The Battle Of The Plains
It was the evening of the 12th of Sept., 1759. The French troops were on
the alert,--the British ready. The evening was calm and fine and the
occasion full of solemnity as Wolfe embarked in a boat to visit some of
his posts. As the oars dipped softly in the stream, and the quiet dusk
of the autumn twilight hid the grim signs of war and brought out the
peaceful beauty of the scene, he thought of the morrow--that where
"Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,"
would be rent by the roar of cannon, the flash of bloody steel and the
cries of the wounded and dying.
Feeling perhaps a shrinking from the great crisis which the dawn would
bring, he repeated to the officers and midshipmen within hearing a
number of the verses from the most finished poem in the English
language, Grey's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," and which had
appeared a short time before. Probably the lines on which he lingered
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour;
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
The last line was, alas! prophetic in his own case, and he may have had
some premonition of it, for turning to his listeners, who were to share
with him victory or defeat, he said with a wistful pathos in his young
voice, "I would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of
beating the French to-morrow."
He did not dream that for what that morrow would bring, his name, with
that of the poet he loved, would be carven among those of England's
great men in Westminster Abbey--
"Where thro' the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise."
Landing in a ravine (Wolfe's Cove), which he had located by the use of a
glass--with the strategic venture at which all the world has since
wondered--in the dark hours of the same night, he, at the head of the
famous Fraser Highlanders, placed his force on the Plains of Abraham,
each man knowing it was victory or death, as there was no possibility of
The intelligence of the landing of the British troops was first brought
to the Governor-General, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, and he had the task
of communicating the unwelcome news to Montcalm, who had hurried from
his quarters on the ramparts to ascertain what was the meaning of the
firing above the town.
On learning the situation, he bitterly exclaimed:--
"They have at least got to the weak side of this miserable garrison,
and, therefore, we must endeavour to crush them by our numbers before 12
Montcalm, with more courage than discretion, without waiting for de
Levis, who was twenty-eight miles away,--the victim of an inexorable
destiny, unsupported led forth his men, and saw, not without surprise,
the whole British Army ranged in battle array. Without giving his men
time to recover breath after the fatigue of their laborious and hurried
march, he went into action, trusting to the well-tested courage of his
Wolfe led the charge at the head of the Louisburg Grenadiers, and when
the Highlanders, throwing away their muskets, rushed on with their broad
swords like a tempest of steel, the hapless blue coats, though lacking
in neither prowess nor patriotism, fled in all directions. The two young
leaders fell almost simultaneously.
When Wolfe received his death wound, he was in a conspicuous spot near
the Redoubt, and was thence borne to the rear. He had calmly prepared
for this contingency. He had made his will, of which he appointed Sir
Guy Carleton the executor, and for whom he had early formed a close
friendship, generally speaking of him as "My friend Carleton," and to
whom he bequeathed his books and papers. His plate he willed to
Saunders, and to another friend he entrusted the miniature of his
betrothed with the charge of returning it to her in the event of his
fall. That was probably the most trying moment of those hours so fraught
with tragedy--a moment like those on the eve of Waterloo, when there
"Partings that crush the life from out young hearts."
It was not in his martial cloak nor in his country's flag that he was
carried dead off the field, but in the tartan "plaidie" of an old
Highland man, named McLeod, which was tenderly wrapped around him, wet
with tears from eyes to which tears had long been strangers.
As he fell, his principal care was for the effect it would have upon his
troops, who, down to the humblest in his command, had caught his spirit,
and who felt that "they must fulfil the trust reposed in them, or die in
Leaning against the shoulder of the officer who caught him when falling,
he implored him to support him, saying, "Do not let my brave soldiers
see me drop, the day is ours, keep it!" A death attended with
circumstances more pathetic or incidents more picturesque the annals of
war do not record.
"The capture of Quebec was an achievement of so formidable a character,
so distinguished by chivalrous enterprise, and so fraught with singular
adventure, that the interest attending it still remains undimmed and its
glorious recollections unfaded."
The virtues and heroism of the youthful leader of the campaign and the
bravery of his troops, whose toast was "The British flag on every fort,
post and garrison in America," are themes of just pride to the lover of
his country. "Young in years but mature in experience, Wolfe possessed
all the liberal virtues in addition to an enthusiastic knowledge of the
military art with a sublimity of genius, always the distinguishing mark
of minds above the ordinary level of mankind. His celebrated letter to
Mr. Pitt is still considered unsurpassed in military composition."
As Montcalm was carried off the field he enquired if his wound was
mortal; on being answered in the affirmative, with a mental anguish
keener than the intense physical pain he was suffering, he said, "So
much the better, I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec." Few
scenes are more full of sadness than his march from his last
battle-field, as supported by two grenadiers, and passing through the
St. Louis Gate on his black charger, he courteously greeted the weeping
women who lined his path, telling them not to weep for him; but it
could not be but a day of tears for the daughters of Quebec as groans of
mortal agony came to their ears through the smoke and dust of retreat.
A few hours afterward, on being visited by M. de Ramezay, who commanded
the garrison, with the title of Lieutenant du Roy, and another
officer, Montcalm addressed them saying, "Gentlemen, I commend to your
keeping the honour of France,--for myself, I shall pass the night with
God, and prepare myself for death."
On M. de Ramezay's pressing to receive commands respecting the defence
of Quebec, he exclaimed with emotion:--"I will neither give orders nor
interfere further. I have business that must be attended to of greater
moment than your ruined garrison and this wretched country. My time is
very short, so pray leave me; I wish you all comfort, and to be happily
extricated from your present difficulties."
Before expiring, he paid a noble tribute to his late foes, when he
"Since it was my misfortune to be discomfited and mortally wounded, it
is a great consolation to me to be vanquished by so brave and generous
an enemy. If I could survive this wound, I would engage to beat three
times the number of such forces as I commanded this morning with a third
of such troops as were opposed to me."
Almost his last conscious act was to write a letter praying the English
victors to show clemency to the French prisoners.
It is said that a fissure ploughed by a cannon ball within the walls of
the Ursuline Convent furnished him a fitting soldier's grave.
One of the sisterhood, an eye-witness of the event, described the burial
in the following touching and graphic words:--
"At length it was September, with its lustrous skies and pleasant
harvest scenes. The city was destroyed, but it was not taken. Would not
the early autumn, so quickly followed by winter, force the enemy to
withdraw their fleet? For several days the troops which had been so
long idle were moving in various directions above and below Quebec, but
they were watched and every point guarded, but no one dreamed of the
daring project the intrepid Wolfe was meditating. The silence of the
night told no tale of the stealthy march of five thousand soldiers. The
echoes of the high cliff only brought to the listening boatmen the
necessary password. No rock of the shelving precipice gave way under the
cat-like tread of the Highlanders accustomed to the crags of their
native hills, but the morning light glittered on serried rows of British
bayonets, and in an hour the battle of the Plains changed the destinies
of New France. The remnant of the French army, after turning many times
on their pursuers, completely disappeared. Their tents were still
standing on the Plains of Beauport, but their batteries were silent and
trenches empty--their guns still pointed, but were mute.
"At nine o'clock in the evening a funeral cortege issuing from the
castle, wound its way through the dark and obstructed streets to the
little church of the Ursulines. The measured foot steps of the military
escort kept time with the heavy tread of the bearers, as the officers of
the garrison followed the lifeless remains of their illustrious
commander-in-chief to their last resting place. No martial pomp was
displayed around that humble bier and rough wooden box, which were all
the ruined city could afford the body of her defender; but no burial
rite could be more solemn than that hurried evening service performed by
torchlight under the war-scarred roof of the Convent, as with tears and
sighs were chanted the words 'Libera me Domine.'"
Some years ago an Englishman, Lord Aylmer, caused to be placed within
the convent enclosure a tablet with the words carved in marble:--
Le Destin en lui derobant
L'a recompense par
Une Mort Glorieuse.
Or, Honor to Montcalm. Fate denied him victory, but rewarded him with a
glorious death. Byron expresses a similar sentiment when he said:--
"They never fail who die in a good cause."
On the spot where Wolfe fell has been raised a simple shaft on which is
"Here Wolfe died victorious,
Sept. 13th, 1759,
In the thirty-fourth year of his age."
The stone which formed his death couch is preserved in its original
position, but sunk beneath the ground to protect it from the ravages of
the relic hunter. The column is supported on a pedestal of rocks formed
of boulders from the scene of the battle, conspicuous among which may be
seen the actual rock upon which Wolfe was supported when he breathed his
last. The stones of the monument are strongly cemented together,
embedded in the solid foundation of rock, and will be as enduring as the
fame of him whose name it bears.
The well near by, from which the water was brought to allay his thirst,
was filled up and obliterated some years ago, much to the regret of
those who venerated the immortal incident connected with it, and which
placed it among the historic shrines of the world.
Associated with Wolfe, and a sharer in the glory of the capture of
Quebec, was Charles Saunders, commander of the squadron. By bombarding
the town, he kept the enemy in a state of constant and anxious alarm,
at the same time showing wonderful skill in cleverly protecting his
fleet from disaster; even when threatened by fire-ships sent to destroy
it, which were grappled by the British sailors and run aground.
Among those who rendered signal service to Admiral Saunders when he
neared Quebec was the famous navigator, Captain Cook. He was the pilot
who conducted the boats to the attack at Montmorency on July 31st, 1759,
and managed the disembarkment at the Heights of Abraham.
The great mariner, while engaged in his celebrated voyages of discovery,
was murdered by South Sea Islanders at Owhyhee on the 14th of Feby.,
1779. He had been sent by the British Government to find if the
discovery of the North-West passage, which seemed impossible by the
Atlantic, were feasible by the Pacific Ocean; for which purpose he had
to round the southern part of the entire American Continent. He was on
the point of abandoning the project and returning home when he met his
terrible death, "leaving a name unsurpassed for gallantry by any
sea-faring man of his time."
In the month of October Saunders' fleet dropped silently down the river.
On one of the ships was the embalmed body of James Wolfe, returning to
the land he had served so well, but where alas! he would never hear the
acclamations with which his fellow countrymen, from the palace to the
cabin, would lay the laurel wreath upon his tomb,--the paths of glory
had truly led but to the grave!
Saunders on his return was appointed Lieutenant-General of Marine, and
on taking his seat as a member of the House of Commons received the
thanks of the Speaker. He became Knight Commander of the Bath, and on
his death was buried in Westminster Abbey near to the Monument of Wolfe.
Of the regiments to whom England owes the Conquest of Canada, the Scotch
claim the greatest share of glory. "Hardy sons of mountain and heather,
they were in fact the flower of the army, the boldest in attack, the
fiercest at close quarters, the last to retreat at command, and always
the bravest of the brave in the forefront of England's battles."
The kilted "laddies" from beyond the Grampians, in their "braw" plumed
bonnets, with their war-pipes lilting above the loudest din of war, have
met some of the fiercest onslaughts singing and stepping to the
blood-stirring strains of "Scots wha ha'e wi' Wallace bled."
An eye-witness of their march out of Brussels on that beautiful June
morning in 1815, the dawn of Waterloo, says:
"One could not but admire their fine appearance, their steady military
demeanour, with their pipes playing before them, and the beams of the
rising sun shining on their glittering arms." Many of the young officers
were in the silk stockings and dancing pumps which they wore the night
before to the Duchess of Richmond's ball, when they laughed:--
"On with the dance, let joy be unconfined,
No sleep till morn when youth and beauty meet,
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet."
With swords waving, the pibroch screaming and the "stirring memories of
a thousand years," they rushed into the stupendous conflict leading the
"Forty-twa" into the field, which the setting of the same sun saw
drenched through with blood, but marked by deeds which covered with
glory many a thatched ingle-nook on highland hills and in lowland
After the Conquest of Canada, the Fraser Highlanders with the remains of
the 42nd were offered grants of land if they chose to remain as
settlers, a privilege which many of them accepted. Sixteen years
afterward, when a foreign invasion threatened Canada, they loyally left
the plough in the furrow and again sprang to arms, to protect their
altars and firesides.
Among the blue Laurentian hills of the lower St. Lawrence, around their
simple hearths, their descendants live the placid life of the Canadian
habitant. They bear the old historic names of their Gaelic
forefathers,--Fraser, Cameron, Blackburn, MacDonald, etc.--but in
nothing else could it be thought that in their veins runs the blood of
those who fought at Colloden and Bannockburn. They are as purely French
in their religion, language and customs, as those whose sires sailed
from Breton and Norman ports.
The Commandant of Quebec at the time of its fall was the son of Claude
de Ramezay, the builder of the Chateau of that name. After the
disastrous battle, Vaudreuil, Governor of Montreal, sent him urgent
charges to do his utmost to hold out until reinforcements, which were on
a forced march from Montreal and elsewhere, should arrive to his
succour; but, the besieged being in the greatest extreme of fright and
starvation, his force refused to fight. His conduct has been much
criticized, but one annalist asserts that he was "not the man to shrink
from danger or death had there been anything but foolhardiness in the
risk, as he belonged to the good old fighting stock of North
Britain,"--the race which produced a Wallace and a Bruce. He, however,
signed the articles of capitulation, as recommended by the Council of
War summoned, and the British marched in through the iron-spiked
gates,--when, had he held out only twenty-four hours longer, Canada
might have been saved for France, as the British could not for any
length of time have maintained their position on the Plains of Abraham.
Returning to France, where he was related to several families of the
Noblesse, who held that "war was the only worthy calling, and prized
honour more than life," he received so cool a reception at Court that
his proud spirit, being unable to brook the humiliation, he applied for
a passport allowing him to return to Canada, but subsequently he
abandoned the idea of returning to his native land. Had he carried out
his intention, he might have seen French, English and American flags
successively wave over the red roof of the Chateau of his boyhood.
To complete the conquest, Montreal was attacked at three different
points by Generals Amherst, Murray and Haldimand. Arriving within a few
hours of each other, they camped outside of the old walls of the town.
Vaudreuil and de Levis tried to oppose them, but with Quebec lost, and
the only defences a rude citadel and weak walls built to resist Indian
attack and useless in civilized warfare, they were compelled to
surrender. A small stone cottage, until quite recently standing in a
private garden on the mountain side, was used as Amherst's headquarters,
and in which the articles of capitulation were signed between the
victorious and vanquished generals.
Among those who entered the town with Amherst was Israel Putnam, a man
who had been brought into Montreal a year before a prisoner by the
French. He had great physical strength and decision of character, and
was absolutely incapable of fear. On the breaking out of the
Revolutionary War, he entered with zeal into the cause of the colonists,
and lead them in the battle of Bunker Hill. True to his convictions, he
refused the large sums of money offered him by the British for his
services. By the American troops he was lovingly called "Old Put." On
his tombstone was inscribed:--"He dared to lead where any dared to
As the British entered the city by the old Recollet Monastery gate, the
French retired to la Citadelle, a strong wood block house at the other
end of the town. General Haldimand was the First Englishman to enter
within the walls, remains of which are still frequently dug up in
excavating. The oldest Ensign in Amherst's army received the French
colours, and it is said the keys of the city were given over by a woman,
but it is recorded with certainty that the fallen foes were treated with
the greatest consideration and respect, not even the Indian allies being
permitted to commit a single act of violence. "Amherst commanded the
principal division, including the 'Black Watch,' or gallant 42nd, which
has been renowned in military story wherever the British flag has been
borne to victory for more than a hundred and forty years." At Waterloo,
Corunna, Alma and Lucknow, in Afghan defiles and Egyptian deserts, they
were always in the thickest of the fight.
It is said, Pitt, wanting a safe and sure officer to command them, chose
what he called a stubborn Colonel, who had shown his mettle in Germany,
and made him Major-General Amherst.