John Trumbull painted "The Death of Montgomery" while he studying in London under Benjamin West, arriving before hostilities between Great Britain and her Rebellious Colonies were concluded. I have found various references on-line that place its creation between 1784-1786. Trumbull aspired to be the definitive artist of the Revolution, and among his contemporaries there is none with a greater claim to that distinction. He meticulously included portraits not only of Patriot luminaries and the high command but of many other participants in the historical events he set to canvas. There are no fewer than eleven historic personages identified with his masterful painting "The Death of General Montgomery", including my collateral ancestor Matthias Ogden.
I do not know on what authority (aside from its impeccable credentials) The Smithsonian Institution identified the individuals named at left with the figures in the painting, and I would dearly love to know who the unidentified continental officer standing at right might be. I created the captions for the paintings using the Smithonian IDs as a guide, but in some cases cannot say whether a named group should be identified from left to right or in some other order. In any case, it serves our purposes to know that these named participants are depicted with Montgomery at his death, for the truth of the matter is that many of them were not, and a key individual who most certainly was appears to be missing.
To begin with, the assault on Quebec during the night and early morning hours of December 30-31, 1775 consisted of a four pronged attack. Two feints were planned against the western wall and St. John Gate by Colonel Livingston's Canadian volunteers and Major Brown with part of a regiment from Boston. Col. Benedict Arnold and the veterans of his overland march to Quebec from Maine, along with Capt. Lamb's artillery company and a single six pounder, would skirt the northern walls and attack the lower town from the East, while Brig. General Montgomery and his New York troops would make their way in another column by Cape Diamond and attack from the east. The plan was for the two pincers to meet up in the lower town and force their way into the city above. Neither column came close to the other and the battle ended in disaster for the Americans with Montgomery slain, Arnold injured, and all but a few hundred of the Americans killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
The men included in the painting above are an amalgam of both columns. Maj. Return Meigs and Brigade-Major Matthias Ogden were field and staff officers under Arnold and part of his assaulting column, not Montgomery's. Captain Hendricks lead a company of Pennsylvania Riflemen and Lieutenant Humphries was in another from Virginia. Both were killed in the battle, and both were likewise in Arnold's column in the Division lead by Daniel Morgan. 19-year old Captain Samuel Ward, son of the Governor of Rhode Island, lead a company in Lt. Col. Greene's division under Arnold and was also captured.
None of them was present when Montgomery was killed, but it served the artist and the nation to remember them this way, for Arnold later betrayed the Revolution while Montgomery was a martyr and a fitting symbol for all they sacrificed. We will return to this idea later, for it is central to unraveling myth and memory.
The other figures identified in the painting included Montgomery's aide-de-camp Capt. John MacPherson and another aide Captain Jacob Chessman of the 1st New York, both slain in the same cannon blast that killed the General. The figure identified by the Smithsonian as Oneida Chief Col. Joseph Lewis was actually a Caughnawaga Mohawk with a fascinating past who did indeed accompany Brigadier Montgomery's Canada expedition as a messenger. Lt. Col. Duncan Campbell, the senior officer with Montgomery when he fell, is criticized for not pressing forward after Montgomery was killed and ordering such a hasty retreat that the General's body and those of his fallen aides had to be abandoned. The aide who belongs in the painting, in fact who should occupy the position of honor ascribed to my ancestor Matthias Ogden, holding his dying commander in his arms, was captain Aaron Burr. We shall pick up his story on that fateful morning in a subsequent post.