French Indian War: the Canada campaign

The final struggle for dominion in America was now at hand. Pitt had studied the geography of North America with diligence, and based his plans upon its teachings. Encouraged by the results of the campaign in 1758, in America and in Europe (where the victorious Frederick the Great of Russia, who had opened the Seven Years War on the continent in 1756, was the ally of the English), Pitt conceived a magnificent scheme for conquering all Canada, and crushing French power in America forever. That dominion was now confined to the region of the St. Lawrence, for the settlements in the West and South were cut off from co-operation with the Canadians.

Pitt had the rare good fortune to possess the confidence of all parties at home and in the colonies. The English people were dazzled by his real greatness; the colonists were deeply impressed by his justice. He had promptly reimbursed all the expenses of the last campaign incurred by the colonial assemblies, amounting to about a million dollars, and they as promptly seconded his scheme of conquest, which had been communicated to them under an oath of secrecy. Whatever he asked for he obtained. When he asked for sixty million dollars, and an immense force for service on sea and land in 1759, in Europe and America, the parliament almost unanimously granted his request. "He declares only what they would have them do, and they do it," wrote Chesterfield.

The general plan of operations against Canada was similar to that of Phipps and Winthrop, almost seventy years before. A strong land and naval force, under the command of General Wolfe and Admiral Saunders, were to ascend the St. Lawrence and attack Quebec. Another force, led by Amherst, was to drive the French from Lake Champlain, seize Montreal and join Wolfe at Quebec; and a third expedition, commanded by General Prideaux, was to take possession of Fort Niagara, and then hasten over Lake Ontario and down the St. Lawrence to Montreal. To General Stanwix was intrusted the task of completing the occupation of the posts in the West from Fort Pitt to Lake Erie.

Pitt would not listen to the vicious twaddle about enforcing royal authority in America, that fell from the lips of the Lords of Trade. "We want the limited co-operation of the Americans," said the wise minister, "and to have it we must be just and allow them freedom." These words ran like an electric thrill through the hearts of the colonists, and there was eagerness everywhere to manifest loyalty and to help the cause. Men and money were freely given; while the French in Canada, growing poorer and diminishing in numbers, received scanty aid and little encouragement from France. "The king relies on your zeal and obstinacy of courage," the French minister wrote to Montcalm. "Without unexpected good fortune or blunders on the part of the English," the general plainly replied, "Canada must be lost this campaign, or certainly the next." But France could do no more for her distant colony, for her wars nearer by had exhausted her treasury. With these relative prospects, the belligerents entered upon the contest in the early summer of 1759.

Late in June, Amherst was at the head of Lake George with about twelve thousand men, regulars and provincials in equal numbers. There he lingered for about a month, and then passed over that beautiful sheet of water with banners flying and martial music resounding, for he felt strong and did not seek concealment. On the 22d of July, he appeared before Fort Carillon, at Ticonderoga, with about eleven thousand men. Boulamarque, the French commander there, had just heard that Wolfe and Saunders were before Quebec. Seeing no chance for successful resistance nor reinforcements, he actually destroyed the fort and fled with his garrison down the Lake to Fort Frederic, on Crown Point, on the 26th. Amherst pursued, and on his approach on the 1st of August, the French abandoned that post also and fled to Isle-aux-Noix in the Sorel River, the outlet of Lake Champlain. Amherst took possession of Crown Point, without opposition; and if he had still pursued as he intended to do, he might have unfurled the British flag in triumph over the walls of Montreal before the close of September. The country between Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence had been shorn of men to reinforce Montcalm at Quebec, who called loudly for troops to avert impending danger there. Old men, women and children were compelled to gather in the harvests near Montreal, to avoid starvation, and the Indians with the French army had deserted their allies. But Amherst, deceived by reports of the strength of the French at the foot of the Lake, and of a strong-armed flotilla there, lingered at Crown Point until October, causing repairs to be made to the fort at Ticonderoga, and constructing a new one on the promontory where he was encamped. He had, meanwhile, been building vessels to transport his troops down the Lake. On these he embarked his army at the middle of October, when heavy storms sweeping over the waters, and a message from Quebec, caused him to turn back and put his army into winter quarters at Crown Point. Captain Loring, with a little squadron of armed vessels, defying the storms, went down the Lake and destroyed the French flotilla, and so gained the mastery over that important sheet of water. The troops at Crown Point built there that strong fortification whose picturesque ruins still attract the attention of the summer tourist on Lake Champlain.

Prideaux's little force, destined to capture Fort Niagara, sailed from Oswego on the first day of July, leaving Colonel Haldimand to repair the works there. The troops that embarked consisted of two New York battalions, one of Royal Americans, two British regiments, a detachment of artillery, and Indian auxiliaries under Sir William Johnson. They moved slowly along the southern shores of Lake Ontario, and on the 15th of July, landed six miles east of Fort Niagara without opposition. The siege was commenced immediately. The fort stood near the bank of the lake at the mouth of the swift-flowing Niagara River, where La Salle planted his stockade. The garrison was composed of a little more than six hundred soldiers. The commander, aware of danger, had sent for forces to be drawn from the posts between there and Fort Duquesne and from the South, and they were on the way, almost three thousand strong, of whom one-half were Indians.

At the beginning of the siege, Prideaux was killed by the bursting of one of his own cannons, and the command devolved on Sir William Johnson. He disposed his force so as to meet the approaching army for the relief of the fort. They came in collision on the 24th of July. A severe fight occurred, when the French and their allies were defeated and dispersed, leaving their killed and wounded lying in the forest. On the following day the fort and its dependencies, with the garrison, were surrendered to the English, and British dominion was immediately extended along Lake Erie to Presque Isle, now Erie. The connecting link between Canada and Louisiana was now broken, never to be restored.

Sir William was so encumbered with his prisoners, and being unable to procure a sufficient number of boats for transportation, he could not proceed to Montreal, according to the original plan, to co-operate with Amherst, so he garrisoned Fort Niagara and returned with the remainder of the troops to Oswego, and thence to Albany. These events drew De Levi, Montcalm's second in command, from Quebec, with a body of troops to prevent the Americans descending the St. Lawrence. For awhile he watched the passes at the rapids below Ogdensburg, when he returned to Quebec.

The great event of the campaign was impending while those just described were occurring. The fleet of Admiral Saunders (whose lieutenant was Admiral Holmes), consisting of twenty-two line-of-battle ships and as many frigates and smaller vessels, and bearing eight thousand troops under General Wolfe, ascended the St. Lawrence as soon as the ice had left that stream, and anchored off the beautiful island of Orleans, a few miles below Quebec, and in full view of the city. Upon that island the troops landed on the 27th of June. Among the subordinate naval officers was James Cook, who afterward circumnavigated the globe and discovered the Sandwich Islands. Among the commanders of land troops were General Robert Monckton, afterward governor of New York; the impetuous Col. Murray; General George Townshend, who soon became a peer of the realm; Colonel Guy Carleton, in command of grenadiers, and Lieutenant-Colonel William Howe, a leader of light infantry, both of whom were conspicuous in the royal service in our war for independence.

Quebec was partly on a high rocky promontory at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and St. Charles rivers, and upon a plain on the borders of the latter. The upper town was surrounded by a strong wall with five gates. Two of these opened out upon an elevated plateau, on the southwestern side, called the Plains of Abraham, whose border on the St. Lawrence is marked by steep declivities. The shores of that river were lined with batteries above and below the city, and the town was strongly garrisoned. Along the St. Lawrence between Quebec and the Montmorenci River, a distance of some miles, lay Montcalm, with a force of French Canadians and Indians, in an intrenched camp, a larger portion of the former having been impressed into the service.

Wolfe prepared for a siege with amazing skill and vigor. On his left lay his proud fleet at anchor, and the beautiful island was dotted with the white tents of his army. During the day after his arrival, clouds gathered in ominous blackness. The evening was dark and tempestuous, lighted only, until about midnight, by flashes of lightning. Suddenly a lurid glare shot across the billows as a fleet of fire-ships went blazing down the river in wrath toward the English shipping. The skillful British seamen caught each vessel as it came, and turned it away from the English ships. Their flames expired in darkness far below Orleans, as they drifted on the current.

The English, under General Monckton, now proceeded to take possession of Point Levi, opposite Quebec. There, on the 30th of June, they began to erect batteries within a mile of the town. From there red-hot cannon balls and blazing bomb-shells were hurled upon the city. These set fire to fifty houses in one night in the lower town, but the citadel, crowning Cape Diamond, the highest part of the promontory, was beyond the reach of their missiles, and the real military strength of Quebec remained untouched. It was upon this natural strength of the position that Montcalm relied for final victory, more than upon his exhausted troops and unwilling conscripts. Wolfe knew this, and resolved to attack the French commander in his fortified camp, and for that purpose he first landed a strong force, under Generals Murray and Townshend, below the Montmorenci, on the 10th of July, and formed an intrenched camp there. But when he looked for a place to cross that stream, he found the only fordable spot three miles from its mouth, and the opposite bank, steep and wooded, strongly fortified by the vigilant Montcalm.

The impatient Wolfe now reconnoitered the shores from the Montmorenci to Quebec, and along the craggy base of the Plains of Abraham far up toward Sillery. Everywhere military preparations for defence met his eye. He returned to the Montmorenci chafing with zeal, but conscious that he had made no advance toward the capture of the walled city which he had threatened for almost a month. Fire-ships again came blazing down the river, but were again turned away harmless. He saw danger in delay, and resolved to risk more; so, at the close of July, he ordered Monckton to cross over with his regiments, grenadiers and other troops, and land upon the beach at the foot of the cataract of Montmorenci, where that stream, after passing for a mile over a rocky bed in continuous roaring rapids, leaps into a dark chasm, at one bound, two hundred feet below.

Murray and Townshend were now ordered to force a passage across the Montmorenci below the falls at low tide, and co-operate with Monckton, on his arrival, in an attack upon the French lines. Wolfe selected the spot for the landing and attack. A signal was given, and boats from the fleet went swiftly across the St. Lawrence from Point Levi, and first landed grenadiers and Royal Americans, under cover of a fire from some of the English vessels. Monckton's regiments followed. Owing to confusion in landing, there was delay, when the grenadiers, impatient, would no longer wait for the troops across the Montmorenci, who were to support them, and rushed up the acclivity to penetrate the French camp. Already their foes had kept up a sharp fire of musketry and great guns for some time; now they were concentrated, and poured such a destructive shower of lead and iron upon the assailants, that the English were repulsed with much slaughter. They fell back in confusion to the shelter of a battery and block-house on the beach. Wolfe ordered a retreat, but a terrific thunder-shower that burst upon them at that moment detained them until darkness came, when the tide came roaring up against the current of the St. Lawrence, threatening to submerge the troops on the narrow beach. Monckton, with great coolness, embarked the shattered army in boats, and most of them were saved. They had lost between four and five hundred of their companions in the contests of the day.

When news of these events reached England, conservative men shook their heads and declared that Wolfe was mad. "Mad!" exclaimed the king, "Wolfe mad! I wish he'd bite some of the other generals.

WOLFE soon heard, with joy, news of the capture of Fort Niagara and the expulsion of the French from Lake Champlain. He sent Murray above Quebec to destroy the French shipping, and open communication with Amherst. But that general did not appear, for reasons already mentioned.

Chagrin because of his failure at Montmorenci, fatigue, anxiety, disappointed hopes, and the extreme heat of the weather, prostrated Wolfe with fever and dysentery. For almost a month his life was in great peril. Early in September he was able to hold a council of war at his bedside, and on the 9th he wrote a desponding letter to the Earl of Holderness, in which he mentioned the critical situation of the army and of himself. "My constitution," he wrote, "is entirely ruined, without the consolation of having done any considerable service to the state, or without any prospect of it." But he had told the earl that a council of war had decided that his shattered army should attack the foe. His letter reached London at the middle of October. The result of the promised attack was awaited with intense anxiety, for the young commander's epistle had created anger and consternation in England. It was followed three days later by news of that result, and the hearts of Wolfe's countrymen throbbed quickly with emotions of joy and grief.

It was determined to land a large body of troops above Quebec, for the purpose of drawing Montcalm from his entrenchment's into an open field fight, in which the English would have the advantage. Wolfe, with some companions, in a boat, reconnoitered the shores, and selected the cove that yet bears his name, for the landing-place. From that cove a narrow path through a ravine tangled with vines and brambles led up to the Plains of Abraham; and along that perilous way it was resolved the troops should climb stealthily in darkness, if possible. The fleet was prepared to cooperate with the army, and on the 12th of September (1759) everything was ready for the execution of the dangerous and even desperate enterprise.

In the afternoon of that day, a feint was made in the direction of Montcalm's camp by the ships and some troops, to divert the attention of the foe from the real point of attack. At nine o'clock in the evening Wolfe and his main army were embarked on flat-boats above Point Levi, and floated up the river with the flood-tide, some distance above the selected landing-place, followed by the ships. There was joy in Quebec and the French camp, for it was believed the English were retreating.

The evening was warm and star-lit. Wolfe seemed in better spirits than usual, and at the evening mess, with a glass of wine in his hand, and in the light of a lantern, he sang impromptu that little campaigning song which has been often chanted in the tents of British soldiers since, beginning--

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

But a cloud of presentiment that his end was near evidently shadowed the young hero's thoughts; and when, at past midnight, black clouds had gathered in the sky, and the boats were floating silently back, with muffled but unused oars, upon the ebb tide, to land the troops under cover of the darkness at the selected place, he repeated, in a low musing tone to the officers around him, that touching stanza in Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard"--

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

"Now, gentlemen," said Wolfe, as he closed the verse, "I would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of beating the French to-morrow."

In the darkness, sixteen hundred troops landed at Wolfe's Cove, and others speedily followed. The general led the way, with Monckton and Murray, and Lieutenant-Colonel Howe. They hastened up the acclivity in the face of shots from startled sentinels along the brow of the cliff, and reached the Plains of Abraham at early dawn, three hundred feet above the St. Lawrence. At sunrise, about five thousand British troops were standing in battle array, on the open plain before Quebec. News of the surprising apparition had gone into the city like the wind, and thence to Montcalm at Beaufort. He supposed, from the first account received, that it was only a small party who had come to burn a few houses and retire; but when later information reached him, he marched a greater portion of his army from his camp to attack the British, saying: "If it is necessary to fight them, it is necessary to crush them."

At ten o'clock the two armies stood face to face on that lofty plateau, the French on the higher ground near the city wall. Neither party had much artillery-the English only a six-pounder, which some sailors had dragged up the ravine. They were stronger than Montcalm imagined. He sent a messenger to his camp for fifteen hundred reserves, and another after a detachment that had gone up the river. The two armies were about equal in numbers then, and the impatient Montcalm began the attack without waiting for his reinforcements. Wolfe was at the head of the grenadiers who had been repulsed at the Montmorenci. They burned with a desire to wipe out the stain of that event, for their beloved commander had censured them for their rashness. He ordered his soldiers to double-shot their muskets and reserve their fire until the enemy should be very near.

A short and severe battle now ensued. Terrible were the volleys of the double-shotted muskets at close quarters. The French were thrown into confusion, when they were attacked by the bayonet so terrible in the hands of English soldiers. The general was urging on the bayonet charge, when a bullet slightly wounded him in the head. Another soon wounded him in the head. Another soon wounded him in the abdomen; and a third pierced his breast with deadly effect. "Support me," said the general to an officer near him; "Do not let my brave soldiers see me drop; the day is ours-keep it." He was borne to the rear in a dying condition, when the officer, on whose shoulder he was leaning, cried out, "They run!" they run!" "Who runs?" feebly inquired Wolfe. "The enemy, sir; they give way everywhere," said the officer. The general then gave an important order for a movement to cut off the fugitives, and feebly said: "Now, God be praised. I die happy!" he never spoke again, and soon afterward expired. Montcalm had also been mortally wounded, and died the next morning. His body was buried in the grounds of the Ursuline Convent at Quebec. In its chapel a small mural tablet commemorates him; and there I saw, a few years ago, the skull of that French commander, its base covered with a blue velvet and goldlaced military coat collar. Wolfe's remains were taken to England, and his grateful government erected a monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey. Almost seventy years afterward an English governor of Canada caused a noble granite obelisk to be reared in the city of Quebec, and dedicated "To the Memory of Wolfe and Montcalm."

General Townshend succeeded Wolfe in command of the army. With unparalleled selfishness and meanness, he tried to arrogate to himself the glory of the victory. He did not even mention Wolfe's name in his narrative of the battle. But others did, and public justice was quick to award honor where honor was due, and Townshend disappeared in a peerage. Five days after the battle, Quebec was surrendered to the English. The news reached England a month afterward-three days after Wolfe's desponding letter to Holderness, as we have observed. The joy of the people was intense; then grief because of the death of the hero was deep and heartfelt. "They despaired-they triumphed-they triumphed-they wept," wrote Horace Walpole, "for Wolfe had fallen in the hour of victory! Joy, grief, curiosity, astonishment were painted on every countenance; the more they inquired the higher their admiration rose." Exultation stirred every heart in the colonies. Illuminations, bonfires, cannon-peals and oratory everywhere expressed the general joy, and thanksgivings were uttered by every lip.

It was the 18th of September, 1759, when the city of Quebec, its fortifications, shipping, stores and people, passed into the control of the English, and General Murray with five thousand troops occupied it. The English fleet, with prisoners, sailed for Halifax. The campaign was ended, but Canada was not conquered.

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