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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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 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 French • The British • The Canadian • The Amerindian
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