Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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men will remember what is expected
from them, and what a determined body
of soldiers, inured to war, is capable of
doing, against five weak French battal
ions, mingled with a disorderly peas

Wolfe, absorbed as he was in the prep
arations for his great enterprise, and anx
iously disturbed with thoughts of its haz
ards, and the importance of the stake,
still preserved his cheerful, confident tone
in the presence of all. At his evening
mess he was even joyous in the company
of his fellow-officers, and sang his own

" Why, soldiers, why,
Should we be melancholy, boys ?



Why, soldiers, why ?

Whose business tis tc die !"*

The ships, with a part of the troops,
now sailed, and, with a favorable breeze,
soon passed up the St. Lawrence to the
rendezvous, eight miles above Quebec,
where they joined the fleet stationed
there under Holmes. That portion of
the army at Point Levi moved simulta
neously along the southern bank of the
river, and, halting opposite to the ships,
embarked. The troops, to the number
of sixteen hundred, were then removed
into flat-bottomed boats, in the utmost
silence. Everything promised success.
The enemy were evidently quite uncon
scious of the English movement, although
an event occurred which had nearly ex
posed the whole affair, and might have
spoiled the enterprise. A couple of
French deserters had sought refuge on
board one of the ships-of-war, and, giving
information of an expected convoy of
provisions, destined to Quebec, from De
Bougainville s force up the river, the cap
tain of the ship was on the lookout, and
determined to stop the supplies. The
movement among the English, while the
troops were getting into the small boats,
was observed- by the French deserters,
and it was supposed that they were the
convoy preparing to make for Quebec.
The British captain, whose vessel was at
some distance, and who was unconscious
of Wolfe s plan, had pointed his guns and
was about to fire, when fortunately his

* We have already quoted the whole of this song, as given
in that most excellent and accurate work of the brothers
Duyckinck, " The Cyclopaedia of American Literature."
The song is supposed to have been composed on the night
when it was first sung by Wolfe, that of the attack.

preparations, in consequence of the noise
and bustle, were observed by Wolfe, who
succeeded in setting the zealous naval
officer aright, and thus preventing him
from killing his countrymen and alarm
ing the French.

About an hour before daybreak, the
fleet of flat-bottomed boats began to move
down with the ebbing tide. Wolfe, in
company with some of his officers, led
the van. The rowers, with muffled oars,
just touched the rippling stream, and
they glided silently and calmly on. The
stars shone out bright in the clear sky.
The stillness and darkness of the night,
the gentle movement, the regular dip of
the oar, the pulsation of the tide against
the ribbed gunwale of the boat, the stifled
throbbings of the expectant hearts, natu
rally subdued all to quiet and serious
thought. Wolfe was the first to break
the silence, by uttering, in a tone of gen
tle melancholy, this verse of Gray s Ele

* k 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 to his offi
cers, " I would rather be the author of
that poem than take Quebec." *

The boats now approached the land,
and, cautiously floating under the over
hanging cliffs, they at last reached the
cove which Wolfe had selected for the
place of disembarkation. The general

* This incident is told by a gentleman who was a mid
shipman, doing duty on board Wolfe s boat on that night,
and became afterward Professor John llobinson, of the Uni
versity of Edinburgh.




himself, in the foremost boat, was the
first to leap ashore. Some of the boats,
carrying a company of Highlanders, had
been borne by the tide to some distance
below. Donald Macdonald, their captain,
however, without hesitation, leaped on
shore, and, nothing daunted by the steep
ascent above him, sprang at an overhang
ing tree ; and, bidding his men to follow,
climbed up the jagged precipice to the
top, with his soldiers close behind him.
On the summit was a French sentinel,
w r ho, hearing approaching steps, cried out,
" Qid vive?" "La France!" was the quick
reply of Macdonald, who fortunately un
derstood the French language. "A qucl
regiment? " pertinaciously inquired the
Frenchman. " De la Heine !" answered
the captain, who knew that was De Bou
gainville s. And the French soldier, mut
tering, "Passe" continued to pace his
round. The Highlanders, however, as
they scrambled up among the bushes,
and the loosened slate of the precipice,
made a rustling noise, which alarmed the
enemy s guard, who, after rushing toward
the edge of the clifi^ and firing a volley,
took to their heels.

Wolfe, with his brigadiers Monckton
and Murray, and the first division of the
army, were not less successful below.
They all clambered along the precipitous
path, so narrow that but two could go
abreast, and reached the top without op
position. The French pickets stationed
on the summit were overpowered at once,
and the rest of the forces continued to
come up in rapid succession, without re
sistance. As the day broke, the whole
army had reached the " Plains of Abra

ham," and, being formed on solid ground,
were ready for the enemy at any mo

When a messenger arrived at Mont
calm s quarters with the intelligence of
the English army being drawn up on the
plains of Abraham, he would hardly be
lieve it, and contemptuously declared,
" It can be but a small party, come to
burn a few houses and retire." After
more explicit information, however, he
became assured of the fact, and cried out,
angrily : " Then they have, at last, got
to the weak side of this miserable garri
son. I must give battle, and crush them
before noon!" Montcalm acted accord
ingly, and unwisely. His gallantry mis
led him. His true policy would have
been the discreet one of retiring within
the citadel, and awaiting there, safe with
in its walls, until he had exhausted the
patience and resources of his enemy. He
recklessly determined, however, to give
battle ; and, hastily collecting his forces
from Quebec and from below, along the
northern shores of the St. Lawrence, to
the Montmorenci, he drew them up, and
marched to face the foe.

At eight o clock in the morning, the
French column was observed from the
English camp to be advancing up the
rising ground from the river St. Charles
to the plains of Abraham. Wolfe had
succeeded in dragging up the cliff but a
single piece of artillery ; but this solitary
gun was made to play with such effec
upon Montcalm s forces, that they were
obliged to alter their line of march.

At ten o clock, Montcalm had reached
the battle-field, and began to form hin




army. As he came up, however., De Bou
gainville, who had been summoned by
the French general to his aid, sent up, in
advance of his own inarch, a body of light
cavalry, which made a show of attack up
on Wolfe s left, but were easily checked
by Townshend, at that post. Montcalm
formed his centre of seven hundred and
twenty regulars, of the regiments of
Bearne and Guienne, with twelve hun
dred militia, and led it in person. To
his right he placed the regiments of La
Sasse and Languedoc, some sixteen hun
dred strong, all veteran soldiers ; with
these was a militia force of less than five
hundred, and a single small fieldpiece.
On the left were thirteen hundred infan
try of the Royal Rousillon regiment, to
gether with twenty-three hundred Cana
dian militia and a marine battalion. The
whole French force thus amounted to
half a hundred less than eight thousand,
without counting the Indians, who were
distributed about, to hide themselves in
the neighboring bush, and thus execute
what annoyance they could by their usu
al mode of warfare. Less than a half of
Montcalm s force, however, were regulars,
and the rest were raw Canadians, in whom
he had no confidence. Wolfe himself
enumerated his enemy thus contemptu
ously " Five weak French battalions,
mingled with a disorderly peasantry !"
But this was his statement to his own
men, for the sake of encouragement. He
knew that he had one of the most skilful
generals of the age, with some of the
most experienced soldiers, pitted against

The English from an early hour had

awaited, in battle array, the coming up
of the enemy. Wolfe himself led the
front line, on the right with Monckton,
and Murray the left. The second line
was under the command of Townshend,
who, with his light-infantry and the Royal
Americans, took position at the extreme
left. A reserve was thrown back in a third
line, under Burton and Howe. Wolfe s
whole force was less than five thousand,
but each man was a trained soldier.

Montcalm had sent in great haste for
De Bougainville and De Vaudreuil to
come up with their troops, and in the
meantime checked his impatience for the
onset by a diversion with his three small
pieces of artillery, which, in his hurry,
were all he had brought with him. For
an hour he continued firing his cannon
upon the British, who rejoined with their
single gun ; and thus, during that time,
an ineffective fire was kept up.

Montcalm now lost all patience, and
began the attack in earnest. His first
attempt was, by a Hank movement, to
crowd the English down the precipice.
With this purpose in view, the French
veterans on the right swept round the
English left^ under Murray, with impetu
ous force, and poured in a murderous fire
upon the light-infantry in the rear, under
Howe. This young officer gave them a
warm reception, and stayed their prog
ress until Townshend came up to his re
lief with his infantry and the Royal Amer
icans, and drove the French back to their
lines in greatly-diminished numbers.

The attempt upon the light-infantry in
front of the British centre was more suc
cessful, and came near deciding the day




disastrously for Wolfe. Observing these
troops yielding before the French marks
men, and fearing lest, as they fell back
in their flight, they might force the main
body into confusion, Wolfe hurried along
the line, and, encouraging his men, bade
them to hold back their fire, and not to
move a step until ordered. He was none
too soon; for the soldiers in the rear,
having become conscious of the confused
movement in front, were in a state of
anxious excitement. Wolfe s presence,
however, and his few inspiriting words,
calmed them at once, and they again
firmly stood their ground.

Now Montcalm, encouraged by the suc
cess of his skirmishers, bore down with
his whole centre toward the English right
wing. The French* as they halted, poured
in a terrible fire. The British fell fast be
fore it ; and Wolfe himself, who was in the
foremost van, was among the first to suffer.
A shot wounded him in the wrist; but
hastily wrapping a handkerchief around
it, he continued to pass from rank to rank,
exhorting each man not to fire. The
troops, true to discipline, obeyed; and
these "unknown demigods" coolly bore
the murderous attack of the enemy with
out a waver, moving only to step over
the dead bodies of their heroic comrades,
into their empty ranks.

Wolfe waited until the enemy had
reached within a distance of forty yards,
and then ordered the whole line to fire.
The effect was terrific. The French col
umns seemed to stagger as one body un
der the shock. Whole ranks fell in heaps
together leaving to the view, as the
smoke cleared away, the scattered sol-


diers standing aghast here and there, and
marking, like monumental stones, the
places of the dead. Officers and men
had suffered alike. St. Ours and De Zen-
czergnes were dead, and Montcalm him
self severely wounded. The French vet
erans, a ghastly remnant, still stood their
ground, but the Canadian militia had fled
in fright. The victory was won, but the
gallant Montcalm would not give up the
fight. Though deserted by all the Cana
dians, and though his own faithful French
men had been fearfully diminished in
numbers, the general brought together
the scattered remnant of his regulars,
and cheered them on for another attack.
They halted, and prepared to fire.

Wolfe at this moment ordered his line
to advance, and the whole army moved
forward and calmly returned the volley
which just came from the enemy. The
British soldiers, however, provoked by the
resistance of the shattered French ranks,
could no longer restrain themselves, and
began, in spite of discipline, to run with
an impetuous rush at the enemy, sweep
ing all before them. Wolfe was leading
on the twenty-eighth and the Louisburg
grenadiers, as with fixed bayonets they
charged the steady French veterans (who,
though falling fast, kept up an obstinate
fire), when he was wounded a second
time, in the body, but carefully concealed
it. Again, as he bravely bore on in front,
a ball from the enemv s redoubt struck


him in the breast. Staggering with the
shock, he quietly said to an officer by his
side, " Support me, that my brave fellows
may not see me fall." He, however, after
an effort to rally his strength, sank im-




mediately into the arms of his friend, and
with the aid of some soldiers was borne
to a short distance in the rear.

Monckton was sent for, to take com
mand; but he had been wounded, and
could no longer do duty. Townshend
was then summoned, and, coming up to
the spot where his general lay in agony,
cast a momentary glance of despair, and
then hurried away, as chief, to complete
the victory of the day. The French still
gallantly resisted, for Montcalm was yet
on the alert, and impetuously urging his
troops to form and to fight. He was ev
erywhere, riding about among them, and
shouting out brave words of encourage
ment. His troops did continue to strug
gle manfully, but it was useless ; the Eng
lish, thronging up, drove all before them.
Montcalm himself was now struck down,
and his soldiers fled in dismay.

The dying Wolfe struggled against the
agonies of death, with his mind still in
tent upon duty. As his strength weak
ened, he made a strong effort to bring
back his departing vitality. With his
hand he strove to brush away the web
which Death was busily weaving before
his eyes, and at the same moment suc
ceeded in raising himself to a sitting pos
ture. At this instant, an officer cried
out, " See ! see ! how they run !" " Who
runs ?" exclaimed Wolfe. " The enemy,
sir ; they give way everywhere," was the
answer. " Go, then, one of you, to Bur
ton, and tell him to march Webb s regi
ment to the bridge, and cut off the re
treat," said the dying general, who to the
last was mindful only of his duty. " Now,
God be praised, I shall die happy !" he

faintly uttered ; and, turning over his
body, shuddered with the last agony : his
eyes closed ; and the brave Wolfe lived
only, but for ever, in memory.

The rout of the French was complete ;
the English pursuit fierce and pertina
cious. The Highlanders, with their clay
mores, made a great havoc among the fu
gitives, some of whom begged piteously
to be spared, as they had not been among
those at Fort William Henry.* Many of
the enemy made for the citadel, and were
not safe until they had succeeded in getr
ting within its walls. The British troops,
in the ardor of the pursuit, were in a state
of confusion ; but Townshend, expecting
the coming up of De Bougainville with
his fresh force, took care to recall his dis
ordered battalions, and draw them up in
readiness for the still-unconquered por
tion of the enemy.

De Bougainville had hurried up with
his fifteen hundred men ; but, so rapid
had been the defeat of Montcalm s troops,
that he found none to co-operate with.
So complete, moreover, had been the Eng
lish victory, that De Bougainville s forces,
although composed of the choicest of the
French grenadiers and light-infantry,were
so discouraged by the total rout of their
countrymen, that they hardly dared to
show an opposing front to the troops
Tow r nshend sent against them. Their
advance was checked at once by a cou
ple of regiments and two fieldpieces ; and
the French scarcely caught a glimpse of
them, before they were off in a precipi-

* The conduct of the victorious French at Fort William
Henry had been cruel, and the English burned to retaliate
upon the enemy for their ferocity on that occasion.




tate retreat along the northern bank of
the river, above Quebec. De Vaudreuil
was still more in a hurry; and, as soon
as he heard of Wolfe s success, he made
off with his fifteen hundred Canadians,
leaving behind him his artillery, ammu
nition, and all his stores. De Vaudreuil
was conscience-stricken, and feared great
ly lest he should fall into the hands of
the English, who, as Walpole says, " were
determined to scalp him, he having been
the chief and blackest author of the cruel
ties exercised on our countrymen. Some
of his letters were taken, in which he ex
plicitly and basely said that i peace was
the best time for making war on the
English ! "

The whole loss of the British on the
plains of Abraham was only fifty-five
killed and six hundred and seven wound
ed ; while that of the French could not
have been less than fifteen hundred in

The brave Montcalm, when he was
w T ounded, was borne to the citadel ; and
when the surgeon began to examine his
wound, he was asked by the general if
it was mortal. Being told that it was,
Montcalm calmly rejoined, " I am glad of
"t," and asked, " how long can I survive ?"
" Perhaps a day, perhaps less," was the
surgeon s answer. " So much the better ;
I shall not live to see the surrender of
Quebec !" exclaimed the gallant Mont
calm. He now prepared for death, and,
when asked for his commands in regard
to the citadel, he refused to give them,
saying : " My time is very short, so pray
leave me. I wish you all comfort, and
to be happily extricated from your pres

ent perplexities." The priest was then
summoned, who performed extreme unc
tion, and remained by his side until he
breathed his last. With his dying word
he paid this tribute to his foe : " Since
it was my misfortune to be discomfited
and mortally wounded, it is a great con
solation to be vanquished by so great
and generous an enemy. If I could sur
vive this wound, I would engage to beat
three times the number of such forces as
I commanded, with a third of their num
ber of British troops."

De Vaudreuil, on reaching Cape Rouge
where he had retreated and joined his
forces to those of De Bougainville, grand
iloquently expressed the opinion to the
assembled officers, that " they should take
their revenge on the morrow, and endeav
or to wipe off the disgraces of the day.
The council, however, more discreetly re
solved upon continuing the retreat, and
De Vaudreuil himself was not backward
in giving in his adhesion to the prudent
resolve. They retired to Point aux Trem
bles, where they were soon joined by De
L e vi and his troops from Montreal, whence
he had commenced his march as soon as
he heard of Montcalm s defeat. After this
junction there was a momentary feeling
of hope, and the generals wrote to Rain-
say, in command of the garrison at Que
bec : " We exhort you by all means to
hold out to the last extremity. On the
18th [September] the whole army shall
be in motion. A disposition is made to
throw in a large supply of provisions, and
to relieve the town." It was too late :
Quebec was surrendered on the very
morning (September 18, 1759) that De



Vaudreuil s messenger reached the gates
of the citadel.

The joyful news of Wolfe s great vic
tory was received in England with a uni
versal acclamation of delight. " You may
now give yourself," writes Walpole to the
British embassador at the Hague (Sir H.
Mann), " what airs you please ; you are

master of East and West Indies It

was a very singular affair, the generals
on both sides slain, and on both sides the
second in command wounded in short,
very near what battles should be, in
which only the principals ought to suffer.
If their army has not ammunition and
spirit enough to fall again upon ours be
fore Amherst comes up, all North Amer
ica is ours ! . . . . What a scene ! an army
in the night dragging itself up a preci
pice by stumps of trees, to assault a town
and attack an army strongly intrenched
and double in numbers. Adieu ! I think
I shall not write to you again this twelve
month ; for, like Alexander, we have no
more worlds left to conquer."

Pitt, the great minister, in the afflu
ence of his glowing rhetoric, spoke to
the British senate of " the horror of the
night; the precipice scaled by Wolfe; the
empire he with a handful of men added
to England ; and the glorious catastro
phe of contentedly terminating life where
his fame began. . . . Ancient story may be
ransacked, and ostentatious philosophy
thrown into the account, before an epi
sode can be found to rank with Wolfe s 1"
These eloquent words of Pitt prefaced
his motion that a monument should be
erected in Westminster Abbey to the
memory of the hero. The British people,


pious, grateful, and exultant, joined in
public thanksgiving to God for the vic
tory ; bestowed, through their represen
tatives in Parliament, a liberal largess
upon Wolfe s family ; and raised with one
voice, throughout England s wide domin
ions, a burst of triumph on a day set
apart for holyday rejoicing. In West
minster Abbe}^, sculptured art and classic
learning record the gratitude and sorrow
of Great Britain. A tall column of stone
rises above the heights of Quebec, to tes
tify to the taste and feeling of a noble
Englishman. A small stone, planted on
the plains of Abraham, tells the traveller
the memory of Wolfe requires neither
sculptured art, nor lofty column, nor tab
let of stone : it is fixed for ever in the
hearts of all who love the good and the

" Who the deuce was thinking of Que
bec ?" asks Walpole. " America was like
a book one had read and done with, or,
at least, if we looked at the book, one
just recollected that there was a supple
ment promised, to contain a chapter on
Montreal, the starving and surrender of it;
but here we are on a sudden reading our
book backward. An account came two
days ago" (Walpole is writing on the 20th
June), "that the French, on their march
to besiege Quebec, had been attacked by
General Murray, who got into a mistake
and a morass, attacked two bodies that
were joined when he hoped to come up
with one of them before he was enclosed,
enibogged, and defeated." The gossiping
Walpole thus tells the whole story in a
pleasant way. All we have to add is





that Murray, who had been left in
command, did foolishly march out
with his small force against De Levi s
troops, ten thousand strong, and was beat
en back within the walls of Quebec, which
would probably have fallen, had not a
British fleet arrived, sailed up the St.
Lawrence, and driven away the French
besiegers encamped upon its banks.

General Amherst (now Sir Jeffrey Am-
herst), calm, cautious, and slow, had moved
too deliberately to satisfy the impulsive
spirit of Wolfe. He had, however in
time to complete the conquest of Canada
succeeded in concentrating his large
force of over ten thousand men, including
the provincials under Gage and the In
dians led by Sir William Johnson, on the
shores of Lake Ontario, from the waters
of which two British ships had driven the
French cruisers, and forced them to seek
refuge in the intricate and labyrinthine
channels of the " Thousand Isles."

On the 7th of August, the grenadiers
and light-troops, including a battalion of
Highlanders, were sent forward, to post
themselves at the end of the lake, where
the St. Lawrence receives its waters.
On the 10th, Amherst in person followed,
with the remainder of the regulars and
the Indians; but the lagging Gage did
not come up with his provincials until
the 12th, when the whole army was gath
ered at La Galette, on the banks of the
St. Lawrence.

Embarked once more, the whole force

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 17 of 126)