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This page provides additional  information about the battle on Abraham Heights. Wolfe's amphibious assault was, arguably, the first to follow the form used in WW2, and serves to define what combined operations are. By Alan Salmon


Come, each death-doing dog who dares venture his neck,
Come, follow the hero that goes to Quebec;
Jump aboard of the transports, and loose every sail,
Pay your debts at the tavern by giving leg-bail;
And ye that love fighting shall soon have enough;
Wolfe commands us, my boys, we shall give them Hot Stuff.
Hot Stuff Sgt. Edward Botwood, 47th Regiment.

The lives of Wolfe, Montcalm and Sgt. Botwood came to a climax at Quebec where they were all mortally wounded on 13 September 1759. Wolfe and Montcalm are together on the 7c olive-green stamp in the set issued in 1908 to commemorate the tercentenary of the founding of Quebec by Champlain.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

The Seven Year War

Our story of these two soldiers is inextricably linked with the conflict called The Seven Year War, 1756-63. In Europe, Britain and Prussia were allied against France, Austria, Saxony, Sweden, the Germanic Empire and Russia. In North America, where it came to be called The French and Indian War, 1754-63, it was Britain against France, with the Indians mainly on the side of the French.

In 1749 the French, concerned about the western movement of British traders from the coastal colonies, sent a party of about 300 men to fly the French flag in the valley of the Ohio. The gesture had no effect, the westward trading push continued. The Ohio was particularly important to the French as their North America was like a giant dumb-bell, with Canada and Louisiana at the two ends joined by a string of forts, the Ohio being a vital part of this tenuous link. In 1753 a much larger force, 1,500 men, was dispatched from Montreal to back their claims to the region. From its capital, Williamsburg, Virginia responded; it also claimed the Ohio valley as its territory. The first serious fighting began in 1754 with 200 out-numbered Virginians, led by George Washington, being defeated; Virginia had been acting alone, the other colonies had been slow to agree to armed action.

The next year the fighting became more widespread; some of the British colonies decided to try to combine their resources to squash the French, but they could not agree to any combined action. One might have expected a walkover, there were some 80,000 settlers on the St Lawrence, in Louisiana and in Acadia compared with 1,000,000 British settlers in the chain of colonies stretching from Newfoundland to Georgia.

However, the colonies each tended to be parsimonious in their support of the war effort and jealous of their individual rights; also, except for Massachusetts and to some extent New York, they were not used to fighting, being essentially traders and farmers. In Pennsylvania the powerful Quakers were opposed to any fighting. The French had a determined central direction, a militia used to fighting in the wilderness, the support of their clergy, and they believed they were fighting for their existence.

Thus Britain had to send regular troops, to pacify, and reinforce the claim to, the valley of the Ohio. In June 1755, the Acadian Fort Beausejour, on the isthmus leading to Nova Scotia, was captured by a force from Massachusetts led by a Colonel Monckton. He later served under Wolfe at the Heights of Abraham. The present town of Moncton was named after him, and misspelled. The expulsion of 6,000 Acadians from Nova Scotia followed soon after the capture of the fort and the surrounding territory.

In July, General Braddock attacked Fort Duquesne and was defeated; 1,400 British regulars with 500 colonial troops, strung out on a forest path, were ambushed by some 700 Indians allied to about 200 French regulars and militia. Braddock was mortally wounded and Washington had to lead the defeated army back over the mountains. An ignominious retreat had left the border open. The French encouraged the Indian to raid; Washington wrote ‘Every day we have accounts of such cruelties and barbarities that are shocking to human nature. Such numbers of French and Indians are all around that no road is safe.’

The disaster at Fort Duquesne led directly to the founding of the packet boat service, for the transport of mail only, from New York to Falmouth, England; London had decided they needed far better communications with the colonies. In August a colonial attack on Fort Niagara was abandoned due to a lack of provisions and due to the strength of the French at Frontenac and Niagara. In September there was better news, a French attack south from Ticonderoga with a force of 3,500 was repulsed, and the supreme commander of the regular troops in New France, Baron Dieskau, was captured.

Montcalm Arrives

England and France were not yet at war, but were preparing to battle in North America. In January 1756, the Marquis de Montcalm was appointed to command all French forces there. In May he arrived in Quebec, that same month England declared war - after nearly two years of fighting in North America. Thus began the most terrible conflict of the 18th century; it has been called World War I.

Montcalm was born into the nobility, in the south of France, in 1712. He had a private tutor, who regarded him as extremely stubborn, but he acquired a sound knowledge of Latin, Greek and History, together with a love of reading. At the age of nine he was commissioned into the army and in 1732 he saw his first active service. His father died three years later, leaving Montcalm a large estate, and many debts; he recovered from this misfortune by marrying well. Madame de Montcalm bore him ten children, five survived childhood.

From 1740 to 1748 he was almost perpetually on operations in Europe, rising to the rank of brigadier. In 1752 he petitioned the Minister of War for early retirement on the grounds of his service - 31 years, 11 campaigns and five wounds - and his small personal fortune. This was granted and he had seven years of tranquillity before his recall to lead the French troops in North America as a replacement for Dieskau.

On this appointment, in March 1756, he became a Major-General; small and portly but a brave, thoughtful and experienced commander. 1,200 troops went with him to Canada; 100,000 French troops were sent to support Austria, such were the relative priorities of Louis XV. Vaudreuil was the Governor General in Canada; Montcalm's orders stated he was subordinate to Vaudreuil, but he was not welcomed enthusiastically as Vaudreuil had hoped to command the troops himself. Montcalm was also not pleased, especially as he found corruption was rife amongst the officials of the colony - he wrote to his mother ‘What a country where all the scoundrels make a fortune and all the honest people are ruined.'

In June the Indians reported that the English were massing 10,000 men to attack Fort Ticonderoga, Montcalm hastened there. The Indian disquiet may have been provided by the activities of the famous Rogers Rangers; throughout the fighting near Lake George and Lake Champlain a Robert Rogers of New Hampshire led bands of New England men, moving and living like Indians, with great effect. However the reports proved premature, so Vaudreuil sent Montcalm to attack Oswego, which had three forts, with 3,000 men; in August the colonial garrison of 1,700 was overwhelmed. Thus the French had the great advantage of control of Lake Ontario.

1757 began with an assault by 1,600 men, mainly Canadians and Indians, on Fort William Henry; although the garrison only numbered 350, including rangers, they managed to fight of the attackers. This led to conflict between Montcalm and Vaudreuil as the latter had appointed his brother to lead the attacking force whereas Montcalm would have preferred another commander. However both agreed that reinforcements were needed, the number of French regulars in Canada was increased to 6,600. The British now planned an attack from Halifax on Louisbourg the strongest fortress on the continent, but delays, in both England and America, and the arrival of a French fleet led to the enterprise being abandoned.

In July William Pitt was made Minister of War; henceforward the war would be conducted with resolution and despatch. But it was too late to save Fort William Henry; Montcalm, with 8,000 men, including 2,000 Indians, took it in August. The main British army of 12,000 men was still at Halifax; the frontier had been denuded of much of the reinforcements it needed. But there were a considerable number of regulars and militia available; for some reason they were not sent to support William Henry. The fort's garrison of about 2,200 lost 300 killed or wounded, they surrendered with Montcalm's agreement that they should be escorted out by French troops.

But he was not able to control his Indian allies, despite strenuous efforts they massacred every man, woman and child they could find; the estimated number butchered ranges up to 1,500, but was probably about 200, the exact number will never be known. Vaudreuil wanted Montcalm to press south, perhaps even Albany could be taken, but Montcalm refused claiming the road was too bad for his heavy guns; relations between the two senior Frenchmen did not improve.

Montcalm's next trial was in July 1758, he was in command of some 3,600 men defending Ticonderoga. The English general, Abercromby attacked impetuously with the largest army ever assembled in North America, 15,000 men, but without any preparatory bombardment; he was shamefully defeated with 2,000 casualties, the French had 400. Nevertheless, Montcalm had decided that Canada was indefensible and asked for his recall to France, this was denied; he was promoted to Lieutenant-general and Vaudreuil was instructed to defer to him in all matters. However, the efforts of Pitt now began to tell, Louisbourg fell that same month with 6,000 prisoners taken. The outstanding British commander was a Brigadier Wolfe who led the landing on the most heavily defended beach and intrepidly attacked the French positions throughout the siege.

GENERAL SIR JAMES WOLFE and the Heights of Abraham.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour;
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Elegy written in a Country Churchyard Thomas Gray.

By July 1758: Montcalm had defeated Abercromby at Ticonderoga, Pitt had been appointed British Minister of War and a young Brigadier Wolfe had been outstanding as an aggressive soldier at the taking of Louisbourg.


James Wolfe was born into a military family, in 1727, at Westerham in Kent. In 1741 he was appointed a second-lieutenant in his father's regiment and had his baptism of fire at the age of 16. He found 'my strength is not so great as I imagined'. Nevertheless, tall, slight and red-haired, he was a captain by the age of 17 when his regiment was recalled to serve in Scotland against the Jacobites in 1745. There is a story that he incurred the wrath of the Duke of Cumberland, at Culloden, by refusing to shoot a wounded Highlander. After further service in Europe, where he served with distinction and was wounded, he was posted again to Scotland where he was acting commander of his regiment. During this period of three years he devised a series of battalion manoeuvres which were in use long after his death; it was in Scotland he seems to have aggravated the ill health that dogged his life. His regiment had a high reputation for efficiency.

Wolfe's first action in the Seven Year War was, as a lieutenant-colonel, against Rochefort in Brittany in 1757. It was a fiasco but Wolfe's reputation for aggressive operations was enhanced, he was promoted to colonel. Then came Louisbourg, where he had command of a brigade. After his brilliant actions there, where he had used light infantry for the first time in a British army, he recommended an immediate advance to Quebec. This was regarded as much too rash, so Wolfe returned to his old regiment in England and to try to recover his health.

Reports of the actions at Louisbourg had preceded him, he arrived as a national hero. Meanwhile Fort Frontenac had fallen to the British in September and, in the south where Washington had defended the Virginian frontier for three years, Fort Duquesne fell in November; it was renamed Pittsburg. The events of the year affected the loyalty of the Indians, they saw the tide had turned; the French could no longer rely on their support.

Pitt now decided on a three-pronged attack: against Niagara to cut off the west, via Lake Champlain to Montreal and up the St Lawrence to Quebec. In January 1759 Wolfe was appointed Major-General, in charge of the land forces to attack Quebec. This was a gamble by Pitt as the young general had never led an independent campaign, and he was ill; in December he had written: ‘I am in a very bad condition, both with gravel & Rheumatism, but I had much rather die than decline any kind of service that offers.' There was opposition in the government, but George II remarked ‘Mad, is he? then I hope he will bite some others of my generals.’

He sailed from Portsmouth in February with 8,500 regular troops, supported by 49 ships of the Royal Navy; they were at Halifax by the end of April. Neither Montcalm nor Vaudreuil believed the British could bring ships of the line up the St. Lawrence without Canadian pilots; but they did, with captured pilots and with British pilots led by a James Cook; he was the same age as Wolfe, thirty-two. The army landed on the Ile d'Orleans on 27 June. Wolfe's plan had been to land between the Montmorency and St. Charles Rivers and then to attack over the St. Charles, however reconnaissance showed that Montcalm, with 15,000 men, was awaiting him there, with a further 2,000 in Quebec.

The Plains of Abraham

Wolfe's objective was to meet the French in the open as he believed his veterans could then defeat the French army which was mainly Canadian militia - excellent in defences or in the forests but not in the open. Montcalm's objective was to hold his positions until winter drove the British fleet away. In July Wolfe placed his guns opposite Quebec, Montcalm attacked them but was thrown back, then began a bombardment of the city. Wolfe now moved most of his army east of the Montmorency but could make no progress there. For two weeks in August he was confined to his bed and there was fever in the camp, the effective number of troops was down to 7,000. Montcalm was not in a much better state, desertions, disease and the need to harvest for the winter had reduced his numbers to 11,000.

Whilst Wolfe was ill his brigadiers proposed that the army be moved so that it could strike eight miles west of the town, near the mouth of the Jacques Cartier River, hence cut Montcalm's supply lines and perhaps make contact with the British advancing from the south - Ticonderoga had fallen in July, as had Niagara. Wolfe agreed, action was vital as the fleet would soon have to leave, but, after reconnoitring himself, he changed the landing point to one only one and a half miles from Quebec, where a path led up the cliffs, it is now known as Wolfe's Cove. If successful, this route had the great advantage of a short approach march and thus the opportunity to select the battleground before Montcalm could react.

In preparation for the assault security was tightened and deceptive manoeuvres undertaken. On 12 September his brigadiers argued that the attack was too risky, those who got ashore could be trapped between Montcalm's main army and the French troops guarding the banks up-river; but it went in that night. Montcalm's attention was fixed down-river were he believed the final thrust would come, the British fleet reinforced this fixation with a feint attack. Wolfe recited Gray's Elegy written in a Country Church-yard as he was ferried across, he said : ‘I would rather be the author of that piece than take Quebec.’

Fortune did indeed favour the brave. Surprise was achieved, by 4a.m. the lead platoon of 24 picked men, who had gone over in Wolfe's boat, occupied the top of the 50 metre cliff after a brief fight. They were followed by 400 light infantry and Highlanders, and then the bulk of the attacking force. By 6a.m. Wolfe had chosen his battleground, the plain about a kilometre from the city, named after a pilot Abraham Martin. He deployed 3,300 regulars, two deep, in a thin, red line; with another 1,500 on the flanks and in reserve.

Instead of letting Wolfe’s army wither outside the fortifications of Quebec, Montcalm decided he had to attack as soon as possible - ‘If we give him time... we shall never be able to attack him with the troops we have.’ It was a time to defend not to attack; reinforcements could have been brought from up-river to engage Wolfe in a pincer movement, soon the British fleet would have to retire and so would Wolfe, if he had not already been beaten.

But Montcalm did exactly what Wolfe wanted, at 10a.m. he launched 4,500 French and Canadians against the British. They were allowed to come within 40 paces of the line then they were annihilated by British volleys. Montcalm was mortally wounded as he left the field, dying the next day in Quebec. Wolfe was wounded when the French attack came in, he was wounded twice more when he led the charge after the decisive volleys, he died on the battlefield.

The Aftermath

With Montcalm dead, and his army having fled from the battle, Vaudreuil now had his chance to command in the field; he led the remnants around the British towards Montreal, leaving battered Quebec to surrender. Two men with famous names in Canada were wounded on that battlefield: Monckton, one of Wolfe’s brigadiers, and Carleton, Wolfe’s chief of staff. The British fleet sailed for home in October. Thus ended that year's campaigning.

In 1760 Montreal was threatened by three British armies attacking from Lake Champlain, Quebec and Oswego; by September the city was surrounded and Vaudreuil surrendered without a fight, the war in North America was almost over. Rogers, of Rangers fame, was sent to accept the French surrenders at Detroit and at Michilimackinac, at the junction of Lakes Huron and Michigan. Under the terms of the general surrender all French troops, and anyone else who wished, would return to France, religious freedom was guaranteed as were the property rights of those remaining.

At Quebec Wolfe made an audacious attack and, with luck, it succeeded; Montcalm made an impetuous attack and suffered one of the most disastrous defeats in history. Thus was Canada gained and lost. The ‘paths of glory' on that day led both generals to the grave. The battle at Quebec was one of the major events in American history, it resulted in the destruction of French power there and Canada passed to the British Crown. Now there was no one to threaten the old English colonies, thus were sown the seeds of another major event in American history; Green, in his History of the English People, noted that ‘with the triumph of Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham began the history of the United States.’

Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just type in, or copy and paste the title of your choice, or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords.

Pioneers of Canada by Alan Salmon, published by The Unitrade Press of Toronto in 1998. ISBN 1-895909-65-1-1. Dr Salmon's book contains two well-researched chapters relating to the stories of these two great soldiers, Wolfe and Montcalm, and their fateful meeting at Quebec. That meeting is placed in the context of other contemporary events in British North America.

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