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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
Wolfe and Montcalm at Quebec
by Bancroft, Hubert H.

[According to the plan of operations for 1759, General Wolfe, whose bravery at Louisburg had gained him great favor, was to ascend the St. Lawrence with a fleet of war-vessels and an army of eight thousand men, as soon as the river should be clear of ice, and lay siege to Quebec. General Amherst was to advance by the often-attempted road of Lake George, with the purpose of reducing Ticonderoga and Crown Point, then to cross Lake Champlain and push on to co- operate with Wolfe. A third expedition, under General Prideaux, assisted by Sir William Johnson and his Indians, was to attack Fort Niagara. Amherst's expedition consisted of nearly twelve thousand men. The forts threatened had no hope of a successful resistance against such a force, and they were deserted as the English army advanced, their garrisons retiring towards Montreal. Instead of pursuing. Amherst stopped to repair the works at Ticonderoga and build a new fort at Crown Point, useless measures just then, and causing a delay which deprived Wolfe of very desirable assistance. The expeditions of Prideaux and Wolfe proved more valuable in their results. We select a description of them from Irving's "Life of Washington," in which the exploits of Wolfe are described with all the clerness and rhetorical beauty of this excellent historian.]

General Prideaux embarked at Oswego on the 1st of July, with a large body of troops, regulars and provincials, -- the latter partly from New York. He was accompanied by Sir William Johnson and his Indian braves of the Mohawk. Landing at an inlet of Lake Ontario, within a few miles of Fort Niagara, he advanced, without being opposed, and proceeded to invest it. The garrison, six hundred strong, made a resolute defence. The siege was carried on by regular approaches, but pressed with vigor. On the 20th of July, Prideaux, in visiting his trenches, was killed by the bursting of a cohorn. Informed by express of this misfortune, General Amherst detached from the main army Brigadier-General Gage, the officer who had led Braddock's advance, to take the command. In the mean time the siege had been conducted by Sir William Johnson with courage and sagacity. He was destitute of military science, but had a natural aptness for warfare, especially for the rough kind carried on in the wilderness. Being informed by his scouts that twelve hundred regular troops, drawn from Detroit, Venango, and Presque Isle, and led by D'Aubry, with a number of Indian auxiliaries, were hastening to the rescue, he detached a force of grenadiers and light infantry, with some of his Mohawk warriors, to intercept them. They came in sight of each other on the road between Niagara Falls and the fort, within the thundering sound of the one and the distant view of the other. Johnson's "braves" advanced to have a parley with the hostile red-skins. The latter received them with a war-whoop, and Frenchman and savage made an impetuous onset. Johnson's regulars and provincials stood their ground firmly, while his red warriors fell on the flanks of the enemy. After a sharp conflict, the French were broken, routed, and pursued through the woods, with great carnage. Among the prisoners taken were seventeen officers. The next day Sir William Johnson sent a trumpet, summoning the garrison to surrender, to spare the effusion of blood and prevent outrages by the Indians. They had no alternative; were permitted to march out with the honors of war, and were protected by Sir William from his Indian allies.

[This victory secured the key of communication between Lakes Ontario and Erie, and to the vast interior region surrounding. But more important events were to follow.]

Wolfe, with his eight thousand men, ascended the St. Lawrence in the fleet, in the month of June. With him came Brigadiers Monckton, Townshend, and Murray, youthful and brave like himself, and, like himself, already schooled in arms. Monckton, it will be recollected, had signalized himself, when a colonel, in the expedition in 1755 in which the French were driven from Nova Scotia. The grenadiers of the army were commanded by Colonel Guy Carleton, and part of the light infantry by Lieutenant-Colonel William Howe, both destined to celebrity in after-years, in the annals of the American Revolution. Colonel Howe was a brother of the gallant Lord Howe, whose fall in the preceding year was so generally lamented. Among the officers of the fleet was Jervis, the future admiral, and ultimately Earl St. Vincent, and the master of one of the ships was James Cook, afterwards renowned as a discoverer.

About the end of June, the troops debarked on the large, populous, and well- cultivated Isle of Orleans, a little below Quebec, and encamped in its fertile fields. Quebec, the citadel of Canada, was strong by nature. It was built round the point of a rocky promontory, and flanked by precipices. The crystal current of the St. Lawrence swept by it on the right, and the river St. Charles flowed along on the left before mingling with that mighty stream. The place was tolerably fortified, but art had not yet rendered it, as at the present day, impregnable.

Montcalm commanded the post. His troops were more numerous than the assailants; but the greater part were Canadians, many of them inhabitants of Quebec; and he had a host of savages. His forces were drawn out along the northern shore below the city, from the river St. Charles to the Falls of Montmorency, and their position was secured by deep intrenchments.

The night after the debarkation of Wolfe's troops a furious storm caused great damage to the transports, and sank some of the small craft. While it was still raging, a number of fire-ships, sent to destroy the fleet, came driving down. They were boarded intrepidly by the British seamen, and towed out of the way of doing harm. After much resistance, Wolfe established batteries at the west point of the Isle of Orleans, and at Point Levi, on the right (or south) bank of the St. Lawrence, within cannon-range of the city, -- Colonel Guy Carleton commander at the former battery, Brigadier Monckton at the latter. From Point Levi bomb- shells and red-hot shells were discharged; many houses were set on fire in the upper town; the lower town was reduced to rubbish; the main fort, however, remained unharmed.

Anxious for a decisive action, Wolfe, on the 9th of July, crossed over in boats from the Isle of Orleans to the north bank of the St. Lawrence, and encamped below the Montmorency. It was an ill-judged position, for there was still that tumultuous stream, with its rocky banks, between him and the camp of Montcalm; but the ground he had chosen was higher than that occupied by the latter, and the Montmorency had a ford below the falls, passable at low tide. Another ford was discovered, three miles within land, but the banks were steep, and shagged with forest. At both fords the vigilant Montcalm had thrown up breast-works and posted troops.

On the 18th of July, Wolfe made a reconnoitring expedition up the river with two armed sloops and two transports with troops. He passed Quebec unharmed, and carefully noted the shores above it. Rugged cliffs rose almost from the water's edge. Above them, he was told, was an extent of level ground, called the Plains of Abraham, by which the upper town might be approached on its weakest side; but how was that plain to be attained, when the cliffs, for the most part, were inaccessible, and every practicable place fortified?

He returned to Montmorency disappointed, and resolved to attack Montcalm in his camp, however difficult to be approached, and however strongly posted. Townshend and Murray, with their brigades, were to cross the Montmorency at low tide, below the falls, and storm the redoubt thrown up in front of the ford. Monckton, at the same time, was to cross with part of his brigade, in boats from Point Levi. The ship Centurion, stationed in the channel, was to check the fire of a battery which commanded the ford; a train of artillery, planted on an eminence, was to enfilade the enemy's intrenchments; and two armed flat-bottomed boats were to be run on shore, near the redoubt, and favor the crossing of the troops.

As usual in complicated orders, part were misunderstood or neglected, and confusion was the consequence. Many of the boats from Point Levi ran aground on a shallow in the river, where they were exposed to a severe fire of shot and shells. Wolfe, who was on the shore, directing everything, endeavored to stop his impatient troops until the boats could be got afloat and the men landed. Thirteen companies of grenadiers and two hundred provincials were the first to land. Without waiting for Brigadier Monckton and his regiments, without waiting for the co-operation of the troops under Townshend, without waiting even to be drawn up in form, the grenadiers rushed impetuously towards the enemy's intrenchments. A sheeted fire mowed them down, and drove them to take shelter behind the redoubt, near the ford, which the enemy had abandoned. Here they remained, unable to form under the galling fire to which they were exposed whenever they ventured from their covert. Monckton's brigade at length was landed, drawn up in order, and advanced to their relief, driving back the enemy. Thus protected, the grenadiers retreated as precipitately as they had advanced, leaving many of their comrades wounded on the field, who were massacred and scalped in their sight by the savages. The delay thus caused was fatal to the enterprise. The day was advanced; the weather became stormy; the tide began to make; at a later hour retreat, in case of a second repulse, would be impossible. Wolfe, therefore, gave up the attack, and withdrew across the river, having lost upwards of four hundred men through this headlong impetuosity of the grenadiers. The two vessels which had been run aground were set on fire, lest they should fall into the hands of the enemy.

Brigadier Murray was now detached with twelve hundred men, in transports, to ascend above the town and co-operate with Rear-Admiral Holmes in destroying the enemy's shipping and making descents upon the north shore. The shipping was safe from attack; some stores and ammunition were destroyed, some prisoners taken, and Murray returned with the news of the capture of Fort Niagara, Ticonderoga, and Crown Point, and that Amherst was preparing to attack the Isle aux Noix.

Wolfe, of a delicate constitution and sensitive nature, had been deeply mortified by the severe check sustained at the Falls of Montmorency, fancying himself disgraced; and these successes of his fellow-commanders in other parts increased his self-upbraiding. The difficulties multiplying around him, and the delay of General Amherst in hastening to his aid, preyed incessantly on his spirits; he was dejected even to despondency, and declared he would never return without success, to be exposed, like other unfortunate commanders, to the sneers and reproaches of the populace. The agitation of his mind, and his acute sensibility, brought on a fever, which for some time in-capacitated him from taking the field.

In the midst of his illness he called a council of war, in which the whole plan of operations was altered. It was determined to convey troops above the town, and endeavor to make a diversion in that direction, or draw Montcalm into the open field. Before carrying this plan into effect, Wolfe again reconnoitred the town in company with Admiral Saunders, but nothing better suggested itself.

The brief Canadian summer was over; they were in the month of September. The camp at Montmorency was broken up. The troops were transported to Point Levi, leaving a sufficient number to man the batteries on the Isle of Orleans. On the 5th and 6th of September the embarkation took place above Point Levi, in transports which had been sent up for the purpose. Montcalm detached De Bougainville with fifteen hundred men to keep along the north shore above the town, watch the movements of the squadron, and prevent a landing. To deceive him, Admiral Holmes moved with the ships of war three leagues beyond the place where the landing was to be attempted. He was to drop down, however, in the night, and protect the landing. Cook, the future discoverer, also, was employed with others to sound the river and place buoys opposite the camp of Montcalm, as if an attack were meditated in that quarter.

Wolfe was still suffering under the effects of his late fever. "My constitution," writes he to a friend, "is entirely ruined, without the consolation of having done any considerable service to the state, and without any prospect of it." Still he was unremitting in his exertions, seeking to wipe out the fancied disgrace incurred at the Falls of Montmorency. It was in this mood he is said to have composed and sung at his evening mess that little campaigning song still linked with his name:

"Why, soldiers, why
Should we be melancholy, boys?
Why, soldiers, why,-
Whose business 'tis to die?"

Even when embarked in his midnight enterprise, the presentiment of death seems to have cast its shadow over him. A midshipman who was present used to relate that, as Wolfe sat among his officers, and the boats floated down silently with the current, he recited, in low and touching tones, Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard, then just published. One stanza may especially have accorded with his melancholy mood:

"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

"Now, gentlemen," said he, when he had finished, "I would rather be the author of that poem than take Quebec."

The descent was made in flat-bottomed boats, past mid-night, on the 13th of September. They dropped down silently with the swift current. "Qui va la?" (Who goes there?) cried a sentinel from the shore. "La France," replied a captain in the first boat, who understood the French language. "A quel regiment?" was the demand. "De la Reine" (The queen's), replied the captain, knowing that regiment was in De Bougainville's detachment. Fortunately, a convoy of provisions was expected down from De Bougainville, which the sentinel supposed this to be. "Passe," cried he, and the boats glided on without further challenge. The landing took place in a cove near Cape Diamond, which still bears Wolfe's name. He had marked it in reconnoitring, and saw that a cragged path straggled up from it to the Heights of Abraham, which might be climbed, though with difficulty, and that it appeared to be slightly guarded at top. Wolfe was among the first that landed and ascended up the steep and narrow path, where not more than two could go abreast, and which had been broken up by cross-ditches. Colonel Howe, at the same time, with the light infantry and Highlanders, scrambled up the woody precipices, helping themselves by the roots and branches, and putting to flight a sergeant's guard posted at the summit. Wolfe drew up the men in order as they mounted, and by the break of day found himself in possession of the fateful Plains of Abraham.

Montcalm was thunderstruck when word was brought to him in his camp that the English were on the heights, threatening the weakest part of the town. Abandoning his intrenchments, he hastened across the river St. Charles and ascended the heights which slope up gradually from its banks. His force was equal in number to that of the English, but a great part was made up of colony troops and savages. When he saw the formidable host of regulars he had to contend with, he sent off swift messengers to summon De Bougainville with his detachment to his aid, and De Vaudreuil to reinforce him with fifteen hundred men from the camp. In the mean time he prepared to flank the left of the English line and force them to the opposite precipices. Wolfe saw his aim, and sent Brigadier Townshend to counteract him with a regiment which was formed on potence, and supported by two battalions, presenting on the left a double front.

The French, in their haste, thinking they were to repel a mere scouting-party, had brought but three light field-pieces with them; the English had but a single gun, which the sailors had dragged up the heights. With these they cannonaded each other for a time, Montcalm still waiting for the aid he had summoned. At length, about nine o'clock, losing all patience, he led on his disciplined troops to a close conflict with small-arms, the Indians to support them with a galling fire from thickets and corn-fields. The French advanced gallantly, but irregularly, firing rapidly, but with little effect. The English reserved their fire until their assailants were within forty yards, and then delivered it in deadly volleys. They suffered, however, from the lurking savages, who singled out the officers. Wolfe, who was in front of the line, a conspicuous mark, was wounded by a ball in the wrist. He bound his handkerchief round the wound and led on the grenadiers, with fixed bayonets, to charge the foe, who began to waver. Another ball struck him in the breast. He felt the wound to be mortal, and feared his fall might dishearten his troops. Leaning on a lieutenant for support, "Let not my brave fellows see me drop," said he, faintly. He was borne off to the rear; water was brought to quench his thirst, and he was asked if he would have a surgeon. "It is needless," he replied; "it is all over with me." He desired those about him to lay him down. The lieutenant seated himself upon the ground, and supported him in his arms. "They run! they run! see how they run!" cried one of the attendants. "Who run?" demanded Wolfe, earnestly, like one aroused from sleep. "The enemy, sir; they give way everywhere." The spirit of the expiring hero flashed up. "Go, one of you, my lads, to Colonel Burton; tell him to march Webb's regiment with all speed down to Charles River, to cut off the retreat by the bridge." Then, turning on his side, "Now, God be praised, I will die in peace!" said he, and expired,--soothed in his last moments by the idea that victory would obliterate the imagined disgrace at Montmorency.

Brigadier Murray had indeed broken the centre of the enemy, and the Highlanders were making deadly havoc with their claymores, driving the French into the town or down to their works on the river St. Charles. Monckton, the first brigadier, was disabled by a wound in the lungs, and the command devolved on Townshend, who hastened to re-form the troops of the centre, disordered in pursuing the enemy. By this time De Bougainville appeared at a distance in the rear, advancing with two thousand fresh troops, but he arrived too late to retrieve the day. The gallant Montcalm had received his death-wound near St. John's Gate, while endeavoring to rally his flying troops, and had been borne into the town.

Townshend advanced with a force to receive De Bougainville; but the latter avoided a combat, and retired into woods and swamps, where it was not thought prudent to follow him. The English had obtained a complete victory, slain about five hundred of the enemy, taken above a thousand prisoners, and among them several officers, and had a strong position on the Plains of Abraham, which they hastened to fortify with redoubts and artillery, drawn up the heights.

The brave Montcalm wrote a letter to General Townshend, recommending the prisoners to British humanity. When told by his surgeon that he could not survive above a few hours, "So much the better," replied he; "I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec." To De Ramsey, the French king's lieutenant, who commanded the garrison, he consigned the defence of the city. "To your keeping," said he, "I commend the honor of France. I'll neither give orders, nor interfere any further. I have business to attend to of greater moment than your ruined garrison and this wretched country. My time is short: I shall pass this night with God, and prepare myself for death. I wish you all comfort, and to be happily extricated from your present perplexities." He then called for his chaplain, who, with the bishop of the colony, remained with him through the night. He expired early in the morning, dying like a brave soldier and a devout Catholic. Never did two worthier foes mingle their life-blood on the battle- field than Wolfe and Montcalm.

[This victory was quickly followed by a surrender of the city, whose garrison made no effort to defend it. It capitulated on the 17th of September, and was at once strongly occupied by the British, who hastened to put it in a strong defensive condition. Had Amherst followed up Wolfe's success by a prompt advance, the subjugation of Canada would have been completed that year. His delay gave the French time to rally, and enabled De Levi, the successor of Montcalm, to make a vigorous effort to recover the lost city.]

In the following spring, as soon as the river St. Lawrence opened, he approached Quebec, and landed at Point au Tremble, about twelve miles off. The garrison had suffered dreadfully during the winter from excessive cold, want of vegetables and of fresh provisions. Many had died of scurvy, and many more were ill. Murray, sanguine and injudicious, and hearing that De Levi was advancing with ten thousand men and five hundred Indians, sallied out with his diminished forces of not more than three thousand. English soldiers, he boasted, were habituated to victory; he had a fine train of artillery, and stood a better chance in the field than cooped up in a wretched fortification. If defeated, he would defend the place to the last extremity, and then retreat to the Isle of Orleans and wait for reinforcements. More brave than discreet, he attacked the vanguard of the enemy. The battle which took place was fierce and sanguinary. Murray's troops had caught his own headlong valor, and fought until nearly a third of their number were slain. They were at length driven back into the town, leaving their boasted train of artillery on the field.

De Levi opened trenches before the town the very evening of the battle. Three French ships, which had descended the river, furnished him with cannon, mortars, and ammunition. By the 11th of May he had one bomb battery and three batteries of cannon. Murray, equally alert within the walls, strengthened his defences and kept up a vigorous fire. His garrison was now reduced to two hundred and twenty effective men, and he himself, with all his vaunting spirit, was driven almost to despair, when a British fleet arrived in the river. The whole scene was now reversed. One of the French frigates was driven on the rocks above Cape Diamond; another ran on shore and was burnt; the rest of their vessels were either taken or destroyed. The besieging army retreated in the night, leaving provisions, implements, and artillery behind them; and so rapid was their flight that Murray, who sallied forth on the following day, could not overtake them.

[A last stand was made at Montreal. But a force of nearly ten thousand men, with a host of Indians, gathered around the town, which was forced to capitulate on the 8th of September, including in the surrender not only Montreal, but all Canada.]

Thus ended the contest between France and England for dominion in America, in which, as has been said, the first gun was fired in Washington's encounter with De Jumonville. A French statesman and diplomatist consoled himself by the persuasion that it would be a fatal triumph to England. It would remove the only check by which her colonies were kept in awe. "They will no longer need her protection," said he; "she will call on them to contribute towards supporting the burdens they have helped to bring on her, and they will answer by striking off all dependence." (Count de Vergennes, French ambassador at Constantinople.)

Washington Irving


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