdicted supply wagons heading for the fort. Learning of this, Preston dispatched part of his garrison to recover the lost goods. Marching out, the British attacked Brown, but Montgomery sent reinforcements which defeated the sortie. That night, Lorimier and Moses Hazen departed the fort, slipped through the American lines, and made their way to Montreal to inform Carleton of siege.

On September 18, Montgomery began building siege works outside of Fort St.

Jean. Constructing a mortar battery south of the fort, he dispatched Brown to La Prairie to watch the St. Lawrence River. Allen received similar orders and later departed for Longueuil. Aiding Montgomery's campaign was James Livingston, a local merchant, who raised pro-American militia which gathered at Point-Olivier, near British held Fort Chambly. With the siege continuing, Allen attempted to seize Montreal on September 25. Defeated at the Battle of Longue-Pointe, he was captured by British forces. At Fort St. Jean, conditions in the American camp quickly worsened as the wet ground made building siege lines difficult and disease became rampant.

Siege of Fort St. Jean - The Tide Turns:

In early October, heavy artillery began to arrive from Fort Ticonderoga. Emplacing the first gun on October 6, Montgomery increased pressure on Preston's garrison.

As additional artillery arrived, he ordered a new battery constructed on the eastern shore of the Richelieu. This commanded the river and led to the destruction of the armed schooner Royal Savage. To the north, Livingston commenced a siege of Fort Chambly with his militia. Held by only 82 men, the fort was surrendered by its commander, Major Joseph Stopford, on October 18. This victory was enhanced by the fact that Stopford failed to destroy the fort's supplies before capitulating. These were soon transported south to replenish Montgomery's badly depleted stores.

Word of Fort Chambly's loss soon reached Preston's post where it had a negative effect on morale. The situation quickly worsened when Montgomery built a new battery to the northwest. Apprised of Fort Chambly's surrender and the tightening noose around Fort St. Jean, Carleton elected to cross the St. Lawrence and march to the garrison's relief with around 1,000 men. On October 30, his men moved across the river but encountered heavy resistance from American forces at Longueuil. Repulsed, Carleton withdrew to Montreal. A second, smaller force, led by Colonel Allan Maclean attempted to move south from Sorel but lacked the numbers to continue without support. Further reinforced, Montgomery sent a prisoner from Carleton's relief force to deliver a surrender demand on November 1.

Siege of Fort St. Jean - Aftermath:

Though Preston attempted a counteroffer, the news of Carleton's defeat coupled with dwindling supplies led him to agree to terms the following day.

On November 3, his garrison marched out of Fort St. Jean and turned it over to American forces. In the fighting at Fort St. Jean American forces suffered between 20 to 100 killed and wounded while the British sustained 20 killed and 23 wounded. Learning of the fort's fall, Carleton elected to abandon Montreal and withdraw to Quebec. Departing on November 11, he narrowly escaped before American troops entered the city the next day. Though a victory for Montgomery, the Siege of Fort St. Jean proved time consuming and badly delayed the American campaign in Canada. Advancing down the St. Lawrence, he was unable to mount an attack on Quebec until December 31. Uniting with a force led by Arnold, Montgomery opened the Battle of Quebec that night. In the fighting, American troops were repulsed and Montgomery was killed.

Selected Sources