Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Battle of Longue-Pointe

After dark, on September 24, 1775, Ethan Allen, with 80 Canadians and 30 American provincials, crossed the St. Lawrence River in order to attack Montreal. [1] The Americans “…expected all in the Suburbs, some in the Town, & many from the neighbouring Parishes wou'd have joyned them, & that they were to march in [to Montreal] without opposition…” [2] However, Allen’s plans were not widely known and he was too far removed to receive much help from friendly Canadians. Allen claimed that Major John Brown had promised to cross the river, too, but in any event his force failed to appear. [3] Instead, at about 9am on September 25, a local farmer rushed into Montreal and alerted the garrison of the impending threat. [4]

According to the Quebec Gazette, the drums beat the alarm, and “The faithful Citizens of Montreal, both English and French, wanted little persuation; in a moment the whole Town appear’d under arms…” [5] In Carleton’s words, those that turned out were primarily “all the old Gentlemen & better sort of Citizens English & Canadian” but also “some of the lower Classes followed their Example.” Carleton spoke to the assembled mass about the rebel threat, and ordered the citizens to join the British troops at the city barracks. [6]

Carleton did not know how many men he was facing and feared the worse. While ammunition was distributed to the citizens, the British leadership prepared to evacuate the city. The force that was entrusted to do battle with the Americans would be commanded by Major John Campbell, superintendent of Indian affairs in Quebec, and Major John Carden, a half-pay officer who had served with the 60th Foot. Governor Carleton and Brigadier-General Richard Prescott would remain behind with most of the city’s garrison. These stood ready to march to the city’s docks in case Campbell was defeated. Meanwhile, some other prominent officials (including Guy Johnson and Daniel Claus of the Indian Department) and the wives and children of the officers and soldiers embarked on boats in the city harbor. [7]

In the early afternoon, the British force filed out the eastern end of the city. A detachment of the 26th Foot led the advance, and the citizenry followed. Carleton noted sardonically that as the men marched forth, some of the English citizens (many of whom had ties to New England) “turned off the contrary way” while the rest “followed the Troops very gallantly, & hurried them forward without further command & without much Order.” [8]

The British force consisted of:

  • 34 British regulars of the 26th Regiment, commanded by Captain John Crawford. [9]
  • Between 20 and 32 officers and men attached to the Indian Department. [10]
  • 6 or 8 Native Americans. [11]
  • Between 30 and 80 English citizens of Montreal. [12]
  • Between 120 and 300 Canadians citizens of Montreal. [13]

Allen’s men were deployed behind houses and trees near the St. Lawrence. Watching the British column advance, he dispatched one Richard Young with 9 men to protect his left flank and to annoy the right flank of the enemy. These men took post behind a creek embankment between the road and the St. Lawrence. Allen’s men were so well hidden that the British discovered them only when the British regulars came under fire. [14]

According to an account in the Quebec Gazette, Major Carden “was one of the first in the field” “tho’ extremely corpulent” “and unfortunately received a wound of which he expired in 8 hours after.” While Carden lay bleeding, the citizens began to come up. Alexander Paterson, a prominent merchant, had a ball pass through his body “as he boldly advanced towards the rebels.” “Then the general fire began on both sides and continued about fifteen minute.” The regulars delivered “a constant and steady platoon fire” “who were within sixty yards of [the rebels], covered by the gable end of a house.” Allen recalled that the British and Canadians “began to attack from wood-piles, ditches, buildings, and such like places, at a considerable distance, and I returned the fire from a situation more than equally advantageous.” Allen’s men blasted away, but they “were not the best of marksmen,” and he would later lament that “it is rare, that so much ammunition was expended, and so little execution done by it.” Fortunately, the opposing fire was little more effective as they could not see more than 2 or 3 of Allen’s men at a time. [15]

While this firefight erupted in front of Allen’s position, a flank attack was made by Indian department officers, Indians, and Canadian volunteers. Allen ordered Jeremiah Dugan to take 50 of the Canadians and take post in a ditch on his right. However, Dugan’s men quickly fled in the face of overwhelming numbers. At about the same time, Young’s party on Allen’s left flank gave way for the same reason.

The Longue-Pointe Battlefield. For information on the possible site of the battlefield (and the construction of this map), click here.

According to Allen:

“At this time I had but about forty five men with me; some of whom were wounded; the enemy kept closing round me, nor was it in my power to prevent it; by which means, my situation, which was advantageous in the first part of the attack, ceased to be so in the last; and being almost entirely surrounded with such vast, unequal numbers, I ordered a retreat, but found that those of the enemy, who were of the country, and their Indians, could run as fast as my men, though the regulars could not. Thus I retreated near a mile, and some of the enemy, with the savages, kept flanking me, and others crowded hard in the rear. In fine, I expected, in a very short time, to try the world of spirits; for I was apprehensive that no quarter would be given to me, and therefore had determined to sell my life as dear as I could. One of the enemy's officers [one Johnson, an officer in the Indian Department], boldly pressing in the rear, discharged his fusee at me; the ball whistled near me, as did many others that day. I returned the salute, and missed him, as running had put us both out of breath; for I conclude we were not frightened: I then saluted him with my tongue in a harsh manner, and told him that, inasmuch as his numbers were so far superior to mine, I would surrender provided I could be treated with honor, and be assured of good quarter for myself and the men who were with me; and he answered I should; another officer [possibly Walter Butler], coming up directly after, confirmed the treaty; upon which I agreed to surrender with my party… I ordered them to ground their arms, which they did.” [16]

Allen recalled that one of his wounded, William Stewart, was struck by an Indian with a tomahawk after he had surrendered.

An Indian tried to kill Allen as well. Allen grabbed onto Johnson and, he claimed, “I twitched the officer, to whom I gave my sword, between me and the savage; but he flew round with great fury, trying to single me out to shoot me without killing the officer; but by this time I was nearly as nimble as he, keeping the officer in such a position that his danger was my defence; but, in less than half a minute, I was attacked by just such another imp of hell: Then I made the officer fly around with incredible velocity, for a few seconds of time, when I perceived a Canadian, who had lost one eye, as appeared afterwards, taking my part against the savages; and in an instant an Irishman came to my assistance with a fixed bayonet, and drove away the fiends, swearing by Jasus he would kill them.”

Allen was then brought before the British officers, who said they were happy to see him. “I answered them, that I should rather choose to have seen them at General Montgomery's camp.” [17]

The British captured Ethan Allen, 17 other Americans, and 16 Canadians. Ten of the prisoners were wounded (2 mortally, 8 slightly). Allen also lost 5 men killed. The rest escaped. [18]
On the British side, three were mortally wounded (Major Carden, Alexander Patterson, and a soldier in the 26th). One Sieur Beaubassin “had his eyebrow carried away by a glancing shot,” and it was said that one volunteer was shot in the thigh and another lost an eye. [19]

Allen was escorted back to town by a British officer, and Sieur Beaubassin, who was “very merry and facetious” despite his brush with death. The British officers were considerably less amused and Brigadier-General Richard Prescott threatened to bayonet Allen and the other prisoners. Instead, Allen was put in irons on a British vessel, and his men were placed in prison. Carleton ordered Allen to be brought to England for trial as a traitor. [20]

The Battle of Longue-Pointe. This is a crude, and not-to-scale, representation of the battlefield. Allen's men are in the building or behind trees on the left; the British force is on the right. The British force, consisting of regulars, Indian Department officers, Native Americans, and English and Canadian civilians (shown here at a 1:20 figure:combatant ratio), also had the protection of some buildings (not shown).


1. These numbers are from Allen’s memoir. British sources tended to credit him with somewhat more men; American sources with somewhat fewer men.

2. Carleton to Legge. Carleton’s description of the battle, as well as that of some others, can be found in this previous post.

3. Allen’s meeting with Brown was described in an earlier post. It is unclear of what to make of Allen’s statement: Did Brown encounter some unexpected difficulty in crossing the St. Lawrence? Was there a miscommunication between the two men? Did Allen willfully misconstrue events? One thing that is clear is that Allen was not alone in contemplating an attack on Montreal. Consider the following intriguing snippet appearing in a letter from Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery to Colonel Timothy Bedel, written on the day of the battle (but before news of Allen’s attack and defeat were received):

“I have just received yours by Mr. [James] Livingston. I approve exceedingly of your plan, if it can be done without risk of weakening your present post [he was encamped northwest of Fort Saint-Jean; see here], which might facilitate the escape of the garrison. If you go to Montreal, pay the utmost attention to good order.”

4. See Allen’s memoir. Sanguinet gave his name as Deshotel.

5. October 5, 1775, issue.

6. Carleton to Legge.

7. Sanguinet is the sole source on these details, but in light of the telling omissions in the British side of the story, his description of events seems correct. Carleton and Johnson both wrote about the battle afterwards, but neither they, nor other British sources, indicated why a number of senior officers did not participate in the battle. Sanguinet claimed that 80 British regulars remained in the city, while only 30 fought in the battle. His claim is supported by evidence that the British garrison consisted of about 110 rank and file (see here and here). Carleton’s intention was to abandon Montreal if necessary (as evidenced by his actions in November, 1775) and preserve the town of Quebec at all costs. It was believed that if the town of Quebec fell to the Americans, all of upper Canada (including Montreal) would inevitably fall, too.

8. Carleton to Legge

9. Carleton to Legge; “Nauticus”; Anonymous letter of September 28, 1775; Sanguinet

10. “Nauticus”; Johnson to Legge

11. “Nauticus”; Johnson to Legge; Carleton to Legge

12. Sanguinet provided the low estimate; the high estimate was reported by “Nauticus” and the author of the anonymous letter dated September 28, 1775

13. “Nauticus” and the anonymous letter of September 28, 1775 provided the low estimate, Sanguinet the high estimate.

14. Allen’s memoir; “Nauticus”; Anonymous letter of September 28, 1775; Sanguinet

15. Allen’s memoir; “Nauticus”; Anonymous letter of September 28, 1775

16. Allen’s memoir; that a Johnson was the first officer is indicated by Johnson to Legge and “Nauticus”. That Walter Butler was the second officer is suggested by “Nauticus” and this biography of Walter Butler.

17. Allen’s memoir

18. “Nauticus”; Anonymous letter dated September 28, 1775; Livingston to Montgomery; Carleton to Legge; Sanguinet

Allen’s memoir and the account by “Nauticus” imply that the Americans surrendered as one group, and the Canadians were captured either singly, or in one or more groups, elsewhere in the area.

19. “Nauticus”; Anonymous letter dated September 28, 1775; Carleton to Legge; Allen’s memoir

20. See Allen’s memoir for a vivid description of his capture, near killing, and imprisonment.


  1. Dear Sir,
    Thanks for posting this ! I have never before seen Allen's exploits discribed in any wargame/military simulation article !Superb work ! Carry on!

  2. Thank you Jubilo. I don't know if I'll be writing about Allen again, as he is now a prisoner of the British. However, he has appeared in some other past posts, which can be found by clicking on the Ethan Allen tag.

    I will be writing about some other battles during the American invasion of Canada later this month, and the first part of next year. Seth Warner and the rest of the Green Mountain Boys have yet a prominent role to play.