General Richard Montgomery

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Montgomery, Richard, a distinguished general in the American War of Independence, was born near Raphoe, County of Donegal, 2nd December 1736. His father was member of Parliament for Lifford. Entering the army at eighteen years of age, his courage and capacity at the siege of Louisburg won the approval of Wolfe, under whom he served at the taking of Quebec from the French in 1759, and his regiment formed part of the force sent with Amherst to reduce the French forts on Lake Champlain.

Montgomery became adjutant of his regiment, 15th May 1760; and was in the army that marched upon Montreal under Colonel Haviland. Two years afterwards he was appointed captain, and served in the expedition against the Spanish West Indies. Having returned home, he, in 1772, sold his commission, went back to America, purchased a small estate at Rhinebeck, on the Hudson, married, and settled down to cultivate those arts of peace which he was naturally best qualified to enjoy.

In April 1775 he was selected as a delegate to the first Provincial Convention in New York, where he distinguished himself by promptness of decision and soundness of judgment. In the autumn of the same year he reluctantly accepted from Congress the appointment of Brigadier-General, reconciling himself to the abandonment of his scheme of a quiet life by the consideration that "the will of an oppressed people, compelled to choose between liberty and slavery, must be obeyed." Ordered by Washington to take part in an expedition against Canada, he was attended as far as Saratoga by his beloved wife, whose fears he soothed by his cheerfulness and good humour.

Owing to the illness and incompetency of General Schuyler, Mongomery was obliged to take supreme command of the expedition. He had great difficulties to contend with, from the insubordination and want of patriotism of his troops; yet, on 3rd November 1775 he took Fort St. John, after a siege of fifty days, on the 12th entered Montreal, and on the 5th December effected a junction with Arnold under the walls of Quebec. The town, defended by a garrison of 2,500 men, with batteries of 200 cannon, was immediately besieged by Montgomery's small force of 1,200 men. Many of his troops, disheartened by severe cold and protracted marches, were on the point of mutiny, and their guns were few in number and insufficient in size. At a council of officers it was determined to attempt to capture Quebec by a coup-de-main.

The assault took place early on the morning of 31st December, in the midst of a snow storm, and would probably have been successful, but for the fall of the gallant leader, who, with two of his aides, was killed by the first discharge of a battery against which they advanced up a steep ascent. His troops, disheartened by his death, retreated, and a desultory blockade of the town (extending over some months) was eventually raised. Montgomery was aged 39 when he fell. His funeral was attended, with every mark of respect, by the Governor and officers of the garrison. The small wooden house in Quebec where his remains were laid out is still shown, and an inscription on the cliff marks where he fell. His loss was deeply mourned all over the States, and his memory was eulogized in the British Parliament by Lord Chatham, Burke, and Barre. Lord North having spoken of him as "only a brave, able, humane, and generous rebel," Fox retorted: "The name of rebel is no certain mark of disgrace; all the great assertors of liberty, the saviours of their country, the benefactors of mankind in all ages, have been called rebels."

Bancroft, the American historian, says of Montgomery: "He was tall and slender, well-limbed, of graceful address, and a strong and active frame. He could endure fatigue and all changes and severities of climate. His judgment was cool, though he kindled in action, imparting confidence and sympathetic courage. Never himself negligent of duty, never avoiding danger, discriminating and energetic, he had the power of conducting freemen by their voluntary love and esteem. An experienced soldier, he was also well versed in letters, particularly in natural science. In private life he was a good husband, brother, and son, an amiable and faithful friend."

His body was ultimately exhumed and buried in Washington, and Congress voted money to erect the monument to him which stands in front of St. Paul's Church, New York. Montgomery's widow survived him for more than half a century. His brother, Alexander, commonly called "Black Montgomery," sat in the Irish Parliament for many years as member for the County of Donegal.

Note from Addenda:

Montgomery, Richard — His remains were buried within the walls of Quebec, and were in 1818, at the request of his widow, disinterred and entombed in New York.[233]

Sources

18a. Bancroft, George, History of the United States. 10 vols. Boston, 1862-'74.

37a. Biographical Dictionary—American Biography: Francis S. Drake. Boston, 1876.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

349. Worthies of Ireland, Biographical Dictionary of the: Richard Ryan. 2 vols. London, 1821. Wyse, Thomas, see No. 73.

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