The finest contemporary plan of Montgomery and Arnold’s disastrous assault on Quebec in December 1775.
In May 1775 a force under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured the British forts at Crown Point and Ticonderoga, from which were taken the cannon that ultimately enabled General Washington to drive the British from Boston. This opened a route into Canada, and in the Fall the Americans followed up by invading Quebec with a small force under Philip Richard Montgomery. Quebec was viewed by American leaders as a potential 14th Colony, as they believed it would take little to detach its mostly Francophone inhabitants from their allegiance to the British Empire.
After capturing both St. Johns and then Montreal in November, Montgomery advanced toward Quebec City. There in early December he linked up with a force under Arnold, who had somehow marched his men through hundreds of miles of Maine wilderness. Already depleted by the previous campaigning the combined “army,” if one could call it that, numbered only around 1000 men, as against some 1800 defenders in the city under command of General Guy Carleton. The Americans emplaced their troops on the Plains of Abraham and placed the city under siege, though they had little artillery and could not dig trenches in the frozen ground.
The term of enlistment of Arnold’s men was due to expire at the end of the year, so early in the morning of December 31 the Americans used the cover of a blizzard to launch an all-out attack on Quebec. Columns under Montgomery and Arnold attacked the Lower City at two different points, with disastrous results: Montgomery was killed early on and his column stopped in its tracks, while Arnold’s column penetrated further into the city but was eventually surrounded and forced to surrender (Arnold was not captured, having been badly wounded in the leg and carried from the battle.) After the battle Arnold assumed command and maintained the pretense of a siege through the long Quebec winter, but in May the St. Lawrence thawed, British reinforcements arrived, and the Americans were forced to retreat all the way to Lake Champlain. It would be more than 35 years before the United States made another attempt to wrest Canada from the British Empire.
This excellent battle plan was published by William Faden in September 1776, just four months after the raising of the siege. It depicts the city and its surroundings in great detail, emphasizing its spectacular setting on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence. The street layout; major landmarks such as the citadel, cathedral and Jesuit seminary; the fortifications; and even the inhabitants gardens are all clearly visible. The letters “L” and “M” indicate the points of attack by Montgomery and Arnold on December 31st, Arnold’s position on the Plains of Abraham during the long winter siege is shown, as are two American batteries erected in April 1776 across the St. Lawrence. The topography and road network of the surrounding countryside are also shown in some detail, making clear the farcical nature of Arnold’s attempt to maintain a siege with the few hundred men at his disposal.
In all, an excellent map depicting the circumstances of the first major defeat suffered by the Continental Army.
Nebenzahl & Higginbotham, Atlas of the American Revolution, #6 (illus. pp. 52-53) and pp. 64-65. Nebenzahl, Bibliography of Printed Battle Plans of the American Revolution, #44. Sellers & Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, #609.
Owned in partnership with Barry Ruderman Antique Maps.