Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 20, 1976 · Page 162
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 162

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 20, 1976
Page 162
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Page 162 article text (OCR)

The Death of Gen. Montgomery By John Schoolfield His little army had been reduced by smallpox and desertion to 750 men; but, on Dec. 31, 1775, in a raging snowstorm, he led his shivering, ill-fed band against the British positions at Quebec, the most strongly fortified city on the continent. If successful, all of Canada would have been in the hands of the Americans and that great wilderness region may have become the 14th American staie. Richard Montgomery, the son of an Irish member of the British Parliament, fought as an officer in the British army during the French and Indian War, returned home, and then in 1773 came back to live in America as a private citizen. He married into the influential Livingston family in the province of New York and settled down to the quiet life of a gentleman farmer along the shores of the Hudson River. On June 22, 1775, just five days after the battle of Bunker Hill, the Continental Congress named him as one of eight brigadier generals in the newly formed Continental Army. It saddened him to leave his young w i f e and peaceful estate, but, as he wrote to a friend, ".. . the will of an oppressed people, compelled to choose between liberty and slavery, must be obeyed." Montgomery was then 37 years old, a tall graceful man of a quiet and gentle nature. Montgomery was named second- in-command to Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler, who was then in Albany, N.Y., gathering men and supplies for an expedition against Canada. Schuyler became ill and Montgomery took command of the 1,200 poorly trained, undisciplined troops and in late August started north through the wilderness. His goal was to join with Benedict Arnold's expedition struggling toward Canada through the wilds of Maine and, : with the combined forces, to capture Quebec. Montgomery overcame a strong British garrison at St. John, on the Sorel River 20 miles below Montreal, on Nov. 2; but the stubborn enemy resistance had cost him precious time. His i n s u b o r d i n a t e army, unwilling to face the rigors of a Canadian winter, was on the verge of mutiny, and Montgomery, fighting back a desire to resign his commission and go home, wrote Schuyler that every private soldier considered himself a general and demanded a voice in all decisions. Despite his difficulties, Montgomery moved on Montreal and took it without a fight on Nov. 13 as the British fell back on Quebec, the only remaining barrier to the conquest of Canada. In Montreal, Montgomery received word of his promotion to major general. Late in November he left a small garrison at Montreal and with 300 men marched through heavy snow across frozen trails to join Arnold j u s t south of Quebec on Dec. 3. Montgomery immediately took command of the combined forces and laid siege to the walled city, which was held by Gen. Guy Carleton, governor of Canada, and 1,800 men. The following weeks were agonizing ones for Montgomery. The^ strong British garrison, living in relative comfort behind the fortified walls of the old city, refused to surrender. Meanwhile, Montgomery's men left for home, company at a time, as their terms of enlistment expired. Others deserted to the enemy. Snow fell almost daily, food was scarce, and dreaded smallpox broke out and raged through the ranks. It was a miserable Christmas for these suffering men and Montgomery knew he must quickly attempt to take Quebec by assault or abandon the siege. He chose to assault. The Americans advanced on the city under cover of a blinding snowstorm in the dark and gloomy pre-' dawn hours of the morning of New Year's Eve. Arnold led 350 men against the works on one side of the city while Montgomery with the remaining troops advanced toward the defenses on the south. Montgomery led his men along a narrow, icy path beside the St. Lawrence River, rounded a jutting rocky cliff and moved into a pass rendered almost inpenetrable by drifting snow and great masses of ice. They took the first enemy outpost by surprise and Montgomery rushed forward at the head of a small advance guard against a second barrier that loomed ahead. "Quebec is ours," he shouted as he ran forward, sword in hand. At that moment a lone cannon opened fire with grape shot. Montgomery, two young aides, and 10 soldiers fell mortally wounded in the snow. Meanwhile Arnold had suffered a leg wound in his assault and had to be carried to the rear. The Americans, dispirited over the loss of their leaders, abandoned the assault and Quebec remained in British hands. Montgomery's body was found by the British the next day and buried within the walls of the city. Forty- three years later, in July, 1818, his widow stood alone on the lawn ot h e r H u d s o n R i v e r estate a n d watched as a flag-draped barge moved slowly down river, bearing the body of her gallant husband to its final resting place at St. Paul's Church in New York City. (Copyright 1975 by John School- ficM) State Magazine, June 20, J976. 'CHARLESTON. W.VA.

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