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Montgomery was born in Swords, Ireland. His father, Thomas Montgomery, was a former British Army Officer and a representative of Irish Parliament. He spent most of his childhood near Donegal, where he learned to hunt, ride, shoot, and fence. Thomas Montgomery made sure that Richard received a good education; he learned French, Latin, and rhetoric, and attended a school outside of Belfast. In 1754, Montgomery enrolled in Trinity College.
In 1754, the French and Indian War began in North America. Despite his great love of knowledge Richard did not receive a degree. He was urged by his father and his oldest brother Alexander, to join the military. He did so on September 21, 1756. Thomas purchased an ensign’s commission for Richard, and Richard joined the 17th Foot.
Seven Years War
On February 3, 1757, the British government ordered the 17th Foot to march from its garrison at Galway and prepare to be deployed overseas. On May 5, Montgomery and the 17th Foot left Cork and arrived at New York City. The 17th Foot was stationed at Fort George where Montgomery served on a court martial in October 1757. In 1758, the 17th Foot was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The British commanders began to draw up a plan to assault the French at Louisbourg, which was north of Halifax. The French garrison consisted of only 800 men, while the British force had 13,142 troops supported by 23 ships of the line and 13 frigates. On June 8, 1758, the attack began. Montgomery landed on the beach under heavy fire and ordered his troops to fix bayonets. The outer French defenses withdrew back towards the city. Montgomery’s unit and the rest of the British force chased the French back to a point just outside of the Fort’s guns. At this point, the British prepared to siege the city. Due to bad weather, artillery and other materials needed for the siege took several weeks to arrive onshore. Montgomery had his men dig entrenchments and build breastworks. He also ordered that his men stay aware of a possibility of a French attack. On July 9, the French attempted a breakout, but it failed. On July 26, the French surrendered. General Amherst was impressed by Montgomery’s action during the siege, and promoted him to Lieutenant.
On July 8, 1758, General Abercromby attacked Fort Carillon, but was repelled and suffered heavy losses. In August, Montgomery and the 17th foot sailed to Boston, marched to join with Abercromby’s forces in Albany and then moved to Lake George. On November 9, Abercromby was recalled; Amherst replaced him as commander-in-chief. The British high command developed a three-pronged attack into Canada, in which the 17th foot would assault Fort Carillon and capture Crown Point. Under Amherst’s command, Montgomery and the 17th Foot combined with other units and, in May 1759, traveled towards the French Fort. Montgomery ordered that his men remain vigilant for the French and Indian ambushing parties. On May 9 his suspicions proved correct, when 12 men from the 17th were attacked. Montgomery and the 17th met stiff resistance at first. Montgomery ordered that his men were not to fire at night, fearing they would shoot their comrades. Several days later, the French withdrew most of their force to Crown Point. On July 26, the French blew up their own fort, as well as the rest of Crown Point, before the British could reach it.
On May 15, 1760, Montgomery was appointed regimental adjutant, a position given to whom the commanding officer believed to be the most promising Lieutenant in the regiment. In August, the 17th Foot joined with the Lake Champlain Division, and set out from Crown Point to participate in a three-pronged attack on Montreal. The 17th Foot captured the Isle aux Noix and Fort Chambly before meeting with the two other divisions outside of Montreal. The French Commander, seeing that the city could not be defended, surrendered the city without a fight. With the fall of Montreal, all of Canada fell into British hands. In the summer of 1761, Montgomery and the 17th Foot marched from Montreal to Staten Island.
After conquering Canada, the British government put together a plan to defeat the French in the West Indies. In November of 1761, Montgomery and the 17th set sail for Barbados, where they joined other units from North America. On January 5, 1762, the force left Barbados and headed towards the French island of Martinique. The French had received word of an impending attack, and had built up their defenses. The invasion force arrived in the middle of January. A beachhead was quickly established, and the main offensive began on January 24. The French outer defenses were overrun and the survivors fled to the capital, Fort Royal. The British prepared to launch an assault on the Fort, but the French Commander, seeing his situation was hopeless, surrendered his force. On February 12, the entire island surrendered. After the fall of Martinique, the rest of the French West Indies, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent, fell to the British without a fight.
Spain entered the war in 1761 as an ally of France. The British high command believed that capturing Havana would destroy the lines of communication from Spain to its colonial empire. On May 6, 1762, in reward for his actions in Martinique, Montgomery was given command of one of the ten companies of the 17th Foot and promoted to Captain. On June 6, the assaulting British forces arrived seven miles off the shore of Havana. The 17th Foot, including Montgomery’s company, was to capture Moro Fort, the key to the Spanish defense of the city. British battleships bombarded the fort, silencing all but two Spanish guns. On July 30, Montgomery and the 17th Foot stormed and captured the fort. In late August 1762, Montgomery and the 17th Foot were sent to New York where they remained for the rest of the war. The conflict was ended by the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763.
Between the wars
Montgomery’s service in the Caribbean took a toll on his health. In 1764, his family became so concerned with his health that they requested that the British government permit him to return home; however, Montgomery chose to remain for the duration of the crisis.
Angered by the French surrender, an Ottawa Chief named Pontiac organized 18 Native American tribes, and revolted. The Tribes captured eight British forts and forced the evacuation of two more. In response, the British organized two expeditions, one of which the 17th Foot and Montgomery were in. The expedition was commanded by John Bradstreet. Bradstreet led his force to Fort Niagara in July, where they were stationed for a month. They then marched to Fort Detroit, where they arrived in August. For several weeks, Montgomery stayed at the Fprt, helping improve it’s defenses. The 17th Foot proved to be instrumental in preventing the native tribes from taking the fort. In September, Bradstreet left to negotiate with several Native tribes, and Montgomery chose to accompany him. On October 3, Montgomery and several other officers interviwed a Oneida Chief and two days later he attented a conference with the Iroquois Confederacy. Afterwords, he left and took his leave of absence, returning to Britain.
Becoming a patriot
In Britain, Montgomery recuperated. He associated with the Whig Members of Parliament, who generally supported the colonists in their demands for more political freedom. Montgomery became friends with several prominent Whigs, among them Isaac Barre, Edmund Burke, and Charles James Fox. While stationed in Britain, Montgomery spent much of his time discussing politics with these three men. He began to question the British Government’s policies, and after being passed over for promotion in 1771 because of his political affiliations, he sold his commission and left the military in 1772.
In late 1772 or early 1773, Montgomery moved to America. Montgomery promised to never marry or take up arms again, and to become a gentleman farmer. He bought a farm at King’s Bridge, 13 miles north of New York City. While adjusting to his surroundings, Montgomery met Janet Livingston, whom he had briefly met during his service in America decades before. Janet was the sister of Robert R. Livingston, a prominent New Yorker who was later on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. After receiving permission from her father, Montgomery married Janet on July 24, 1773.
After their marriage, Montgomery leased his farm to a tenant and moved to a small house in Rhinebeck, New York. Montgomery bought some surrounding land and set to work fencing, plowing fields, building a grain mill, and laying the foundation for a larger home. He said that he was “Never so happy in all my life”, but followed that up by saying “This cannot last; it cannot last.” Three months after their marriage, Janet told Montgomery of a dream she had in which Montgomery was killed in a duel by his brother. Richard replied by saying “I have always told you that my happiness is not lasting…Let us enjoy it as long as we may and leave the rest to God.”
Because Montgomery was now tied to the Livingston family, who supported the Patriot cause, he began to turn against the British government, seeing himself as an American instead of an Englishman. He believed that the British government was being oppressive and was acting like a tyrannical parent-state.
New York Provincial Congress
On May 16, 1775, Montgomery was elected as one of the ten deputies to represent Dutchess County in the New York Provincial Congress. Although Montgomery had only lived in New York for two years and had not sought political involvement, he was well known and respected in the area and he felt obliged to attend. He was reluctant to go, but nonetheless went to New York City, 80 miles south of Rhinebeck.
The first session began on May 22. On May 26, 97 delegates, including Montgomery, signed a resolution legitimizing its authority. Montgomery’s views were those of a moderate Patriot. He believed that the British Government was wrong, but hoped for an honorable reconciliation. Gradually, the faction of the Congress that remained loyal to the King lost its influence. Some of them did not participate on a regular basis. Montgomery was selected to serve in a site selection committee to decide the placement of military defensive positions in New York, and was also involved in organizing the New York Militia and securing the militia’s supplies.
After the appointment of George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Continental Army on June 15, 1775, the Continental Congress asked the New York Provincial Government to select two men for service in the army. One would be a Major General, the other a Brigadier General. The assembly favored Philip Schuyler as the Major General. Montgomery expressed concern over this, as he did not believe that Schuyler had enough combat experience for such an appointment. Although Montgomery knew he was under consideration for Brigadier General, he did not publicly show any desire for the appointment. Nonetheless, Schuyler was appointed Major General, and Montgomery Brigadier General, on June 22. Montgomery was ranked 2nd in command of the Brigadier Generals.
The American invasion of Canada
On June 25, George Washington passed through New York City on his way to Boston. Washington assigned Montgomery as deputy commander under Schuyler. A few days later, Schuyler received orders from the Continental Congress to invade Canada. The idea was that the army was to invade Quebec, where the Hudson River and the northern lakes could supply the army. A force was quickly assembled at Fort Ticonderoga and Schuyler left to take command of the army on July 4. Montgomery stayed for several more weeks making the final arrangements for the operation. On departing he told his wife “You shall never have cause to blush for your Montgomery.”
For the next couple of months, Montgomery and Schuyler continued to organize the invasion force. While they continued to organize, Washington decided to expand the invasion. He ordered that another invasion force would invade across Maine and then meet up with the other army outside of Quebec City to launch a joint attack on to the city.
Invasion of Canada
In August, Schuyler left to meet with representatives from the Iroquois Confederacy in order to keep them neutral during the invasion. He left Montgomery in command of the Fort. While Schuyler was away, Montgomery received intelligence that the British were building two gunboats on Lake Champlain, which threatened to give the British control of the lake. Without asking permission from Schuyler, he moved 1,200 men north on the schooner Liberty and the sloop Enterprise. Montgomery wrote a letter to Schuyler, explaining the situation, to Schuyler.
Montgomery preparing to invade Canada.Schuyler returned to Fort Ticonderoga on August 30. He ordered 800 men to reinforce Montgomery. Schuyler then set out to catch up with Montgomery, despite being ill, and caught up with him on September 4 on Isle La Motte. Schulyer assumed command and ordered the advance to continue to Isle aux Noix, in the Richelieu River. Schuyler’s health continued to deteriorate, but he drafted a proclamation in which he called the Canadians “Friends and Countrymen”, asking them to help expel the British from Canada.
On September 6, Montgomery led a probing force to Fort St. Johns, the key to the British defense of Montreal. Montgomery led the main body of troops towards the Fort through a marshy and heavily wooded area. The flanking party, led by Captain Matthew Mead, was ambushed by 100 Native Americans allied to the British. The party held its ground, forcing the ambushing Indians to fall back to the fort. Montgomery, fearing that the British force was larger than he had anticipated, called off operations for the rest of the day and withdrew his force to a spot outside the range of the British guns. Believing that the fort could not be captured quickly, Schuyler recalled Montgomery’s force and fortified Isle aux Noix.
Schuyler’s health continued to worsen. Montgomery assumed command of the daily functions of the army. On September 4, a larger force of 1,700 men led by Montgomery moved towards the fort. In the swampy area around the fort, it was pitch black, which caused two parties of Americans to run into each other; each feared the other to be the British, and both fled. Montgomery ran to intercept them and ended the flight. As they advanced towards the fort, the force came under British grapeshot fire. One party of Americans attacked the British breastworks, inflicting 2 casualties. Following this, the Americans fell back. The next morning, Montgomery called a council of war, in which it was agreed to make another attack onto the fort. However, word spread that a British warship was advancing down the river, and half of the New England troops fled of fright. Montgomery, believing his force could no longer take the fort, retreated back to Isle aux Noix. Montgomery, furious at the flight of the New England troops, asked Schuyler to appoint a court-martial board. Meanwhile, Schuyler’s health had not improved and thus he left to Ticonderoga, where he hoped to recover. He gave control of the operation to Montgomery.
Siege of St. Johns
Outside of Fort St. Johns, Montgomery continued to receive reinforcements. He granted leaves to commanders who he felt were not fit for their position. He said “I hope we shall have none left but fighting men on whom I can rely.”
On September 16, Montgomery organized another expedition against the British fort. In total, he had 1,400 men. He sent a naval component, with 1 schooner, 1 sloop and 10 bateauxs with 350 troops to counter any move by the British warship, Royal Savage. Montgomery took the rest of his force and sailed up the river, landing near St. Johns on September 17. The British garrison was commanded by Major Charles Preston, who had received a Major’s commission over Montgomery 3 years before. He commanded 725 men.
Montgomery and his troops spent the first night near the landing area, under light fire from the British guns. The next morning, he ordered Major Bedel to occupy a position north of the fort, but when Montgomery saw that his men were apprehensive, he chose to lead the mission himself. As Montgomery led his troops, they came upon a fight between British troops and another American party. Montgomery took command of the skirmish and forced the British party back into the fort. Montgomery sent Bedel with a force to entrench themselves about a mile north of the fort. Montgomery then put other troops around the Fort and began a siege.
A map of Fort St. JohnsPreston and the British forces had many more guns and much more ammunition than the Americans and thus achieved a 10-to-1 firepower advantage for the first few weeks. Montgomery concentrated his forces on improving the siege works. Within several days they had erected 2 batteries under consistent fire from the fort. On September 22, Montgomery was nearly killed while inspecting the breastworks. A cannonball from the fort shot past him, ripping his skirt and knocking him off the breastwork, although he landed on his feet. The troops observed that this “did not seem to hurt or frighten him.”
The Americans continued to receive new guns from Ticonderoga. More guns arrived on September 21 and then on October 5. However, the artillery were are too far of a range to do much damage to the fort. With the arrival of the new guns, Montgomery planned to move the emphasis of the bombardment from the east side of the fort, to the north side, where they would be closer. However, his officers unanimously rejected the plan, fearing that many men would desert due to it being more dangerous. Montgomery ordered that a new battery be built where the Royal Savage could be threatened. On October 14, the battery was complete and the artillery sunk the British ship.
In mid-October, a suggestion was made to Montgomery that he might have better success attacking Fort Chambly which was weaker not lighter defended. It lay north of Fort St. Johns. Montgomery approved of the idea and ordered 350 men to take Chambly. On the night of October 16, two American guns slipped past Fort St. Johns and moved towards Chambly. The next morning, the American guns opened fire on Chambly. After two days of bombardment, holes were driven into the fort’s walls and the chimmney had been knocked down. The British commander surrendered the Fort. Montgomery captured 6 tons of gun powder, capturing 83 men and sent the colors of the 7th Royal Fusiliers, who had been defending the fort, to Schuyler, the first standards of a British regiment captured in the war. Washington sent a letter of congratulations to Montgomery and commented that he hoped “that his next letter be dated from Montreal.”
With the capture of Chambly improved moral in the ranks of Montgomery’s army, so much so that he went through with his original plan to establish a battery north of Fort St. Johns. There was no opposition to the plan. While the Americans were constructing the batteries, the British heavily bombarded the American workers, but this resulted in few casualties. Guy Carleton commander of the British forces in Canada, realized that the situation at Fort St. Johns was becoming desperate. He personally led a relief force at the end of October, but it was repulsed south of Montreal.
On November 1, the new batteries erected north of the fort were completed. The Americans began to fire at the fort and continued to do so throughout the rest of the day. The British guns fired back, but were less effective. The American guns caused few casualties, but inflicted heavy structural damage inside of the fort. However, moral amongst the garrison fell, as well as rations. At sundown, Montgomery ordered the firing to stop and sent a prisoner captured at Chambly inside with a letter asking for the garrison’s surrender. A messenger sent from Carleton to Preston was captured during the night, in which Carleton ordered that Preston continue to hold out. On November 2, the British agreed to surrender with full military honors. They marched out of the fort on November 3, and were sent into the colonies where they would be interned. The British had suffered 20 killed and 23 wounded and the American casualties were similar.
Montreal to Quebec
Montgomery then turned towards Montreal and began his march there. When the army reached the outskirts of the city, Montgomery sent a messenger in demanding the surrender of the city or they would suffer bombardment. While negotiations for the city’s surrender took place, Carelton fled up the St. Lawrence River. The next day, the city surrendered and Montgomery and his army marched into the city without a shot being fired.
On November 19, the British ships sailing up the river to Quebec City were captured, but Carelton escaped to the city. Montgomery’s kind treatment of towards the captured British prisoners caused several officers to express their concern. Montgomery saw this as a challenge this his authority and this, along with the lack of disapline in the army, caused Montgomery to threaten resignation. Letters from Washington in which he expressed his troubles with the discipline of troops convinced Montgomery to continue his command.
On November 28, Montgomery and 300 men went aboard several ships and began to sail to Quebec City. On December 2, Montgomery joined Benedict Arnold’s force which was located 18 miles north of Quebec. Upon his arrival, Arnold turned over command of the army to Montgomery. On December 3, Montgomery began to give Arnold’s men, who had marched through the Maine wildreness, much-needed supplies. The next day, the army moved towards the city and Montgomery ordered that it surround the city. On December 7, Montgomery sent an ultimatum to Carelton, demanding the surrender of the city. Carelton burned the letter. Several days later, Montgomery sent a letter into the city appealing the merchants telling them that they had come to liberate the civilians of Quebec. However, Carleton discovered the plan and quickly had the messenger arrested. Montgomery then sent the proclamation over the wall with bow and arrows, however, this met with no success.
Attack and Death
John Trumbull’s depiction of the death of General Montgomery in the attack on Quebec. Unknown to Montgomery, he was promoted to Major General on December 9 for his victories at St. Johns and Montreal. After Montgomery was unable to convince Carleton to surrender, he emplaced several mortars a few hundred yards outside the walls of the city. The shelling of the city began on December 9, but several days of it failed to make a serious impact on the walls, the garrison or the civilian population. With the shelling having little effect, Montgomery ordered the emplacement of another battery closer towards the city walls, on the Plains of Abraham, despite the fact if offered little natural cover fire returning fire. On December 15, the new batteries were ready and Montgomery sent a party of men under the flag of truce to ask for the city’s surrender, however, they were turned away. Montgomery then resumed firing on the city, but the effect was little better. When the new batteries were hit by more effective fire from the British, Montgomery ordered their evacuation.
As the bombardment of the city proved to be unsuccessful, Montgomery then began to plan for an assault. Montgomery was to assault the lower part of the Lower Town, part of the city, while Arnold was to attack and take Cape Diamond Bastion, a strong part of the city walls on the highest point of the rocky promontory. Montgomery believed that they should attack during a stormy night, therefore the British would not be able to see them. On December 27, the weather became stormy, and Montgomery ordered that the men prepare to attack, however, the storm soon subsided and Montgomery called off the attack. As Montgomery waited for a storm, he revised his plans. Montgomery would attack the Lower Town from the south and Arnold would attack the Lower Town from the north. After breaking through the walls, Montgomery and Arnold would meet up in the city and then attack and take the Upper Town, casuing resistance to collapse. To increase their chance of surprise, Montgomery planned two feints. One group of Americans would set fire to one of the gates while another would engage the guard at Cape Diamond Bastion and fire rockets to signal the start of the attack. While the feints were conducted, artillery would fire into the city. Although Montgomery was reluctant to attack, he knew he must as the enlistments for Arnolds men would be up on January 1.
On the night of December 30, a snowstorm struck. Montgomery issued the order to attack and the Americans began to move towards their designated positions. At 4:00 Am, Montgomery saw the rocket flares and began to move his men around the city towards the lower town. Although the rockets were to signal the attack, they alerted the British of the impending attack and the soldiers rushed to their posts. Montgomery personally led the march to the Lower Town, as the descended down the steep slippery cliffs. At 6:00 Am, Montgomery’s force reached a palisade at the edge of the Lower Town, which was sawed through. Another palisade was reached and also sawed through. After the advance party had passed the palisades, Montgomery heard noise from a two-story blockhouse guarding the entry. The blockhouse was guarded by thirty Canadian Militiamen and several British seamen. Montgomery chose to attack before the Canadians had more time to prepare themselves. Montgomery drew his sword and shouted to his men “Come on, my good soldiers, your General calls upon you to come on.” Montgomery led the charge but when he came within 50 yards of the blockhouse, cannon, musket and grapeshot fire opened on to the Americans. Montgomery was killed with grapeshot through the head and both thighs.
With the death of Montgomery, the attack fell apart. The next in command ordered a retreat. Without Montgomery’s assistance, Anold’s attack, after initial success fell apart and Arnold was wounded.
On 1 January 1776, the British began to gather the deceased and soon found the body of a high ranking officer of the American colonial army. After being brought to Guy Carleton, an American prisoner confirmed that the body was that of Richard Montgomery.
Once Montgomery’s death was announced, Benedict Arnold assumed command of the American colonial forces. As Montgomery was a well respected man on both sides of the battlefield, Guy Carleton ordered that he be buried with dignity. At sunset on 4 January 1776, Montgomery’s remains were put to rest. During his burial, American prisoners acknowledged Montgomery as a “beloved general” with “heroic bravery” and “suavity of manners” who held the “confidence of the whole army.”
Both Schuyler and Washington were devastated upon hearing of Montgomery’s death. Schuyler believed that without Montgomery, victory in Canada was not possible. Schuyler wrote to Congress and Washington “My amiable friend, the gallant Montgomery, is no more; the brave Arnold is wounded; and we have met a severe check, in an unsuccessful attempt on Quebec, May Hevan be graciously pleased that the misffortune may terminate here.” Washington wrote to Schuyler, “In the death of this gentleman, America has sustained a heavy loss, as he had approved himself a steady friend to her rights and of ability to render her the most essential services.” Congress reacted to Montgomery’s death by trying to keep the loss as quiet as possible. They feared is would lower the moral of the troops and civilians.
On January 25, 1776, Congress approved that a monument be established in memory of Montgomery. A state memorial service was also scheduled and carried out on February 19, 1776. Throughout the colonies, Montgomery was viewed as a hero and patriots tried to use his death to promote their cause in the war. Montgomery’s name was used very often in literature among the authors who used his name was Thomas Paine.
Montgomery was also mourned in Britain. Whigs attempted to use his death to show the failure of the British policies on the American Colonies. Prime Minister Lord Fredrick North, acknowledged Montgomery’s military ability but said “I cannot join in lamenting the death of Montgomery as a public loss. Curse on his virtues! They’ve undone his country. He was brave, he was able, he was humane, he was generous, but still, he was only a brave, able, humane, and generous rebel.” Newspapers in London paied tribute to Montgomery, the Evening Post bordered their March 12 edition in black as a sign of mourning.
Remains moved to New York
In 1818, Stephen van Rensselaer, Governor of New York, obtained permission for Montgomery’s remains to be moved from Quebec to New York. In June of 1818, Montgomery’s remains set off for New York City. On July 4 they arrived in Albany and took a boat down the Hudson to New York City. Janet, Montgomery’s widow, stood out on her porch and watched the boat bring Montgomery’s remains down the river and she fainted. When his remains arrived in New York City, 5,000 people came to attend. His remains were interred on July 8, next to his monument at St. Paul’s Church, which had been built many years earlier.