Local News Update

American Revolution Edition

Happening Truth by: Neal Trujillo

The Battle of Quebec (1775) depicted in the painting was the first major defeat for the Americans in the revolutionary war. In late 1775, the Second Continental Congress granted two American expeditions to Canada in order to retake the British occupations led by Col. Benedict Arnold and General Richard Montgomery. The two met up at the outskirts of Quebec City in early December demanding the surrender of the city. On December 31, 1775 the Americans attempted to siege the city, however, British troops were ready and opened fire with artillery and musket fire. During the first assault, Gen. Montgomery was killed by a musket ball to the head. His men were forced to retreat after several more attempts. Benedict Arnold was wounded in the leg during the assault on the northern wall of the city. Arnold's men were soon forced to retreat despite their continuous effort. In total of the 1200 Americans who fought, more than 400 were captured, killed, or wounded.

Critique of the Painting By: Alan Koo

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, Canada shows American General Montgomery’s death during the American Revolutionary War. Trumbull positions the dying Montgomery in the hands of his army members in a Pieta position, looking to the sky as if he were in a Renaissance painting and moments away from joining Heaven. Montgomery is in the very center of the piece wearing a bright yellow uniform that contrasts the black night background. He lies a few yards away from three troops that are taken aback from his death and also facing away from the viewer, possibly a message from Trumbull that they are British-Canadian enemies.

John Trumbull does an extraordinary job of portraying drama and tragedy, as is evidenced by his use of chiaroscuro and detail. But as a historical painter, whose duty is to paint historical scenes in a captivating way, Trumbull needs to stick to the basic facts and, in a few cases, use common sense. Granted, painters are always encouraged to distort scenes for a certain purpose, but Trumbull bumbles on nearly all circumstances of Montgomery’s death. After drilling a wall into the town wall, Montgomery’s troops were ambushed by cannons and musket troops, and Montgomery was instantly killed by a bullet to the head. The few survivors retreated and left Montgomery’s body behind. However, Trumbull paints no such wall, makes no distinction between enemy and American troops, and completely fails to show how Montgomery’s death actually happened. The most surprising facet of the painting is the general’s bright yellow uniform. Any uniform of that color scale would make a sniper’s job much easier and an officer an easy target.

However, Trumbull does accomplish his true goal, to show off the successful American Revolution to the shocked world, two years after it happened. The artist almost flaunts the scene to the viewer and packs the painting with drama and motion. He also leaves a valuable visible remnant of the Revolution for future generations to see.

Identity of the Author By: Jayaram Rajagopalan

John Trumbull

The American painter John Trumbull was born on June 6, 1756 in the colony of Connecticut to Jonathan Trumbull and his wife Faith Trumbull. In 1771, John attended Harvard college and graduated within two years.

By 1775 John was serving as an officer in the American Revolutionary War. He eventually became the aide-de-camp to General Washington himself, which allowed him a first person view of various battles and important people that John later incorporated into his artwork. One of these paintings was The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, Canada. John had resigned from the army due to relatively childish dispute concerning the dating of his officer commission by 1777.

In 1780, John decided to further his art career by studying under the prestigious Benjamin West in London. Due to West's influence, John painted many images about the Revolutionary War and its participants. While in London John was a diplomat from 1794 to 1804.

When John returned to America in 1817, he was commissioned to paint four paintings to hang in the Capitol Rotunda. Unfortunately, John soon fell into hard times and was forced into giving many paintings to Yale in 1831. He was appointed president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts in New York City from 1816 to 1836. He died in 1843, and his paintings were moved to Street Hall in 1867.

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War Story

Back then there was a war. It involved thousands of people fighting for their definition of liberty. From 1775 to 1783 it raged. Most people don’t seem to know, but this Revolutionary War was not specifically confined to the future United States. It, in fact, also occurred in Quebec. On one night of December, the 30th to be precise, the great General Montgomery led a charge against Quebec. The snow blizzard at the time made it impossible to see yet he continued forward. Obviously, death was inevitable. It might have been glorious, but death was like a looming force that caused utter sobriety in the officers of the general. War is painful and stupid. It is a herald of death and destruction. Nothing good can be said of it. Montgomery failed and the charge was a bust. The British came down into America and the war was only prolonged. But his death only inspired others to greatness. So maybe war is great and glorious.