The American Liberty Art Review

John Trumbull Painting- Period 5/6

Critique of the Painting written by Joseph Matawaran

The Death of General Montgomery was painted five years after Great Britain recognized American Independence in order to commemorate several battles and all the people who sacrificed their lives for America. The primary audience of this painting is probably for the Canadians and other nations who helped America gain their independence. The secondary audience was for Americans who contributed to their freedom. John Trumbull’s The Death of General Montgomery takes place on a cloudy battleground in Quebec, Canada. On the foreground is soldiers dressed in blue and red, mismatched uniform. In the center is General Montgomery who appears to be dying in the arms of the soldiers he fought against. The battle scene includes British, Native American, and American soldiers all gathered around the slowly dying General Montgomery. Behind the group of mixed soldiers holding Montgomery, are two pieces of pink and yellow cloth. These can symbolize the coming together of nations for an instance in order to honor General Montgomery’s death. The clouds are dark in on the outside, but as we focus more on the center of the clouds, they appear to be significantly lighter. This light cloud represents General Montgomery’s ascension into heaven because Trumbull wanted the audience to know how valiant he was in battle. Also, he is the only person who was painted in a light tint (probably to emphasize his bravery).

Identity of the Author by Zaina Waheed

Sir John Trumbull was an American painter born in Lebanon, Connecticut on June 6th, 1756. After suffering from a childhood accident, Trumbull lost the use of his left eye, which may attribute to his attention to detail in his paintings. He later served in the American Revolutionary War as a soldier and personal aide to George Washington, even achieving the rank of colonel. This shows that Trumbull was no stranger to warfare. He also worked very closely with a painter, Benjamin West, who encouraged him to paint a series of small paintings and etchings of the War of Independence, which are widely celebrated as well. In 1780 he was arrested for possible suspicion of being a spy and held for several months. Upon his release he began work on The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, Canada (1788). Nevertheless, he is most widely recognized for his piece, Declaration of Independence (1817), which appears on the two dollar bill.

Story Truth by Ally Zhang

General Montgomery exhaled and watched his breath puff out around him. It was close to dawn, but one could hardly have discerned this due to the darkness of the world around him. The clouds were hanging heavy and dark in the sky, and snow was starting to pile all around them. Quebec City loomed not far off, a mountain in the mist - but it was a mountain he would scale. He had too, or the expedition to Canada that had been entrusted to him would have been an abject failure.

The men shifted and stamped their feet in the grass. Montgomery could tell that they were as eager as he was to launch the attack. Their faces were indistinct, but the rush of battle, he knew, was already upon them. He checked his pocket watch: About half a minute before the estimated time of the flare from his militia general. The flare that would mark the beginning of the feint attack on the western walls, and also tell Montgomery when to attack. “Remember, lads,” he called, “we’ll saw through the wall first.” Twenty seconds. “They’ll be waiting for us, but we’ll give them the best we’ve got.” Fifteen. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir!” they echoed. Boots shuffled into position. Ten seconds.

He raised his bayonet, and the words spilled out before he could stop himself - “For liberty!”

A moment of silence - a bated breath - and then all at once they stormed forward, shouting and waving their muskets. Color and sound burst into the world. The wind howled around them, carrying them forth to the wall, which seemed almost pathetic now. They hacked through it in no time at all, and then the city lay open before them, all for the taking. A wild cheer spread through the crowd.

It’s ours, Montgomery thought. If we can just - just make it through this, God willing, it’s ours… He set outside all thoughts of self-preservation and strode to the front of the company. “Sir,” one lad stammered, “it’s not safe here, you’d better - ”

“We are all soldiers here,” said Montgomery, leading the front of his soldier's disorganized rush. “I stand with you, and I will lead you.”

The buildings went by in a blur of brick and stone. All of a sudden, however, shots began to echo off the walls, and Montgomery saw one man fall to his left, and another, and another. Christ, no! A blockhouse approached, and with it a line of hard-faced militiamen stood there to meet them, muskets at the ready. Time slowed to an excruciating crawl as the realization hit him - smoke shot out into the air, hazily reminding him of his breath misting in the snow not an hour earlier - and then he was down on the ground, gasping in a pool of blood.

“General!” someone shouted. “General, can you hear me? Sir!”

The gunfire and the voices faded, gone like memories of better times, until all he could see was the great sky above him. There, far off, almost beyond his sight, a ray of sunlight burst through the clouds. “Do not stop,” he said again, raising his hand towards it. “You must continue fighting. For America.”

Happening Truth by Matthew Zhao

The Death of General Montgomery was based on the real-life Battle of Quebec (1775), part of a short-lived attempt by the colonial Continental Army to seize Canada, which was at that time held by the British. The roughly 1200 American attackers were led by General Richard Montgomery, an Irish-born New Yorker. A small party led by Montgomery managed to saw through the city walls, but they were immediately fired upon by Quebec militiamen at close range. Montgomery and most of his men were killed instantly; the remainder fled, leaving the corpses behind. Meanwhile, the rest of the colonial troops, led by Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan, were faring no better. They suffered heavy losses as they entered the city, as the Quebec forces had the advantage of fighting on their home turf. After hours of difficult fighting, they finally secured key neighborhoods of the city, only to be trapped inside by British reinforcements. Morgan surrendered, and the Continental Army experienced its first major defeat in the American Revolution.


War Story

The group of men sat still. A small fire burned in the corner, but it barely warmed the room, much less the wood it was consuming. One of them spoke up. “Americans haven’t moved? They’ve got to come soon. I heard that their contracts run out in the new year.”


Another responded. “Probably gonna come in a snowstorm. That’s the only way they’re going to make it here. Not that they want to.” A round of chuckling broke out among the group of men. “And what are we going to do when they make it here? Blow out their dumb brains, and probably make them a bit smarter too.”


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General Montgomery cursed to himself. Never ever was he ever lucky. Not here in damned Quebec with all of its snow and wetness nor in Maine through the swamps where he had lost half of his men to the conditions of the trek or to abandonment. The snow storm he had planned to use to attack earlier had disappeared into thin air, and his fellow commander Benedict Arnold’s troops’ contracts were set to run out at the start of the new year. At this rate, he’d wake up on the first day of 1777 and find himself surrounded by Carleton and without a single soldier of his own. He looked up. The clouds were gathering, with a faint promise of snow. Grimacing, he called out to a nearby sentry. “Get Livingston and Brown. We’re attacking tonight or never.”


He waited until the flares went off from his two militia generals before he went in with Benedict to the lower town. Damned snow. Whereas a few days ago none had fallen when he needed it, now tons of snow were falling and slowing his advance. His men were freezing as snow dripped onto their backs and the cold air worked to freeze any moisture outside of their bodies. He was going to need either end the battle early or find a place for them to rest, but knowing the defensive measures that Carleton most likely set in place, the battle was going to be long and difficult. So he needed to find a defensive building quickly, but the slow progress of the carpenters meant that he and his men were going to be standing in the snow for a while. As the carpenters whittled their way through the palisade, he stood, impatient, all while thinking: Where could they go?


After entering the palisade, he saw a building. It was the first building he saw upon entry, and it was a nice one at that.Two stories, nice and tall, with plenty of room for his men to warm up a bit before going back into the attack. Montgomery called out to his men, calling, “You see that building over there? That’s where we’re going. Come on, let’s go,” and he pointed out to it and started to lead his men towards it. The freshly fallen snow crunched under his feet as he led his men towards the building. He pulled the door open, wanting so desperately to get in and get away from the harshness of the world outside, and already feeling the warmth of the rooms.

The last thing that General Montgomery would ever see was a blast of grapeshot flying out and blowing apart the general’s head. As soon as the door opened, the men stationed inside had begun to shoot, firing a perfect shot at the general and killing him instantly. With the blood of their leader splattering around them, the American soldiers near him started to flee towards the palisade, but many of them were cut down before they made it. Boom. Bang. Boom. Muskets and cannons fired at the backs of the retreating Americans, not discriminating between individuals, and only a few made it back to their camps unscathed. Many were injured in their run to the American camp, and the body of the general was left behind, brutally deformed by the metal objects that had completed their journey through the flesh of his head, as clean white snow began to pile on him.