Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XV.—The Conquest of Canada, 1759 and 1760


Wolfe before Quebec—The Siege opened - Straits of the Inhabitants—The Attack at Montmorency—Its disastrous failure—Wolfe's Illness— An audacious design—The Eve of the Battle—The British gain the Heights—The Battle of the Plains of Abraham—The Death of Wolfe and Montcalm—British Occupation of Quebec—1759. Battle of Ste. Foye—French Siege of Quebec raised—Surrender of Montreal and Capitulation of Canada—1760.

The last act of this historic drama, the conquest of Quebec, must now be described. In the month of May, the British fleet, of about forty war vessels and a number of transports conveying eight thousand troops, rendezvoused at Louisburg, and toward the end of June arrived safely before the heights of Quebec. Wolfe promptly occupied the Island of Orleans, the left bank of the Montmorency, and Point Levi, opposite the city. Montcalm had mustered a force of some thirteen thousand men of every age, from boys of thirteen to veterans of eighty, and had strongly fortified with redoubts and earthworks the precipitous banks, from Cape Rouge, eight miles above Quebec, to Montmorency, as far below. A strong boom, sunken ships and floating batteries, closed the mouth of the St. Charles, and shoal water and mud flats, along the Beauport shore, made landing .almost impossible. Fire rafts and fire ships were repeatedly launched on the ebb tide against the British fleet, but they were always intercepted by the British tars, and towed ashore without having accomplished any injury.

The batteries at Point Levi, opposite Quebec, during the month of July, poured such an incessant fire into the doomed city that conflagrations were of almost daily occurrence, and soon the greater part of both Upper and Lower Town was in ruins. Wolfe's plan was to force Montcalm's lines, if possible, and bring him to an engagement. But the French stood strictly on the defensive, except that their Indian scouts cut off and scalped stragglers from the British lines. In retaliation, and as a measure of military necessity, we must suppose—for he was man of humane instincts—Wolfe ravaged the country and burned the villages both above and below Quebec. The beleaguered city was reduced to severest straits. "We are without hope and without food," said an intercepted letter; "God hath forsaken us."

On the last day of July, under cover of a furious fire from the fleet, a strong party of British landed at the foot of the snowy Falls of Montmorency, and at low tide forded its brawling stream. Without waiting for supports, the van rushed impetuously up the steep escarpment, crowned with the redoubts of the enemy. A storm burst upon them. Stumbling on the now slippery incline, and their ammunition soaked with rain, they were hurled back in disastrous defeat by a crushing fire from the French entrenchments. Four hundred and fifty gallant men lay dead or wounded on the gory slope.

Chagrin and grief at this disaster threw the young commander into a well-nigh fatal fever. His heroic soul was housed in a frail body. Tossing on his couch of pain, he felt that the eyes of his country were upon him, and the disappointment of its expectations was anguish to his spirit. The season was rapidly passing, and whatever was to be done must be done quickly. Wolfe determined on an attempt bold even to the verge of rashness; but its audacity was the secret of its success. Masking his designs by feints against Beauport, he moved the bulk of his army and the fleet up the river above the city, despite the heavy fire from the batteries of Quebec.

On the moonless morning of September 13th, before day, the fleet dropped silently down the river with the ebbing tide, accompanied by thirty barges containing sixteen hundred men, which, with muffled oars, closely hugged the shadows of the shore. Pale and weak with recent illness, Wolfe reclined among his officers, and in a low tone recited several stanzas of the recent poem, Gray's "Elegy, written in a Country Churchyard." Perhaps the shadow of his own approaching fate stole upon his mind, as in mournful cadence he whispered the strangely prophetic words,

"The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

With a feeling of the'hollowness of military renown, he exclaimed, "I would rather have written those lines than take Quebec to-morrow."

Challenged by an alert sentry, an officer gave the countersign, which had been learned from a French deserter, and the little flotilla was mistaken for a convoy of provisions expected from Montreal. Landing in the deeply-shadowed cove which has since borne Wolfe's name, the agile Highlanders climbed lightly up the steep and narrow path leading to the summit, and in a few moments the guard was overpowered. The troops swarmed rapidly up the rugged precipice, the barges meanwhile promptly transferring fresh reinforcements from the fleet.

When the sun rose, the plain was glittering with the arms of plaided highlanders and English red-coats forming for battle. The redoubled fire from Point Levi, and a portion of the fleet, upon the devoted city and the lines of Beauport, held the attention of Montcalm, and completely deceived him as to the main point of attack. A breathless horseman conveyed the intelligence at early dawn. At first incredulous, the gallant commander was soon convinced of the fact, and exclaimed, " Then they have got the weak side of this wretched garrison, but we must fight and crush them;" and the roll of drums and the peal of bugles on the fresh morning air summoned the scattered army to action. With tumultuous haste, the skeleton French regiments hurried through the town and formed in long thin lines upon the Plains of Abraham. They numbered seven thousand five hundred famine-wasted and "disheartened men. Opposed to them were five thousand veteran troops, eager for the fray, and strong in their confidence in their beloved general. Firm as a wall these awaited the onset of the French. In silence they filled the ghastly gaps made in their ranks by the fire of the foe. Not for a moment wavered the steady line. Not a trigger was pulled till the enemy arrived within forty yards. Then, at the ringing word of command, a simultaneous volley flashed from the levelled muskets and tore through the enemy's ranks. The French line was broken and disordered, and heaps of wounded strewed the plain. With cheer on cheer the British charged before they could re-form, and swept the fugitives from the field, pursuing them to the city gates, and to the banks of the St. Charles. In fifteen minutes was lost and won the battle that gave Canada to Great Britain. The British loss was six hundred killed and wounded; that of the French was more than twice as many.

Almost at the first fire, Wolfe was struck by a bullet that shattered his wrist. A moment later a ball pierced his side, but he still cheered on his men. Soon a third shot lodged deep in his breast. Staggering into the arms of an officer, he exclaimed, "Support me! Let not my brave fellows see me fall." He was borne to the rear, and gently laid upon the ground. "See! they run!" exclaimed a bystander. "Who runs?" demanded Wolfe, arousing as from a swoon. "The enemy, sir; they give way everywhere," was the reply. "What! already!" said the dying man. "Now, God be praised," he murmured, "I die content."

His brave adversary, Montcalm, also fell mortally wounded, and was borne from the field. "How long shall I live?" he asked the surgeon. "Not many hours," was the reply. "I am glad of it," he said; "I shall not see the surrender of Quebec." He died before midnight, and, coffined in a rude box, was buried amid the tears of his soldiers in a grave made by the bursting of a shell.

The conquerors immediately began the construction of an entrenched camp on the plain, and in three days had a hundred and twenty guns and mortars in position for the siege of the city. But, wasted with famine, and its defenders reduced tp a mere handful, the beleaguered fortress surrendered, and on the 18th of September, 1759, the rock-built citadel of Quebec passed for ever from the dominion of France.

Near the scene of their death a grateful people have 'erected a common monument to the rival commanders, who generously recognized each other's merit in life, and now keep for evermore the solemn truce of death. The two races that met in the shock of battle dwell together in loving fealty, beneath the protecting folds of one common flag.

England had never known a year of such triumphs as this. In all parts of the world her arms were victorious. At Lagos, at Quiberon, at Minden, at Quebec, her fleets or armies won new renown. "We must ask every morning," said Horace Walpole, "what new victory there is." Nevertheless, France was not to surrender her fairest possession 1760 w^out another struggle. M. de Levi, early in the spring, collected ten thousand men at Montreal, and toward the end of April attempted the recapture of Quebec. The winter had been one of intense severity, and to the French one of unexampled dearth and distress. The garrison of General Murray was worn clown by the labour of procuring fuel and maintaining a defence against frequent harassing assaults. Its effective strength was reduced by deaths, scurvy, frost-bites, and other casualties, from seven thousand to less than half that number.

On the 27th of April, De Levi's van appeared, and drove in the British outposts. The following day, with more valour than prudence, Murray marched out to give battle against overwhelming odds. He attacked the French with spirit on the Ste. Foye road, but was outflanked and outnumbered. After a hot contest of two hours, he was compelled to retreat, with the loss of a thousand men killed or wounded. The French loss in this fruitless battle was still greater.

De Levi pressed the siege for eighteen days. Besiegers and besieged both looked for aid from an expected fleet. Eager eyes were strained continually toward Point Levi for signs of its approach. At length a strange frigate rounded the headland, amid the anxious suspense, of the beholders. As the Union Jack was run up to the peak, cheer on cheer rang from the ramparts, and deep chagrin filled the hearts of the besiegers in the trenches. Soon two other vessels arrived, and De Levi made a hasty retreat, abandoning tents, baggage, and siege train in his flight.

He retired to Montreal, there to make the last stand for the possession of Canada. Three English armies converged on the heart of the colony, where life still feebly beat. General Murray, with all his available force, advanced from Quebec, receiving the submission of the inhabitants. Colonel Haviland, with three thousand men, hastened from Crown Point by way of Lake Champlain and the Richelieu, occupying the forts evacuated by the French. General Amherst proceeded from Albany, with ten thousand men, by the strange detour of the Mohawk and Oswego rivers, to Lake Ontario, and thence down the St. Lawrence. The three armies reached Montreal on three successive days, and on the 8th of September, sixteen thousand men beleaguered the devoted town, the last stand of French fidelity and valour. It was defended only by frail walls and by three thousand war-wasted men. Resistance was impossible. The most heroic courage could do no more. The same day, De vaudreuil signed the capitulation which severed Canada from France forever.


Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus