French and Indian War: Quebec
French and Indian War: Quebec
The Advance by Land. For the new year of 1759 William Pitt envisioned a three-pronged attack on French Canada: one force would take Fort Niagara and move down the St. Lawrence River to menace Montreal; another force would capture Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point and advance up the Champlain valley on Montreal and Quebec; and an amphibious force would attack Quebec up the St. Lawrence River. The first two parts were complete by the end of July. Advancing up the Mohawk River valley, Brig. John Prideaux recaptured Oswego and sailed down Lake Ontario to besiege Fort Niagara. Be-fore it capitulated on 25 July, Prideaux was killed in action. On the next day Gen. Jeffrey Amherst led an army of more than ten thousand in the capture of the weakened garrison of Fort Ticonderoga. The following week he took Crown Point, but he advanced no farther.
The Amphibious Assault. Gen. James Wolfe was put in charge of the most promising and most difficult task, the assault on the fortress of Quebec by combined operations
of the navy and the army. Departing England in February, he used the transatlantic crossing to cement a sound working relationship with Vice Adm. Sir Charles Saunders, who would command the nearly two hundred ships in the expedition. At Louisbourg they loaded supplies and the four thousand infantry in Wolfe’s command, almost all of them regulars, and sailed into the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. When Wolfe’s troops disembarked on Orleans Island below Quebec, they found the Marquis de Montcalm’s fourteen thousand troops encamped on the opposite shore from the St. Charles River to the Montmorency River. Montcalm had geography on his side: the fortress of Quebec was high above the river, protected by cliffs to its west and his formidable defense force to its east. Many thought it was impregnable.
The Plains of Abraham. Montcalm had the upper hand but was tormented by the collapse of his relations with Gov. Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil. They hated one another, and Montcalm often thought he was menaced less by Wolfe than by Vaudreuil. Wolfe was in a precarious situation. He was plagued by illness and by the near insubordination of commanders who resented his lack of noble birth and thought themselves better qualified for command. As time passed and Montcalm groped about for a way to attack Quebec, sickness and discipline problems began to appear in his troops. Admiral Saunders began speculating about the latest date he would have to sail his ships out of the river to avoid having them iced in. Wolfe first landed troops on the north side of the river, across the Montmorency from Montcalm. Though Wolfe could not advance from this spot, with Montcalm’s entire army and two rivers separating him from Quebec, he could bombard the town and freeze Montcalm in place. He then sent Saunders upriver past Quebec to look for alternate landing sites and to confuse and exhaust the French troops to the west of the town. After weeks of seeking a landing site Wolfe’s scouts spotted a narrow defile leading up the cliffs on the river’s north bank to the Plains of Abraham. Faking a landing on Montcalm’s left on the night of 12 September, Wolfe embarked infantry in boats above the town and floated them downriver to the bottom of the defile. Scouts scaled the path, killed the sentries, and led the first infantry to the top. At daybreak, forty-eight hundred British were on the grassy field near the weak west wall of Quebec. By ten o’clock Montcalm had rushed four thousand soldiers through the streets of the town and led them against the single British line. At forty yards the British fired twice and then lunged forward in a bayonet attack. Though losses were about equal, and both Montcalm and Wolfe were killed, the French position was lost, and Quebec surrendered five days later.
Collapse of Canada. Though Quebec was captured, Montreal was still unthreatened, and Gen. François-Gaston de Lévis was rallying the French and colonial troops to defend their country. In April 1760 he arrived at the doors of Quebec and besieged the British garrison of seven thousand with a force of nearly twice that size. Though he defeated the British in a second battle on the Plains of Abraham, he was forced to raise his siege when a British fleet arrived two weeks later. By September three British columns were converging on Montreal, one from Oswego, one from Crown Point, and one from Quebec. There was no recourse. On 8 September, Governor Vaudreuil surrendered Montreal and all of French Canada with it.
C. P. Stacey, Quebec, 1759: The Siege and the Battle (Toronto: Macmillan, 1959).