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Wolfe and Montcalm
Chapter V The Campaign of 1758 - Battle of Carillon


PEACE! Peace! was the message of both Montcalm and Lévis when they wrote to Versailles on the return of their victorious battalions from William Henry. It was the cry of an enlightened patriotism. The proper French policy would have been to strengthen the navy, and so consolidate the whole colonial empire by strengthening the hands of Montcalm in America and Dupleix in the East. They were the only generals who were sustaining the honour of her arms, but France had fallen into effeminacy, and was working out her own humiliation and decadence. Dupleix had already been abandoned, and Montcalm was soon to share his fate.

In his report to the minister at the end of the campaign he thus summed up the situation:— "Hardly any provisions remain, and the people are reduced to a quarter of a pound of bread. The soldiers' rations may have to be still further reduced. Little powder and no shoes."

Famine! What a godsend for Bigot and his boon companions! What profits they reaped from their long monopolized stores of corn 1 But if they made money they spent it gaily, too. "Notwithstanding the general distress balls and frightful gambling," the indignant Montcalm wrote to his mother, and Doreil adds, in his despatch to the minister: — "Notwithstanding the ordinance of 1744, forbidding games of chance in the colonies, such gambling as would frighten the most confirmed and daring players went on in the house of the intendant until Ash Wednesday. M. Bigot alone lost more than two hundred thousand crowns."

The succour received from France in the spring of 1758 was a mere mockery, consisting of a small stock of foodstuffs, and seventy-five recruits. Such were the conditions under which an enemy that daily gathered strength was to be confronted.

England prepared to attack Canada at three points at once. Fourteen thousand men and a formidable squadron were assigned to the first undertaking. From sixteen to eighteen thousand men commanded by the new general-in-chief, Abercromby, had orders to invade the country by way of Lake St. Sacrament, and nine thousand were let loose upon Ohio.

At Quebec no one dreamed of any. such huge forces, and only the victory at Carillon, where the victors repulsed an army outnumbering them by five to one, saved the country.

Montcalm had taken up his position half a mile in advance of Fort Carillon, on a height which he had fortified with the trunks of trees which his men cut down. In front of these entrenchments, which flanked each other, the fallen trees with their branches sharpened served as chevauoc defrise. The little army of French troops of the line and Canadians did not amount in all to more than three thousand five hundred men, the right being commanded by the Chevalier de Lévis, the centre by Montcalm, and the left by Bourlamaque.

About midday on July 8th the English advance guard appeared at the skirt of the woods, and opened fire in skirmishing order. At once the French soldiers dropped their tools and ran for shelter, and immediately the triple lines of their companions formed behind the greyish rampart walls, above which flew the flag of each battalion.

It was the battle's prologue. All the verge of the forest, from the right to the extreme left, was thick with men in blue, while behind them through the openings in their ranks three columns of red-coats were seen advancing, together with a fourth, whose multi-coloured garb proclaimed a Highland regiment. The voices of the officers as they directed their men's fire could be heard along the entire line, and heavy discharges of musketry succeeded one another uninterruptedly. Still the Frenchmen never answered, for the bullets from such a distance hardly reached their shelter, and not one entered their ranks. From the silence the forts might almost have been thought abandoned.

On and on came the red-coats and the "kilties," marching proudly erect, notwithstanding the obstacles that beset their way. Once within easy gunshot the whole line of the ramparts was hidden by a cloud of smoke, and three thousand bullets rained upon the heads of the advancing columns, the entire front ranks of which went down. Still they continued the fire without flinching, but, while the greater part of their bullets simply sank into the tree-trunks, those of the French, aimed with the greatest precision, mowed down whole lines. "It was a perfect hell fire," said an English officer who came out of the fight unhurt.

Under this shower of lead the columns presently began to give way, and then, encouraged by their officers, the men soon reformed, and advanced, firing as they came. General Abercromby, who was stationed about a mile and a half to the rear, had given orders to carry the position at the bayonets' point, and the men, as much infatuated as their chief, rushed madly onwards, confident of victory. But the forest of overturned trees, with their branches interlaced, made advance well nigh impossible, and threw their ranks and fire into disorder. The dead and wounded who fell on all sides made the confusion worse, and the incline leading to the ramparts, through which the soldiers could see only flashes of fire and puffs of smoke which vomited death, seemed more and more impregnable.

However, the fallen trees which so assisted the defenders had also their disadvantages, for they afforded shelter to a swarm of sharpshooters stationed on the flanks of the invading army and between its columns. Better at this kind of work than the troops of the line, these skirmishers, hidden behind the stumps and the branches, poured in a murderous fire which thinned the Frenchmen's ranks, though the latter retaliated With even more admirable aim.

Finally the head of one column reached the improvised chevaua? de frise which defended the foot of the entrenchments, but there the men were halted by the thousands of sharpened branches, which they in vain sought to remove from their way, while from front and right and left they were riddled with lead. After an hour of such bloody fighting amidst an incredibly heavy fire the four columns were thrown back into the border of the woods.

Abercromby ordered a renewal of the attack, and the firing was resumed with redoubled fury, while the lowered bayonets glistened in the sun as the officers' cry of " Forward!" came to the ears of the French. This time the commanders changed their tactics. The two columns on the right threw themselves against the opening guarded by two companies of volunteers. The two others attacked the right angle of the position. The shock was terrible, and the heads of the columns were shaken under the storm of missiles, without, however, arresting those behind, who, trampling the dead underfoot, fought with true British tenacity. The Highlanders, always the bravest of the brave, were many of them killed within a few feet of the walls. It was a pity to see them fall, those gallant giants who, after Culloden, would never have wished to measure bayonets in Europe with the French.

On their side the Canadians fired with all possible speed, and with the accuracy of men accustomed to the chase. They alone of the, defenders made several sorties, and driven back to shelter by a terrific fire they, time and time again, issued therefrom, great gaps in the English ranks marking each successive attack. It was owing to these sorties alone, says Pouchot, that the enemy did not dare to turn the position by the extreme right, which they might easily have done "if they had known the locality and how easily it could be entered."

The heat was suffocating, and at the beginning of the engagement the Marquis de Montcalm took off his uniform, smilingly remarking to his soldiers, "We will have a warm time of it to-day, my friends."

The scene of carnage was indescribable. Inside the defenders' lines the whole line of the ramparts was strewn with dead and wounded. Outside, all round the walls, the bodies lay by hundreds in masses more or less compact according to the fierceness of the fighting. Some lay across the fallen trees, while others were caught in their branches. Many still writhed in the pains of their dying agony. Disordered columns moved to right and left, seeking a vulnerable point of attack amidst the thunders of the firearms, the whistling of bullets, the sharp commands of the officers, and the imprecations of the soldiers as they advanced or retired, amongst the impenetrable mass of leaves and branches.

However, the day had already begun to decline, and the sun was just about to disappear behind the mountains, set in a sky as pure and calm as that in which it had arisen. The peaceful light of its slanting rays as they fell upon the field of Carillon seemed to be a voiceless protest against the scenes of horror taking place. General Abercromby finally arrived upon the field of battle furious at his men's repeated checks. Before acknowledging himself beaten he would make a supreme and final effort, so gathering together the two columns on his left he threw them against the right angle of the entrenchments, while the two on the right he hurled at the foot of the ravine which runs along the La-chute River, and which overlooked the opening guarded by the French volunteers. No previous attack had been made with such impetuosity and desperation.

Notwithstanding their enormous losses the enemy seemed to multiply, and struggled to cross the barrier of lead which stopped their progress. Montcalm, bareheaded, with his face inflamed, and fire in his eye, personally superintended the defence of the threatened spot, and exposed himself to the same dangers that his troops had to face. Levis, always unmoved, although balls had twice pierced his hat, seconded his efforts with that good judgment which was to make him the future hero of Ste. Foy.

The moment was a critical one. Suddenly from the extreme right came the cry, En avant Canadiens! It was de Lévis who had ordered the sortie of the band now fully seven hundred strong owing to recently arrived reinforcements. A swarm of woodsmen issue from the fortifications, and spread amidst the timber and along the fringe of the woods, their gallant officers at their head. From their position in the plain they direct their fire upon the flank of the column skirting the side of the hill, from which it threatens the fort. These Canadians, seasoned and skilful hunters, do not waste a single bullet and create gaps in the ranks of the enemy which, however, are soon filled up. But the fire becomes so murderous that the column inclines somewhat towards the right in order to escape it, and moves more towards the centre. All efforts, though, are useless, and enveloped in front, and on the right and left by the storm of lead the column is finally flung back upon the forest's edge. This sortie of the colonials was decisive, and it was undoubtedly the accuracy of their fire from the advantageous positions which they gained by their successive sorties, as well as the terror which they, like the Indians, inspired in this kind of warfare, in which they had no equals, that prevented the enemy from making a direct attack upon the open plain they occupied.

About six o'clock one last attack was made, but it was as fruitless as its predecessors, and from that hour until half-past seven, only an intermittent rifle fire ensued to cover up the retreat of the English forces. The French troops slept along the ramparts with their guns by their sides fearing the enemy's return, but, panic-stricken, the latter hastily embarked, even leaving some of their wounded by the lakeside. They acknowledged a loss of one thousand nine hundred and forty-four men. The French lost one hundred and four killed and two hundred and forty-eight wounded.

On the morning of the twelfth the French army drawn up on the plain sang the hymn of victory accompanied by the sound of bands, drums and cannon. A large cross, planted by order of Montcalm, bore this inscription, which he composed himself, and below he wrote the French translation which follows it:—

"Quid dux? quid miles? quid strata ingentia ligna?
En signum ! en victor! Deus hie, Deus ipse triumphat!"
"Chretien! ce ne fut point Montcalm et sa prudence,
Ces arbres renverses, ces héros, leurs exploits,
Qui des Anglais confus ont bris6 l'esp^rance;
C'est le bras de ton Dieu vainqueur sur cette croix."

Time has not respected this ephemeral .monument, and the fort itself is dismantled, but the name of Carillon is indelibly inscribed in the annals of Canadian history.

The campaign of 1758 finished in November, when the French retreated from the Ohio valley. The little French-Canadian army nobly defended its entire frontier from Louisbourg to Duquesne, but, crushed by numbers, its two wings had been driven in. The centre alone was able to resist by means of prodigies of valour and unhoped-for good fortune. All of the three gates by which the English could penetrate into Canada were open to them. The small forts of Carillon and Niagara, left to themselves, could not hold out for more than a few days against the masses coming against them. Only the very centre of the colony could hold out any longer, and this was alone possible by concentrating about Quebec all the forces of the country. Montcalm and Vaudreuil, separated as they were by an inveterate hatred, agreed on one point at least and cried out for peace as the only means of saving the colony. So desperate, indeed, did the situation seem to them that they mutually decided to send at express speed to Versailles in the endeavour to awaken the king and his ministers from their stupor, if this were possible, and make them understand that if help were not sent, as the Marquis de Vaudreuil demanded, the colony was lost. Bougainville was chosen for the mission, and Doreil, the commissioner of war, who was called to France on family business, was instructed to support the representations before the court. However, notwithstanding their most urgent solicitations, neither one 62 nor the other could obtain the slightest effective help.

In view of the distress prevailing in Canada the meagre provisions accompanying the recruits brought by Bougainville amounted to next to nothing. The twenty-three ships which arrived at Quebec had brought out a bare third of what had been asked for. Still, "trifles are precious to those who have nothing," as Montcalm replied to the governor. In conclusion he added, with prophetic courage, "I shall entirely devote myself towards saving this unfortunate country, and if necessary will die in the attempt." The governor expressed himself in the same manner, and sent word to court to the effect that the entire colony was ready to die facing the foe. In this he simply told the truth, for despite the vices of his administration he was immensely popular amongst the Canadians, and could get what he liked from them. In fact he was, with some reason, looked upon as father of the people. It was generally known that he alone of all the governors had always championed the colonists' cause, and this fact was largely responsible for his incurring the animosity of the army.

The bishop and his clergy, whose influence was the predominating one, were of the same opinion. He and Mgr. de Pontbriand joined their voices together in calling the people to arms, all the habitants being ordered to hold themselves in readiness to march on short notice with their arms and six days' food. One officer alone, out of each company, was to remain at home with the aged, young and sick.


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