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LE MARQUIS DE MONTCALM ... Carillon et Les Plaines d'Abraham


"O mon Dieu! mon Dieu! le Marquis est tue' ! "

Canada Flag

1757 was a good year for France. Fort William Henry lay in ashes and the English could claim no gain in the war. General Webb recovered his nerve as reinforcements arrived at Fort Edward, and the Marquis de Montcalm returned to Montreal. The massacre struck terror into the hearts of the English colonists; heightened by rumors of a pending French attack on Albany and New York. Exaggerated reports of hundreds and hundreds dead circulated within the colonies producing hysteria among the populace. The effect upon the military? Webb was terror-stricken, Loudoun was outraged, and the colonial militia began pouring in to Fort Edward. For Vaudreuil, the opportunity to tarnish the reputation of Montcalm was seized. Montcalm had failed to attack Fort Edward and the governor-general made much of his 'failure'. While Vaudreuil was pointing an accusing finger at his rival, the machinations of corruption in Canada were beginning to unravel. Suspicions regarding the financial affairs of Canada were mounting in France.

La Guerre du Depravation en Canada

"This is the land of abuses, ignorance, prejudice, and all that is monstrous in government. Peculation, monopoly, and plunder have become a bottomless abyss."... So wrote a contemporary. Corruption was so severe in Canada that not only was the French King robbed, the Canadian people were starving, and the troops themselves were barely fed. English prisoners roamed freely about Montreal by day, expected to fend for themselves. In contrast; Vaudreuil, Bigot, and likeminded Canadian officers of the "court" were growing richer by the day. Perversely living in luxury while the economy was crashing, Vaudreuil sung his own praises as the benefactor of the people. Bougainville observed that command of a fort offered such lucrative returns that the prospect of appointment was sufficient for marriage. He asked; "Why is it that of all which the King sends to the Indians two thirds are stolen, and the rest sold to them instead of being given?" Knavery was so rampant that Bougainville can list but four Canadian officers as exceptions of the scandal; "not enough to save Sodom". To understand the "conquest" of Canada, it must first be understood how rampant and widespread the self-destructing corruption was.

On April 12, 1759 Montcalm himself sent a letter to the Minister of War detailing the deplorable criminal behavior. He says; "It seems as if they were all hastening to make their fortunes before the loss of the colony; which many of them perhaps desire as a veil to their conduct." The Minister's letters to the Intendant Francois Bigot itemizes, point by point, the pervasive corruption of the Canadian government.

"The ship 'Brittania', laden with goods such as are wanted in the colony, was captured by a privateer from St. Malo, and brought into Quebec. You sold the whole cargo for eight hundred thousand francs. The purchasers made a profit of two millions. You bought back a part for the King at one million, or two hundred thousand more than the price for which you sold the whole. With conduct like this it is no wonder that the expenses of the colony become insupportable. The amount of your drafts on the treasury is frightful. The fortunes of your subordinates throw suspicion on your administration."

-January 19, 1759

"How could it happen that the small-pox among the Indians cost the King a million francs? What does this expense mean? Who is answerable for it? Is it the officers who command the posts, or is it the storekeepers? You give me no particulars. What has become of the immense quantity of provisions sent to Canada last year? I am forced to conclude that the King's stores are set down as consumed from the moment they arrive, and then sold to His Majesty at exorbitant prices. Thus the King buys stores in France, and then buys them again in Canada. I no longer wonder at the immense fortunes made in the colony.

-January 19, 1759

"You pay bills without examination, and then find an error in your accounts of three million six hundred thousand francs. In the letters from Canada I see nothing but incessant speculation in provisions and goods, which are sold to the King for ten times more than they cost in France. For the last time, I exhort you to give these things your serious attention, for they will not escape from mine."

-August 29, 1759

Montcalm left for Quebec in September. In February he returned to Montreal, which he found less to his liking than even before. He wrote to Bourlamaque , "I find this place so amusing that I wish Holy Week could be lengthened, to give me a pretext for neither making nor receiving visits, staying at home, and dining there almost alone." In another letter to Bourlamaque he writes, "I spend almost every evening in my chamber, the place I like best, and where I am least bored." The hostilities of Vaudreuil increased to such a degree that Montcalm offered in a letter to his mother, "If they could but do without me; if they could but spring some trap on me, or if I should happen to meet with some check!" Despite his pinings for France, Montcalm was to spend yet another summer at the southern lakes.

The Marquis had thus far been victorious in the war against England. His reputation as a great commander was well deserved. He was cautious, yet aggressive; confident but never rash; he planned his actions, but did not fail to seize opportunities when they arose; he recognized the probabilities of each victory, yet chanced nothing to fortune. He was an exemplary leader, an astute thinker, a dedicated officer, a gracious though formidable foe; a gentleman soldier. He possessed the qualities that make great men. His victories in North America were great for France, if not surprising. The odds had been always in his favor. However, his skills were soon to be challenged and the odds would be reversed.

Fort Carillon had been pestered through the winter by the activities of Rogers' Rangers. They kept up their harassments of the French garrison until March, at which time the Rangers themselves met with disaster. Less than 20 of Rogers' original group of 180 survived a fight in the woods with Canadians and Indians. Apart from the Rangers' losses, 1758 had thus far not gone badly for England. In June a British force under the command of Major-General James Abercromby successfully took the great Canadian fortress, Louisbourg. The much heralded English victory can be credited to the valor and focus of a young officer who would soon intertwine his fate with that of Montcalm's; James Wolfe. For the moment though, it was Abercromby and the spirited, highly respected Lord George Augustus Viscount Howe whom Montcalm was to face at Carillon. In June Abercromby's forces were gathered at Lac du St. Sacrement; a force of nearly 16,000 men. With great confidence, the English advanced in July towards the forts of Lac Champlain.

Montcalm waited beyond the walls of Fort Carillon, uncertain still as to where he would make a stand. His army was outnumbered by nearly 5 to 1, not very promising odds. Though Abercromby was in command, it was the praiseworthy Lord Howe who was to plan and execute the assault. Montcalm would need to be masterful in his defense of Fort Carillon if France was to hold the corridor.

Despite the huge force expected against him, Montcalm was left to defend the French position sorely undermanned. Vaudreuil had devised a scheme supposedly to draw off Abercromby's forces into the Mohawk valley, thus protecting Fort Carillon. His plan came to naught and he eventually gave orders to Levis to abandon the Mohawk expedition and instead reinforce Montcalm at Carillon. This would have brought up to 3,200 additional men. But they never left Montreal and Vaudreuil's explanation was a lack of boats. The English did not care to wait and Abercromby's forces proceeded towards Lac Champlain. Montcalm's army numbered only 3,600 troops; meager in comparison. Capitaine Bougainville had his suspicions as to why Montcalm was not properly reinforced, "Ticonderoga, which is the point really threatened, is abandoned without support to the troops of the line and their general. It would even be wished that they might meet a reverse, if the consequences to the colony would not be too disastrous." His meaning is clear.

Montcalm was camped at the falls with his main force on July 5th. By evening he decided to fall back to the surrounding grounds of the fort, abandoning the falls and burning the bridge. No longer indecisive, the Marquis had chosen the ground from which he would defend New France's southern frontier. One half mile west of the fort was a ridge. Montcalm's army now set to building an abatis to defend it. Thousands of trees were cut, heavy logs were piled creating a wall between 8 and 9 feet high, tree tops lay scattered across the ground pointing towards the enemy's advance, and a massive tanglement of sharpened, intertwined boughs were set before the breastworks. Here was an example of Montcalm's resourcefulness, his brilliance. Using what was available to him in the most advantageous manner, under extremely poor circumstances, he created a nearly impregnable obstacle before his lines. He waited for Abercromby's assault, strengthening what he could, where he could.

Between the breastworks and the Lake George outlet were low grounds. A detachment was sent to occupy that position. Another was sent to the north side, near Lac Champlain to check a possible flank movement. They too built an abatis, and had the fort's cannon to cover them. This left the Achille's heel that Montcalm could not protect. To the west of the fort was the road to Crown Point, the only route of retreat. With relatively few troops and provisions for only 8 days, access to the road was essential. If Abercromby were to position a battery near Five Mile Point, supply lines and passage to Crown Point would have been sealed off and Montcalm's situation would have been desperate. The Marquis would need to match his skillful defenses with a large dose of luck or face surrender. He was to have his luck.

Two days earlier, while Abercromby's army was advancing through the woods, a party of 350 Canadians and Indians led by the partisan officer Langy met up with them. A skirmish ensued, Langy's force was routed, and 250 of his men were either killed or captured. The greater loss was suffered however by the English. In the initial fire, Lord Howe was shot dead. The enormity of this loss cannot perhaps be fully appreciated so far removed from the time. The spirit of Abercromby's army was crushed; the English and Americans were devastated. Robert Rogers said of it; "The fall of this noble and brave officer seemed to produce an almost general languor and consternation through the whole army." Major Thomas Mante wrote; "In Lord Howe the soul of General Abercromby's army seemed to expire. From the unhappy moment the General was deprived of his advice, neither order nor discipline was observed, and a strange kind of infatuation usurped the place of resolution." The French Bougainville said of Howe; "He had above all in the greatest degree those two qualities of heroes, activity and audacity. He it was who had projected the enterprise against Canada and he alone was capable of executing it." One man's loss is another man's gain, however, and Montcalm was the first beneficiary of Howe's death. Not only was he now to face a lesser man, he was to have 24 more hours in which to strengthen his defenses.

Vive le Roi! Vive notre General!

On the 8th of July, Abercromby ordered the attack without waiting to bring up the cannons or positioning them on a nearby hill (later named Mount Defiance), which would have enabled him to blow the French off their line of defense. Abercromby missed his opportunity; a costly mistake. At around 12:30 P.M., a frontal assault was begun against the French lines. An apocalyptic scene of soldiers frantically pushing their way forward, unable to get through the great chevaux-de-frise, firing, falling, dying. Grapeshot and musket balls, smoke, briars, tree tops, fallen comrades; the English could not penetrate the breastworks. They fell back and were ordered forward once again. Montcalm held the center position, but hurried to reinforce any part of the line that was endangered. Six times Abercromby's troops attacked; six times they were repulsed. However desperate their cause, the English showed tremendous bravery and Montcalm praised their valor. By nightfall Abercromby retreated while the defenders braced for the assault to resume. Montcalm had held Fort Carillon against a British force nearly five times his strength. An inspection of Abercromby's retreat route the following morning revealed the army had left in wild panic. Baggage was left behind. Boots were found stuck in the mud; no one slowing down to retrieve them.

Montcalm's elation over his victory was expressed in a letter to Angelique, "This glorious day does infinite honor to the valor of our battalions". To the commissary of war he wrote, "The army, the too-small army of the King, has beaten the enemy. What a day for France! If I had had two hundred Indians to send out at the head of a thousand picked men under the Chevalier de Levis, not many would have escaped..., what soldiers are ours! I never saw the like. Why were they not at Louisbourg?" On the 9th, Montcalm had a great cross erected to commemorate the French victory. He spent the next month at Fort Carillon reconstructing the lines of defense, repairing and strengthening the fort, and sending war parties to harass Abercromby.

Montcalm Monument At Fort Ti

The monument to Montcalm's victory at Fort Ticonderoga. The red cross is a replica of the one erected by Montcalm after the successful defense. In the background, along the tree line, are the remains of the breastworks.

While Montcalm's great victory should have brought joy to Canadian officials, it instead stirred up a hornet's nest of jealousy. Vaudreuil reacted with his usual disdain, not only because the victory had been achieved by the hated Marquis de Montcalm but also that he had done it with nearly a total French force (no Indians, very few Canadians). Like salt to the wound in the mind of the delusional egotist Vaudreuil.

The Marquis spent the winter of 1758/59 in Quebec. He had sent, with Vaudreuil's consent, Bougainville and Doreil to France to appeal for aid from the French Court. The request was denied as France was burdened already with the expenses of carrying on the war in Europe, (though a small reinforcement, some artillery, and provisions for the next campaign were granted). Bougainville had letters expressing the Court's directions for achieving victory over England, warnings of English ships being prepared in ports for an attack on Quebec, and explanations as to why it would be unwise to send significant reinforcements and supplies (fear of an English interception). One point stressed was the need to preserve France's hold in Canada, no matter how small it might be, "...it is indispensable to keep a footing in North America; for if we once lose the country entirely, its recovery will be almost impossible...you will go to the utmost extremity rather than submit to conditions as shameful as those imposed at Louisbourg, the memory of which you will wipe out." Montcalm's reply; "We will save this unhappy colony, or perish."

The end for New France was coming. There was a reversal of fortune between the two nations. England, under the brilliant leadership of William Pitt was spending more on her war efforts, France was spending less. In Canada, Governor-general Vaudreuil and Francois Bigot had wrought economic ruin. Their thievery had bled her dry. With the exception of Montcalm's great defense of the Albany-Montreal corridor, the army of New France was rapidly losing ground. In August of 1758, Fort Frontenac was taken by Lieutenant Colonel John Bradstreet. Louisbourg had fallen. Former Indian allies now declared for England. In November, Fort Duquesne was abandoned by its commander, Captain Ligneris, with the approach of the English under Brigadier John Forbes. By August of 1759, Fort Carillon, Crown Point, and Fort Niagara had all fallen. The French lines in North America were severed, her footing in Canada dangerously shaky.

For three years, the Marquis de Montcalm labored successfully to defend France's colony. His defense of Fort Carillon and the offensives in the Hudson Valley alone justifies his esteemed reputation. Yet there are limits to what one man can accomplish or endure. Montcalm faced enemies on two fronts; the army of England and his Canadian rivals. Both desired his defeat. His duty though, no matter how much he detested those entrusted with the Canadian government, was to save Canada. With this objective he gave his attention to Quebec.

At Quebec Montcalm was to face a more worthy foe than before. This was no Loudoun, Abercromby, or Webb, but Major General James Wolfe, hero of Louisbourg. Though suffering from a debilitating illness and nearly an invalid, Wolfe's enthusiasm, stamina, loyalty, and passion for victory were rarely equaled. Unlike many English officers of his day, Wolfe's appointment as Major General had been earned by merit. He was an irritant to some and did have his critics, including the Duke of Newcastle who protested to King George II that Wolfe was mad. The king's retort; "Mad is he? Then I hope he will bite some others of my generals." These two commanders, Montcalm and Wolfe, were among the best England or France could offer and the least they could afford to lose.

France's Minister of War concurred with Montcalm's plan of defense. The three points most likely to be attacked, and the ones that afforded the enemy's entry into the colony center were the Isle-aux-Noix near Lac Champlain, the Flueve St. Laurent, and Quebec. It was Montcalm's opinion that a concentration of forces be positioned in the region. He had every confidence that his army would successfully defend such an assault, but if perchance they failed and Wolfe was able to take Quebec, Montcalm had a last resort to maintain France's hold in North America. His proposal was to abandon the St. Laurent valley, move south along the Mississippi River, and make his gallant Gallic stand in Louisiana swampland. Not surprisingly, Vaudreuil disagreed, suggesting instead an occupation of Acadia and the Canadian upper country. The friction between the two was coming to a head. How was Montcalm to save a country with an administrator such as this?

Le Siege de la Ville de Quebec

Montcalm positioned his force along the St. Laurent, chained off the mouth of the St. Charles with heavy logs, and barricaded the city. His forces numbered more than 16,000. Major General Wolfe arrived in June with less than 9,000. A surveillance of the city and her surrounding cliffs no doubt revealed the enormity of Wolfe's task; Quebec itself was a fortress. Bougainville had supposed; "I do not believe that the English will make any attempt against it; but they may have the madness to do so, and it is well to be prepared against surprise." Weeks had passed. Wolfe attempted to draw Montcalm into battle any way he could. Time was precious, the longer he waited, the less likely he would return to England victorious. For Montcalm, holding out within his entrenchments was the better strategy. Urged to attack, Montcalm said; "Let him amuse himself where he is. If we drive him off he may go to some place where he can do us harm."

On the 29th of July, Wolfe began his movement to the heights opposite the city. On the 31st, he assaulted the French position at the Falls of Montmorenci and was badly routed (for which he angrily chastised his grenadiers). He probed, bombarded Quebec, burned nearby farms, took Canadian prisoners, and hoped he could draw out his enemy to fight, believing that Montcalm's "armed men" (he refused to dignify them with the word 'army') were not capable of victory. Montcalm had time on his side. The longer he remained entrenched refusing battle, the greater the odds of a successful defense or Wolfe's departure. Though farms, houses, and churches burned around the city as an inducement for Montcalm to fight, he held fast to his position. Begged at times by Canadians to fight, he declared he was not willing to sacrifice Canada to save a few hundred farms. Many Canadians deserted.

Weary of waiting and running out of time, Wolfe finally decided to attempt a desperate, yet bold maneuver. If an engagement did not occur soon it would not occur at all. His plan was to scale the steep hill leading to the nearby heights, driving off whatever guard was posted there, and forcing Montcalm to meet him on the Plains. Montcalm had already considered the heights and had concluded they were inaccessible. He wrote to the Governor-general, "We need not suppose that the enemy have wings;...I swear to you that a hundred men posted there would stop their whole army." Leaving nothing to chance, however, men were posted at the Anse du Foulon, a mile and a half from Quebec. This place well guarded would deny Wolfe's army access to the Plains, and to Montcalm's entrenchments. It was the gateway to a forced battle, and battle was what Montcalm did not yet want.

The commander of the outpost of Anse du Foulon was Capitaine Duchambon de Vergor of the colony troops, a Vaudreuil 'company man' who had already been tried for cowardice and misconduct and who had escaped punishment through his opportunistic acquaintance with Francois Bigot and Vaudreuil. Unknown to Montcalm, Vergor had unbelievably allowed most of his Canadians to go home to work their farms on the condition that they later work on his. There were other questionable circumstances as well. Bougainville had sent a countermand against previous orders for provision boats to go to Quebec the night of September 12th. The sentries posted along the heights were not told. The battalions of Guienne were ordered to the Plains of Abraham, yet they remained at the St. Charles. Capitaine de Vergor was said to keep a careless watch and retire early. If Montcalm was ignorant of these facts, Wolfe was not. (He had received intelligence from two deserters of Bougainville's camp.) On the dawn of September 13th, 24 volunteers led the way to the Anse du Foulon, followed by a larger body of troops. They reached the post undetected, surprising the sleeping Vergor and his much reduced camp. Vergor was shot in the foot and captured, as were a couple others (suspiciously convenient) . The rest escaped. The signal was now given to the waiting troops below. Wolfe and his troops scaled the heights and soon formed along the crest. (Ascending this cliff was a difficult task for a healthy man, how much more so for Wolfe.) He had crossed the Rubicon; there was no going back. Here on the Plains of Abraham would be victory or defeat.

A` Quoi Bon?

Montcalm had waited patiently. Through all these weeks hoping for the storm to pass, he must have done a lot of contemplating. Was he perplexed by the politics in Canada? Could he have been weary of the Canadian opposition he was met with at every turn? Was he anxious for his family? Grieving a lost daughter? (News of a daughter's death was brought back by Bougainville.) His state of mind is of interest because his actions here in Quebec seem to be uncharacteristic of the careful Montcalm. Canadians were deserting, some from impatience, many from fear of Wolfe's rather strong ultimatums to quit the fight.

Montcalm had expected a landing at any time and had requested that Vaudreuil send word immediately upon any such news. He never received it. At 6:00 A.M. he rode towards Vaudreuil's headquarters. He could now see the redcoats of the English on the distant heights. He ordered the troops from the center and the left to be brought forward, spoke quickly with Vaudreuil, and hastily made his way to the plateau. Upon arrival, Montcalm was stunned by the sight of Wolfe's strength on the plains; he had expected to find only a detachment and here was an army. He waited for the left wing to join him; they did not come. He waited for the garrison of Quebec to join him; they did not come. He sent for twenty-five field pieces from the commander of the Quebec garrison; he only got three. Vaudreuil did not come... "It would even be wished that they might meet a reverse, if the consequences to the colony were not too disastrous."..."If they could but do without me; if they could but spring some trap on me, or if I should happen to meet with some check!"..." It seems as if they were all hastening to make their fortunes before the loss of the colony; which many of them perhaps desire as a veil to their conduct." ...Were Bougainville and Montcalm prophets of doom? Did Montcalm believe, as he stood on the Plains of Abraham, that he was now caught in the trap? Why were readily available reinforcements not sent? Why was Montcalm denied the cannon he requested? Was the general abandoned now to his own fate?

Montcalm and his chief officers held council and the decision was made to attack rather than wait for reinforcements; not even for Bougainville who would have surely come! His order to proceed with an assault without reinforcements, though brave, was foolish. The cautious, patient Montcalm had spent three years in North America carefully planning and executing his engagements with fortitude and wisdom. Now he could not wait an hour longer? He rallied his troops with Gallic passion. A young Canadian remembered "...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 attack was begun... though it was begun too soon.

"Ce n'est rien, ce n'est rien; ne vous affligez pas pour moi, mes bonnes amies."

The battle on the Plains of Abraham was fought with ferocity. Montcalm held no reserves and met the English full force (with the exception of some initially timid Canadians who did not advance but who would later give heroic resistance against the English). Wolfe was shot twice while leading the column of Louisbourg grenadiers and still charged forward. A third shot, however, was fatal. After giving final orders to cut off a French retreat, Major General James Wolfe died on the field. Montcalm's troops were turned back towards Quebec. As the saddled general neared the city walls a shot tore through his body. Remaining on his horse and supported by two soldiers, the Marquis entered the gates of Quebec mortally wounded. Crowds gathered, panicked and grief-stricken at the sight of blood streaming down the general's side. Montcalm was taken to the house of the surgeon, examined, and given 12 hours to live. "I am glad of it,...I am happy that I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec." He reportedly expressed his happiness of having been defeated by the brave Wolfe. Vaudreuil assumed command of the army of New France and sent for the dying Montcalm's advice. In typical Vaudreuilian style, he failed to protect Quebec and abandoned the city "in abominable flight". He, as commander of all of New France, failed even to consider negotiating terms.

The following morning, September 14, 1759, Louis Joseph Marquis de Montcalm died, in the hour of France's defeat. Major General Wolfe had died in England's hour of victory. Quebec was lost and though the war for North America would not officially end for four more years, England's victory was won that day. Governor-general Vaudreuil had played his part in the demise of New France,...while the Marquis de Montcalm paid with his life in his heroic struggle for her defense.

Quebec Monument

The monument at Quebec honoring the fallen Generals Montcalm and Wolfe.

~~~~~~~

"I am overwhelmed with work, and should often lose temper,... if I did not remember that I am paid by Europe for not losing it."

Le Marquis de Montcalm, September 11, 1759

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"{The paths of glory lead but to the grave}...Gentlemen, I would rather have written those lines than take Quebec."

Major General James Wolfe, September 12, 1759

~~~~~~~

Repos en paix.

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