All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
26 June, 2013
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
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,
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,
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
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
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.)