L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
The Winning of Canada
A Chronicle of Wolfe
[This text was written by William Wood. For the precise bibliographical information, see the end of the document.]
IN October 1758 Wolfe sailed from Halifax for England with Boscawen and very nearly saw a naval battle off Land's End with the French fleet returning to France from Quebec. The enemy, however, slipped away in the dark. On November 1 he landed at Portsmouth. He had been made full colonel of a new regiment, the 67th Foot (Hampshires), and before going home to London he set off to see it at Salisbury? Wolfe's old regiment, the 20th (Lancashire Fusiliers), was now in Germany, fighting under the command of Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, and was soon to win more laurels at Minden, the first of the three great British victories of 1759 — Minden, Quebec, and Quiberon.
Though far from well, Wolfe was as keen as ever about anything that could possibly make him fit for command. He picked out the best officers with a sure eye : generals and colonels, like Carleton ; captains, like Delaune, a man made for the campaigns in Canada, who, as we shall see later, led the ‘Forlorn Hope' up the Heights of Abraham. Wolfe had also noted in a third member of the great Howe family a born leader of light infantry for Quebec. Wolfe was very strong on light infantry, and trained them to make sudden dashes with a very short but sharp surprise attack followed by a quick retreat under cover. One day at Louisbourg an officer said this reminded him of what Xenophon wrote about the Carduchians who harassed the rear of the world-famous 'Ten Thousand.' 'I had it from Xenophon' was Wolfe's reply. Like all great commanders, Wolfe knew what other great commanders had done and thought, no matter to what age or nation they belonged : Greek, Roman, German, French, British, or any other. Years before this he had recommended a young officer to study the Prussian Army Regulations and Vauban's book on Sieges. Nor did he forget to read the lives of men like Scanderbeg and Ziska, who could teach him many unusual lessons. He kept his eyes open everywhere, all his life long, on men and things and books. He recommended his friend; Captain Rickson, who was then in Halifax, to read Montesquieu's not yet famous book The Spirit of Laws, because it would be useful for a government official in a new country. Writing home to his mother from Louisbourg about this new country, that is, before Canada had become British, before there was much more than a single million of English-speaking people in the whole New World, and before most people on either side of the Atlantic understood what a great over-sea empire meant at all, he said : ‘This will, sometime hence, be a vast empire, the seat of power and learning. Nature has refused them nothing, and there will grow a people out of our little spot, England, that will fill this vast space, and divide this great portion of the globe with the Spaniards, who are possessed of the other half of it.'
On arriving in England Wolfe had reported his presence to the commander-in-chief, Lord Ligonier, requesting leave of absence in order that he might visit his relatives. This was granted, and the Wolfe family met together once more and for the last time.
Though he said little about it, Wolfe must have snatched some time for Katherine Lowther, his second love, to whom he was now engaged. What had happened between him and his first love, Miss Lawson, will probably never be known. We know that his parents were opposed to his marrying her. Perhaps, too, she may not have been as much in love as he was. But, for what-ever reason, they parted. Then he fell in love with beautiful Katherine Lowther, a sister to the Earl of Lonsdale and afterwards Duchess of Bolton.
Meanwhile Pitt was planning for his Empire Year of 1759, the year of Ferdinand at Minden, Wolfe at Quebec, and Hawke in Quiberon Bay. Before Pitt had taken the war in hand nearly everything had gone against the British. Though Clive had become the British hero of India in 1757, and Wolfe of Louisbourg in 1758, there had hitherto been more defeats than victories. Minorca had been lost in 1756 ; in America Braddock's army had been destroyed in 1755 ; and Montcalm had won victories at Oswego in 1756, at Fort William Henry in 1757, and at Ticonderoga in1758. More than this, in 1759 the French were preparing fleets and armies to invade England, Ireland, and Scotland ; and the British people were thinking rather of their own defence at home than of attacking the French abroad.
Pitt, however, rightly thought that vigorous attacks from the sea were the best means of defence at home. From London he looked out over the whole world : at France and her allies in the centre, at French India on his far left, and at French Canada on his far right; with the sea dividing his enemies and uniting his friends, if only he could hold its highways with the British Navy.
To carry out his plans Pitt sent a small army and a great deal of money to Frederick the Great, to help him in the middle of Europe against the Russians, Austrians, and French. At the same time he let Anson station fleets round the coast of France, so that no strong French force could get at Britain or Greater Britain, or go to help Greater France, without a fight at sea. Then, having cut off Canada from France and taken her outpost at Louisbourg, he aimed a death-blow at her very heart by sending Saunders, with a quarter of the whole British Navy, against Quebec, the stronghold of New France, where the land attack was to be made by a little army of 9000 men under Wolfe. Even this was not the whole of Pitt's plan for the conquest of Canada. A smaller army was to be sent against the French on the Great Lakes, and a larger one, under Amherst, along the line of Lake Champlain, towards Montreal.
Pitt did a very bold thing when he took a young colonel and asked the king to make him a general and allow him to choose his own brigadiers and staff officers. It was a bold thing, because, whenever there is a position of honour to be given, the older men do not like being passed over and all the politicians who think of themselves first and their country afterwards wish to put in their own favourites. Wolfe, of course, had enemies. Dullards often think that men of genius are crazy, and some one had told the king that Wolfe was mad. ‘Mad, is he ? ' said the king, remembering all the recent British defeats on land ; ‘then I hope he’ll bite some of my other generals !' Wolfe was not able to give any of his seniors his own and Lord Howe's kind of divine ‘madness' during that war. But he did give a touch of it to many of his juniors ; with the result that his Quebec army was better officered than any other British land force of the time.
The three brigadiers next in command to Wolfe—Monckton, Townshend, and Murray—were not chosen simply because they were all sons of peers, but because, like Howe and Boscawen, they were first-rate officers as well. Barre and Carleton were the two chief men on the staff. Each became celebrated in later days, Barre in parliament, and Carleton as both the saviour of Canada from the American attack in 1775 and the first British governor-general. Williamson, the best gunnery expert in the whole Army, commanded the artillery. The only troublesome officer was Townshend, who thought himself, and whose family and political friends thought him, at least as good a general as Wolfe, if not a better one. But even Townshend did his duty well. The army at Halifax was supposed to be twelve thousand, but its real strength was only nine thousand. The difference was mostly due to the ravages of scurvy and camp fever, both of which, in their turn, were due to the bad food supplied by rascally contractors. The action of the officers alone saved the situation from becoming desperate. Indeed, if it had not been for what the officers did for their men in the way of buying better food, at great cost, out of their own not well-filled pockets, there might have been no army at all to greet Wolfe on his arrival in America.
The fleet was the greatest that had ever sailed across the seas. It included one-quarter of the whole Royal Navy. There were 49 men-of-war manned by 14,000 sailors and marines. There were also more than 200 vessels—transports, store ships, provision ships, etc.—manned by about 7000 merchant seamen. Thus there were at least twice as many sailors as soldiers at the taking of Quebec. Saunders was a most capable admiral. He had been flag-lieutenant during Anson's famous voyage round the world ; then Hawke's best fighting captain during the war in which Wolfe was learning his work at Dettingen and Laffeldt ; and then Hawke's second-in-command of the 'cargo of courage' sent out after Byng's disgrace at Minorca. After Quebec he crowned his fine career by being one of the best first lords of the Admiralty that ever ruled the Navy. Durell, his next in command, was slower than Amherst ; and Amherst never made a short cut in his life, even to certain success. Holmes, the third admiral, was thoroughly efficient. Hood, a still better admiral than any of those at Quebec, after-wards served under Holmes, and Nelson under Hood ; which links Trafalgar with Quebec. But a still closer link with ‘mighty Nelson' was Jervis, who took charge of Wolfe's personal belongings at Quebec the night before the battle and many years later became Nelson's commander-in-chief. Another Quebec captain who afterwards became a great admiral was Hughes, famous for his fights in India. But the man whose subsequent fame in the world at large eclipsed that of any other in this fleet was Captain Cook, who made the first good charts of Canadian waters some years before he became a great explorer in the far Pacific.
There was a busy scene at Portsmouth on February 17, when Saunders and Wolfe sailed in the flagship H.M.S. Neptune, of 90 guns and a crew of 750 men. She was one of the well-known old ‘three-deckers,' those ‘wooden walls of England' that kept the Empire safe while it was growing up. The guard of red-coated marines presented arms, and the hundreds of blue-jackets were all in their places as the two commanders . stepped on board. The naval officers on the quarter-deck were very spick and span in their black three-cornered hats, white wigs, long, bright blue, gold-laced coats, white waistcoats and breeches and stockings, and gold-buckled shoes. The idea of having naval uniforms of blue and white and gold—the same colours that are worn to-day—came from the king's seeing the pretty Duchess of Bedford in a blue-and-white riding-habit, which so charmed him that he swore he would make the officers wear the same colours for the uniforms just then being newly tried. This was when the Duke of Bedford was first lord of the Admiralty, some years before Pitt's great expedition against Quebec.
The sailors were also in blue and white ; but they were not so spick and span as the officers. They were a very rough-and-ready-looking lot. They wore small, soft, three-cornered black hats, bright blue jackets, open enough to show their coarse white shirts, and coarse white duck trousers. They had shoes without stockings on shore, and only bare feet on board. They carried cut-lasses and pistols, and wore their hair in pigtails. They would be a surprising sight to modern eyes. But not so much so as the women ! Ships and regiments in those days always had a certain number of women for washing and mending the clothes. There was one woman to about every twenty men. They drew pay and were under regular orders, just like the soldiers and sailors. Sometimes they gave a willing hand in action, helping the 'powder-monkeys '—boys who had to pass the powder from the barrels to the gunners—or even taking part in a siege, as at Louisbourg.
The voyage to Halifax was long, rough, and cold, and Wolfe was sea-sick as ever. Strangely enough, these ships coming out to the conquest of Canada under St George's cross made land on St George's Day near the place where Cabot had raised St George's cross over Canadian soil before Columbus had set foot on the mainland of America. But though April 23 might be a day of good omen, it was a very bleak one that year off Cape Breton, where ice was packed for miles and miles along the coast. On the 30th the fleet entered Halifax. Slow old Durell was hurried off on May 5 with eight men-of-war and seven hundred soldiers under Carleton to try to stop any French ships from getting up to Quebec. Carleton was to go ashore at Isle-aux-Coudres, an island commanding the channel sixty miles below Quebec, and mark out a passage for the fleet through the ‘Traverse' at the lower end of the island of Orleans, thirty miles higher up.
On the 13th Saunders sailed for Louisbourg, where the whole expedition was to meet and get ready. Here Wolfe spent the rest of May, working every day and all day. His army, with the exception of nine hundred American rangers, consisted of seasoned British regulars, with all the weaklings left behind ; and it did his heart good to see them on parade. There was the 15th, whose officers still wear a line of black braid on their uniforms in mourning for his death. The 15th and five other regiments—the 28th, 43rd, 47th, 48th, and 58th—were English. But the 35th had been forty years in Ireland, and was Irish to a man. The whole seven regiments were dressed very much alike : three-cornered, stiff black hats with black cockades, white wigs, long-tailed red coats turned back with blue or white in front, where they were fastened only at the neck, white breeches, and long white gaiters coming over the knee. A very different corps was the 78th, or 'Fraser's,' Highlanders, one of the regiments Wolfe first recommended and Pitt first raised. Only fourteen years before the Quebec campaign these same Highlanders had joined Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, in the famous ‘45.’ They were mostly Roman Catholics, which accounts for the way they intermarried with the French Canadians after the conquest. They had been fighting for the Stuarts against King George, and Wolfe, as we have seen, had himself fought against them at Culloden. Yet here they were now, under Wolfe, serving King George. They knew that the Stuart cause was lost for ever ; and all of them, chiefs and followers alike, loved the noble profession of arms. The Highlanders then wore ` bonnets ' like a high tam-o'-shanter, with one white curly feather on the left side. Their red coats were faced with yellow, and they wore the Fraser plaid hung from the shoulders and caught up, loopwise, on both hips. Their kilts were very short and not pleated. Badger sporrans, showing the head in the middle, red-and-white diced hose, and buckled brogues completed their wild but martial dress, which was well set off by the dirks and claymores that swung to the stride of the mountaineer.
Each regiment had one company of grenadiers, picked out for their size, strength, and steadiness, and one company of light infantry, picked out for their quickness and good marksmanship. Sometimes all the grenadier companies would be put together in a separate battalion. The same thing was often done with the light infantry companies, which were then led by Colonel Howe. Wolfe had also made up a small three-company battalion of picked grenadiers from the five regiments that were being left behind at Louisbourg to guard the Maritime Provinces. This little battalion became famous at Quebec as the 'Louisbourg Grenadiers.' The grenadiers all wore red and white, like the rest, except that their coats were buttoned up the whole way, and instead of the three-cornered hats they wore high ones like a bishop's mitre. The artillery wore blue-grey coats turned back with red, yellow braid, and half-moon-shaped black hats, with the points down towards their shoulders.
The only remaining regiment is of much greater interest in connection with a Canadian campaign. It was the 60th Foot, then called the Royal Americans, afterwards the Sixtieth Rifles or 'Old Sixtieth,' and now the King's Royal Rifle Corps. It was the first regiment of regulars ever raised in Greater Britain, and the first to introduce the rifle-green uniform now known all over the Empire, especially in Canada, where all rifle regiments still follow ' the 60th's' lead so far as that is possible. Many of its officers and men who returned from the conquest of Canada to their homes in the British colonies were destined to move on to Canada with their families as United Empire Loyalists. This was their first war ; and they did so well in it that Wolfe gave them the rifle-man's motto they still bear in token of their smartness and dash—Celer et Audax. Unfortunately they did not then wear the famous ‘rifle green' but the ordinary red. Unfortunately, too, the rifleman's green has no connection with the 'green jackets of American backwoodsmen in the middle of the eighteenth century.’ The backwoodsmen were not dressed in green as a rule, and they never formed any considerable part of the regiment at any time. The first green uniform came in with the new 5th battalion in 1797 ; and the old 2nd and 3rd battalions, which fought under Wolfe, did not adopt it till 1815. It was not even of British origin, but an imitation of a German hussar uniform which was itself an imitation of one worn by the Hungarians, who have the senior hussars of the world. But though Wolfe's Royal Americans did not wear the rifle green, and though their coats and waistcoats were of common red, their uniforms differed from those of all other regiments at Quebec in several particulars. The most remarkable difference was the absence of lace, an absence specially authorized only for this corps, and then only in view of special service and many bush fights in America. The double-breasted coats were made to button across, except at the top, where the lapels turned back, like the cuffs and coat-tails. All these 'turnbacks' and the breeches were blue. The very long gaiters, the waist and cross belts, the neckerchief and hat piping were white. Wearing this distinctively plain uniform, and led by their buglers and drummers in scarlet and gold, like state trumpeters, the Royal Americans could not, even at a distance, be mistaken for any other regiment.
On June 6 Saunders and Wolfe sailed for Quebec with a hundred and forty-one ships. Wolfe's work in getting his army safely off being over, he sat down alone in his cabin to make his will. His first thought was for Katherine Lowther, his fiancée, who was to have her own miniature portrait, which he carried with him, set in jewels and given back to her. Warde, Howe, and Carleton were each remembered. He left all the residue of his estate to ‘my good mother,' his father having just died. More than a third of the whole will was taken up with providing for his servants. No wonder he was called ‘the soldier's friend.'
There was a thrilling scene at Louisbourg as regiment after regiment marched down to the shore, with drums beating, bugles sounding, and colours flying. Each night, after drinking the king's health, they had drunk another toast—' British colours on every French fort, port, and garrison in North America.' Now here they were, the pick of the Army and Navy, off with Wolfe to raise those colours over Quebec, the most import-ant military point on the whole continent. On they sailed, all together, till they reached the Saguenay, a hundred and twenty miles below Quebec. Here, on the afternoon of June 20, the sun shone down on a sight such as the New World had never seen before, and has never seen again. The river narrows opposite the Saguenay and is full of shoals and islands ; so this was the last day the whole one hundred and forty-one vessels sailed together, in their three divisions, under those three ensigns—'The Red, White, and Blue'—which have made the British Navy loved, feared, and famous round the seven seas. What a sight it was ! Thousands and thou-sands of soldiers and sailors crowded those scores and scores of high-decked ships ; while hundreds and hundreds of swelling sails gleamed white against the sun, across the twenty miles of blue St Lawrence.
Wolfe, however, was not there to see it. He had gone forward the day before. A dispatch-boat had come down from Durell to say that, in spite of his advanced squadron, Bougainville, Montcalm's ablest brigadier, had slipped through with twenty-three ships from France, bringing out a few men and a good deal of ammunition, stores, and food. This gave Quebec some sorely needed help. Besides, Montcalm had found out Pitt's plan ; and nobody knew where the only free French fleet was now. It had wintered in the West Indies. But had it sailed for France or the St Lawrence ? At the first streak of dawn on the 23rd Durell's look-out off Isle-aux-Coudres reported many ships coming up the river under a press of sail. Could the French West Indian fleet have slipped in ahead of Saunders, as Bougainville had slipped in ahead of Durell himself ? There was a tense moment on board of Durell's squadron and in Carleton's camp, in the pale, grey light of early morning, as the bugles sounded, the boatswains blew their whistles and roared their orders, and all hands came tumbling up from below and ran to battle quarters with a rush of swift bare feet. But the incoming vanship made the private British signal, and both sides knew that all was well.
For a whole week the great fleet of one hundred and forty-one ships worked their way through the narrow channel between Isle-aux-Coudres and the north shore, and then dared the dangers of the Traverse, below the island of Orleans, where the French had never passed more than one ship at a time, and that only with the greatest caution. The British went through quite easily, without a single accident. In two days the great Captain Cook had sounded and marked out the channel better than the French had in a hundred and fifty years ; and so thoroughly was his work done that the British officers could handle their vessels in these French waters better without than with the French pilots. Old Captain Killick took the Goodwill through himself, just next ahead of the Richmond, on board of which was Wolfe. The captured French pilot in the Goodwill was sure she would be lost if she did not go slow and take more care. But Killick laughed at him and said : ‘Damn me, but I’ll convince you an Englishman can go where a Frenchman daren't show his nose !' And he did.
On June 26 Wolfe arrived at the west end of the island of Orleans, in full view of Quebec. The twenty days' voyage from Louisbourg had ended and the twelve weeks' siege had begun.
At this point we must take the map and never put it aside till the final battle is over. A whole book could not possibly make Wolfe's work plain to any one without the map. But with the map we can easily follow every move in this, the greatest crisis in both Wolfe's career and Canada's history.
What Wolfe saw and found out was enough to daunt any general. He had a very good army, but it was small. He could count upon the help of a mighty fleet, but even British fleets cannot climb hills or make an enemy come down and fight. Montcalm, however, was weakened by many things. The governor, Vaudreuil, was a vain, fussy, and spiteful fool, with power enough to thwart Montcalm at every turn. The intendant, Bigot, was the greatest knave ever seen in Canada, and the head of a gang of official thieves who robbed the country and the wretched French Canadians right and left. The French army, all together, numbered nearly seventeen thousand, almost twice Wolfe's own; but the bulk of it was militia, half starved and badly armed. Both Vaudreuil and Bigot could and did interfere disastrously with the five different forces that should have been made into one army under Montcalm alone—the French regulars, the Canadian regulars, the Canadian militia, the French sailors ashore, and the Indians. Montcalm had one great advantage over Wolfe. He was not expected to fight or manoeuvre in the open field. His duty was not to drive Wolfe away, or even to keep Amherst out of Canada. All he had to do was to hold Quebec throughout the summer. The autumn would force the British fleet to leave for ice-free waters. Then, if Quebec could only be held, a change in the fortunes of war, or a treaty of peace, might still keep Canada in French hands. Wolfe had either to tempt Montcalm out of Quebec or get into it himself ; and he soon realized that he would have to do this with the help of Saunders alone ; for Amherst in the south was crawling forward towards Montreal so slowly that no aid from him could be expected.
Montcalm's position certainly looked secure for the summer. His left flank was guarded by the Montmorency, a swift river that could be forded only by a few men at a time in a narrow place, some miles up, where the dense bush would give every chance to his Indians and Canadians. His centre was guarded by entrenchments running from the Montmorency to the St Charles, six miles of ground, rising higher and higher towards Montmorency, all of it defended by the best troops and the bulk of the army, and none of it having an inch of cover for an enemy in front, The mouth of the St Charles was blocked by booms and batteries. Quebec is a natural fortress ; and above Quebec the high, steep cliffs stretched for miles and miles. These cliffs could be climbed by a few men in several places ; but nowhere by a whole army, if any defenders were there in force; and the British fleet could not land an army without being seen soon enough to draw plenty of defenders to the same spot. Forty miles above Quebec the St Lawrence channel narrows to only a quarter of a mile, and the down current becomes very swift indeed. Above this channel was the small French fleet, which could stop a much larger one trying to get up, or could even block most of the fairway by sinking some of its own ships. Besides all these defences of man and nature the French had floating batteries along the north shore. They also held the Levis Heights on the south shore, opposite Quebec, so that ships crowded with helpless infantry could not, without terrible risk, run through the intervening narrows, barely a thousand yards wide.
A gale blowing down-stream was the first trouble for the British fleet. Many of the transports broke loose and a good deal of damage was done to small vessels and boats. Next night a greater danger threatened, when the ebb-tide, running five miles an hour, brought down seven French fireships, which suddenly burst into flame as they rounded the Point of Levy. There was a display of devil's fireworks such as few men have ever seen or could imagine. Sizzling, crackling, and roaring, the blinding flames leaped into the jet-black sky, lighting up the camps of both armies, where thousands of soldiers watched these engines of death sweep down on the fleet. Each of the seven ships was full of mines, blowing up and hurling shot and shell in all directions. The crowded mass of British vessels seemed doomed to destruction. But the first spurt of fire had hardly been noticed before the men in the guard boats began to row to the rescue. Swinging the grappling-hooks round at arm's length, as if they were heaving the lead, the blue-jackets made the fireships fast, the officers shouted, ‘Give way!' and presently the whole infernal flotilla was safely stranded. But it was a close thing and very hot work, as one of the happy-go-lucky Jack tars said with more force than grace, when he called out to the boat beside him : ‘Hullo, mate ! Did you ever take hell in tow before ?'
Vaudreuil now made Montcalm, who was under his orders, withdraw the men from the Levis Heights, and thus abandon the whole of the south shore in front of Quebec. Wolfe, delighted, at once occupied the same place, with half his army and most of his guns. Then he seized the far side of the Montmorency and made his main camp there, without, however, removing his hospitals and stores from his camp on the island of Orleans. So he now had three camps, not divided, but joined together, by the St Lawrence, where the fleet could move about between them in spite of anything the French could do. He then marched up the Montmorency to the fords, to try the French strength there, and to find out if he could cross the river, march down the open ground behind Montcalm, and attack him from the rear. But he was repulsed at the first attempt, and saw that he could do no better at a second. Meanwhile his Levis batteries began a bombardment which lasted two months and reduced Quebec to ruins.
Yet he seemed as far off as ever from capturing the city. Battering down the houses of Quebec brought him no nearer to his object, while Montcalm's main body still stood securely in its entrenchments down at Beauport. Wolfe now felt he must try something decisive, even if desperate ; and he planned an attack by land and water on the French left. Both French and British were hard at work on July 31. In the morning Wolfe sent one regiment marching up the Montmorency, as if to try the fords again, and another, also in full view of the French, up along the St Lawrence from the Levis batteries, as if it was to be taken over by the ships to the north shore above Quebec. Meanwhile Monckton's brigade was starting from the Point of Levy in row-boats, the Centurion was sailing down to the mouth of the Montmorency, two armed transports were being purposely run ashore on the beach at the top of the tide, and the Pembroke, Trent, Lowestoff, and Racehorse were taking up positions to cover the boats. The men-of-war and Wolfe's batteries at Montmorency then opened fire on the point he wished to attack ; and both of them kept it up for eight hours, from ten till six. All this time the Levis batteries were doing their utmost against Quebec. But Montcalm was not to be deceived. He saw that Wolfe intended to storm the entrenchments at the point at which the cannon were firing, and he kept the best of his army ready to defend it.
Wolfe and the Louisbourg Grenadiers were in the two armed transports when they grounded at ten o'clock. To his disgust and to Captain Cook's surprise both vessels stuck fast in the mud nearly half a mile from shore. This made the grenadiers' muskets useless against the advanced French redoubt, which stood at high-water mark, and which over-matched the transports, because both of these had grounded in such a way that they could not bring their guns to bear in reply. The stranded vessels soon became a death-trap. Wolfe's cane was knocked out of his hand by a cannon ball. Shells were bursting over the deck, smashing the masts to pieces and sending splinters of wood and iron flying about among the helpless grenadiers and gunners. There was nothing to do but order the men back to the boats and wait. The tide was not low till four. The weather was scorchingly hot. A thunderstorm was brewing. The redoubt could not be taken. The transports were a failure. And every move had to be made in full view of the watchful Montcalm, whose entrenchments at this point were on the top of a grassy hill nearly two hundred feet above the muddy beach.
But Wolfe still thought he might succeed with the main attack at low tide, although he had not been able to prepare it at high tide. His Montmorency batteries seemed to be pitching their shells very thickly into the French, and his three brigades of infantry were all ready to act together at the right time. Accordingly, for the hottest hours of that scorching day, Monckton's men grilled in the boats while Townshend's and Murray's waited in camp. At four the tide was low and Wolfe ordered the landing to begin.
The tidal flats ran out much farther than any one had supposed. The heavily laden boats stuck on an outer ledge and had to be cleared, shoved off, refilled with soldiers, and brought round to another place. It was now nearly six o'clock; and both sides were eager for the fray. Townshend's and Murray's brigades had forded the mouth of the Montmorency and were marching along to support the attack, when, suddenly and unexpectedly, the grenadiers spoiled it all ! Wolfe had ordered the Louisbourg Grenadiers and the ten other grenadier companies of the army to form up and rush the redoubt. But, what with the cheering of the sailors as they landed the rest of Monckton's men, and their own eagerness to come to close quarters at once, the Louisbourg men suddenly lost their heads and charged before everything was ready. The rest followed them pell-mell ; and in less than five minutes the redoubt was swarming with excited grenadiers, while the French who had held it were clambering up the grassy hill into the safer entrenchments.
The redoubt was certainly no place to stay in. It had no shelter towards its rear ; and dozens of French cannon and thousands of French muskets were firing into it from the heights. An immediate retirement was the only proper course. But there was no holding the men now. They broke into another mad charge, straight at the hill. As they reached it, amid a storm of musket balls and grape-shot, the heavens joined in with a terrific storm of their own. The rain burst in a perfect deluge ; and the hill became almost impossible to climb, even if there had been no enemy pouring death-showers of fire from the top. When Wolfe saw what was happening he immediately sent officers running after the grenadiers to make them come back from the redoubt, and these officers now passed the word to retire at once. This time the grenadiers, all that were left of them, obeyed. Their two mad rushes had not lasted a quarter of an hour. Yet nearly half of the thousand men they started with were lying dead or wounded on that fatal ground.
Wolfe now saw that he was hopelessly beaten and that there was not a minute to lose in getting away. The boats could take only Monckton's men ; and the rising tide would soon cut off Townshend's and Murray's from their camp beyond the mouth of the Montmorency. The two stranded transports, from which he had hoped so much that morning, were set on fire ; and, under cover of their smoke and of the curtain of torrential rain, Monckton's crestfallen men got into their boats once more. Townshend's and Murray's brigades, enraged at not being brought into action, turned to march back by the way they had come so eagerly only an hour before. They moved off in perfect order ; but, as they left the battlefield, they waved their hats in defiance at the jeering Frenchmen, challenging them to come down and fight it out with bayonets hand to hand.
Many gallant deeds were done that after-noon ; but none more gallant than those of Captain Ochterloney and Lieutenant Peyton, both grenadier officers in the Royal Americans. Ochterloney had just been wounded in a duel ; but he said his country's honour came before his own, and, sick and wounded as he was, he spent those panting hours in the boats without a murmur and did all he could to form his men up under fire. In the second charge he fell, shot through the lungs, with Peyton beside him, shot through the leg. When Wolfe called the grenadiers back a rescue party wanted to carry off both officers, to save them from the scalping-knife. But Ochterloney said he would never leave the field after such a defeat ; and Peyton said he would never leave his captain. Presently a Canadian regular came up with two Indians, grabbed Ochterloney's watch, sword and money, and left the Indians to finish him. One of these savages clubbed him with a musket, while the other shot him in the chest and dashed in with a scalping-knife. In the meantime, Peyton crawled on his hands and knees to a double-barrelled musket and shot one Indian dead, but missed the other. This savage now left Ochterloney, picked up a bayonet and rushed at Peyton, who drew his dagger. A terrible life-and-death fight followed; but Peyton at last got a good point well driven home, straight through the Indian's heart. A whole scalping party now appeared. Ochterloney was apparently dead, and Peyton was too exhausted to fight any more. But, at this very moment, another British party came back for the rest of the wounded and carried Peyton off to the boats.
Then the Indians came back to scalp Ochterloney. By this time, however, some French regulars had come down, and one of them, finding Ochterloney still alive, drove off the Indians at the point of the bayonet, secured help, and carried him up the hill. Montcalm had him carefully taken into the General Hospital, where he was tenderly nursed by the nuns. Two days after he had been rescued, a French officer came out for his clothes and other effects. Wolfe then sent in twenty guineas for his rescuer, with a promise that, in return for the kindness shown to Ochterloney, the General Hospital would be specially protected if the British took Quebec. Towards the end of August Ochterloney died ; and both sides ceased firing while a French captain came out to report his death and return his effects.
This was by no means the only time the two enemies treated each other like friends. A party of French ladies were among the prisoners brought in to Wolfe one day ; and they certainly had no cause to complain of him. He gave them a dinner, at which he charmed them all by telling them about his visit to Paris. The next morning he sent them into Quebec with his aide-de-camp under a flag of truce. Another time the French officers sent him a kind of wine which was not to be had in the British camp, and he sent them some not to be had in their own.
But the stern work of war went on and on, though the weary month of August did not seem to bring victory any closer than disastrous July. Wolfe knew that September was to be the end of the campaign, the now-or-never of his whole career. And, knowing this, he set to work—head and heart and soul—on making the plan that brought him victory, death, and everlasting fame.
1. Ten years later a Russian general saw this regiment at Minorca and was loud in his praise of its all-round excellence, when WoIfe's successor in the colonelcy, Sir James Campbell, at once said : ‘The only merit due to me is the strictness with which I have followed the system introduced by the hero of Quebec.'
Source: William WOOD, “Quebec – 1759”, The Winning of Canada. A Chronicle of Wolfe, Toronto, Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1915, 152p., pp. 67-98.
© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College