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The French

Impasse in the French Court

Here we are in the court of the King of France, Louis XV. He oversees the destiny of millions of French subjects in Europe, as well as in the many colonies. One of them, New France, is a source of great concern. The British, who already have colonial possessions in North America, seem to want to conquer the French territory. For Louis XV, the conflict appears to be inevitable.

The Declaration of War

Despite the fact that numerous battles and skirmishes have taken place in North America and Europe since 1754, France and England are still not at war. It is in 1756 that the King of France, Louis XV, officially declares war on England.

The following is a summary of that declaration.

A declaration of war against
the King of England.
On this 9th day of June, 1756
All of Europe knows that in 1754 the King of England did act as an aggressor with respect to the King’s possessions in North America, & that last year in the month of June, the English Navy, with no regard for the rights of the people or the faith of Treaties, did engage in exceedingly violent hostilities against His Majesty’s Vessels, & the navigation & trading activities of his subjects.

The King, justly offended by this disloyalty, & the insult directed against his Flag, did withhold his resentment for eight months out of respect for the dignity of the Crown, fearing to expose Europe to the misfortunes of a new war.

It is in this salutary interest that France did at first show the utmost forbearance in the face of England’s injurious conduct.

In acting upon principles so worthy of resolution, His Majesty is certain to find in the justness of his cause, in the worth of his troops, in the love of his subjects the resources that He has always received from them, & He looks chiefly to the protection of the God of Armies.

His Majesty ORDAINS & enjoins all his subjects, vassals, & servants to attack the King of England’s subjects, & specifically forbids them to have any type of intercourse, trade, or relations with said subjects, on pain of death—FOR SUCH IS HIS MAJESTY’S WILL. His Majesty desires & expects that this bill be published & posted in all of his cities, maritime & other, & in all ports, harbours, & other places in his kingdom & lands under his rule as required, so that no one may claim ignorance thereof.

SIGNED at Versailles the ninth of June, in the year seventeen hundred fifty-six.

The Marquis de Montcalm

Even though he is criticized by the Marquis de Vaudreuil and a majority of Canadians, the Marquis de Montcalm has nonetheless succeeded in repelling the British attacks since his arrival in New France. Let’s listen to him introduce himself.

Let me introduce myself: LOUIS-JOSEPH, Marquis de MONTCALM, Lord of Saint-Veran, Candiac, Tournemine, Vestric, Saint-Julien and Arpaon, Lord of Gabriac, Lieutenant General of the armies in New France.

I was born at the Château Candiac near Nîmes, France, on February 28, 1712. I belong to an old distinguished family of the French nobility.

My military background is just as flattering. At the age of nine, on August 16, 1721, I was awarded an ensign commission in the Hainaut regiment. Eight years later, for a stiff price, I obtained a captain’s commission in the same regiment.

During the War of Polish Succession, I served in the armed forces in Rhenany under the command of Marshall de Saxe and Marshall Duke of Berwick.

When the War of Austrian Succession broke out I obtained the position of aide-de-camp of Lieutenant General Marquis de La Fare, and I was injured during the siege of Prague. On March 6th, 1743, I secured the duty of Colonel in the Auxerrois regiment and was honoured with the title of Knight of Saint-Louis on April of the following year. Isn’t that proof that I always conducted myself with distinction?

In June 1746, while still engaged in a face-off with the Austrians, I was wounded and captured and my regiment was wiped out.

After 31 years in the army I have been involved in 11 campaigns and wounded on 5 occasions.

In the spring of 1756, I was named Camp Marshall for New France operations.

In the fall of 1758, I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General: nothing less than the second grade in French military hierarchy.

Since a Lieutenant General occupies a much higher rank than the Governor General of a colony, I have been entrusted with the defence of Québec City, opposite General Wolfe, at the command of all military forces in Canada.

Why Make War?

Reasons for going to war are often related to money or land issues. North America with its abundant natural resources offers infinite potential. Without a doubt, land is a critical issue. But what are these natural resources that arouse such desire in France and England?

Military Recruitment

To swell its ranks, the French army sends recruiting sergeants across the country in search of new soldiers. We find one likely candidate in this smoky tavern about to sign up as a new recruit.

Are You Tall Enough?

Will this man meet the French army’s criteria?

The sergeant will often look in taverns where his future recruits, their senses dulled by alcohol, will be easier to convince. But before joining the army, the recruit must meet a few conditions.

Recruiting methods in the French army were quite straightforward. An officer dressed in his best uniform looked out for young men in need of money and seeking new experiences. As soon as he found one, he reeled the new recruit in with enticing stories of adventure and exotic locales, as well as the riches to be had in the colonies. The recruiter looked for young men in good health, with a strong constitution, at least 16 years old and 5 feet, 4 inches tall, and preferably with knowledge of a trade.


After signing his enlistment contract, a new soldier must fill out an enrolment form that lists his identification information.

Here is soldier Galles’ original form, with an enrolment date of spring 1745. Under the orders of the Marquis de Montcalm, he will participate in numerous battles in America.

Joseph GALLES, also known as “l'éveillé”
son of André Galles and Isabelle ESCAND
Native of Mont St Pront in Agenois
jurisdiction of Mont St Pront
age 21 years, height 5 p [feet] 2 p [inches]4 l [one-eighths of an inch]
brown hair, black eyebrows
brown face, reddish-brown eyes, wide nose
somewhat scarred by smallpox
Enrolment April 1st, 1745.

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Soldiers' Origins

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

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The Uniform

The new recruit will probably wake up the next morning with a big headache and a new life as a soldier. He will be able to throw away his old clothes and don his new uniform, which he will must to wear for two years.

The shiny, clean uniforms of military parades were a far cry from the uniforms soldiers wore on the battlefield. These soldiers generally had only one uniform, which very often was worn out, faded, dirty, shrunken, and mended. Soldiers received a new uniform every two years.

Foot soldiers had to take care of their clothes or face disciplinary measures. They brushed, washed, and repaired their clothing, shoes, and equipment in preparation for the frequent inspections their superiors conducted.

When not in garrison, the soldiers were allowed to wear their uniforms differently. They often wore more informal attire (shirts and knee breeches) while resting or performing menial chores in camp.

Soldiers' Wages

After signing their contracts, some men say to themselves that it is better to be in the army than to linger about the farm, often without a roof, money, or food. But you don’t join the army to get rich...

Soldiers who think they will get rich and enjoy exciting adventures in the colony are quickly disappointed. A soldier receives little pay. His salary is 108 livres per year before deductions (required contributions). A worker can make 360 livres per year, and a blacksmith 1,000 livres. But soldiers are charged for clothing, headquarters staff, food, a fund for soldiers no longer fit for service, and all other necessities. When all is said and done, they barely have 50 livres left for their personal expenses.

The Hierarchy: The Luck of Draw

In the army, organization cannot exist without hierarchy. To understand hierarchies better, we can compare them to a card game that was very popular during the New France era.

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The soldiers regularly play cards. Although similar to today’s cards, these do not have numbers and the characters are not drawn from head-to-foot.

It was not until the year 1828 that the first playing cards came out with right-side-up and upside-down characters.

A Defensive Strategy

Fear of an attack is warranted. The British have arrived in Québec and the city is under siege. The Marquis de Montcalm has only had a few months to prepare his defensive strategy. He concentrates his forces along the Beauport shore where he has set up his headquarters. Before acting, he waits patiently for General Wolfe to make the first move.

Defensive Works

In the spring of 1759, the Marquis de Montcalm is putting all his efforts into the preparation and construction of defensive works. The soldiers are on fatigue duty and are working nonstop to carry out the General’s strategy. Québec City’s entire defence is concentrated on the city’s east side and the Beauport shore because the Marquis de Montcalm firmly believes that General Wolfe will land there. The following are the main defensive works of the French forces.

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A Forced Truce

During this war battles rarely take place in winter. The rivers and lakes are frozen. No ships can get through the St. Lawrence River. It is a time of truce and rest for all soldiers. Let’s listen to what the French military is up to while it is bitterly cold.

With the arrival of winter, the war came to a halt in New France. The cold and snow made it impossible to perform military maneuvers. Soldiers moved to their winter quarters. They stayed for a few months with farmers, who gave them food and a roof over their heads in exchange for help around the farm.

Then the Waiting...

Garrison life is often quite boring for the soldiers because of their routine work. They manage to escape boredom however with various pastimes.

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The Attack at Montmorency Falls

During the two-month siege, Québec City residents follow how the battle unfolds and try as much as possible to lift their spirits with good news. Here’s how a withness nun describes the battle at Montmorency Falls.

On July 31, the English tried to cross French lines in Beauport by attacking the left wing of Montcalm’s army. Having set up artillery at L’Ange-Gardien, 6,000 English were deployed opposite them on the beach, while 2,000 others climbed up to the Montmorency River to ford it and take our troops from behind. But the volley of shots fired by the Canadians was so great that the enemies, running hither and yon, were happy for a breaking storm that allowed them to beat a hasty retreat to their vessels. Ten pieces of artillery quieted 118 of theirs!

This celebrated battle took some victims. Our wounded and dying soldiers were transported to the Hospital . The wounded English received the same charitable treatment, despite the fury of the Savages who wanted to scalp them, as was their custom.
Text inspired by : Les Ursulines de Québec...

Red Alert: The Enemy is at Hand!

The French are completely surprised. The manoeuvres of the English ships off the Beauport shore manage to create a diversion: the British climb the cliff at Anse-aux-Foulons. The Marquis de Montcalm quickly regroups some of his professional soldiers and joins the militiamen and Amerindians there. Around 10 a.m., approximately 4,500 brave men are aligned facing Major General Wolfe’s army on the Plains of Abraham.

The Flag: Identity and Signal

On the battlefield, soldiers sometimes become disoriented amidst the explosions, smoke, and masses of fighters. Looking for their regimental flag helps soldiers to get their bearings.

Compared to the British, the French regiments have much plainer flags, without any numbers or writing. Like the British, each French regiment has a regimental flag and a battalion flag. Most of the French flags are made up of cantons of different colours, but sometimes they contain depictions of a crown or, more frequently, a fleur-de-lis.

Cartridge Making

Without cartridges, the soldiers' musket is useless. It is the responsibility of each man to make his own ammunition correctly. When making cartridges, soldiers are careful to seal them well in order to avoid finding themselves in the heat of battle with empty-paper wrappers in their hands.

In order to use his weapon, the soldier first needed to have paper cartridges, a slug, and gunpowder.

Each of the cartridges used by soldiers was made by hand, one at a time.

A piece of paper cut on the diagonal was rolled around a baton, making a cylinder, which was then closed at one end.

Then the gunpowder and slug were inserted and the cylinder was sealed. If necessary, the ends could be tied shut. Finally, all sources of ignition had to be eliminated in order to prevent explosions.

Taking Care of the Wounded

Victories, defeats, the wounded and dead—that’s what war is all about. Let’s listen to what this French surgeon has to say about his work.

On September 13, 1759, the soldier Fraser was brought to me. I was told he had been wounded in the left leg by a bullet. With great haste, we laid him on the operating table in my tent. I was unable to spare the poor man the sight of my bloody surgical instruments.

I offered him a bit of rum to calm his nerves. I also took a few discreet sips to fortify myself after the previous, less-than-successful operation. After taking a few moments to examine him, I was able to conclude that it would be impossible to remove the bullet because it had probably exploded against the bone. A below-the-knee amputation would be necessary to avoid gangrene.

I applied a tourniquet in order to stop the blood flow, then I took a scalpel and prepared to cut the first layers of skin. He began screaming and insulting me. His shouts and abrupt movements forced me to ask my assistants to restrain him. When I reached the layer of muscles, I switched to a large surgeon’s knife. At this, the poor man fainted and remained unconscious throughout the rest of the operation.

I used a tenaculum to stitch his arteries and veins. Then I cut the bone with the surgical saw. With the operation completed, all that remained was to sew up the wound with waxed thread, which the cobbler had provided in sufficient quantity.

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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