At 2:00 AM in the midst of a fierce snowstorm on December 31, 1775, muster was called in the Continental camp and a surprise attack on Quebec was soon underway. However, Maj. General Sir Guy Carleton had been warned by an American deserter of the American plan. The Americans had intended to use the cover of a storm to move their men into position. Brig. General Richard Montgomery would take his 300 men and attack the city along the river from the west, while Colonel Benedict Arnold would take his 600 men, and attack from the east. The two forces would join in the middle of the business district in Lower Town and then march up the main route to Upper Town.
At 4:00 AM, General Montgomery fired rockets, signalling that he was in position and launching the assault. As Montgomery reached the western edge of Lower Town, he found a rough barricade had been thrown up by the British. The general, his aide-de-camp and a battalion commander walked forward to get a closer look at the situation. When the men were within yards of the barricade, the defenders of the barricade fired their lone load of shot from their cannon and fired their muskets. All three men were mortally wounded. The next in command Lt. Colonel Donald Campbell immediately ordered a retreat. The panicked defenders continued firing even after the Continentals were long gone.
On the eastern edge of Lower Town, Colonel Arnold had launched his attack when he sighted the rockets. Having lost his one artillery piece on the way in a snowdrift, Arnold had no choice but to lead a frontal assault on another British barricade. Arnold was wounded when a musket ball tore into his leg. He attempted to continue on, but could not. He allowed himself to be carried from the from the fight, leaving Captain Daniel Morgan in command.
Captain Morgan rallied the men and the Continentals overran the barricade after some heavy fighting. Morgan and his men raced through Lower Town, pouring over another unmanned barricade. Morgan was ready to continue toward Upper Town, but his subordinates advised caution and persuaded him to wait for General Montgomery. By dawn, Morgan finally grew impatient and ordered his men forward. The wait had cost the Americans their advantage and momentum. General Carleton had used the time to position men throughout the city. As the Americans now attempted to move toward Upper Town, they were under constant fire coming from the surrounding houses.
After fighting most of the day still hoping for aid from General Montgomery, the Americans finally turned back. However, the once abandoned barricade was now occupied by Carleton's men and the Americans were trapped in the streets of the city. Fighting still dragged on as the American column spread throughout Lower Town. Eventually almost the entire American force was captured or surrendered, as they were isolated in small pockets throughout the streets of the city. Captain Morgan himself refused to surrender even when completely surrounded. He dared the British to shoot him, but his men pleaded with him until he finally turned his sword over to a French priest, rather than surrender it to the British.
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