1759

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The British

Impasse in the British Court

George II, King of England, is a sovereign who is undaunted in the face of war. More than a million of his subjects are crowded together in the Thirteen Colonies. Vast tracts of land west of the Ohio Valley are just waiting to be colonized. But a handful of French subjects called “Canadians”, as well as several thousand Amerindians, stand in the way. One solution is called for—war must be declared in North America.

More Important Than Numbers: Determination

England’s population is much smaller than that of France. Despite this, England is determined to conquer North America and puts considerable effort into populating and arming the colonies in order to acheive its imperial ambitions.

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James Wolfe

Criticized by certain officers who accompany him but respected by his soldiers, Major General James Wolfe is a young officer prepared to do anything to meet with success on the battlefield. Let’s listen to him introduce himself.

I am Major General James Wolfe. I was born on January 2nd, 1727 in Westerham, England.

I was very young when I joined the army. Already, at age 15, I was with the 12th infantry regiment with the rank of ensign. The following year I fought in my first battle at Dettingen, Germany, and I was immediately promoted to Lieutenant.

At 17 I was named Captain in the 4th infantry regiment. A short time later I became aide-de-camp of Lieutenant General Henry Hawley and I was at his side when the famous battle of Culloden was fought in Scotland.

On July 2, 1747, I showed great courage when I was injured at the battle of Laffeldt in the Netherlands. At the end of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748, I was appointed Major in the 20th infantry regiment. Then, in 1750, I was given the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and in 1757, that of Colonel.

As a result, in 1758, in Louisbourg, I was granted the temporary rank of Brigadier General in America.

A short time ago, on January 12, 1759, under the explicit instructions of the British Prime Minister, William Pitt,I was named Commander-in-Chief of the ground forces for the Québec expedition.

Today I was provided with an excellent army for this expedition, composed mainly of ten infantry batallions of the regular British army previously stationed in America. So, I am sure that with my great ability and the best army in the world I will succeed in leading my troops to a victory over Québec.

The Pawns Move About the Chess Board

It is the winter of 1759, six months before General Wolfe’s arrival in Québec City. Since the hostilities began, a number of battles and skirmishes have taken place in eastern North America.

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Prelude to War

For the first time in their history, France and England launch themselves into a war that was started by battles between their colonies in America. Let’s listen to how it all began…

In the 1750s, the French considered Ohio a vital link between New France and Louisiana, which explains why they claimed the valley as one of their possessions. In 1754, the British dispatched George Washington (the future first president of the United States) to order the French to leave. They turned him down flat.

So Washington and nearly 400 British militiamen set up shop in Fort Necessity. In July 1754, a contingent of some 600 French and 100 Amerindians closed in to attack. The French took up their positions in the woods right next to the fort. Washington gave the signal to attack. Both sides suffered death and injury, but the British incurred heavier losses. The French claimed victory, which set off a series of battles that led to the onset of war.

The Crossing or Mishaps on a Transatlantic Journey

Here we are onboard one of the 189 British vessels sent to war to Québec against the French. This is the soldiers' first combat experience: surviving the voyage. Storms, enemies, bad sailing conditions, epidemics, pirates, and shipwrecks are all a threat to war ships.

The Soldiers' Origins

Most professional regiments that are present in North America come from Europe. Which regions of Great Britain do the soldiers fighting in Québec City come from and how many are there in the summer of 1759?

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What's for Dinner?

Whether British or French, ordinary soldiers don't eat well. Freshness and variety are sadly lacking in a soldier's diet.

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Armed to the Hilt

General Wolfe’s Québec City–bound ships are extremely well armed. Huge ammunition and weapons reserves are in the holds and will be available for the army the minute it sets foot on land. In Québec City, the Marquis de Montcalm’s army isn’t lucky enough to have such abundance—the French authorities prefer to focus their efforts on Europe. See if you can identify these armaments.

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Against Wind and Tide

The duration and quality of an ocean crossing varies widely. Infantry soldiers unaccustomed to ocean travel often find the trip to New France or the thirteen British colonies in North America quite trying indeed. What is an ocean crossing like for soldiers fighting in the Seven Years’ War?

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The Uniform

In general, blue is associated with the French army and red with the British army. However, red uniforms do exist in the French army (artillery) and blue ones in the British forces (navy). Out of all the uniforms, that worn by the Fraser...

The British soldiers' uniform looks much like that of the French, with the primary differences being the colour, a higher-quality fabric, and waistcoats without sleeves. The soldiers' uniform for the 78th Regiment of Foot (Frasers' Highlanders) is just as unique as the Scottish soldiers who wear it.

A Change of Strategy

The British persist in attacking the heart of the continent that devides the British colony from the French. Now, the objective has changed, and they want to strike the heart of the colony—Québec City and Montréal. This is why Major General Wolfe arrives by way of the St. Lawrence River with the most formidable fleet ever seen in North America.

A Somber Cortège

As the month of June 1759 draws to a close, inhabitants along both sides of the St. Lawrence are witness to the most impressive cortège of ships they have ever seen.

The fleet numbers 49 warships carrying 1,877 pieces of artillery and 134 landing craft. There are also 140 troop carriers and supply ships. A total of 18,000 sailors, officers, and crew man the giant armada, whose purpose is to provide support to the 9,150 professional soldiers preparing to take on the Marquis de Montcalm’s troops. Within a few days, nearly 30,000 men and 189 ships are massed before Québec City, which only has a population of some 5,000 people.

Life in Camp

The siege in Québec City lasts almost three months. In between battles and skirmishes, common soldiers tend to their daily duties in the camps where they’re entrenched. Let’s visit one as he goes about his routine chores.

Upon arrival at the site, the soldiers would set up huge, basic camps in an orderly and disciplined manner, and would settle into camp life. Life in these temporary cities would take on the monotonous rhythm of military routine.

While the officers discussed defensive and offensive strategies, the soldiers would stay busy as best they could fulfilling their day-to-day duties.

These included seeing to the camp’s essential needs. Most of the soldiers’ time was spent cutting wood, keeping the fire stoked, and eating meals.

They would also look after their muskets, checking, dismantling, repairing, and cleaning them in preparation for battle.

They took great care in looking after their weapons to keep them always at the ready.

Once their daily tasks were complete, the soldiers would take advantage of their rare moments of idleness to enjoy the little pleasures of their otherwise grim lives.

Man Your Cannons. Ready! Aim! Fire!

Cannons are used on the battlefield to defend or attack fortresses and on the water to sink enemy ships. Artillery soldiers are specialized in the workings of these pieces of artillery. In Québec City, Major General Wolfe’s army possesses cannons more powerful than those of the French army, in addition to a larger stock of shot and gunpowder.

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Harmless Fire Ships

As soon as the British ships appear off île d’Orléans, the city prepares itself for the siege. The military authorities decide to send explosive-laden rafts and barks toward Wolfe’s fleet. When they get close to the British boats, these fire ships are set off in hopes that much damage will be done.

The French have very few resources to draw on against our powerful army. Only a few days after our June 28 arrival, the French attempted a daring move against our ships. Around midnight, they sent a series of fire ships our way at ebb tide. Although they were still some two leagues away from the closest ship, they set off their instruments of war, creating one of the biggest fireworks displays I’ve ever seen. No damage was reported, and Her Majesty’s soldiers and seamen enjoyed a delightful show.
Text inspired from : The Siege of Québec...

Endless Bombardments

For Québec City residents, the bombing is a source of concern, suffering, and fear. Here is what an anonymous witness from the era has to say.

"The enemies dropped at least 200 bombs and fireballs on us during the night, which hit the cathedral as well as some twenty houses in the vicinity. All were reduced to ashes.

A number of women and children who remained in the city were extremely frightened. Luckily, no one was killed or even injured. At 10 in the morning, enemy fire let up a bit [...]

Traduction from Journal du siège de Québec, written by an individual who witnessed the events of summer 1759. Although the author remains anonymous, the exceptional quality of the information contained in this journal makes it an extremely valuable document. You can find the complete version of this journal at the following address."

The Final Assault

Attacking up the cliff west of Québec City seems like a crazy notion. However, very few sentries are guarding Anse-aux-Foulons. The night is pitch black and the English diversion in Beauport was a success. Major General Wolfe is risking everything with this attack. A few hours later the British army is on the heights of Québec City, a few hundred metres from the city. James Wolfe can finally prepare for a pitched battle. The die has been cast—a confrontation there will be.

British Discipline

Whether a soldier is in the navy, cavalry, artillery or is simply in the infantry, he must know the correct use of his weapon, a flintlock musket.

When the infantry functioned smoothly, it was a sure sign of discipline and order. Every soldier had to be able to load his musket. When the alert was sounded, the soldier had to transfer his musket to his left hand in order to take the priming iron in his right hand and clean the battery with it. The soldier then took a cartridge from his shot belt and put it to his lips. After tearing the cartridge, the soldier could prime his weapon by pouring a small amount of gunpowder into the pan. Then he emptied the rest of the powder, the slug, and the paper into the muzzle of his musket. He used the cleaning rod to ram everything into place. He put the cleaning rod back. Finally, he was in firing position. At the time of the Seven Years’ War, it took one minute for a good soldier to load his gun three times.

A Daunting Adversery

Some of the best soldiers in Wolfe’s army are without a doubt his Grenadiers. They have everything it takes to terrorize the enemy. Intimidation is very important on the battlefield.

What does the grenadier use to frighten the enemy?

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The Flag: Identity and Signal

Through the smoke and explosions, a soldier can easily be separated from his unit. The regimental flag can help him get his bearings.

On the battlefield, flags are used to identify the different regiments so that a soldier is able to find his way back, despite the noise and the smoke. Every regiment always had two flags—a regimental flag and a battalion flag. The British flags always display the number of the regiment, written in roman numerals, and the Union Jack (the English flag) in one of the corners. Some flags were also decorated with a rose, a red cross, or the British crown.

The Die is Cast

The battle is now inevitable. It will take place on the Heights of Abraham. Listen to four people who witnessed the tragedy. An Aide-de-camp of General Wolfe, a Canadian employee at the King's store, John Knox, Lieutenant in Wolfe's army and a Huron warrior, Little Étienne.

September 12 , on board of Sutherland

The ennemy’s force is now divided, great scarcity of provisions now in teir camp, and universal discontent among Canadians : (…) (…)Before day-break on the 13th we make a descent upon the north shore,(…)

We had, in this debarkation, thirty flat-bottomed boats containing about sixteen hundred men. This was a great surprise on the ennemy, who, from the natural strength of the place, did not suspect, and consequently were not prepared against, so bold attempt. This grand enterprise was conducted and executed with great good order and discretion; (…).

Morning of September 13

At daybreak the enemy landed at Anse des Mères… The orderly who had heard men swimming shouted out and upon being answered in good French “provisions!” investigated no further, since there were vessels loaded with provisions passing by and the order was given not to fire upon them.

As soon as we gain the summit, all is quiet, and not a shot is heard, owing to the excellent conduct of the light infantry under colonel Howe; it is by this time clear day-light. (…)

…they immediately approached the shore and shortly burst into the home of Borgia Levasseur, taking over the house and the barn, as well as the homes of St-Joseph

Meanwhile in Beauport

A Canadien, an expression of sheer terror on his face, told us how he alone had escaped death and that the enemy was on the plateau. Knowing full well how difficult it was to reach the plateau from this point, we didn’t believe a word of the man’s tale, believing his fright had affected his senses. (…)

A little further on

I was with my grandfather Tsa-wa-wan-hi, Grand Chief of the Huron, when we met up with the army at Beauport with 60 or 70 of our grown men, and several younger men, too. We could hear musket fire. Our warriors rushed over from the other side of the St. Charles River to join in the battle.

I ran and joined Monsieur de Pontleroy and together we climbed to the plateau, following no distinct path but that of the whistling bullets.

On the Plains of Abraham

The Canadiens rushed to the scene of the battle and many volleys were fired, but with enemy numbers growing by the minute, our militiamen were shooting from all sides, incapable of forming a common front to hold off the enemy.

We joined Monsieur le Marquis de Montcalm, who ordered his troops into battle as they arrived. The enemy was already in formation and entrenching, the river on their right and Chemin Sainte-Foye on their left. They looked to be at least four thousand strong, divided into three corps (…) We had a number of battalions in forward positions, firing under cover of the brush (…)

Weather showery : it is about six o’clock and the ennemy first makes their appearance upon heights, between us and the town : (…). Québec is eastward of us in front, with the ennemy under its walls.


All our troops had arrived. I stopped a moment with Monsieur le Marquis de Montcalm, who said to me, “We cannot avoid the issue. The enemy is entrenching and already has two cannon. If we give him time to make good his position we can never attack him with the few troops we have.”

(…) It is ten o’oclock, the ennemy begins to advance briskly in tthree columns, (…) two of them inclining to the left of our army, and the third toward our right, firing obliquely at the two extrimities of our line, from the distance of one and hundred and thirty, until they come within forty yards; wich our troops withstand with the greatest intrepidity and firmness, still reserving their fire and paying the strictest obedience to their officers : (…)

My grandfather was too elderly to keep pace with his warriors. He wanted me to stay with him, but when he saw the Huron… He ordered me to go back the way I had come. I obeyed, but only went back a short distance. Then I hid to watch what would happen. I didn’t see much of the battle.

The infantry marched forward, flanked on one side by the navy and on the other by the Canadian militia. He gave his order when they were within half range of the fire of the enemy, who were firmly in wait… And so began the great fire of battle from all sides…

Our troops ran into battle, letting out great cries of war, then stopping to fire. The first line of French and Canadian troops kneeled to fire, throwing themselves down to reload.

When the general forms the line of battle, he orders the regiment to load with an additional ball. (…) Our troops in general, and particularly the central corps, is levelled and firing.


Monsieur de Sennezergue and Monsieur de Fontbonne, one a commander and brigadier, the other a commander, were killed on the battlefield and more officers were killed or wounded.

The enemy replied with heavy platoon fire. Our troops immediately veered to the right and retreated as fast as they could (…)

(…) Hereupon they give way, and flee with precipitation, so that, by the time the clooud of smoke vanishes, our men are again loaded and profiting by the advantage we have over them, pursing them almost the gates of the town and yhe bridge over the little river, redoubling our fire with great eagerness, making many oficers and men prisoners.

I later heard the warriors telling how they had fired many rounds at the enemy but that as soon as General Montcalm gave the order to attack, everything happened too quickly and they had no choice but to return to their village of Lorette.

There was such chaos that the British entered the city, mingling haphazardly with the fleeing troops and cutting us off from our camp. We finally came to stop beneath the walls of the square, where more than eight hundred men from all the corps had gathered in panic.


Our joy at this success in inexpessibly damped by the loss we sustaines of one of the greatest heroes which this or any other age can boast of General James Wolfe, who received his mortal wound as he was exerting himself at the head of grenadiers of Louisbourg.


Lieutenant General le Marquis de Montcalm died from his wounds and was laid to rest at the Ursuline convent. His loss will be deeply felt by the State and even more so by all Canadiens…

Cap-Santé, September 23, 1759

Alas, I have only sad news to write. Twenty times I have taken up my feather pen and twenty times it has fallen from my hands, the pain too great. How can I recall such a tragic sequence of events…? We were saved and now we are lost!

Texts inspired and from extracts: Journal du marquis de Montcalm...; The Siege of Québec...; Journal du siège de Québec;Les Hurons et la...

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