The Heights Of Abraham

The early part of the Seven Years' War was disastrous to England. The

tide turned with the accession to power of the great war minister,

William Pitt. In 1759, he sent General James Wolfe with a combined

military and naval force to capture Quebec. The British troops numbered

somewhat less than nine thousand, while Montcalm and Vaudreuil were

posted to receive them, on positions almost impregnable, with an army of

regulars, Canadians, and Indians, amounting in all to about sixteen

thousand. The great height of the shores made the British ships of

little or no use for purposes of attack.

Wolfe took possession of Point Levi, from which he bombarded Quebec. He

also seized the high grounds just below the Montmorenci, and vainly

tried to cross that stream above the cataract and gain the rear of

Montcalm's army, which lay encamped along the shore from the Montmorenci

to the city. Failing in this and every other attempt to force the enemy

to a battle, he rashly resolved to attack them in front, up the steep

declivities at the top of which they were intrenched. The grenadiers

dashed forward prematurely and without orders, struggling desperately to

scale the heights under a deadly fire. The result was a complete

repulse, with heavy loss.


The capture of Quebec now seemed hopeless. Wolfe was almost in despair.

His body was as frail as his spirit was ardent and daring. Since the

siege began he had passed with ceaseless energy from camp to camp,

animating the troops, observing everything, and directing everything;

but now the pale face and tall lean form were seen no more, and the

rumor spread that the General was dangerously ill. He had in fact been

seized by an access of the disease that had tortured him for some time

past; and fever had followed. His quarters were at a French farmhouse in

the camp at Montmorenci; and here, as he lay in an upper chamber,

helpless in bed, his singular and most unmilitary features haggard with

disease and drawn with pain, no man could less have looked the hero. But

as the needle, though quivering, points always to the pole, so, through

torment and languor and the heats of fever, the mind of Wolfe dwelt on

the capture of Quebec. His illness, which began before the twentieth of

August, had so far subsided on the twenty-fifth that Captain Knox wrote

in his Diary of that day: "His Excellency General Wolfe is on the

recovery, to the inconceivable joy of the whole army." On the

twenty-ninth he was able to write or dictate a letter to the three

brigadiers, Monckton, Townshend, and Murray: "That the public service

may not suffer by the General's indisposition, he begs the brigadiers

will meet and consult together for the public utility and advantage, and

consider of the best method to attack the enemy." The letter then

proposes three plans, all bold to audacity. The first was to send a part

of the army to ford the Montmorenci eight or nine miles above its mouth,

march through the forest, and fall on the rear of the French at

Beauport, while the rest landed and attacked them in front. The second

was to cross the ford at the mouth of the Montmorenci and march along

the strand, under the French intrenchments, till a place could be found

where the troops might climb the heights. The third was to make a

general attack from boats at the Beauport flats. Wolfe had before

entertained two other plans, one of which was to scale the heights at

St. Michel, about a league above Quebec; but this he had abandoned on

learning that the French were there in force to receive him. The other

was to storm the Lower Town; but this also he had abandoned, because the

Upper Town, which commanded it, would still remain inaccessible.

The brigadiers met in consultation, rejected the three plans proposed in

the letter, and advised that an attempt should be made to gain a footing

on the north shore above the town, place the army between Montcalm and

his base of supply, and so force him to fight or surrender. The scheme

was similar to that of the heights of St. Michel. It seemed desperate,

but so did all the rest; and if by chance it should succeed, the gain

was far greater than could follow any success below the town. Wolfe

embraced it at once.

Not that he saw much hope in it. He knew that every chance was against

him. Disappointment in the past and gloom in the future, the pain and

exhaustion of disease, toils, and anxieties "too great," in the words of

Burke, "to be supported by a delicate constitution, and a body unequal

to the vigorous and enterprising soul that it lodged," threw him at

times into deep dejection. By those intimate with him he was heard to

say that he would not go back defeated, "to be exposed to the censure

and reproach of an ignorant populace." In other moods he felt that he

ought not to sacrifice what was left of his diminished army in vain

conflict with hopeless obstacles. But his final resolve once taken, he

would not swerve from it. His fear was that he might not be able to lead

his troops in person. "I know perfectly well you cannot cure me," he

said to his physician; "but pray make me up so that I may be without

pain for a few days, and able to do my duty: that is all I want."

In the last of August, he was able for the first time to leave the

house. It was on this same day that he wrote his last letter to his

mother: "My writing to you will convince you that no personal evils

worse than defeats and disappointments have fallen upon me. The enemy

puts nothing to risk, and I can't in conscience put the whole army to

risk. My antagonist has wisely shut himself up in inaccessible

intrenchments, so that I can't get at him without spilling a torrent of

blood, and that perhaps to little purpose. The Marquis de Montcalm is at

the head of a great number of bad soldiers, and I am at the head of a

small number of good ones, that wish for nothing so much as to fight

him; but the wary old fellow avoids an action, doubtful of the behavior

of his army. People must be of the profession to understand the

disadvantages and difficulties we labor under, arising from the uncommon

natural strength of the country."

On the second of September a vessel was sent to England with his last

despatch to Pitt. It begins thus: "The obstacles we have met with in the

operations of the campaign are much greater than we had reason to expect

or could foresee; not so much from the number of the enemy (though

superior to us) as from the natural strength of the country, which the

Marquis of Montcalm seems wisely to depend upon. When I learned that

succors of all kinds had been thrown into Quebec; that five battalions

of regular troops, completed from the best inhabitants of the country,

some of the troops of the colony, and every Canadian that was able to

bear arms, besides several nations of savages, had taken the field in a

very advantageous situation,--I could not flatter myself that I should

be able to reduce the place. I sought, however, an occasion to attack

their army, knowing well that with these troops I was able to fight, and

hoping that a victory might disperse them." Then, after recounting the

events of the campaign with admirable clearness, he continues: "I found

myself so ill, and am still so weak, that I begged the general officers

to consult together for the general utility. They are all of opinion

that, as more ships and provisions are now got above the town, they

should try, by conveying up a corps of four or five thousand men (which

is nearly the whole strength of the army after the Points of Levi and

Orleans are left in a proper state of defence), to draw the enemy from

their present situation and bring them to an action. I have acquiesced

in the proposal, and we are preparing to put it into execution." The

letter ends thus: "By the list of disabled officers, many of whom are of

rank, you may perceive that the army is much weakened. By the nature of

the river, the most formidable part of this armament is deprived of the

power of acting; yet we have almost the whole force of Canada to oppose.

In this situation there is such a choice of difficulties that I own

myself at a loss how to determine. The affairs of Great Britain, I know,

require the most vigorous measures; but the courage of a handful of

brave troops should be exerted only when there is some hope of a

favorable event; however, you may be assured that the small part of the

campaign which remains shall be employed, as far as I am able, for the

honor of His Majesty and the interest of the nation, in which I am sure

of being well seconded by the Admiral and by the generals; happy if our

efforts here can contribute to the success of His Majesty's arms in any

other parts of America."

Perhaps he was as near despair as his undaunted nature was capable of

being. In his present state of body and mind he was a hero without the

light and cheer of heroism. He flattered himself with no illusions, but

saw the worst and faced it all. He seems to have been entirely without

excitement. The languor of disease, the desperation of the chances, and

the greatness of the stake may have wrought to tranquillize him. His

energy was doubly tasked: to bear up his own sinking frame, and to

achieve an almost hopeless feat of arms.

Audacious as it was, his plan cannot be called rash if we may accept the

statement of two well-informed writers on the French side. They say that

on the tenth of September the English naval commanders held a council on

board the flagship, in which it was resolved that the lateness of the

season required the fleet to leave Quebec without delay. They say

further that Wolfe then went to the Admiral, told him that he had found

a place where the heights could be scaled, that he would send up a

hundred and fifty picked men to feel the way, and that if they gained a

lodgment at the top, the other troops should follow; if, on the other

hand, the French were there in force to oppose them, he would not

sacrifice the army in a hopeless attempt, but embark them for home,

consoled by the thought that all had been done that man could do. On

this, concludes the story, the Admiral and his officers consented to

wait the result.

As Wolfe had informed Pitt, his army was greatly weakened. Since the end

of June his loss in killed and wounded was more than eight hundred and

fifty, including two colonels, two majors, nineteen captains, and

thirty-four subalterns; and to these were to be added a greater number

disabled by disease.

The squadron of Admiral Holmes above Quebec had now increased to

twenty-two vessels, great and small. One of the last that went up was a

diminutive schooner, armed with a few swivels, and jocosely named the

"Terror of France." She sailed by the town in broad daylight, the

French, incensed at her impudence, blazing at her from all their

batteries; but she passed unharmed, anchored by the Admiral's ship, and

saluted him triumphantly with her swivels.

Wolfe's first move towards executing his plan was the critical one of

evacuating the camp at Montmorenci. This was accomplished on the third

of September. Montcalm sent a strong force to fall on the rear of the

retiring English. Monckton saw the movement from Point Levi, embarked

two battalions in the boats of the fleet, and made a feint of landing at

Beauport. Montcalm recalled his troops to repulse the threatened attack;

and the English withdrew from Montmorenci unmolested, some to the Point

of Orleans, others to Point Levi. On the night of the fourth a fleet of

flat boats passed above the town with the baggage and stores. On the

fifth, Murray, with four battalions, marched up to the River Etechemin,

and forded it under a hot fire from the French batteries at Sillery.

Monckton and Townshend followed with three more battalions, and the

united force, of about thirty-six hundred men, was embarked on board the

ships of Holmes, where Wolfe joined them on the same evening.

These movements of the English filled the French commanders with mingled

perplexity, anxiety, and hope. A deserter told them that Admiral

Saunders was impatient to be gone. Vaudreuil grew confident. "The

breaking up of the camp at Montmorenci," he says, "and the abandonment

of the intrenchments there, the re-embarkation on board the vessels

above Quebec of the troops who had encamped on the south bank, the

movements of these vessels, the removal of the heaviest pieces of

artillery from the batteries of Point Levi,--these and the lateness of

the season all combined to announce the speedy departure of the fleet,

several vessels of which had even sailed down the river already. The

prisoners and the deserters who daily came in told us that this was the

common report in their army." He wrote to Bourlamaque on the first of

September: "Everything proves that the grand design of the English has


Yet he was ceaselessly watchful. So was Montcalm; and he, too, on the

night of the second, snatched a moment to write to Bourlamaque from his

headquarters in the stone house, by the river of Beauport: "The night is

dark; it rains; our troops are in their tents, with clothes on, ready

for an alarm; I in my boots; my horses saddled. In fact, this is my

usual way. I wish you were here; for I cannot be everywhere, though I

multiply myself, and have not taken off my clothes since the

twenty-third of June." On the eleventh of September he wrote his last

letter to Bourlamaque, and probably the last that his pen ever traced.

"I am overwhelmed with work, and should often lose temper, like you, if

I did not remember that I am paid by Europe for not losing it. Nothing

new since my last. I give the enemy another month, or something less, to

stay here." The more sanguine Vaudreuil would hardly give them a week.

Meanwhile, no precaution was spared. The force under Bougainville above

Quebec was raised to three thousand men. He was ordered to watch the

shore as far as Jacques-Cartier, and follow with his main body every

movement of Holmes's squadron. There was little fear for the heights

near the town; they were thought inaccessible. Even Montcalm believed

them safe, and had expressed himself to that effect some time before.

"We need not suppose," he wrote to Vaudreuil, "that the enemy have

wings;" and again, speaking of the very place where Wolfe afterwards

landed, "I swear to you that a hundred men posted there would stop their

whole army." He was right. A hundred watchful and determined men could

have held the position long enough for reinforcements to come up.

The hundred men were there. Captain de Vergor, of the colony troops,

commanded them, and reinforcements were within his call; for the

battalion of Guienne had been ordered to encamp close at hand on the

Plains of Abraham. Vergor's post, called Anse du Foulon, was a mile and

a half from Quebec. A little beyond it, by the brink of the cliffs, was

another post, called Samos, held by seventy men with four cannon; and,

beyond this again, the heights of Sillery were guarded by a hundred and

thirty men, also with cannon. These were outposts of Bougainville, whose

headquarters were at Cap-Rouge, six miles above Sillery, and whose

troops were in continual movement along the intervening shore. Thus all

was vigilance; for while the French were strong in the hope of speedy

delivery, they felt that there was no safety till the tents of the

invader had vanished from their shores and his ships from their river.

"What we knew," says one of them, "of the character of M. Wolfe, that

impetuous, bold, and intrepid warrior, prepared us for a last attack

before he left us."

Wolfe had been very ill on the evening of the fourth. The troops knew

it, and their spirits sank; but, after a night of torment, he grew

better, and was soon among them again, rekindling their ardor, and

imparting a cheer that he could not share. For himself he had no pity;

but when he heard of the illness of two officers in one of the ships, he

sent them a message of warm sympathy, advised them to return to Point

Levi, and offered them his own barge and an escort. They thanked him,

but replied that, come what might, they would see the enterprise to an

end. Another officer remarked in his hearing that one of the invalids

had a very delicate constitution. "Don't tell me of constitution," said

Wolfe; "he has good spirit, and good spirit will carry a man through

everything." An immense moral force bore up his own frail body and

forced it to its work.

Major Robert Stobo, who, five years before, had been given as a hostage

to the French at the capture of Fort Necessity, arrived about this time

in a vessel from Halifax. He had long been a prisoner at Quebec, not

always in close custody, and had used his opportunities to acquaint

himself with the neighborhood. In the spring of this year he and an

officer of rangers named Stevens had made their escape with

extraordinary skill and daring; and he now returned to give his

countrymen the benefit of his local knowledge. His biographer says that

it was he who directed Wolfe in the choice of a landing-place. Be this

as it may, Wolfe in person examined the river and the shores as far as

Pointe-aux-Trembles; till at length, landing on the south side a little

above Quebec, and looking across the water with a telescope, he descried

a path that ran with a long slope up the face of the woody precipice,

and saw at the top a cluster of tents. They were those of Vergor's

guard at the Anse du Foulon, now called Wolfe's Cove. As he could see

but ten or twelve of them, he thought that the guard could not be

numerous, and might be overpowered. His hope would have been stronger if

he had known that Vergor had once been tried for misconduct and

cowardice in the surrender of Beausejour, and saved from merited

disgrace by the friendship of the intendant Bigot and the protection of


The morning of the seventh was fair and warm, and the vessels of Holmes,

their crowded decks gay with scarlet uniforms, sailed up the river to

Cap-Rouge. A lively scene awaited them; for here were the headquarters

of Bougainville, and here lay his principal force, while the rest

watched the banks above and below. The cove into which the little river

runs was guarded by floating batteries; the surrounding shore was

defended by breastworks; and a large body of regulars, militia, and

mounted Canadians in blue uniforms moved to and fro, with restless

activity, on the hills behind. When the vessels came to anchor, the

horsemen dismounted and formed in line with the infantry; then, with

loud shouts, the whole rushed down the heights to man their works at the

shore. That true Briton, Captain Knox, looked on with a critical eye

from the gangway of his ship, and wrote that night in his Diary that

they had made a ridiculous noise. "How different!" he exclaims, "how

nobly awful and expressive of true valor is the customary silence of the

British troops!"

In the afternoon the ships opened fire, while the troops entered the

boats and rowed up and down as if looking for a landing-place. It was

but a feint of Wolfe to deceive Bougainville as to his real design. A

heavy easterly rain set in on the next morning, and lasted two days

without respite. All operations were suspended, and the men suffered

greatly in the crowded transports. Half of them were therefore landed on

the south shore, where they made their quarters in the village of St.

Nicolas, refreshed themselves, and dried their wet clothing, knapsacks,

and blankets.

For several successive days the squadron of Holmes was allowed to drift

up the river with the flood tide and down with the ebb, thus passing and

repassing incessantly between the neighborhood of Quebec on one hand,

and a point high above Cap-Rouge on the other; while Bougainville,

perplexed, and always expecting an attack, followed the ships to and fro

along the shore, by day and by night, till his men were exhausted with

ceaseless forced marches.

At last the time for action came. On Wednesday, the twelfth, the troops

at St. Nicolas were embarked again, and all were told to hold themselves

in readiness. Wolfe, from the flagship "Sutherland," issued his last

general orders. "The enemy's force is now divided, great scarcity of

provisions in their camp, and universal discontent among the Canadians.

Our troops below are in readiness to join us; all the light artillery

and tools are embarked at the Point of Levi; and the troops will land

where the French seem least to expect it. The first body that gets on

shore is to march directly to the enemy and drive them from any little

post they may occupy; the officers must be careful that the succeeding

bodies do not by any mistake fire on those who go before them. The

battalions must form on the upper ground with expedition, and be ready

to charge whatever presents itself. When the artillery and troops are

landed, a corps will be left to secure the landing-place, while the

rest march on and endeavor to bring the Canadians and French to a

battle. The officers and men will remember what their country expects

from them, and what a determined body of soldiers inured to war is

capable of doing against five weak French battalions mingled with a

disorderly peasantry."

The spirit of the army answered to that of its chief. The troops loved

and admired their general, trusted their officers, and were ready for

any attempt. "Nay, how could it be otherwise," quaintly asks honest

Sergeant John Johnson, of the fifty-eighth regiment, "being at the heels

of gentlemen whose whole thirst, equal with their general, was for

glory? We had seen them tried, and always found them sterling. We knew

that they would stand by us to the last extremity."

Wolfe had thirty-six hundred men and officers with him on board the

vessels of Holmes; and he now sent orders to Colonel Burton at Point

Levi to bring to his aid all who could be spared from that place and the

Point of Orleans. They were to march along the south bank, after

nightfall, and wait further orders at a designated spot convenient for

embarkation. Their number was about twelve hundred, so that the entire

force destined for the enterprise was at the utmost forty-eight hundred.

With these, Wolfe meant to climb the heights of Abraham in the teeth of

an enemy who, though much reduced, were still twice as numerous as their


Admiral Saunders lay with the main fleet in the Basin of Quebec. This

excellent officer, whatever may have been his views as to the necessity

of a speedy departure, aided Wolfe to the last with unfailing energy and

zeal. It was agreed between them that while the General made the real

attack, the Admiral should engage Montcalm's attention by a pretended

one. As night approached, the fleet ranged itself along the Beauport

shore; the boats were lowered and filled with sailors, marines, and the

few troops that had been left behind; while ship signalled to ship,

cannon flashed and thundered, and shot ploughed the beach, as if to

clear a way for assailants to land. In the gloom of the evening the

effect was imposing. Montcalm, who thought that the movements of the

English above the town were only a feint, that their main force was

still below it, and that their real attack would be made there, was

completely deceived, and massed his troops in front of Beauport to repel

the expected landing. But while in the fleet of Saunders all was uproar

and ostentatious menace, the danger was ten miles away, where the

squadron of Holmes lay tranquil and silent at its anchorage off


It was less tranquil than it seemed. All on board knew that a blow would

be struck that night, though only a few high officers knew where.

Colonel Howe, of the light infantry, called for volunteers to lead the

unknown and desperate venture, promising, in the words of one of them,

"that if any of us survived we might depend on being recommended to the

General." As many as were wanted--twenty-four in all--soon came forward.

Thirty large bateaux and some boats belonging to the squadron lay moored

alongside the vessels; and late in the evening the troops were ordered

into them, the twenty-four volunteers taking their place in the

foremost. They held in all about seventeen hundred men. The rest

remained on board.

Bougainville could discern the movement, and misjudged it, thinking that

he himself was to be attacked. The tide was still flowing; and, the

better to deceive him, the vessels and boats were allowed to drift

upward with it for a little distance, as if to land above Cap-Rouge.

The day had been fortunate for Wolfe. Two deserters came from the camp

of Bougainville with intelligence that, at ebb tide on the next night,

he was to send down a convoy of provisions to Montcalm. The necessities

of the camp at Beauport, and the difficulties of transportation by land,

had before compelled the French to resort to this perilous means of

conveying supplies; and their boats, drifting in darkness under the

shadows of the northern shore, had commonly passed in safety. Wolfe saw

at once that, if his own boats went down in advance of the convoy, he

could turn the intelligence of the deserters to good account.

He was still on board the "Sutherland." Every preparation was made, and

every order given; it only remained to wait the turning of the tide.

Seated with him in the cabin was the commander of the sloop-of-war

"Porcupine," his former school-fellow John Jervis, afterwards Earl St.

Vincent. Wolfe told him that he expected to die in the battle of the

next day; and taking from his bosom a miniature of Miss Lowther, his

betrothed, he gave it to him with a request that he would return it to

her if the presentiment should prove true.

Towards two o'clock the tide began to ebb, and a fresh wind blew down

the river. Two lanterns were raised into the maintop shrouds of the

"Sutherland." It was the appointed signal; the boats cast off and fell

down with the current, those of the light infantry leading the way. The

vessels with the rest of the troops had orders to follow a little later.

To look for a moment at the chances on which this bold adventure hung.

First, the deserters told Wolfe that provision-boats were ordered to go

down to Quebec that night; secondly, Bougainville countermanded them;

thirdly, the sentries posted along the heights were told of the order,

but not of the countermand; fourthly, Vergor at the Anse du Foulon had

permitted most of his men, chiefly Canadians from Lorette, to go home

for a time and work at their harvesting, on condition, it is said, that

they should afterwards work in a neighboring field of his own; fifthly,

he kept careless watch, and went quietly to bed; sixthly, the battalion

of Guienne, ordered to take post on the Plains of Abraham, had, for

reasons unexplained, remained encamped by the St. Charles; and lastly,

when Bougainville saw Holmes's vessels drift down the stream, he did not

tax his weary troops to follow them, thinking that they would return as

usual with the flood tide. But for these conspiring circumstances New

France might have lived a little longer, and the fruitless heroism of

Wolfe would have passed, with countless other heroisms, into oblivion.

For full two hours the procession of boats, borne on the current,

steered silently down the St. Lawrence. The stars were visible, but the

night was moonless and sufficiently dark. The General was in one of the

foremost boats, and near him was a young midshipman, John Robison,

afterwards professor of natural philosophy in the University of

Edinburgh. He used to tell in his later life how Wolfe, with a low

voice, repeated Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard to the officers

about him. Probably it was to relieve the intense strain of his

thoughts. Among the rest was the verse which his own fate was soon to


"The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

"Gentlemen," he said, as his recital ended, "I would rather have written

those lines than take Quebec." None were there to tell him that the hero

is greater than the poet.

As they neared their destination, the tide bore them in towards the

shore, and the mighty wall of rock and forest towered in darkness on

their left. The dead stillness was suddenly broken by the sharp Qui

vive! of a French sentry, invisible in the thick gloom. France!

answered a Highland officer of Fraser's regiment from one of the boats

of the light infantry. He had served in Holland, and spoke French


A quel regiment?

De la Reine, replied the Highlander. He knew that a part of that corps

was with Bougainville. The sentry, expecting the convoy of provisions,

was satisfied, and did not ask for the password.

Soon after, the foremost boats were passing the heights of Samos, when

another sentry challenged them, and they could see him through the

darkness running down to the edge of the water, within range of a

pistol-shot. In answer to his questions, the same officer replied, in

French: "Provision-boats. Don't make a noise; the English will hear us."

In fact, the sloop-of-war "Hunter" was anchored in the stream not far

off. This time, again, the sentry let them pass. In a few moments they

rounded the headland above the Anse du Foulon. There was no sentry

there. The strong current swept the boats of the light infantry a little

below the intended landing-place. They disembarked on a narrow strand at

the foot of heights as steep as a hill covered with trees can be. The

twenty-four volunteers led the way, climbing with what silence they

might, closely followed by a much larger body. When they reached the top

they saw in the dim light a cluster of tents at a short distance, and

immediately made a dash at them. Vergor leaped from bed and tried to run

off, but was shot in the heel and captured. His men, taken by surprise,

made little resistance. One or two were caught, and the rest fled.

The main body of troops waited in their boats by the edge of the strand.

The heights near by were cleft by a great ravine choked with forest

trees; and in its depths ran a little brook called Ruisseau St.-Denis,

which, swollen by the late rains, fell plashing in the stillness over a

rock. Other than this no sound could reach the strained ear of Wolfe but

the gurgle of the tide and the cautious climbing of his advance-parties

as they mounted the steeps at some little distance from where he sat

listening. At length from the top came a sound of musket-shots, followed

by loud huzzas, and he knew that his men were masters of the position.

The word was given; the troops leaped from the boats and scaled the

heights, some here, some there, clutching at trees and bushes, their

muskets slung at their backs. Tradition still points out the place, near

the mouth of the ravine, where the foremost reached the top. Wolfe said

to an officer near him: "You can try it, but I don't think you'll get

up." He himself, however, found strength to drag himself up with the

rest. The narrow slanting path on the face of the heights had been made

impassable by trenches and abatis; but all obstructions were soon

cleared away, and then the ascent was easy. In the gray of the morning

the long file of red-coated soldiers moved quickly upward, and formed in

order on the plateau above.

Before many of them had reached the top, cannon were heard close on the

left. It was the battery at Samos firing on the boats in the rear and

the vessels descending from Cap-Rouge. A party was sent to silence it;

this was soon effected, and the more distant battery at Sillery was next

attacked and taken. As fast as the boats were emptied they returned for

the troops left on board the vessels and for those waiting on the

southern shore under Colonel Burton.

The day broke in clouds and threatening rain. Wolfe's battalions were

drawn up along the crest of the heights. No enemy was in sight, though a

body of Canadians had sallied from the town and moved along the strand

towards the landing-place, whence they were quickly driven back. He had

achieved the most critical part of his enterprise; yet the success that

he coveted placed him in imminent danger. On one side was the garrison

of Quebec and the army of Beauport, and Bougainville was on the other.

Wolfe's alternative was victory or ruin; for if he should be overwhelmed

by a combined attack, retreat would be hopeless. His feelings no man can

know; but it would be safe to say that hesitation or doubt had no part

in them.

He went to reconnoitre the ground, and soon came to the Plains of

Abraham, so called from Abraham Martin, a pilot known as Maitre Abraham,

who had owned a piece of land here in the early times of the colony. The

Plains were a tract of grass, tolerably level in most parts, patched

here and there with cornfields, studded with clumps of bushes, and

forming a part of the high plateau at the eastern end of which Quebec

stood. On the south it was bounded by the declivities along the St.

Lawrence; on the north, by those along the St. Charles, or rather along

the meadows through which that lazy stream crawled like a writhing

snake. At the place that Wolfe chose for his battle-field the plateau

was less than a mile wide.

Thither the troops advanced, marched by files till they reached the

ground, and then wheeled to form their line of battle, which stretched

across the plateau and faced the city. It consisted of six battalions

and the detached grenadiers from Louisbourg, all drawn up in ranks three

deep. Its right wing was near the brink of the heights along the St.

Lawrence; but the left could not reach those along the St. Charles. On

this side a wide space was perforce left open, and there was danger of

being outflanked. To prevent this, Brigadier Townshend was stationed

here with two battalions, drawn up at right angles with the rest, and

fronting the St. Charles. The battalion of Webb's regiment, under

Colonel Burton, formed the reserve; the third battalion of Royal

Americans was left to guard the landing; and Howe's light infantry

occupied a wood far in the rear. Wolfe, with Monckton and Murray,

commanded the front line, on which the heavy fighting was to fall, and

which, when all the troops had arrived, numbered less than thirty-five

hundred men.

Quebec was not a mile distant, but they could not see it; for a ridge of

broken ground intervened, called Buttes-a-Neveu, about six hundred paces

off. The first division of troops had scarcely come up when, about six

o'clock, this ridge was suddenly thronged with white uniforms. It was

the battalion of Guienne, arrived at the eleventh hour from its camp by

the St. Charles. Some time after there was hot firing in the rear. It

came from a detachment of Bougainville's command attacking a house where

some of the light infantry were posted. The assailants were repulsed,

and the firing ceased. Light showers fell at intervals, besprinkling

the troops as they stood patiently waiting the event.

Montcalm had passed a troubled night. Through all the evening the cannon

bellowed from the ships of Saunders, and the boats of the fleet hovered

in the dusk off the Beauport shore, threatening every moment to land.

Troops lined the intrenchments till day, while the General walked the

field that adjoined his headquarters till one in the morning,

accompanied by the Chevalier Johnstone and Colonel Poulariez. Johnstone

says that he was in great agitation, and took no rest all night. At

daybreak he heard the sound of cannon above the town. It was the battery

at Samos firing on the English ships. He had sent an officer to the

quarters of Vaudreuil, which were much nearer Quebec, with orders to

bring him word at once should anything unusual happen. But no word came,

and about six o'clock he mounted and rode thither with Johnstone. As

they advanced, the country behind the town opened more and more upon

their sight; till at length, when opposite Vaudreuil's house, they saw

across the St. Charles, some two miles away, the red ranks of British

soldiers on the heights beyond.

"This is a serious business," Montcalm said; and sent off Johnstone at

full gallop to bring up the troops from the centre and left of the camp.

Those of the right were in motion already, doubtless by the Governor's

order. Vaudreuil came out of the house. Montcalm stopped for a few words

with him; then set spurs to his horse, and rode over the bridge of the

St. Charles to the scene of danger. He rode with a fixed look, uttering

not a word.

The army followed in such order as it might, crossed the bridge in hot

haste, passed under the northern rampart of Quebec, entered at the

Palace Gate, and pressed on in headlong march along the quaint narrow

streets of the warlike town: troops of Indians in scalplocks and

war-paint, a savage glitter in their deep-set eyes; bands of Canadians

whose all was at stake,--faith, country, and home; the colony regulars;

the battalions of Old France, a torrent of white uniforms and gleaming

bayonets, La Sarre, Languedoc, Roussillon, Bearn,--victors of Oswego,

William Henry, and Ticonderoga. So they swept on poured out upon the

plain, some by the gate of St. Louis, and some by that of St. John, and

hurried, breathless, to where the banners of Guienne still fluttered on

the ridge.

Montcalm was amazed at what he saw. He had expected a detachment, and he

found an army. Full in sight before him stretched the lines of Wolfe:

the close ranks of the English infantry, a silent wall of red, and the

wild array of the Highlanders, with their waving tartans, and bagpipes

screaming defiance. Vaudreuil had not come; but not the less was felt

the evil of a divided authority and the jealousy of the rival chiefs.

Montcalm waited long for the forces he had ordered to join him from the

left wing of the army. He waited in vain. It is said that the Governor

had detained them, lest the English should attack the Beauport shore.

Even if they did so, and succeeded, the French might defy them, could

they but put Wolfe to rout on the Plains of Abraham. Neither did the

garrison of Quebec come to the aid of Montcalm. He sent to Ramesay, its

commander, for twenty-five field-pieces which were on the Palace

battery. Ramesay would give him only three, saying that he wanted them

for his own defence. There were orders and counter-orders;

misunderstanding, haste, delay, perplexity.

Montcalm and his chief officers held a council of war. It is said that

he and they alike were for immediate attack. His enemies declare that he

was afraid lest Vaudreuil should arrive and take command; but the

Governor was not a man to assume responsibility at such a crisis. Others

say that his impetuosity overcame his better judgment; and of this

charge it is hard to acquit him. Bougainville was but a few miles

distant, and some of his troops were much nearer; a messenger sent by

way of Old Lorette could have reached him in an hour and a half at most,

and a combined attack in front and rear might have been concerted with

him. If, moreover, Montcalm could have come to an understanding with

Vaudreuil, his own force might have been strengthened by two or three

thousand additional men from the town and the camp of Beauport; but he

felt that there was no time to lose, for he imagined that Wolfe would

soon be reinforced, which was impossible, and he believed that the

English were fortifying themselves, which was no less an error. He has

been blamed not only for fighting too soon, but for fighting at all. In

this he could not choose. Fight he must, for Wolfe was now in a position

to cut off all his supplies. His men were full of ardor, and he resolved

to attack before their ardor cooled. He spoke a few words to them in his

keen, vehement way. "I remember very well how he looked," one of the

Canadians, then a boy of eighteen, used to say in his old age; "he rode

a black or dark bay horse along the front of our lines, brandishing his

sword, as if to excite us to do our duty. He wore a coat with wide

sleeves, which fell back as he raised his arm, and showed the white

linen of the wristband."

The English waited the result with a composure which, if not quite real,

was at least well feigned. The three field-pieces sent by Ramesay plied

them with canister-shot, and fifteen hundred Canadians and Indians

fusilladed them in front and flank. Over all the plain, from behind

bushes and knolls and the edge of cornfields, puffs of smoke sprang

incessantly from the guns of these hidden marksmen. Skirmishers were

thrown out before the lines to hold them in check, and the soldiers were

ordered to lie on the grass to avoid the shot. The firing was liveliest

on the English left, where bands of sharpshooters got under the edge of

the declivity, among thickets, and behind scattered houses, whence they

killed and wounded a considerable number of Townshend's men. The light

infantry were called up from the rear. The houses were taken and

retaken, and one or more of them was burned.

Wolfe was everywhere. How cool he was, and why his followers loved him,

is shown by an incident that happened in the course of the morning. One

of his captains was shot through the lungs; and on recovering

consciousness he saw the General standing at his side. Wolfe pressed his

hand, told him not to despair, praised his services, promised him early

promotion, and sent an aide-de-camp to Monckton to beg that officer to

keep the promise if he himself should fall.

It was towards ten o'clock when, from the high ground on the right of

the line, Wolfe saw that the crisis was near. The French on the ridge

had formed themselves into three bodies, regulars in the centre,

regulars and Canadians on right and left. Two field-pieces, which had

been dragged up the heights at Anse du Foulon, fired on them with

grape-shot, and the troops, rising from the ground, prepared to receive

them. In a few moments more they were in motion. They came on rapidly,

uttering loud shouts, and firing as soon as they were within range.

Their ranks, ill ordered at the best, were further confused by a number

of Canadians who had been mixed among the regulars, and who, after

hastily firing, threw themselves on the ground to reload. The British

advanced a few rods; then baited and stood still. When the French were

within forty paces the word of command rang out, and a crash of musketry

answered all along the line. The volley was delivered with remarkable

precision. In the battalions of the centre, which had suffered least

from the enemy's bullets, the simultaneous explosion was afterwards said

by French officers to have sounded like a cannon-shot. Another volley

followed, and then a furious clattering fire that lasted but a minute or

two. When the smoke rose, a miserable sight was revealed: the ground

cumbered with dead and wounded, the advancing masses stopped short and

turned into a frantic mob, shouting, cursing, gesticulating. The order

was given to charge. Then over the field rose the British cheer, mixed

with the fierce yell of the Highland slogan. Some of the corps pushed

forward with the bayonet; some advanced firing. The clansmen drew their

broadswords and dashed on, keen and swift as bloodhounds. At the English

right, though the attacking column was broken to pieces, a fire was

still kept up, chiefly, it seems, by sharpshooters from the bushes and

cornfields, where they had lain for an hour or more. Here Wolfe himself

led the charge, at the head of the Louisbourg grenadiers. A shot

shattered his wrist. He wrapped his handkerchief about it and kept on.

Another shot struck him, and he still advanced, when a third lodged in

his breast. He staggered, and sat on the ground. Lieutenant Brown, of

the grenadiers, one Henderson, a volunteer in the same company, and a

private soldier, aided by an officer of artillery who ran to join them,

carried him in their arms to the rear. He begged them to lay him down.

They did so, and asked if he would have a surgeon. "There's no need," he

answered; "it's all over with me." A moment after, one of them cried

out: "They run; see how they run!" "Who run?" Wolfe demanded, like a man

roused from sleep. "The enemy, sir. Egad, they give way everywhere!"

"Go, one of you, to Colonel Burton," returned the dying man; "tell him

to march Webb's regiment down to Charles River, to cut off their retreat

from the bridge." Then, turning on his side, he murmured, "Now, God be

praised, I will die in peace!" and in a few moments his gallant soul had


Montcalm, still on horseback, was borne with the tide of fugitives

towards the town. As he approached the walls a shot passed through his

body. He kept his seat; two soldiers supported him, one on each side,

and led his horse through the St. Louis Gate. On the open space within,

among the excited crowd, were several women, drawn, no doubt, by

eagerness to know the result of the fight. One of them recognized him,

saw the streaming blood, and shrieked, "O mon Dieu! mon Dieu! le

Marquis est tue!" "It's nothing, it's nothing," replied the

death-stricken man; "don't be troubled for me, my good friends." ("Ce

n'est rien, ce n'est rien; ne vous affligez pas pour moi, mes bonnes


* * * * *

Some of the fugitives took refuge in the city and others escaped across

the St. Charles. In the next night the French army abandoned Quebec to

its fate and fled up the St. Lawrence. The city soon surrendered to

Wolfe's successor, Brigadier Townshend, and the English held it during

the winter. In April, the French under the Chevalier de Levis made a

bold but unsuccessful attempt to retake it. In the following summer,

General Amherst advanced on Montreal, till in September all Canada was

forced to surrender, and the power of France was extinguished on the

North American continent.

University Press: John Wilson & Son, Cambridge

The Governors-general: Sir Charles Bagot A Legend Of Ticonderoga facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail