LE MARQUIS DE MONTCALM ... Adieu a France et Candiac
"Quand reverrai-je mon cher Candiac!"
Louis Joseph le Marquis de Montcalm-Gozon de Saint-Ve'ran. A man whose name is as long perhaps as the controversy it invokes. To Canadians he is a stellar hero who made the supreme sacrifice, dying in battle on the Plains of Abraham while heroically defending Quebec from the invading English. In France, his name is memorialized along with those patriots who have served faithfully to preserve the interests of the French crown and protect her citizens from those who would oppress them. The English recall his name with a disdain one would expect from a foe so menacingly out-maneuvered by a superior general in every engagement. Undoubtedly, to many 18th century American colonists the Marquis de Montcalm was the devil incarnate raising hell (in the form of Indian allies) in their midst. What man is this? Admired and respected by so many, both for his military performance and his highly reputable character, yet despised and vilified by so many others. The question of Montcalm's guilt or innocence as it pertains to the tragic events following the surrender of Fort William Henry on August 9, 1757 can not be answered definitively by historical records. There remains in them much discrepancy; enough to permit those so inclined to offer argument for his culpability in the subsequent massacre. Conversely, his actions and reputation preceding the infamous encounter, along with the accounts offered by others, weigh heavily in his favor. Ultimately, it is a question that can be answered only to the satisfaction of personal opinion. Thus, Le Marquis de Montcalm will remain as seemingly paradoxical as the war which swept him into the annals of history.
Louis Joseph de Montcalm was born on February 29, 1712 at the Chateau de Candiac, the seat of the family estate in southern France. His father, the Marquis de Montcalm, placed Louis under the care of his own illegitimate half-brother, Monsieur Dumas, at the age of six. It was M. Dumas' responsibility to provide guidance and education for the young boy, the eldest son of the Marquis, that was preparatory for his fulfillment of life's responsibilities, many already known given his station in life. His destiny would include a military career, which was the primary route to social, political, and economic success among the nobility of 18th century Europe.
Louis flourished academically under the ever watchful eye of M. Dumas, though he did not get on well with him. Dumas was stern and impossible to please, demanding perhaps more from the youth than he could deliver. While his student apparently excelled in Latin, Greek, and History, Dumas was not satisfied with his efforts. He wrote often to the Marquis with complaints of Louis' need to do better. He cautioned the father that Louis' exceptional knowledge of Latin and Greek was useless if he did not improve upon his writing skills and his French. In a letter to his father Dumas says of Louis, "...has great need of docility, industry, and willingness to take advice. What will become of him?" It is interesting to see what the young Montcalm himself said of his goals, as it offers a brief look into the heart and soul of the future general. "First, to be an honorable man, of good morals, brave, and a Christian. Secondly, to read in moderation; to know as much Greek and Latin as most men of the world; also the four rules of arithmetic, and something of history, geography, and French and Latin belles-lettres, as well as to have a taste for the arts and sciences. Thirdly, and above all, to be obedient, docile, and very submissive to your orders and those of my dear mother; and also to defer to the advice of M. Dumas. Fourthly, to fence and ride as well as my abilities will permit." The young Montcalm appears to have had a healthy projection for his future, a balanced education, the effort of discipline, and a realistic sense of his capabilities; setting his goals but recognizing his limitations. No lofty ambitions or arrogant pretensions.
Montcalm continued his education until the age of fifteen, at which point he enlisted in the French army as ensign ( the lowest grade of commissioned officers) in the regiment of Hainaut during the War of the Spanish Succession. He served for two years as ensign, after which his father purchased a captaincy for Montcalm, who was only seventeen years old in 1729. His first time under fire as capitaine was during the siege of Philipsbourg. The treaty of Seville was signed later that year, and with it came a temporary repose from war. Montcalm continued his military service, though there is nothing notable for the next several years. (Although France was not formally engaged in war at this time, she was preparing defenses in her colonial possessions in New France, particularly along the Hudson River corridor. At Lake Champlain she was fortifying Crown Point.) Certainly, it must have been a period of maturity for the fledgling capitaine who had experienced his first taste of life as a commanding officer under fire at such a young age.
In 1735 the elder Marquis de Montcalm died, leaving the twenty-three year old a considerable landed estate, the title of Marquis, and the unhappy inheritance of debt. The newly titled Marquis was aided in the management of Candiac by a family friend and advisor, the Marquis de la Fare, who soon arranged a marriage for Montcalm to the well bred Angelique Louise Talon du Boulay. The union was intended to strengthen Montcalm's political and social status in the hopes of obtaining military promotions. It proved to be an advantageous move for Montcalm who gained both property and influential allies as a result of the marital alliance. While it was a marriage initiated for pragmatic ends, the means apparently justified those ends. Supported by numerous letters, as well as the Marquis' unpublished autobiography ( Memoires pour servir a l'Histoire de ma Vie ), it appears the Marquis and his wife had a close, affectionate relationship. He refers to Angelique both directly and indirectly as "my dearest" and wrote to her frequently while campaigning. During interludes in those campaigns, he returned to his boyhood home of Candiac, for which he expressed a deep attachment, and his family. Ten children were born to the couple, on whom he commented, "May God preserve them all and make them prosper for this world and the next! Perhaps it will be thought that the number is large for so moderate a fortune, especially as four of them are girls; but does God ever abandon his children in their need?"
In 1740, Austria's Maria Theresa succeeded as Empress and soon after the War of the Austrian Succession erupted. Montcalm was to gain extensive experience in the art of war during this period, as it was to rage on for a quarter of a century. France was allied with Bavaria, Spain, and Prussia; the opposing alliance included Austria, the Netherlands, Hanover, Sardinia, Saxony, and Britain. 1741 saw Montcalm active in the Bohemian campaign in the continued struggle for dynastic succession and continental possessions. In 1743 he was promoted to colonel and took command of the Auxerrois regiment where he was engaged for more than a year. The theatre of war was rapidly spreading throughout the European continent and many troops were finding themselves shifted from place to place. The Marquis was sent to Italy in 1745, where he was under the command of Marechal de Maillebois. During the campaign at Piacenza ( a French disaster), Montcalm twice rallied his troops forward, a point that suggests his regiment had faith and respect enough for their commander to make a charge into fierce enemy opposition. During the bloody struggle, Montcalm received five saber wounds. Severely wounded and unable to protect himself or his regiment, the Marquis was taken prisoner and held for several months. Later that year he was released on parole, and according to the terms of the agreement, made the familiar promise to 'not take up arms again' - terms he would later offer to Col. Monro while negotiating the surrender of Fort William Henry.
As a result of the bravery and leadership Montcalm displayed at Piacenza, he received yet another promotion, that of Brigadier. He returned to active duty and once again was wounded, this time by a musket shot. The next year, 1748, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was signed and the ensuing peace offered Montcalm the opportunity to return to Candiac and abandon the weary demands of military life, if only for awhile.
La Commission du Marquis de Montcalm - 1756
In the autumn of 1755 the Marquis visited Paris, where he met with French Minister of War D'Argenson. During the meeting, the subject of New France arose prompting the Minister to hint to Montcalm the possibility of his appointment as commander of the troops on the American continent. While Montcalm probably felt the inner joy of hopeful anticipation, it most likely was tempered by his impression that the appointment would not materialize. In a letter dated January 25th, D'Argenson begins his comments to Montcalm with the assumption that the Marquis would be surprised to hear from him. Recalling their conversation the previous year and reminding him of the suggested promotion he goes on to say, "The King has chosen you to command his troops in North America, and will honor you on your departure with the rank of major-general." The Minister's letter continues with the news of appointments for Montcalm's second and third in command; the Chevalier de Levis as brigadier, second in command, and the Chevalier de Bourlamaque given the rank of colonel, third in command. There was another promotion mentioned in the letter also; that of his eldest son as the commander of a regiment in France. The Marquis then set about making his preparations to embark upon his upcoming voyage to New France, a destination that would carry him to a far away and unknown world; as far from Candiac as he could possibly imagine.
The new commanding officer of the King's troops on the American continent said his goodbyes and left Candiac. He had many arrangements yet to make and military preparations to oversee before he departed for the Americas. His overland destination was Brest, a port village in western France situated in the province of Finistere; south of the English Channel and north of the Bay of Biscay. En route to Brest he writes to Angelique, "Perhaps I will leave debts behind. I wait impatiently for the bills. You have my will; I wish you would get it copied, and send it to me before I sail." Reaching Brest on the 21st of March, he writes to his mother (whom he was very close to, Gozon de Saint -Ve'ran was her family name), "My health is good, and the passage will be a time of rest. I embrace you, and my dearest, and my daughters. Love to all the family. I shall write up to the last moment." In these letters we see a realistically minded man, concerned with his family and his affairs. Lacking the arrogance of self-grandiose delusions, Montcalm saw himself as neither invincible nor immortal. He gave attention to the personal details of his life, while also recognizing the possible consequence of his trans-Atlantic voyage and the subsequent military campaign; his death. He could not have known of course that "...up to the last moment." would become a reality, or that he would never see Candiac again.
La Banniere de Carillon
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