Battling for a Claim in North America, The Battle of Quebec, 1759

The Battle of Quebec was one of the earliest conflicts in the American Revolutionary War. It heralded the first full scale defeat for the American forces in the battle against the British.

The Canadian Province of Quebec was held by the British. It was considered an important strategic stronghold. It was thought that if they could take control of Quebec they would seriously weaken the British army’s potential to launch an attack towards the Hudson River and block their path towards New York.

The attack on Quebec came from two sides. Benedict Arnold led a troop of 1,100 men from Cambridge Massachusetts and journeyed up through the wilderness land which now forms the state of Maine. The second prong of the attack was led by Richard Montgomery from Lake Champlain.

Both leaders had the incorrect assumption that as Quebec was only defended by 600 troops it would be an easy battle to win. They also wrongly thought that they had the overwhelming support of the Canadian people in Quebec.

In many ways the expedition was doomed from the start. Arnold’s troops were heavily depleted by the time they reached Quebec. The sea voyage had been ill advised and badly planned. The map of the sea route which Arnold was relying upon was inaccurate and missing many details. Many of the boats where badly constructed and began leaking. This lead to enormous problems including the destruction of supplies on the boats.

Not only was the sea voyage treacherous, the journey over land through Maine also proved to be extremely challenging. The boggy conditions, lack of food and inadequate maps severely depleted the health and the morale of the troops. 450 men turned back and abandoned the journey to Quebec.

Of the 1,100 troops who set out from Cambridge, only 600 reached Quebec. The journey had proved to be 350 miles, not the 180 that was originally estimated. The locals took pity on the troops and many helped by giving them food and shelter.

Arnold realized that he would have to wait until the Montgomery and his troops arrived before he could mount an attack.

The Americans hoped that their arrival would inspire the Canadians to surrender. This was a false hope. Instead the depleted and ill equipped soldiers faced a fortified city. They had seriously miscalculated the efforts required to take Quebec.

The combined American forces launched an attack on December 31 1775. They were met with relentless artillery fire from the British, and Montgomery was killed in the first attack. His men were forced to retreat.

Arnold’s part of the attack did not succeed either. They could not fight successfully against the heavily fortified British army. The Americans suffered heavy losses. More than one third of the 1,200 Americans who began the attack were either killed, injured or captured. British losses were light in comparison.

The defeated American troops retreated to outside the city, where they remained for several months. The soldiers withdrew completely when the British fleet arrived in May 1776.