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Wolfe and Montcalm
Chapter III The Campaign of 1756 - The Taking of Oswego


MONTCALM carried away the most favourable impression of Quebec, though he had only spent ten days there. He had sent a messenger to M. de Vaudreuil to notify him of his arrival; and since he had learned that the remainder of the fleet was in the river he went to Montreal, even before the arrival of the Chevalier de Lévis, to confer with the governor as to the plan of campaign to be followed.

At this first interview there was nothing to portend the terrible animosity which was soon to arise between these two men, with such disastrous results for themselves and the colony. The diplomatic reserve which was necessitated during this official conference, disappeared beneath the courteous forms and the grand court airs to which both of them were accustomed.

Vaudreuil was tall in stature, as proud of his person as of his origin. More than once in the course of the interview, without appearing to do so, he eyed from head to foot the sprightly little man with piercing eyes and short, vehement words, who gesticulated before him in an extraordinarily peevish manner. He seemed to feel him grow as he spoke, and from that time he should have been able to form a very good idea of the domineering force of a will power that was so energetically expressed. He must have regretted, also, more than ever, not to have been able to secure the acceptance of the advice which he had tendered the minister a few months before, to the effect that it was unnecessary to send a general officer to replace the Baron de Dieskau.

Vaudreuil would have been right to speak in this manner if he had been a Frontenac, for the division of the military command, as well understood by the court, was full of inconveniences. But Vaudreuil was far from being of the same fabric as a Frontenac. Montcalm, on his side, probably knew nothing of the steps taken by Vaudreuil; but he flattered himself that his military superiority would ensure the acceptance of his services with good grace.

The court imagined that it had avoided the difficulty of a dual command by affirming the authority of the governor. The king's letter to Vaudreuil said formally: "M. le marquis de Montcalm has not the command of the land troops; he can only have it under your authority, and he must be under your order in everything."

Pierre-Francis Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal, was the son of the governor of that name, who had administered the affairs of New France during twenty-two years—from 1703 to 1725—with as much wisdom as firmness. At first governor of Louisiana, Vaudreuil succeeded the Marquis Duquesne in 1755. Like his father, he was much loved by the Canadians, who were proud to have one of themselves at their head, for Vaudreuil had been born in Quebec on November 22nd, 1698. In addition to this his defects, like his qualities, were of a nature to make him popular. He was gentle, affable and completely devoted to the colonists, whom he treated as his children, and who rightly regarded him as their father; but his character was feeble, and he was irresolute, unenlightened, jealous of his authority, and was taken advantage of by a corrupt entourage which he was incapable of dominating.

Montcalm observed few of these defects at first sight, and appeared well satisfied with the preparations for the campaign ordered by Vaudreuil. The governor, on his side, was not less frank in his tenders of assistance.

The colonial military forces were composed of three distinct elements : the land troops, the marines and the militia. 'The former consisted of different detachments of the regular army, and came from France. They formed an effective force of about three thousand men, chosen among the elite of the army, and distributed between the battalions known as those of the Queen, of B£arn? of Languedoc, and of Guyenne, brought by Baron de Dieskau, and those of La Sarre and of Royal-Roussillon, which had just arrived. In this total are not included the eleven hundred men of the Louisbourg garrison, composed of the battalions of Bourgoyne and of Artois.

The marine troops were the regular army of the colony, employed in the maintenance of order and in the defence of the country. While the land forces were sent out by the minister of war these troops were under orders from the ministry of marine, which had charge of colonial affairs. Long established in the country they had formed strong attachments, first of all because some of the officers and men were recruited from amongst the population, and also because many of the others intended to settle here, had married here, or devoted themselves, during the leisure time of garrison life, to certain industries which assured them something for the future. This body of troops was composed of about two thousand fairly well disciplined men, more inclined to sympathize with the militia than with the regiments of the line.

The militia was under the orders of the governor, at whose call it was required to take up arms. This, the most onerous form of conscription, was aggravated by the fact that the conscripts received no pay for their military services. The king only bore the cost of arming, equipping and feeding them. The first levy had furnished a contingent of twelve thousand men, but this figure increased from year to year and attained that of fifteen thousand at the time of the last crisis. The militia of Montreal, more exposed to attack, was more inured to war than that of Quebec, at least up to the opening of hostilities. The elite of these troops was recruited among the coureurs de bois, who were themselves recruited in all the parishes from among the hardy and adventurous youth, who were periodically enticed away to join them.

When to these different army corps are added the irregular reinforcements of the Indian allies, it will be possible to form an idea of the disposable forces of Canada at that period.

It would be necessary to have seen on the parade ground, or on a field of battle, these widely differing bodies of troops, with their escort of Indians, in order to appreciate the picturesque scene that they presented. The undisciplined troop of Indians which hovered about the army was armed according to the caprice of each warrior. It was an assemblage of rags and of the skins of beasts, gathered from all directions, and defying all description. The chiefs were easily recognized by the ornaments about their necks, the large silver medals, gifts of the king, which shone upon their breasts, and the horrible scalps, stretched upon hoops and hanging, all bloody, to their belts. Each Indian armed for war had his powder horn and bag of bullets suspended from his neck, a tomahawk and scalping knife attached to his belt and a gun on his shoulder. Several of those who came from the most distant tribes still carried the bow and quiver, and sometimes the lance.

One of Montcalm's first cares after having spent a few days in Montreal was to make a tour of inspection and an offensive demonstration on the side of the frontier defended by Fort Carillon at the head of Lake Champlain, where he feared an attack on the part of the English." He confided the command of the troops at this point to the Chevalier de Levis, and returned to Montreal, where he had the satisfaction of finding Intendant Bigot, who had arrived the day before to hasten the provisioning of the army. He had been very useful to him in organizing the camp at Carillon.

Francis Bigot, whose name personifies all the shame of the epoch, just as Montcalm's recalls its glories, belonged to a distinguished family of the south of France. His father and his grandfather had occupied high rank in the magistracy of Bordeaux. He forced his way at court, thanks to family influence, particularly to that of his near relative the Marshal d'Estrées, and obtained successively the offices of intendant at Cape Breton and in New France.,

Physically Bigot was a man of small stature, with red hair and an ugly face covered with pimples. He had also an ozena, but concealed the effect of it as much as possible by a continual use of perfumes and fragrant waters.

The elegant and refined vice of the eighteenth century formed his morals. Notwithstanding his delicate health he was as indefatigable in pleasure-seeking as in work. Haughty with his inferiors, supercilious in command, he was conciliatory with his equals. He was extremely prodigal and an ungovernable gambler. He had made a little Versailles of the intendancy at Quebec, where he imitated the manners of his master—the king. With all his vices he had the real qualities of ability, energy, and business experience.

Montcalm was not ignorant of the great preparations made by England for the campaign which was opening. The British parliament had in fact granted all the assistance which had been asked of it, in men and in money, to avenge the two disasters which had so profoundly humiliated it in the preceding year—that of General Braddock at Monongahela and that of Admiral Byng off the island of Minorca. It had voted an indemnity of a hundred and fifteen thousand pounds sterling for the colonies, had sent from Plymouth to New York two regiments with Generals Abercromby and Webb, and numerous transports loaded with tents, munitions of war, artillery and tools for the works of fortification; and lastly had named governor of Virginia and general-in-chief of the armies in North America, an old officer of a very different type to Braddock, Lord Loudon. The colonies, on their side, had resolved to raise ten thousand men to attack Fort St. Frederic, and to build a road to Montreal; six thousand to secure Niagara; three thousand to assault Fort Duquesne; and finally two thousand to menace Quebec by way of the woods in the valley of the Chaudi&re. All these militiamen, added to the regular troops, formed an army of more than twenty-five thousand men, that is to say double the number that could be then got together by Canada. It was in face of such an armament that Vaudreuil, on the advice of Montcalm and de Lévis, ventured to take the offensive. The enterprise would have been more than rash if he had had to contend with as plucky soldiers and as able generals as his own.

After having drawn the attention of the enemy from Fort Carillon by the demonstration made by him, Montcalm hurried to Frontenac, where three thousand five hundred men were assembled including soldiers of the line, Canadians and Indians.

The expeditionary force crossed the lake, suddenly disembarked at Chouaguen (Oswego) and besieged it. It was taken with unprecedented rapidity, animation and good fortune. Twenty cannon carried by manual labour were mounted in batteries in a few hours. The English commander having been cut in two by a cannon ball the besieged were summoned to surrender, and given an hour to deliberate.

"The yells of our Indians," wrote Montcalm to his mother, "promptly decided them. They yielded themselves prisoners of war to the number of 1,700, including eighty officers and two regiments from England. I have taken from them five flags, three military chests full of money, a hundred and twenty-one pieces of ordnance, including forty-five swivel-guns, a year's supply of provisions for three thousand men, and six decked boats carrying from four to twenty guns each. And as it was necessary in this expedition to employ the utmost diligence, so that the Canadians might be sent to harvest their crops, and be brought back to another frontier, I demolished or burned their three forts, and brought away the artillery, boats, provisions and prisoners."

Montcalm, who understood the heart of the soldiery, resolved to celebrate his victory by a religious and patriotic demonstration, which would arouse the enthusiasm of the army. On the morning of August 20th, 1756, he planted a large cross bearing these words: "In hoc signo vincunt" And near this cross he planted a pole, upon which were placed the arms of France with the following device, which revealed the general's classical taste:— "Manibus date lilia plenis." The troops were called to arms, and Abbd Piquet, the chaplain of the expedition, blessed the pious trophy, amid the beating of drums and the reiterated discharge of cannon and musketry.

The next day the French flotilla sailed away, after having saluted a last time the ephemeral monument of its victory. When the last of the boats had disappeared behind the angle of the cliff, the silence of primitive nature, that immense silence of infinite solitudes, scarcely disturbed by the passage of the breezes or the murmur of the waves, had already invaded the ruins of Oswego.

The1 fall of this fort, as sudden as it was unexpected, had come to the neighbouring colonies as a thunder clap. General Webb, who was marching to its relief, even dreaded that Montcalm might advance from Oswego upon him, and in his fright he burned the d£p6ts of supplies along the route, and as rapidly as he retreated, obstructed the river, which served as his means of communication, by throwing a large number of trees into it.

Lord Loudon ordered Winslow, who commanded at the head of Lake St. Sacrament, to abandon all offensive schemes, and to entrench himself strongly to keep the French in check. The effect of this British reverse made itself felt in England, where it was understood that France had an able general in Canada.


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