1775: The Invasion of Canada

Initially, the Thirteen Colonies wanted the Canadiens as their allies. But after their clumsy attempt at diplomacy had failed, the Thirteen Colonies decided to attempt an invasion of Canada. General Washington appointed two men—General Richard Montgomery and Colonel Benedict Arnold—to organize and launch the proposed attack.10

The invasion of Canada had three primary objectives (and one imaginary):

America wanted to liberate the French from British rule.


They wanted to prevent Britain from using Canada as a base to strike against the Thirteen Colonies.


They wanted to absorb Quebec and make it part of the United States.


They wanted to put an end to all those horrendous talk shows that appear on the French CBC.

The American Plan

1). Two American armies would march overland through uncharted wilderness to strike at the Canadiens homeland. Brilliant!
2). These armies would attack Canada simultaneously from two directions—Montgomery from the south and Arnold from the east. Another stroke of brilliance!
3). Canadiens would accept the fact they all secretly desire to be Americans. Hmmm...

Ultimately, for the plan to succeed the American army had to defeat the English before the arrival of winter. As always, time and the weather was on the side of Canada.11

Montgomery: Fort St. Jean & Montreal

Before Montreal could be taken, the British fort at St. Jean had to be captured. Although Montgomery commanded a larger army than the British defenders, his men in comparison lacked training and were poorly disciplined. In fact, he had to discharge hundreds of troops before the battle for St. Jean even took place. His men were simply unfit to fight.

Fort St. Jean itself was defended by 600 well-trained English regular soldiers. The Americans knew they could not take the fort simply by storming it. Instead, they decided to cut the fort's supply lines and starve the defenders into submission.

The Americans pounded the British with artillery and destroyed virtually every building in the fort. By the first week of November, the siege of the St. Jean entered its third week. Montgomery's strategy took a long time but eventually met with success. The British commander of the fort, Major Charles Preston, approached the Americans to discuss terms for surrender.

Montgomery and Preston
Discuss the Surrender of Fort St. Jean

Click here to view and print the transcript from the movie "Montgomery and Preston Discuss the Terms of Surrender of Fort St. Jean.

Though successful the siege at St. Jean ultimately took too long. The Americans lost precious time and were behind schedule. In particular, General Montgomery's army would not be able to join with Colonel Arnold's forces at Quebec City until the early winter months. This was every invading commander's worst nightmare—attacking Quebec in the dead of winter without proper equipment, hope of reinforcement or of re-supply.

After capturing St. Jean, Montgomery moved on to the more important objective of Montreal. Governor Carleton requested that the people of Montreal evacuate north to Quebec City. Few people obeyed this order. Carleton barely escaped capture as he was still in the city at the time the Americans arrived. He escaped only by disguising himself as a peasant and walking between American sentries posted at the Recollet Gate. From there he headed north to prepare the defenses of Quebec.

For their part the majority of Montrealers welcomed the Americans as liberators. One of the leading citizens of Montreal wrote a letter of welcome to the invaders which read: "Our chains are broken...blissful liberty restores us to ourselves...We accept union as we accepted it in our hearts from the moment we learned of the address of the 26th October, 1774 [the Appeal to the Inhabitants of Quebec mentioned previously].12

Arnold Lays Siege to Quebec City

On December 3, 1775, the two American armies—Arnold's from the east and Montgomery's from the south—converged on Quebec City. The city's greatest asset—its fabled walls—were crumbling and in disrepair; and making matters worse for the British the Canadiens demonstrated at Montreal that they could not be counted on for support. Consequently, Carleton didn't hold much hope for a successful defense of the city.

"Could the people in the town by depended upon?" Carleton wrote, "I should flatter myself, we might hold out...But, we have as many enemies within [the City], and a foolish people, dupes to those traitors [the Americans], with the natural fears of men unused to war, I think our fate extremely doubtful, to say nothing worse."14

Though neither the walls nor the Canadiens could depended upon, Carleton was much encouraged when he saw the terrible state that Arnold and Montgomery's armies were in. Specifically, Colonel Arnold's army had had quite a difficult time of it.

Arnold left Maine for Quebec in September with a force of 1,100 men. By December his army was reduced nearly by half. Many soldiers had either deserted or died along the brutal 600 mile overland march. In other words, their "surprise" attack on Quebec turned out to be surprisingly difficult.

The Americans were so starving by the end of their journey that they were eating shoe leather, musket ball cartridge boxes, and their mascot (a pet Newfoundland dog) to stay alive. And all this took place before even a single shot had been fired upon Quebec.15

Meanwhile, French merchants were profiting by selling supplies to both the Americans and English. The Americans couldn't understand why the French would not join them when it appeared as though the invading army would win the conflict. The English (and Carleton in particular) felt betrayed. He had spent fifteen years working to improve French-English relations; moreover, he directly influenced colonial policy to secure rights for the French through the Quebec Act (1774).

In Montreal, American soldiers were ordered to be as friendly as possible to the French inhabitants, I.e. Paying for all their supplies in gold, observing local customs, respecting French civil laws, etc. If the French were treated well perhaps they would join the American cause? Unlikely. However, as the war entered its seventh week, the Americans ran out of gold to pay for supplies. They attempted to pay for equipment from French merchants by using American paper money. The merchants refused to accept the currency because it was completely worthless in Quebec. The Americans grew desperate for supplies so they took what they needed. Consequently, relations between the French and the foreign invaders deteriorated rapidly.16

On the 8th of November, Arnold and his pathetic army arrived at Quebec on the eastern shore of the St. Lawrence River. Arnold's first act was to write a letter (stop with the letters already (o.O)) to the defenders of Quebec demanding they surrender; it took him six days to even deliver the letter because the English repeatedly turned away the American couriers by gun fire. Once the letter actually reached Carleton, the British did not even bother drafting a response. Before he could begin the siege of Quebec City, Colonel Arnold had to wait for reinforcements from Montreal. Montgomery's delay at St. Jean cost the Americans precious irretrievable time. 17

In early December, Montgomery arrived with a tiny army of 300 men. The Americans sent another letter (oh, oh, another letter) to Carleton (this time Montgomery wrote it) and the British burned it unopened. The Americans responded to this by bombarding the walls of Quebec with their cannon. However, the American bombardment proved useless as the British defender's had more guns that were larger and shot further. Thus, the American artillery withdrew to a safe distance from the city; but the indomitable Montgomery would not give up so easily. He courageously ordered some of his men to attach letters to arrows and then had these messages sent over the walls.

Place your mouse over the arrow to open the Random American Propaganda Letter Arrow Generator (or R.A.P.L.A.G. for short).

Winter Grows Colder

By mid December the snows and winds of winter arrived making the American situation worse. They lacked adequate supplies, there was an outbreak of disease, and many soldiers' tour of duty was about to run out. Montgomery and Arnold had to try something drastic if they were to bring the invasion to a successful resolution.

Therefore, the desperate American commanders organized a direct assault on a weak point of Quebec City's walls. For their plan to work they would have to attack during a snow storm. The logic of the attack was solid: hit a weak point, get inside the city, and do it during a storm to avoid detection and too spread mass confusion.

My problem with this strategy is that the Americans thought it would be to their advantage to attack Canadians during a snow storm. What were they thinking? That's like believing you somehow have an advantage over a great white shark in a fist fight simply because you have some brass knuckles. As it turned out, Carleton learned of the attack from an American deserter before it even happened. So when the attack came the English were ready.18

Suicidal Night Attack

(Click to play dramatic music!)

On December 30th, the blizzard General Montgomery was waiting for finally arrived. Believing himself to be sneaky, Montgomery led his men through the swirling snow towards Quebec. In the distance, he could see the outline of a medium sized house. He led his men towards the house not knowing that a bunch of drunken Canadiens were expecting them. From under the cover of the swirling snowy darkness the Canadiens fired their weapons at the unsuspecting Americans. Montgomery died instantly as a musket ball tore through his head. The men who survived this first volley ran away.

A so-called artist's depiction of the death of Montgomery
My six year old son's depiction of the death of Montgomery

As Montgomery was "attacking" (more like dying) from the southwest, Arnold led a simultaneous attack on the north wall of the fortress. His men pinned the message "Liberty or Death!" to their hats. They should've just pinned, "Death!" Perhaps they should've spent less time pinning messages to themselves and writing letters and more time thinking about how dumb it was to attack a fortified position during a snow storm...? As Arnold's men approached the city walls, a small number of British regular troops fired down upon the Americans from the wall's ramparts.19

Pressed from above the Americans stormed forward but were stopped by a street barricade. The Americans quickly overcame the defenders of this obstacle. They cheered at their success; and thinking he had the better of his enemy, Arnold gave the order for all his remaining forces to pour into the opening. However, there was a problem: the Americans had walked into a trap, i.e. A second and considerably stronger barricade confronted them just down the street. During the confusion, the Americans were plastered with musket fire. Arnold himself was shot in the leg and carried from the field.

As Arnold's wounds were being looked after, his men were torn to shreds as they were now being hit from three sides and from above. I believe the philosopher Bart Simpson expressed it best when he said, "Easier than shooting turkeys in a barrel." Nearly four hundred Americans surrendered and the rest of Arnold's thousand-man army was either dead or had fled the scene. Montgomery's frozen, contorted hand was found the next morning protruding from the snow.20

Following the American defeat at Quebec City, Benedict Arnold wrote to his wife, "My wound has been exceedingly painful, [but] I have no thoughts of leaving this proud town until [I write a few more letters to the English defenders of Quebec City. For when I was a school boy my teacher said that the 'pen is mightier than the sword.' Naively, I took him literally and this was Montgomery's undoing, as well.]."21

The attack on Quebec failed miserably. Arnold and what remained of his "army" waited for reinforcements that never came. The Americans eventually fled the area when British reinforcements arrived following the spring thaw. The much vaunted invasion of Canada was over and Carleton earned a knighthood for his part in the defense of Quebec.

On July 2nd, 1776, the American invasionary army completely withdrew from Canada. And on July 4th of that same year, the Continental Congress issued its Declaration of Independence from England.22