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Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm-Gozon de Saint-Véran

Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm-Gozon de Saint-Véran

Born February 29, 1712

Nîmes, France

Died September 14, 1759 Quebec, Canada

French general who led the defense of Quebec

Louis-Joseph, marquis de Montcalm-Gozon de Saint-Véran, served as commander-in-chief of French forces in North America from 1756 to 1759. A brilliant general who inspired respect and loyalty among his men, Montcalm defeated the British at Forts Oswego and William Henry in New York. He also led the successful defense of Fort Carillon, despite the fact that his French forces were badly outnumbered. But Montcalm is best known as the general who lost the Battle of Quebec in 1759. He led a valiant three-month defense of the city before his French forces were finally overcome by British troops under General James Wolfe (1727-1759; see entry). Both Montcalm and Wolfe were killed in the famous battle that sealed the British victory in the French and Indian War (1754-63; known in Europe as the Seven Years' War).

Shows bravery and earns promotions

Louis-Joseph Montcalm-Gozon de Saint-Véran was born on February 29, 1712, in Nîmes, France. He came from a military family that had fought and died for France for many generations. In fact, the family motto was "War is the grave of the Montcalms." Montcalm received a classical education before joining the French Army at the age of fifteen. He began his military career as a low-ranking officer in his father's unit, but was promoted to the rank of captain by the time he reached the age of seventeen. Montcalm married Louise Angelique Talon in 1736. In 1743, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and became a chevalier of the Order of St. Louis (the lowest level of French nobility).

Montcalm first distinguished himself as a military leader during the War of the Austrian Succession (1744-48; also known as King George's War). He fought bravely during the battle at Piacenza in northern Italy in 1746, was wounded five times, and then was taken prisoner by enemy forces. Upon his release the following year, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Montcalm then rejoined the army in Italy and fought in several other battles before the war ended.

In 1756, Montcalm received the rank of major general and was selected to take command over all the French forces in Canada during the French and Indian War. This conflict began in 1754 in North America, where both Great Britain and France had established colonies (permanent settlements of citizens who maintain ties to the mother country). The British colonies, known as America, stretched along the Atlantic Ocean from present-day Maine to Georgia. The French colonies, known as New France, included eastern Canada, parts of the Great Lakes region, and the Mississippi River basin.

Both the British and the French hoped to expand their land holdings into the Ohio Country, a vast wilderness that lay between their colonies and offered access to valuable natural resources and important river travel routes. But the Ohio Country was controlled by the Iroquois Confederacy, a powerful alliance of six Indian (Native American) nations whose members had lived on the land for generations. As Iroquois influence started to decline in the mid-1700s, however, the British and French began fighting to claim the Ohio Country and take control of North America. Once Great Britain and France officially declared war in 1756, the conflict spread to Europe and around the world.

Hands the British several defeats

Montcalm arrived in New France in the spring of 1756. One of his main missions was to protect the water routes that linked Canada to French territory in the west. After drilling his troops daily for months, the general decided to launch an attack against Fort Oswego, a British stronghold located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Oswego River (near the site of modern-day Syracuse, New York). On August 10, 1756, Montcalm brought a 3,000-man army to attack the fort. His forces consisted of 1,300 highly trained French soldiers, 1,500 Canadian militia, and 250 Indians from six different nations. Montcalm and his army captured two hills that towered above the British fort and aimed their cannons down into it. One of the cannonballs killed the British commanding officer, and the fort surrendered a short time later. Montcalm's forces destroyed the fort and took all of the boats, cannons, guns, and other supplies they could find.

Once the fort surrendered, Montcalm ordered that the surviving British soldiers be treated as prisoners of war and taken to Montreal. But his Indian allies had joined the fight in order to collect trophies—captives, scalps, weapons, and supplies—as proof of their courage. They became angry when they heard about Montcalm's plan for the British prisoners. The Indians ended up killing between thirty and one hundred British soldiers and taking many more captive. Montcalm was outraged by the Indians' behavior. In fact, he secretly paid ransom to reclaim some of the prisoners.

In 1757, Montcalm launched an attack on Fort William Henry, a British stronghold located at the south end of Lake George in northern New York. This time, Montcalm led 8,000 troops, including 2,000 Indian warriors. They crossed the lake in small boats, hauled their artillery on shore, and began bombarding the fort. After Fort William Henry had been battered by French artillery for several days, the British forces surrendered. Once again, Montcalm agreed to consider the British survivors as prisoners of war and transport them to Montreal. But the Indians were left out of the settlement and refused to accept it. What followed has been called "the massacre of Fort William Henry." The Indians attacked the British survivors, killing up to 185 men and taking several hundred more as prisoners. Horrified by what happened, Montcalm became reluctant to allow Indian allies to take part in his future campaigns.

In 1758, Montcalm led the successful French defense of Fort Carillon (also known as Ticonderoga), located on Lake Champlain in northern New York. About four thousand French defenders held off fifteen thousand British troops under General James Abercromby (1706-1781). Montcalm anticipated the location of the British attack and ordered his forces to build a huge wall of logs and an abatis (a defensive barrier made from felled trees with sharpened branches) to block their approach. Abercromby sent wave after wave of British soldiers toward the fort, where they either became tangled in the abatis or were shot by the French. By the time Abercromby finally ordered a retreat, two thousand of his men were dead or wounded. Montcalm was considered a hero for his unlikely victory.

Faces problems in the French war effort

Although Montcalm had managed to defeat the British in several important battles, by 1758, he was concerned about a number of problems with the French war effort in North America. For example, the French Canadian population was simply too small to provide enough food, supplies, and soldiers to defend Canada against the British. In fact, the British population in North America was ten times larger than the French population. Montcalm tried to convince the French government to send more troops and supplies to Canada. His pleas fell on deaf ears, as the French leaders chose to concentrate on fighting the war in Europe. In addition, the British had won several important naval battles and taken control of shipping on the Atlantic, which made it very difficult to send supplies from France to Canada.

Another problem involved Montcalm's relationship with the civilian (nonmilitary) governor of New France, Pierre François de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil (1698-1778; see box in chapter 5). The two men did not like one another and disagreed over strategies for conducting the war, especially regarding the use of Indian allies. In addition, Montcalm was disgusted by the corruption he saw in the government of New France. He believed that Vaudreuil and his cabinet stole money and supplies from France that should have gone to the army.

In the early years of the war, Montcalm used his skill as a general to overcome these problems. His honesty, fairness, and bravery earned the respect and loyalty of his troops. At the same time, his careful planning and clever military strategies allowed him to win several important battles. But in 1758, the British government decided to concentrate its military strength in North America. The British sent thousands of troops and tons of supplies to its colonies and began planning a full-scale invasion of Canada. They won several important battles that year and pushed Montcalm's army back to the important Canadian cities of Montreal and Quebec.

The battle for Quebec

In 1759, the British decided to attack Quebec, the capital of New France. Quebec was a difficult target for the British to attack. It sat atop high cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River and was surrounded by a large stone wall. As Montcalm prepared to defend the city, he left two thousand soldiers within the walls of Quebec and arranged his remaining twelve thousand troops along the bank of the St. Lawrence. The French defensive line stretched along the cliffs east of the city for seven miles, between the St. Charles River and the Montmorency River.

Montcalm understood that he did not have to defeat the British in battle in order to claim victory. He only needed to hold Quebec until October, when the arrival of winter would force the British to leave the area before the St. Lawrence River froze. Montcalm believed that if he defended Quebec successfully, the British would have to negotiate a peace treaty with France.

The British fleet arrived at Quebec in late June carrying more than eight thousand troops under Major General James Wolfe. They set up a base camp on the Île d'Orleans, a large island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, just a few miles from the city. Over the next two months, the British forces made several attempts to break through the French defensive line. But Montcalm's forces held off the attacks and refused to be drawn out of their strategic positions.

Finally, on the night of September 12, some of Wolfe's forces used an overgrown footpath to climb the cliffs just upstream from Quebec. The five thousand British soldiers then arranged themselves in battle formation on the Plains of Abraham, a broad field that stretched behind the city and provided an ideal spot to set up a siege (a military strategy that involves surrounding a target, cutting it off from outside help and supplies, and using artillery to break down its defenses).

On September 13, Montcalm decided to face the enemy on the field of battle rather than allow the British to set up a siege. Riding on horseback and waving his sword, he led forty-five hundred French troops onto the Plains of Abraham. But the highly trained British soldiers held their ground and soon forced the French to retreat back to the city. Both Mont-calm and Wolfe received mortal wounds during the fighting.

Montcalm was shot in the leg and abdomen. He ordered two of his soldiers to hold him upright in the saddle as he rode off the battlefield so that the rest of his army would not know that his wounds were serious. When the general finally got inside the city walls, a doctor told him that he only had a few hours to live. "So much the better," Montcalm replied. "I shall not see the surrender of Quebec." Montcalm died early in the morning of September 14, 1759. He was buried in the courtyard of a convent, in a hole that had been created by a British artillery shell, but was reburied years later (see box).

Quebec surrendered to the British on September 18. The British victory reduced French territory in North America to Montreal and a few forts along the Great Lakes. Both sides knew that the British were very close to victory, particularly since the French had lost their great general. Montreal surrendered to British forces in 1760 to end the French and Indian War and give the British control over all French territory in North America.

For More Information

Casgrain, H. R. Wolfe and Montcalm. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964.

Chartrand, René. Ticonderoga 1758: Montcalm's Victory Against Odds. Oxford, England: Osprey Publishing, 2000.

Deziel, Shanda. "Montcalm Joins His Soldiers at Last." Maclean's (October 22, 2001): 24.

Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998.

Lewis, Meriwether L. Montcalm: The Marvelous Marquis. New York: Vantage Press, 1961.

Lloyd, Christopher. The Capture of Quebec. New York: Macmillan, 1959.

Parkman, Francis. Montcalm and Wolfe. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1884. Reprint, New York: Modern Library, 1999.

Eighteenth-Century General Receives Twenty-First Century Funeral

Louis-Joseph, marquis de Mont-calm's body remained buried at a convent in Quebec City for almost 250 years. In 2001, however, Canadian officials decided that the French general should be buried among his troops. His casket, draped in a French flag, was taken through historic Old Quebec in a horse-drawn carriage. The funeral procession also included a military honor guard dressed in uniforms from the 1750s and carrying flags from each of the units in Montcalm's army. The ceremony was attended by many important Canadian citizens as well as some of Montcalm's descendants. The general's new grave can be found in a small cemetery in the Lower Town section of Quebec, next to the graves of some of the men he led into battle.

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