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Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec by John Trumbull

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec December 31 1775 John Trumbull

“The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec”

“The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775” by John Trumbull depicts the American General’s tragic death during the Invasion of Quebec, a major military operation by the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War.

General Richard Montgomery is shown in full military uniform, illuminated in the middle of the painting, fatally wounded by grapeshot and supported by Matthias Ogden.

In front of them are two of Montgomery’s aides-de-camp, both captains dead and lying in the snow, near a broken cannon. Behind Montgomery and are three Lieutenants and to the left are is Oneida chief Joseph Louis Cook, shown with his raised tomahawk.

Three Majors are in the left foreground showing their in shock at Montgomery’s death. Although all the composition figures represent actual historical figures, the theatrical narrative is contrived to depict a historical event.  

Ogden, who is shown holding General Montgomery, was with Benedict Arnold attacking a different part of the city during the battle, and Aaron Burr should have been depicted instead.

Trumbull described the scene he envisioned:

“Grief and surprise mark the countenances of the various characters.
The earth covered with snow,–trees stripped of their foliage,
–the desolation of winter, and the gloom of night,
heighten the melancholy character of the scene.”

Montgomery made the end-of-year attack in a blinding snowstorm to conceal his army’s movements. The plan was to converge in the lower city before scaling the walls protecting the upper city. Montgomery’s main force turned back after he was killed by cannon fire early in the battle.

This painting was the second in Trumbull’s series of national historical paintings on the war, the first being The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775.

This version of the painting was created in 1786 and is exhibited at the Yale University Art Gallery.  A large version painted in 1834 is exhibited at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec December 31 1775 John Trumbull

A larger version at the Wadsworth Atheneum

Also, two separate engraved versions and a print have been produced by three separate artists.

Battle of Quebec, 1775

The Battle of Quebec was fought on December 31, 1775, between American Continental Army forces and the British defenders of Quebec City early in the American Revolutionary War.

The battle was the first major defeat of the Americans, and it came with heavy losses. General Richard Montgomery was killed, and more than 400 men were taken prisoner. 

Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold (1741 –  1801) was an American military officer who fought with distinction for the American Continental Army, rising to major general before defecting to the British side of the conflict in 1780.

General Washington had placed him in command of West Point, New York. Arnold planned to surrender the fort to British forces, but the plot was discovered, and he fled to the British lines.

Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army. Arnold’s name quickly became a byword for treason and betrayal.

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec December 31 1775 John Trumbull

Engraving by Christian Wilhelm Ketterlinus of The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775, by John Trumbull.

Matthias Ogden

Matthias Ogden (1754 – 1791) was an American who fought in the American Revolutionary War and served in various political positions afterward.

After the hostilities outbreak between the American colonists and the British authorities in 1775, Ogden joined as a gentleman-volunteer on Benedict Arnold’s march to Quebec, joined by his cousin Aaron Burr.

Ogden participated in the assault on that city and was wounded in the Battle of Quebec. In a 1786 painting of the Battle of Quebec, John Trumbull inaccurately depicted Ogden in Burr’s place, holding General Richard Montgomery as he died.

Due to his own injuries, Ogden was not actually present at Montgomery’s death.

After the war, Ogden was a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Jersey and a member of the state’s legislative council.

Joseph Louis Cook

Joseph Louis Cook or Akiatonharónkwen, a Mohawk name (died 1814), was an Iroquois leader and commissioned officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

Born to an African father and an Abenaki mother in what is now Schuylerville, New York, he and his mother were taken captive in a French-Mohawk raid and taken to a Mohawk village south of Montreal.

A Mohawk family adopted them. He became an influential leader among the Mohawk and distinguished himself as a warrior for their allies, the French, during the French and Indian War.

During the American Revolutionary War, Cook supported the American colonists and joined their fight against the British. He became the highest-ranking Native American officer in the Continental Army, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He led Oneida warriors, who were allied with the rebels, against the British in some actions. After the war, he became an important adviser to the Oneida and represented them and the Seven Nations of Canada.

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775

  • Title:                  The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775
  • Artist:                John Trumbull
  • Year:                  1786
  • Medium:           Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:      Height: 24.6 in (62.5 cm); Width: 37 in (93.9 cm)
  • Category:          History Painting,  American Art
  • Museum:          Yale University Art Gallery

Later version at the Wadsworth Atheneum

  • Title:                  The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775
  • Artist:                John Trumbull
  • Year:                  1834
  • Medium:           Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:      Height: 72.5 in (184.1 cm); Width: 108 in (274.4 cm)
  • Category:          History Painting,  American Art
  • Museum:          Wadsworth Atheneum

 John Trumbull

The US Invasion of Canada

A Tour of History Paintings

The Battle of Quebec 1775 – America’s First Real Defeat

Battle of Quebec

~~~

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”
– George Washington

~~~


Photo Credit: 1) John Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Christian Wilhelm Ketterlinus, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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