The Battle of Quebec 1759
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The battle of Quiberon Bay was fought on November 20th, two months after the still more celebrated but not more decisive triumph of the British arms in Canada. Not more decisive, because if Wolfe had been beaten on the Heights of Abraham Hawke's destruction of the French fleet would still have enabled the British to pour reinforcements into Canada unchecked, and the French would still have been almost certainly overwhelmed.
Again Pitt's plan of campaign meant an advance in three columns - one directed in the farthest west upon Niagara, the second with the main body under Amherst upon Ticonderoga, while the third, of which Wolfe now held the command, was to proceed up the St. Lawrence against Quebec supported by the squadron under Admiral Sanders. Quebec had received its last small reinforcement from France in May, before the blockade of the French coast was completed. It was intended that the two western forces should converge upon Quebec to join hands with Wolfe; but though they were able to capture Niagara and Ticonderoga, each found difficulties in the way which prevented its further advance.
At the end of June Wolfe, with the Admirals Sanders and Holmes, arrived before Quebec. Quebec stands on the St. Lawrence, on a height - which was accounted impregnable on the western side. On the east the river St. Charles, flowing into the St. Lawrence, was secured at its entrance by a boom; and the greater part of the French army, which outnumbered the British forces, lay entrenched between the St. Charles and the Montmorenci river to the east. Wolfe occupied the southern bank and the north bank east of the Montmorenci. Admiral Holmes, carrying twelve hundred British troops, moved up the river above Quebec, and so gave employment to a French corps of observation. Sanders made any relief of the French from the eastward impossible.
A complete investment of Quebec was out of the question until Amherst should arrive; but there was no sign of Amherst arriving, and if it held out till the winter the St. Lawrence would no longer be navigable, and the ships would have to retire. It was Montcalm's business to stand on the defensive; Wolfe could not force his lines, and the Frenchman was not to be tempted out of his entrenchments.
An attack on the French camp failed, Wolfe himself became seriously ill, and at the beginning of September his despatches to England were full of the gloomiest forebodings. Two days after the arrival of the most depressing of these letters came an overwhelming revulsion. Quebec had fallen, and Wolfe too had fallen in the hour of victory. He had conceived the desperate design of scaling the Heights of Abraham on the western side of Quebec. Success was possible, if at all, only by effecting a complete surprise; defeat would mean disaster; but Wolfe resolved to take the risk.
On December 12th Holmes moved up the river, threatening an attack from a higher point and drawing off the French detachment of Bougainville, whose task it was to prevent a landing on that side. A heavy bombardment of the French camp on the east was opened by Admiral Sanders as the prelude to a grand attack in that quarter. Both movements were feints, intended to withdraw the attention of the French from the real point of attack. Wolfe, in the night, with four thousand men in boats, dropped down the river to the point chosen; he had shifted camp to facilitate embarkation above Quebec. No sentries were on guard attie foot of the precipitous height which the force scaled undetected; the leaders surprised and caught the small guard at the top. By daybreak something over three thousand men were beginning to be formed in order of battle.
Montcalm's forces were rapidly brought up; how much they outnumbered the British is not known. At about nine o'clock the French swept forward to drive the English over the cliff; the British reserved their fire till the enemy were thirty yards off. At the first deadly volley the French checked and reeled; at the second they broke and fled, while the British charged with the bayonet, and were stopped only by the fire of the artillery from the town walls. Montcalm had received his death wound; but Wolfe himself "died happy" on the field. The victorious British entrenched themselves in the position they had won, and four days later Quebec capitulated.
The Conquest of Canada
During 1760 the main feature of the war was the completion of the conquest of Canada, together with the final blow dealt to the collapsing French power in India at the battle of Wandewash. Frederick throughout the year was in great straits. Prussia was almost drained of fighting material; all Prince Ferdinand's skill and all his men were required to hold back the still very much larger force which the French were able to put in the field. Already at the close of 1759 the coalition had made good their footing in Saxony, and were in possession of Dresden. But for the British subsidies it would have been impossible to maintain in the field armies which could now only be scraped together with the utmost difficulty. Frederick could indeed hardly have been saved but for the incomparable sluggishness of the Austrian Daun and the stolid immobility of the Russians.
Thus aided he was enabled in the autumn to defeat Laudon at Liegnitz, and then Daun himself at Torgau, while the Russians did nothing. But Frederick's victories were no longer shattering blows; they were reverses for his enemies, not disasters; and before the year was over his prospects were seriously affected by the death of George II, and the accession to the British throne of a young king who was determined to rid himself of Pitt's ascendency.
To Pitt's loyalty Frederick owed it that he was not left to his fate. For during the first month of the year Choiseul was doing his best to induce Pitt to enter on a separate negotiation. But in the first place nothing would induce Pitt to desert his ally; and in the second he was fully satisfied that in spite of his own enormous war expenditure, the strain on France was much more severe, that she was becoming thoroughly exhausted, and that the longer the war went on the more completely she would be prostrated. He was undeterred by the suspicion already awakening in his mind that Spain under a new king might join the coalition. For the pacific Ferdinand was dead and had been succeeded by his half-brother, Charles IV, who had resigned the throne of Naples to occupy that of Spain. Choiseul's negotiations with Britain were therefore fruitless. Those negotiations, though they led to a temporary suspension of hostilities in the western theatre of the war in Europe, did not check the progress of events in Canada. The British now held Quebec, under command of General Murray, as well as Louisbourg. Amherst was again setting forward his converging movement on the west.
The Taking of Montreal
The French sought to strike the first blow by attacking Quebec, where the garrison could not obtain the support of a British squadron until the St. Lawrence became navigable again. For this purpose they were able to despatch a force which was double that under Murray's command; and at the end of April the British, after a sharp encounter at Sainte Foy, were driven within-the walls of Quebec. But ten days later came the news that a British squadron was now making its way up the St. Lawrence, and the French retreated. All that was left for them was the attempt to maintain themselves at Montreal; but Murray was free to take his own share in the converging movement, advancing from Quebec.
The three British columns united before Montreal on September 7th, and the next day the town capitulated. The whole Canadian dominion was surrendered to the British Crown under a guarantee that property was not to be disturbed and that religious liberty was to be secured, while the French troops with their officers laid down their arms and were sent back to France under promise of not again serving during the war.
The crisis of the struggle was over. In America and India the French had been beaten out of the field as rivals of the British, and the supremacy of the British, race was assured. More than two years were to pass before peace was signed, a peace which in effect confirmed, as far as the British Empire was concerned, the position which had already been won when the old king died in October 1760. The reign of Pitt practically ended with the reign of George II. The control was taken from his hands, and the last phase of the war forms the first phase of new political and international conditions. It remains in this chapter to complete the story of the establishment of the British power in the East.