General James Wolfe biography



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.

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

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.



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 entrenchments; and two armed flat-bottomed boats were to be run on shore, near the redoubt, and favor the crossing of the troops.

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 reconnoitered the town in company with Admiral Saunders, but nothing better suggested itself.

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?"

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.

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.





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