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The Fight for Canada
A Sketch from the History of the Great Imperial War by William Wood (1908)


FROM the very day it was fought the world-renowned Battle of the Plains has been a subject of undying human interest; because it is one of those very few memorable landmarks which stand at the old cross-roads of history to guide us into some new great highway of the future. It is true that this battle was not by itself the cause of such momentous change; and it is also true that there were bloodier fields, in three successive years, at Ticonderoga, Minden and Ste. Foy. But those were barren battles, and never helped to bring about any decisive change in national destiny. What makes Wolfe’s consummate victory immortal is, first, that it was directly based upon the British command of the sea, and hence both vitally important in itself and most far-reaching in its results; next, that it was the culminating feat of arms in one of the greatest of imperial wars; and, finally, that it will serve to mark for ever three of the mightiest epochs of modern times—the death of Greater France, the coming of age of Greater Britain, and the birth of the United States. And, as it was thus in the very core of things during that hour of triple crisis, it may be truly called the most pregnant single event in all America since Columbus discovered the New • World.

So many books have been written on the subject that a new one requires a very good reason indeed to justify its existence at all. Yet, strange as it may seem, there are two valid reasons of such importance and strength that either of them alone would furnish an ample justification for a new work, while both of them together make the appearance of such a work quite imperative.

For one justifying reason is that all the necessary sources of original information have only now been brought together for the very first time. This may seem a preposterous assertion, in face of the number of authorities which can be quoted already. But any one who will take the trouble can verify it for himself; by noting that the last gaps in the military evidence were only filled up in 1903, and that the whole subject was only brought within working distance of finality by completing the naval evidence in' 1904.

The great leader in this line of research is Mr. A. G. Doughty, the new Archivist of Canada, whose six published quarto volumes by no means exhaust his supply of original unprinted documents. When all these shall have been edited the student will have a perfect reference library to the whole subject in a single work. For Mr. Doughty not only intends to print word for word every single original that has not already appeared in this way, but also intends to make a complete index to all original sources whatever, so that every question can be followed up to the end at a moment’s notice.

The most important effect of this decisive evidence will be to put all partizan points of view out of focus immediately. Very few phases of history have been such happy hunting grounds for party strife; and more ink has been shed on paper than ever blood was on the Plains of Abraham. There are British versions, French versions, American versions and French-Canadian versions; all with lights and shadows suitably distributed in accordance with racial, political, religious, family and personal prejudice. But the documents of necessity invalidate them all; because the whole truth, in its usual way, distributes the praise and blame with a fairly even hand all round. Generally speaking, the soldiers and sailors on both sides come out of the ordeal very well indeed. There is not much for any of them—French, Canadian, British or American—to be ashamed of, all circumstances considered. And Pitt, Saunders, Wolfe and Montcalm are all proved worthy of even higher renown than they have hitherto received.

But full research makes very short work of the perversions of race, religion or politics. The shame of France is well matched by that of Canada, where there was quite as much rascality among Colonial upstarts as among any of the corrupt officials that came out from the Motherland. The general run of American public men were no better in the eighteenth century than they have been in the nineteenth. And there is a purely British crime which can blacken out even their dark methods—the bought-up vote in the House of Commons which ratified the most ignominious treaty of peace that England ever made. Religious . animosities were as well to the front as usual, reminding one forcibly how many people there are who "only worship God for spite.” Yet party politics stand out as by far the worst feature in the true appearance of the times. And the famous definition of dirt, as matter in the wrong place, was never more admirably exemplified than by those intermeddling politicians, who, like their successors at the present day, were always out of place in naval and military affairs—the party politician being mere dirt in the machinery of war.

Though Mr. Doughty’s collections are not yet absolutely complete, still, when all his published and unpublished documents are added to what was known before, it can be readily seen that the whole subject has approached finality so closely, that what may be accurately called a full, true and particular account of the Siege, Battle and Capitulation may now be given, for the first time, straight from original authorities. It is such an account as this which is attempted in Chapters VII, VIII and IX of the present work ; for they have all been written from the documents only, without paying the slightest attention to any intermediate text whatever.

It is hoped that the Notes and Bibliography added will be found a sufficient general guide to all the original authorities of any importance. More detailed information cannot be given here, since the itemized bibliography, numbered references, and complete alphabetical index to every known source will certainly require a supplementary volume quite as large as The Fight for Canada itself. This supplementary volume will probably appear as the final one of Mr. Doughty’s quarto series.

Those who may like to satisfy themselves that the story of the Fall of Quebec never has been, nor ever could have been, told in full detail before can do so at once, if they will take any well-known book—Parkman’s, for instance—and compare it with the documents now first brought to light; For nothing is easier than to prove that the best of accepted authorities have erred greatly, both in details and general deductions. They could not, indeed, do otherwise, with the very imperfect materials at their disposal. And/ in such a case as that of Parkman, one is struck rather by what is done so well than by what had to be done so badly from lack of means. Parkman’s reputation, in fact, should be actually heightened by the new discoveries. For he shows a real power of historical divination, by having found the true point towards which the evidence tended, in several places where his incomplete documents did not contain the point itself. And, of course, it can be no reproach to him that the second harvest has just ripened in one corner of the field which his master-hand reaped so well a generation since. But it certainly would be a very great reproach for any successor, however humble, to neglect the gamering of all that time and opportunity are offering there in such abundance now. For it is quite clear that this famous story really needs a final telling—new, true, and complete.

Now, the newness and truth of The Fight for Canada are simply matters of new and true sources of information; and it should be said at once that all the honour of discovering these sources is due to Mr. Doughty alone. But the word “ complete ” needs some explanation. No claim whatever is made to absolute finality. But it is maintained that the approximation is now near enough for all historical purposes: because a composite diary of the siege has been compiled from all the original documents; and every day has been accounted for in it, every occurrence having been fitted into its proper place, corroborated by at least one other witness, and harmonized with its surroundings; while, as regards the battle, almost every hour between the tenth and fourteenth of September has been satisfactorily accounted for in the same way. And so the first reason given for the appearance of this book would seem to be a valid one.

The second reason is no less important than the first. For it is that the whole subject has never yet been described from the Naval and Military points of view combined together. And we must always remember that the British Navy was the only central unifying force which made the whole war one.

Hitherto, sea-power has nearly always been neglected, because historians never had its determining influence brought home to them. Captain Mahan changed all that, by making himself the faithful interpreter between the great Silent Service and the world at large. But his very excellence has given rise to a new kind of error. For writers are now apt to think that a phase of sea-power which only occupies a couple of his pages cannot be of much more relative importance in their own work. This is a serious error of point of view in a case like that of the Quebec expedition. Captain Mahan naturally viewed his subject from the standpoint of battle-fleet action, which is always the real centre of the circle of influence. In his eyes, therefore, the Quebec expedition would rightly appear in diminishing perspective, somewhere on the borderland . between causes and effects, and half way towards the circumference. But the historian of the expedition itself must look at it from quite a different standpoint. He must, of course, give a full account of his own surroundings. Yet, at the same time, he must never forget where the true centre of power lies, nor what are his relations to it. And he must constantly bear in mind that the attack by the St. Lawrence was an integral part of a world-wide scheme of naval strategy; and that Wolfe’s army was simply a landing-party on a large scale.

'The point of the whole argument is, therefore, that this great fight for the dominion of the West has never been consistently described as a combined naval and military operation, in which the fleet and the army were so much the necessary complements of each other on all occasions that they perfectly fulfilled the ideal of a single United Service throughout the whole expedition. And this being so, it seems that any honest attempt to redress the balance, and do justice to the Navy, would alone vindicate the book that made it.

A third justifying reason might be found in the fact that the complete history of this Canadian campaign is a most valuable object-lesson in Imperial Defence. For what Seeley well called the “Second Hundred Years’ War” comprised the whole series of wars from the accession of William III to Waterloo. And various as these wars were, and dissimilar one from another as we are apt to think them, each of them was simply a different phase of the one long and inevitable struggle for trade and empire over-sea. -The Seven Years War was the most distinctly imperial of them all. The very heart of it lay in the fight for Canada. And the sea-borne joint expedition which Saunders and Wolfe led up the St. Lawrence to Quebec is the fit archetype of all the other joint expeditions which have planted British dominion in every quarter of the world. A close study of this will therefore not only teach the unvarying practical caution against all those visionary dead ideas of war which have no root in history, but also give a deeper living insight into the philosophy of empire at the present day.

These three justifying reasons make the whole subject once more an open question; and this book is now offered as a first attempt towards a satisfying answer.

You can download the book here in pdf format

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