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Wolfe and Montcalm

SINCE the manuscript of the Abbé Casgrain's contribution to the "Makers of Canada" series was received, several works bearing on the subject-matter of this volume have been published which throw a new light upon the campaign around which has gathered such great debate.

Copies of documents which were either scattered through many published works, or which were practically hidden or inaccessible to the general public, have lately been arranged and rendered available for research and discussion. The interest in this notable campaign can never cease, and it is probable that although the general opinion may become settled as years go by, historical students may, for all time, continue to differ.

In justice, therefore, to the memory of the late Abbé, who had not an opportunity of consulting all these works before his death, it becomes our duty to direct attention to several points at issue, which briefly are as follows: (1) What credit does Wolfe deserve for the successful operations of September 13th? (2) Which official, upon the French side, whether Montcalm, Vaudreuil or Bougainville, must bear the onus and responsibility of defeat? And in this connection it is important to investigate the relations which existed throughout the siege between Montcalm and Vaudreuil, and to attach, likewise, due importance to the statements of those who defend Bougainville's conduct on the day of defeat.

We are assured that the readers of this book will find their interest in the narrative deepened by very reason of the strength of the author's convictions, and it is in order that these strong convictions may not give the book an undue tincture of prejudice that we have thought it proper to embody in the introduction views that are not infrequently at variance with those which the Abbé Casgrain has so ably expressed. Disputed matters which admit of brief reference are treated in the notes at the end of the volume.


A brief survey of the facts will assist our inquiry. Before the actual siege began, Wolfe had imagined that he could effect a landing on the Beauport shore, and force a crossing of the St. Charles River (pp. 77 and 96). Montcalm, however, forestalled this movement by erecting powerful defences between the St. Charles and the Montmorency. Consequently xiv

Wolfe first made his position secure in the Island of Orleans, then established siege batteries at Pointe Levis, and, on July 9th, with the remainder of his forces, occupied in strength the left bank of the Montmorency at its mouth. He has been criticized for thus dividing his forces, but the disposition was a wise one, at least until it had been discovered that ships could pass above the town. The Island of Orleans was a convenient position for a hospital and stores; from the Levis batteries he could perpetually harass the town ; and from his Montmorency camp he was in a position to threaten the enemy's left. Moreover Wolfe's avowed object was to tempt his enemy to assume the offensive, and in a conversation with some French prisoners he expressed his surprise that Montcalm, in spite of the opportunities afforded, had not attacked him.

On July 18th Wolfe reconnoitred the north shore above Quebec, and some vessels succeeded in forcing their way up the river in spite of the town batteries. These movements so alarmed the French that they anticipated an attack from above the town, and Dumas, with five hundred Canadians, was despatched to L'Anse du Foulon to oppose a landing there.

Wolfe had such a capacity for keeping his own counsel that it is impossible to determine whether at this early date he contemplated extensive operations above the town. Suffice it to say that in spite of various reconnaissances up the river, and in spite of the further fact that a considerable; portion of the fleet succeeded in passing the town batteries without serious damage, Wolfe persisted in occupying his position at the Montmorency for a whole month after the disastrous affair of July 31st. Must we not infer that his reconnaissances above the town, of July 18th and July 21st, convinced him of the almost insuperable difficulty of effecting a landing in force in that direction ? This is clearly borne out by reference to Wolfe's despatch to Pitt under date of September 2nd, in which he details the operations of his forces between June 26th and the battle of Montmorency (July 31st). "The 18th of July two men-of-war, two armed sloops, and two transports with some troops on board, passed by the town without any loss, and got into the upper river. This enabled me to reconnoitre the country above, where I found the same attention on the enemy's side, and great difficulties on ours, arising from the nature of the ground, and the obstacles to our communication with the fleet. But what I feared most was that, if we should land between the town and the river Cap Rouge, the body first landed could not be reinforced before they were attacked by the enemy's whole army. Notwithstanding these difficulties, I thought once of attempting it at St. Michael's, about three miles above the town; but, perceiving that the enemy, jealous of this design, were preparing against it, and had actually brought artillery and a mortar, which, being so near to Quebec, they could increase as they pleased, to play upon the shipping, and as it must have been many hours before we could attack them, even supposing a favourable night for the boats to pass the town unhurt, it seemed so hazardous that I thought it best to desist."

Wolfe's defeat at Montmorency again turned his thoughts above the town. On August 5th Murray was placed in charge of twelve hundred men to operate up the river, and Bougainville was detached by Montcalm to watch his movements. Murray was only partially successful in his expedition, and returned to the main army on the twenty-fifth. On August 20th Wolfe wrote to Monckton commenting adversely upon Murray's prolonged stay above Quebec: " Murray, by his long stay above and by detaining all our boats, is actually master of the operations, or rather puts an entire stop to them." These complaints were reiterated on August 22nd, and on the twenty-fourth he ordered rockets to be thrown up as a signal for Murray's recall.

Due weight should be given (in dealing with the evidence) to the letter to Admiral Saunders (see "Siege of Quebec," vol. ii, p. 154): "My ill state of health," writes Wolfe, "hinders me from executing my own plan; it is of too desperate a nature to order others to execute. The generals seem to think alike as to the operations. I, therefore, join with them, and perhaps we may find some opportunity to strike a blow." What was his own desperate plan? Probably that carried out on the thirteenth.

We now come to Wolfe's famous letter of August 29th to the brigadiers (pp. 154-5). In this letter no suggestion is made as to the possibility of an attack above the town. Of the three alternatives suggested all were concerned with operations in the neighbourhood of Beauport and the Montmorency, and the brigadiers, in their reply of August 30th, firmly rejected each proposal. After stating their objections the brigadiers continue: "We, therefore, are of opinion that the most probable method of striking an effectual blow is by bringing the troops to the south shore, and directing our operations above the town. When we have established ourselves on the north shore, of which there is very little doubt, the Marquis de Montcalm must fight us upon our own terms, we are between him and his provisions, and betwixt him and the French army opposing General Amherst. If he gives us battle, and we defeat him, Quebec must be ours, and, which is more, all Canada must submit to His Majesty's arms."

The matter now resolves itself into a mere question of fact. Wolfe had recognized the seeming impracticability of a descent in force above the town. When the brigadiers made their forceful recommendation he accepted their proposal, and then vigorously formulated his own plans independently of all advice. The brigadiers had in view a landing at some spot about twelve miles above the town, and on September 8th expected that Pointe-aux-Trem-bles, twenty miles above Quebec, would be selected. Wolfe, in his reconnaissance of September 10th, decided for valid reasons that the Anse du Foulon (less than two miles- from Quebec) was the only suitable place, and with extraordinary ability he planned every detail of the subsequent operations. Surely there is enough glory in this to satisfy his most exacting admirers!

Dr. Doughty and Major Wood accord the whole merit of the enterprise to Wolfe and the cooperating fleet which was really acting under his orders. The Abbd Casgrain inclines to attribute the successful issue of the operations to sheer good luck, abetted by the incompetency of Bougainville. Wolfe had good luck, it is true, but the good luck which accompanies excellent strategy. His knowledge was complete on several points, thanks in part to the information gleaned from deserters, and partly to his own skilled observation. He knew that the Anse du Foulon was guarded by an incompetent officer with an inefficient force. He appears to have known that the Guyenne regiment was not on the Heights of Abraham. He knew that Bougainville, with the flower of the French army, had been detached to watch the movements of the fleet as far as Jacques Cartier if necessary. And finally he knew that Montcalm in the Beauport camp was in hourly expectation of attack. With these trumps in his hands he played his cards to perfection. Montcalm and the town were kept in constant suspense by the operations of Saunders; and Holmes's squadron was employed to keep Bougainville beyond striking distance.

Dr. Doughty attaches much importance to two letters of September 12th as establishing Wolfe's claim to the initiative in the battle of the following day. The first is from the three brigadiers requesting precise information as to the place or places they were expected to attack on the morrow. They say: "We must beg leave to request of you as distinct orders as the nature of the thing will admit of, particularly of the place or places, we are to attack. This circumstance (perhaps very decisive) we cannot learn from the public orders, neither may it be in the power of the naval officer who leads the troops to instruct us." Wolfe replies at half-past eight on the same day from the Sutherland. There is some asperity in the communication: "It is not a usual thing to point out in the public orders the direct spot of our attack, nor for any inferior officers not charged with a particular duty to ask instructions upon that point. I had the honour to inform you to-day that it is my duty to attack the French army. To the best of my knowledge and abilities I have fixed upon that spot where we can act with the most force, and are most likely to succeed. If I am mistaken I am sorry for it, and must be answerable to His Majesty and the public for the consequence."

Taking this letter into consideration with the remainder of the evidence the conclusion to be drawn is obvious—namely, that from the moment when he selected the Foulon as the objective point of his attack (September 10th) Wolfe organized and executed the operations upon his own initiative and upon his own responsibility. Before the receipt of the letter from the brigadiers (August 30th) he had abandoned all hope of a successful landing in force above the town. The subsequent conduct of the campaign is stamped with the outstanding and singular qualities of his marvellous genius.


Granted two temperaments so opposed, a conflict of opinion was probable; and granted the anomalous conditions under which Montcalm and Vaudreuil held office, a clash of authority was inevitable. Montcalm was impulsive and irascible, Vaudreuil was vacillating and suspicious; Montcalm had all the knowledge and Vaudreuil all the power. With such discord within and a watchful enemy at her gates, the doom of Canada was sealed. Wolfe might have failed, but another year must have seen the passing of France's dominion in the New World.

The author has given sufficient indication of Montcalm's brilliant qualities, and has not concealed altogether the unfavourable aspects of Vaudreuil's character (see pp. 28, 29, 81, 215, 227, 228).

But, like all French-Canadian writers, he is loyal to the province, and seeks when possible to shield Vaudreuil, the Canadian-born governor, behind the alleged errors of Montcalm, the French commander. A careful examination of the material that has come to light within the brief interval which has elapsed since the present book was written has convinced the editors that it is no longer possible to defend Vaudreuil at the expense of Montcalm and Bougainville, and we are persuaded that if the Abbé Casgrain had been spared to study the evidence now available he would have been led to modify the views of which he was so conspicuous an advocate.

Vaudreuil in spite of his tolerance of Bigot and his crew of bandits has never been accused of personal dishonesty. He was at the worst a meddlesome blunderer, a Polonius redivivus thrust into a position of authority at a crisis when his country required all the qualities of firmness, tact, and moderation in which he was wanting. Like all weak men he was eager to display his strength, and it was a jealous regard for his own reputation which constantly led him to belittle and even to malign Montcalm to the home authorities. Parkman, with the incomplete evidence at his disposal had already divined Vaudreuil's character with his customary discernment: "He had not the force of character which his position demanded, lacked decision in times of crisis; and though tenacious of authority was more jealous in asserting than self-reliant in exercising it. One of his traits was a sensitive egotism, which made him forward to proclaim his own part in every success, and to throw on others the burden of every failure."

Vaudreuil's instructions to Montcalm throughout the campaign were so formulated as to forestall all possibility of blame directed against himself in case of disaster, and his reports after the event usually implied that all the credit of victory was his. Thus, - after the capture of Oswego, to whose fall he had at least contributed by initiating the design, he writes in his accustomed strain: "The measures I took assured our victory in spite of opposition. If I had been less vigilant and firm, Oswego would still be in the hands of the English." The contemptuous tone which Montcalm habitually assumed in his references to the colonial troops affords some palliation for Vaudreuil's excessive praise of the Canadians in which no small measure of self-laudation was involved. Montcalm, in detailing the events, writes on August 28th, 1756: "I have usefully employed them (the colonial officers) anjl the militia of the country, not, however, at any work exposed to the enemy's fire. It is a troop knowing neither discipline nor subordination."

It does not require a close reading between the lines to understand how a man of Vaudreuil's suspicious temper would resent Montcalm's unaffected contempt of the Canadians, and, on the other hand, the source of Montcalm's grievance is no less apparent. But Vaudreuil's weakness shows itself most glaringly when we consider the events of the siege, and more especially the episode of the final battle and the subsequent evacuation.

If blame can be attached either to Montcalm or Vaudreuil for not defending the Traverse, through which Saunders' fleet was permitted to sail unopposed, it probably may be equally divided. But it should be remembered that for many years the French had considered the channel impassable for vessels of two hundred tons and over, and to this false confidence in natural obstructions might be attributed what now seems a serious oversight.

But it was in spite of Montcalm's vigorous protest that Vaudreuil neglected to occupy the heights of Levis, with such disastrous results to the town. Passing now to the complicated events of the final Battle of the Plains an unprejudiced interpretation of the facts must compel us to attach to Vaudreuil no small share of the responsibility for defeat. His advocates, and these include both the Abb£ Cas-grain and Vaudreuil himself, hold that the day was lost owing chiefly to the precipitancy of Montcalm's attack. To this main cause our author adds Bougainville's dilatoriness, the withdrawal of the Guy-enne regiment from the Heights of Abraham and the worthlessness of Vergor, for whose appointment he seems inclined to blame de Bougainville. We wish to present within brief compass the important evidence on these points.

I-The Precipitancy of Montcalm's Attack

Vaudreuil's letter to Lévis in which he blames Montcalm for the precipitancy of his attack is given on pp. 212, 213 of the present volume, and on p. 194 the author comments upon the same matter. His argument has much force, but it is in a measure offset by the following facts: (1) Montcalm held a council of war before attacking, and no officer proposed deferring the attack, (p. 195); (2) His troops were full of enthusiasm, and would brook no delay; (3) The English would utilize every moment to strengthen their position ; (4) Montcalm was unaware that Wolfe had such a large force ready to engage, and feared that each hour would add to his numbers. We may state here that Montcalm did not feel that he could rely upon any aid from the direction of the Beauport camp. He had sent there to summon the whole left wing to the front, but Vaudreuil had countermanded his order.

II—Bougainville's Dilatoriness

It will be remembered that when Vaudreuil received from Bernetz a confirmatory report of the English landing he despatched Montcalm with one hundred men to resist the attack, and sat down to compose a letter to Bougainville, under the impression that the latter was at Cap Rouge. The truth is that Bougainville, in pursuance of his instructions always to keep above the English fleet, had followed the ships on the night of September 12th as far as Pointe-aux-Trembles, twenty miles above Quebec. It was when Bougainville was returning towards Cap Rouge at nine o'clock in the morning that he received word from Vaudreuil's courier of the landing of the British troops. The Abbé Casgrain says that according to Bougainville's own admission in his letter to Bourlamaque he learned the news as early as eight o'clock. M. Rend de Kerallain in " La Jeunesse de Bougainville" says that in a memoir written in the camp at Lorette on September 21st Bougainville substitutes nine o'clock as the hour. With this estimate Dr. Doughty and Major Wood, with the memoir before them, concur. Bougainville then made a forced march from Cap Rouge over bad roads to the scene of action, seven miles distant. His advance guard reached the battle-ground in about two hours, and Bougainville sent a detachment to take the Samos battery. Here he was repulsed, and after attacking Townshend's rear was forced to retreat, though in good order, to L'An-cienne Lorette. The main battle had long since been decided.


Neither Bougainville nor Montcalm, but Vaudreuil alone, must bear the responsibility for this action. Dr. Doughty and M. Kerallain (op. cit.) both argue successfully to establish the fact, but Major Wood has advanced the documentary evidence which we take the liberty of quoting: "The documentary evidence proving that Montcalm was thwarted by Vaudreuil in his attempt to protect the Heights and Plains of Abraham by posting this regiment there on the fifth is to be found in Mr. Doughty's work. But the evidence for Montcalm's order on the twelfth (namely for the regiment to proceed to the Foulon) is to be found in a journal discovered in the archbishop's palace in Quebec— and printed in the April and May numbers of the Bulletin des Recherches Historiques, Vol. IX, No. 5, p. 139. It is a verbatim reprint of the entry for September 12th, 1759, in the journal of Jean Fdlix Recher, curd of Quebec: "Order given by M. de Montcalm to the battalion of Guyenne to go and camp at the Foulon, afterwards revoked by M. de Vaudreuil, saying, we shall see about that tomorrow"


No one disputes the worthlessness of Vergor. His treachery even has been hinted at. The Abbé Casgrain implies (p. 178) that Bougainville was partially responsible for his presence at the Foulon as commanding officer, and takes Bougainville to task for neglecting Vaudreuil's order to reinforce the post by fifty of Repentigny's men. However, we are certain that Vergor was in command at the Foulon with the full knowledge of both Vaudreuil and Montcalm. With reference to' the second point we need only say that Vaudreuil had intended to despatch five hundred of Repentigny's men to the assistance of Bougainville. The latter was to despatch fifty of these to reinforce the Foulon. The men were not sent owing to the scarcity of provisions.


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