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Quebec, 1759

Having decided to stay in Canada Montcalm did all he could to come to terms with Vaudreuil, so that the French might meet with a united front the terrible dangers of the next campaign. He spoke straight out in a letter written to Vaudreuil on August 2, less than a month after his victory at Ticonderoga: 'I think the real trouble lies with the people who compose your letters, and with the mischief-makers who are trying to set you against me. You may be sure that none of the things which are being done against me will ever lessen my zeal for the good of the country or my respect towards you, the governor. Why not change your secretary's style? Why not give me more of your confidence? I take the liberty of saying that the king's service would gain by it, and we should no longer appear so disunited that even the British know all about it. I enclose a newspaper printed in New York which mentions it. False reports are made to you. Efforts are made to embitter you against me. I think you need not suspect my military conduct, when I am really doing all I can. After my three years of command under your orders what need is there for your secretary to tell me about the smallest trifles and give me petty orders that I should myself blush to give to a junior captain?'

When Montcalm wrote this he had not yet heard the bad news from Louisbourg and the Ohio, and he was still anxious to be recalled to France. Vaudreuil, of course, was delighted at the prospect of getting rid of him: 'I beseech you,' he wrote home to France, 'to ask the king to recall the Marquis of Montcalm. He desires it himself. The king has confided Canada to my own care, and I cannot help thinking that it would be a very bad thing for the marquis to remain here any longer!' There spoke the owl. And here the lion, when the bad news came: 'I had asked for my recall after Ticonderoga. But since the affairs of Canada are getting worse, it is my duty to help in setting them right again, or at least to stave off ruin so long as I can.'

Vaudreuil and Montcalm met and talked matters over. Even the governor began to see that the end was near, unless France should send out help in the spring of 1759. He was so scared at the idea of losing his governorship in such an event that he actually agreed with Montcalm to send two honest and capable men to France to tell the king and his ministers the truth. Two officers, Bougainville and Doreil, were chosen. They sailed in November with letters from both Montcalm and Vaudreuil. Nothing could have been better or truer than the letters Vaudreuil gave them to present at court. 'Colonel Bougainville is, in all respects, better fitted than anybody else to inform you of the state of the colony. I have given him my orders, and you can trust entirely in everything he tells you.' 'M. Doreil, the commissary of war, may be entirely trusted. Everybody likes him here.' But, by the same ship, the same Vaudreuil wrote a secret letter against these officers and against Montcalm. 'In order to condescend to the Marquis of Montcalm and do all I can to keep on good terms with him I have given letters to Colonel Bougainville and M. Doreil. But I must tell you that they do not really know Canada well, and I warn you that they are nothing but creatures of the Marquis of Montcalm.'

The winter of 1758-59 was like the two before it, only very much worse. The three might be described, in so many words, as bad, worse, and worst of all. Doreil had seen the stores and provisions of the army plundered by the Bigot gang, the soldiers half starved, the supposed presents for the Indians sold to them at the highest possible price, and the forts badly built of bad materials by bad engineers, who made a Bigot-gang profit out of their work. A report was also going home from a French inspector who had been sent out to see why the cost of government had been rising by leaps and bounds. Things were cheap in those days, and money was scarce and went a long way. When this was the case the whole public expense of Canada for a year should not have been more than one million dollars. But in Montcalm's first year it had already passed two millions. In his second it had passed four. And now, in his third, it was getting very near to eight.

Where did the money go? Just where all public money always goes when parasites govern a country. The inspector found out that many items of cost for supplies to the different posts had a cipher added to them. The officials told him why: 'We have to do it because the price of living has gone up ten times over.' But how did such an increase come about? The goods were sold from favorite to favorite, each man getting his wholly illegal profit, till the limit was reached beyond which Bigot thought it would not be safe to go. By means of false accounts, by lying reports and by the aid of accomplices in France who stopped letters from Montcalm and other honest men, the game went on for two years. Now it was found out. But the gang was still too strong in Canada to be broken up. In France it was growing weak. Another couple of years and all its members would have been turned out by the home government. They knew this; and, seeing that their end was coming in one way or another, they thought a British conquest could not be much worse than a French prison; indeed, it might be better, for a complete and general ruin might destroy proof of their own guilt. The lions would die fighting--and a good thing too! But the owls and foxes might escape with the spoils. 'What a country, where knaves grow rich and honest men are ruined!'

Montcalm wrote home to his family by every ship. He might not have long to do so. Just after Ticonderoga he wrote to his wife: 'Thank God! it is all over now until the beginning of May. We shall have desperate work in the next campaign. The enemy will have 50,000 men in the field, all together; and we, how many? I dare not tell it. Adieu, my heart, I long for peace and you. When shall I see my Candiac again?' On November 21, 1758, the last ship left for France. He wrote to his old mother, to whom he had always told the story of his wars, from the time when, thirty-one years before, as a stripling of fifteen, he had joined his father's regiment in the very year that Wolfe was born: 'You will be glad to hear from me up to the last moment and know, for the hundredth time, that I am always thinking of you all at home, in spite of the fate of New France and my duty with the army and the state. We did our best these last three years; and so, God helping us, we shall in 1759--unless you can make a peace for us in Europe.'

The wretched winter dragged on. The French were on half rations, the Canadians worse off still. In January Montcalm wrote in his diary: 'terrible distress round Quebec.' Then, the same day: 'balls, amusements, picnics, and tremendous gambling.' Another entry: 'in spite of the distress and impending ruin of the colony pleasure parties are going on the whole time.' He himself had only plain fare--horse-flesh and the soldier's half ration of bread--on his table. No wonder the vampires hated him!

May came; but not a word from France. For eight whole months no French ship had been able to cross the sea, to bring aid for the needy colony. Day by day the half-starved people scanned the St Lawrence for sight of a sail. At last, on the 10th, they had their reward. A French ship arrived; more ships followed; and by the 20th there were twenty-three in the harbor, all laden with provisions, stores, and men. The help was inadequate. There were only 326 soldiers for Montcalm on board, and there were not enough provisions to keep the soldiers and people on full rations through the summer, even with the help of what crops might be harvested while the farmers remained under arms. But Montcalm made the best of it: 'a little is precious to those who have nothing.'

Bougainville brought out plenty of promotions and honors for the victory at Ticonderoga. Montcalm was made lieutenant-general of the king in Canada. Bougainville told him his name was known all over France; 'even the children use it in their games.' Old Marshal Belle Isle, a gallant veteran, now at the head of the French army, and a great admirer of Montcalm, had sent out the king's last orders: 'No matter how small the space may be that you can retain, you must somehow keep a foothold in America; for, if we once lose the whole country, we shall never get it back again. The king counts upon your zeal, your courage, and your firmness to spare no pains and no exertion. You must hold out to the very last, whatever happens. I have answered for you to the king.' Montcalm replied: 'I shall do everything to maintain a foothold in New France, or die in its defense'; and he kept his word.

There was both joy and sorrow in the news from Candiac. His eldest daughter was happily married. His eldest son was no less happily engaged. But, at the last minute, Bougainville had heard that another daughter had died suddenly; he did not know which one. 'It must be poor Mirete,' said Montcalm, 'I love her so much.' His last letters home show with what a brave despair he faced the coming campaign. 'Can we hope for another miracle to save us? God's will be done! I await news from France with impatience and dread. We had none for eight months, and who knows if we shall have any more this year. How dearly I have to pay for the dismal privilege of figuring in the Gazette. I would give up all my honors to see you again. But the king must be obeyed. Adieu, my heart, I believe I love you more than ever!'

Bougainville had also brought out the news that Pitt was sending enormous forces to conquer Canada for good and all. One army was to attack the last French posts on the Lakes. Another was to come up Lake Champlain and take Montreal. A combined fleet and army, under Saunders and Wolfe, was to undertake the most difficult task and to besiege Quebec. There was no time to lose. Even Vaudreuil saw that. Pouchot was left at Niagara with 1,000 men. De la Corne had another 1,000 on the shores of Lake Ontario. Bourlamaque held Lake Champlain with 3,000. But the key of all Canada was Quebec; and so every man who could be spared was brought down to defend it. Saunders and Wolfe had 27,000 men of all kinds, 9,000 soldiers and 18,000 sailors, mostly man-of-war's-men. The total number which the French could collect to meet them was 17,000. Of these 17,000 only 4,000 were French regulars. There were over 1,000 Canadian regulars; less than 2,000 sailors, very few of whom were man-of-war's-men; about 10,000 Canadian militia, and a few hundred Indians. The militia included old men and young boys, any one, in fact, who could fire off a musket. The grand totals, all over the seat of war, were 44,000 British against 22,000 French.

Having done all he could for Niagara, Ontario, and Lake Champlain, Montcalm hurried down to Quebec on May 22. Vaudreuil followed on the 23rd. On the same day the advance guard of the British fleet arrived at Bic on the lower St Lawrence. From that time forward New France was sealed up as completely as if it had shrunk to a single fort. Nothing came in and nothing went out. The strangling coils of British sea-power were all round it. But still Montcalm stood defiantly at bay. 'You must maintain your foothold to the very last.'--'I shall do it or die.'

His plan was to keep the British at arm's length as long as possible. The passage known as the 'Traverse' from the north channel to the south, at the lower end of the Island of Orleans, was a good place to begin. Strong batteries there might perhaps sink enough of the fleet to block the way for the rest. These Montcalm was eager to build, but Vaudreuil was not. Had not Vaudreuil's Canadian pilots prophesied that no British fleet could possibly ascend the river in safety, even without any batteries to hinder it? And was not Vaudreuil so sure of this himself that he had never had the Traverse properly sounded at all? He would allow no more than a couple of useless batteries, which the first British men-of-war soon put to silence. The famous Captain Cook, who was sailing master of a frigate on this expedition, made the necessary soundings in three days; and the fleet of forty warships and a hundred transports went through without a scratch.

Vaudreuil's second chance was with seven fireships, which, having been fitted out by the Bigot gang at ten times the proper cost, were commanded by a favored braggart called Delouche. The night after the British fleet had arrived in the Orleans Channel, the whole French camp turned out to watch what it was hoped would be a dramatic and effective attack on the mass of shipping which lay at anchor near the head of the island. The fireships were sent down with the ebb-tide, straight for the crowded British fleet. But Delouche lost his nerve, fired his ship too soon, jumped into a boat and rowed away. Five of the others did the same. The seventh was a hero, Dubois de la Milletiere, who stuck to his post, but was burned to death there in a vain effort to get among the enemy. Had the six others waited longer the whole of the seven French crews might have escaped together and some damage might have been done to the British. As it was there was nothing but splendid fireworks for both sides. The best man on the French side was killed for nothing; no harm was done to the British; and for equipping the fireships the Bigot gang put another hundred thousand stolen dollars into their thievish pockets. 'What a country, where knaves grow rich and honest men are ruined!'

Vaudreuil's third chance was to defend the shore opposite Quebec, Point Levis, which Montcalm wished to hold as long as possible. If the French held it the British fleet could not go past Quebec, between two fires, and Wolfe could not bombard the town from the opposite heights. But, early in July, Vaudreuil withdrew the French troops from Point Levis, and Wolfe at once occupied the shore and began to build his batteries. As soon as the British had made themselves secure Vaudreuil thought it time to turn them out. But he sent only 1,500 men; and so many of these were boys and youths at school and college that the French troops dubbed them 'The Royal Syntax.' These precious 1,500 went up the north shore, crossed over after dark, and started to march, in two separate columns, down the south shore towards Levis. Presently the first column heard a noise in the woods and ran back to join the second. But the second, seeing what it mistook for the enemy, fired into the first and ran for dear life. Then the first, making a similar mistake, blazed into the second, and, charmed with its easy victory, started hotfoot in pursuit. After shooting at each other a little more, just to make sure, the two lost columns joined together again and beat a hasty retreat.

With the opposite shore lost Montcalm had now no means of keeping Wolfe at any distance. But Montcalm had chosen his position with skill, and it was so strong by nature that it might yet be held till the autumn, if only he was allowed to defend it in his own way. His left was protected by the Montmorency river, narrow, but deep and rapid, with only two fords, one in thick bush, where the British regulars would have least chance, and another at the mouth, directly under the fire of the French left. His centre was the six miles of ground stretching towards Quebec between the Montmorency and the little river St Charles. Here the bulk of his army was strongly entrenched, mostly on rising ground, just beyond the shore of the great basin of the St Lawrence, the wide oozy tidal flats of which the British would have to cross if they tried to attack him in front. His right was Quebec itself and the heights of the north shore above.

Wolfe pitched his camp on the far side of the cliffs near the Falls of Montmorency; and one day tried to cross the upper fords, four miles above the falls, to attack Montcalm in the rear. But Montcalm was ready for him in the bush and beat him back.

The next British move was against the left of Montcalm's entrenchments. On July 31 Wolfe's army was busy at an early hour; and all along the French front men-of-war were under way with their decks cleared for action. At ten o'clock, when the tide was high, two small armed ships were run aground opposite the French redoubt on the beach a mile from the falls; and they, the men-of-war, and Wolfe's batteries beyond the falls, all began to fire on the redoubt and the trenches behind it. Montcalm fired back so hard at the two armed ships that the British had to leave them. Then he gave orders for his army to be ready to come at a moment's notice, but to keep away from the threatened point for the present. By this means, and from the fact that his trenches had been very cleverly made by his own French engineers, he lost very few men, even though the British kept up a furious fire.

The British kept cannonading all day. By four o'clock one British brigade was trying to land beside the two stranded armed ships, and the two other brigades were seen to be ready to join it from their camp at Montmorency. The redcoats had plenty of trouble in landing; and it was not till six that their grenadiers, a thousand strong, were forming up to lead the attack. Suddenly there was an outburst of cheering from the British sailors. The grenadiers mistook this for the commencement of the attack. They broke their ranks and dashed madly at the redoubt. The garrison at once left it and ran back, up the hill, into the trenches. The grenadiers climbed into it, pell-mell; but, as it was open towards its rear, it gave them no cover from the terrific fire that the French, on Montcalm's signal, now poured into them. Again they made a mad charge, this time straight at the trenches. Montcalm had called in every man there was room for, and such a storm of bullets, grape-shot, cannon-balls, and shells now belched forth that even British grenadiers could not face it. A thunderstorm burst, with a deluge of rain; and, amid the continued roar of nature's and man's artillery, half the grenadiers were seen retreating, while half remained dead or wounded on the field.

The two redcoat brigades from Montmorency had now joined the remnant of the first, which had had such a rough experience. Montcalm kept his men well in hand to meet this more formidable attack. But Wolfe had had enough. The first brigade went back to its boats. The second and third brigades marched back to Montmorency along the beach in perfect order, the men waving their hats in defiance at the French, who jumped up on top of their earthworks and waved defiance back. Before retiring the British set fire to the two stranded ships. The day had been as disastrous for Wolfe as glorious for Montcalm.

August was a hard month for both armies. Montcalm had just won his fourth victory over the British; and he would have saved Canada once more if only he could keep Wolfe out of Quebec till October. Wolfe was ill, weak, disappointed, defeated. But his army was at least perfectly safe from attack. With a powerful fleet to aid him Wolfe was never in any danger in the positions he occupied. His army was always well provisioned; even luxuries could be bought in the British camp. The fleet patrolled the whole course of the St Lawrence; convoys of provision ships kept coming up throughout the siege, and Montcalm had no means of stopping a single vessel.

Montcalm could not stop the ships; but the ships could stop him. He was completely cut off from the rest of the world, except from the country above Quebec; and now that was being menaced too. The St Lawrence between Quebec and Montreal was the only link connecting the different parts of New France, and the only way by which Quebec could be provisioned. The course of the campaign could not have been foretold; and Montcalm had to keep provisions in several places along the river above Quebec, in case he had to retreat. It would have been foolish to put all the food into Quebec, as he would not be able to take enough away with him, should he be obliged to leave for Montreal or perhaps for the Great Lakes, or even for a last desperate stand among the swamps of New Orleans. 'You must keep a foothold in America.'--'I shall do everything to keep it, or die.' Quebec was the best of all footholds. But if not Quebec, then some other place not so good: Montreal; an outpost on the Great Lakes; a camp beyond the Mississippi; or even one beside the Gulf of Mexico.

So, for every reason, Montcalm was quite as anxious about the St Lawrence above Quebec as he was about Quebec itself. Ever since July 18 Admiral Saunders had been sending more and more ships up the river, under cover of the fire from the Levis batteries. In August things had grown worse for Montcalm. Admiral Holmes commanded a strong squadron in the river above Quebec. Under his convoy one of Wolfe's brigades landed at Deschambault, forty miles above Quebec, and burnt a magazine of food and other stores. This step promised disaster for the French. Montcalm sent Bougainville up along the north shore with 1,000 men to watch the enemy and help any of the French posts there to prevent a landing. Whenever Saunders and Wolfe sent further forces in that direction Montcalm did the same. He gave Bougainville more men. He strengthened both the shore and floating batteries, and by means of mounted messengers he kept in almost hourly touch with what was going on.

The defense of the north shore above Quebec was of the last importance. The only safe way of feeding Quebec was by barges from Montreal, Sorel, and Three Rivers, which came down without any trouble to the Richelieu rapids, a swift and narrow part of the St Lawrence near Deschambault, where some small but most obstructive French frigates and the natural difficulties in the river would probably keep Holmes from going any higher. There was further safety to the French in the fact that Wolfe could not take his army to this point from Montmorency without being found out in good time to let Montcalm march up to meet him.

It was vital to Montcalm to keep the river open. It would never do to be obliged to land provisions above Deschambault and to cart them down by road. To begin with, there were not enough carts and horses, nor enough men to be spared for driving them; and, in addition, the roads were bad. Moreover, transport by land was not to be compared with transport by water; it was easier to carry a hundred tons by water than one by land. Accordingly, Quebec was fed by way of the river. The French barges would creep down, close alongshore, at night, and try to get into the Foulon, a cove less than two miles above Quebec. Here they would unload their cargoes, which were then drawn up the hill, carted across the Plains of Abraham, and down the other side, over the bridge of boats, into the French camp.

Montcalm was anxious, but not despairing. Vaudreuil was, indeed, as mischievous as ever. But now that the two enemies were facing each other, in much the same way, for weeks together, there was less mischief for him to make. He made, however, as much as he could. Everything that happened in the French camp was likely to be known next day in the British camp. Vaudreuil could not keep any news to himself. But he tried to keep news from Montcalm and to carry out thwarting plans of his own. Wolfe had no drawbacks like this. News from his camp was always stale, because the fleet was a perfect screen, and no one on the French side could tell what was going on behind it till long after the chance had gone by.

One day Captain Vauquelin, a French naval officer, offered to board a British man-of-war that was in the way of the provision boats, if Vaudreuil would let him take five hundred men and two frigates, which he would bring down the river in the night. Vauquelin was a patriot hero, who had done well at Louisbourg the year before, and who was to do well at Quebec the year after. But, of course, he was not a member of the Bigot gang. So he was set aside in favor of a parasite, who made a hopeless bungle of the whole affair.

The siege dragged on, and every day seemed to tell in favor of Montcalm, in spite of all the hardships the French were suffering. Wolfe was pounding the city into ruins from his Levis batteries; but not getting any nearer to taking it. He was also laying most of the country waste. But this was of no use either, unless the French barges on the river could be stopped altogether, and a landing in force could be made on the north shore close to Quebec.

Wolfe was right to burn the farms from which the Canadians fired at his men. Armies may always destroy whatever is used to destroy them. But one of his British regular officers was disgracefully wrong in another matter. The greatest blackguard on either side, during the whole war, was Captain Alexander Montgomery of the 43rd Regiment, brother of the general who led the American invasion of Canada in 1775 and fell defeated before Quebec. Montgomery had a fight with the villagers of St Joachim, who had very foolishly dressed up as Indians. No quarter was given while the fight lasted, as Indians never gave it themselves. But some Canadians who surrendered were afterwards butchered in cold blood, by Montgomery's own orders, and actually scalped as well.

The siege went on with move and counter-move. Both sides knew that September must be the closing month of the drama, and French hopes rose. There was bad news for them from Lake Champlain; but it might have been much worse. Amherst was advancing towards Montreal very slowly. Bourlamaque, an excellent officer, was retreating before him, but he thought that Montreal would be safe till the next year if some French reinforcements could be sent up from Quebec. Only good troops would be of any use, and Montcalm had too few of them already. But if Amherst took Montreal the line of the St Lawrence would be cut at once. So Levis was sent off with a thousand men, a fact which Wolfe knew the very day they left.

September came. The first and second days passed quietly enough. But on the third the whole scene of action was suddenly changed. From this time on, for the next ten days, Montcalm and his army were desperately trying to stave off the last and fatal move, which ended with one of the great historic battles of the world.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Passing of New France, A Chronicle of Montcalm, 1915

 

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