Before daybreak this morning [September 13] we made a descent upon the north shore, about half a quarter of a mile to the eastward of Sillery; and the light troops were fortunately by the rapidity of the current carried lower down between us and Cape Diamond. We had in this debarkation thirty flat-bottomed boats, containing about sixteen hundred men. This was a great surprize on the enemy, who from the natural strength of the place did not, suspect, and consequently were not prepared against so an attempt. The chain of sentries which they had posted along the summit of the heights galled us a little, and picked off several men and some officers before our light infantry got up to dislodge them. This grand enterprise was conducted and executed with great good order and discretion.
As fast as we landed2 the boats put off for reenforcements, and the troops formed with much regularity. The general, with Brigadiers Monckton and Murray, was ashore with the first division. We lost no time here, but clambered up one of the steepest precipices that can be conceived, being almost a perpendicular, and of an incredible height. As soon as we gained the summit all was quiet, and not a shot was heard, owing to the excellent conduct of the light infantry under Colonel Howe. It was by this time clear daylight. Here we formed again, the river and the south country in our rear, our right extending to the town, our left, to Sillery, and halted a few minutes. The general then detached the light troops to our left to route the enemy from their battery, and to disable their guns, except they could be rendered serviceable to the party who were to remain there; and this service was soon performed. We then faced to the right, and marched toward the town by files till we came to the Plains of Abraham, an even piece of ground which Mr. Wolfe had made choice of, while we stood forming upon the hill. Weather showery. About six o'clock the enemy first made their appearance upon the heights between us and the town, whereupon we halted and wheeled to the right, thereby forming the line of battle. . . .
The enemy had now likewise formed the line of battle, and got some cannon to play on us, with round and canister shot; but what galled us most was a body of Indians and other marksmen they had concealed in the corn opposite to the front of our right wing, and a coppice that stood opposite to our center inclining toward our left. But Colonel Hale, by Brigadier Monckton's orders, advanced some platoons alternately from the forty-seventh regiment, which after a few rounds obliged these skulkers to retire. We were now ordered to lie down, and remained some time in this position. About eight o'clock we had two pieces of short brass six-pounders playing on the enemy, which threw them into some confusion, and obliged them to alter their disposition; and Montcalm formed them into three large columns. About nine the two armies, moved a little nearer each other. The light calvary made a faint attempt upon our parties at the battery of Sillery, but were soon beat off; and Monsieur de Bougainville, with his troops from Cape Rouge, came down to attack the flank of our second line, hoping to penetrate there. But, by a masterly disposition of Brigadier Townshend, they were forced to desist; and the third battalion of Royal Americans was then detached to the first ground we had formed on after we gained the heights, to preserve the communication with the beach and our boats.
About ten o'clock the enemy began to advance briskly in three columns, with loud shouts and recovered arms, two of them inclining to the left of our army, and the third toward our right, firing obliquely at the two extremities of our line, from the distance of one hundred and thirty, until they came within forty yards, which our troops withstood with the greatest intrepidity and firmness, still reserving their fire and paying the strictest obedience to their officers. This uncommon steadiness, together with the havoc which the grape-shot from our field-pieces made among them, threw them into some disorder, and was most critically maintained by a well-timed, regular, and heavy discharge of our small arms, such as they could no longer oppose. Hereupon they gave way, and fled with precipitation, so that by the time the cloud of smoke was vanished our men were again loaded, and, profiting by the advantage we had over them, pursued them almost to the gates of the town and the bridge over the little river, redoubling our fire with great eagerness, making many officers and men prisoners.
The weather cleared up, with a comfortably warm sunshine. The Highlanders chased them vigorously toward Charles River, and the fifty-eighth to the suburb close to John's gate, until they were checked by the cannon from the two hulks. At the same time a gun which the town had brought to bear upon us with grape-shot galled the progress of the regiments to the right, who were likewise pursuing with equal ardor, while Colonel Hunt Walsh, by a very judicious movement, wheeled the battalions of Bragg and Kennedy to the left, and flanked the coppice where a body of the enemy made a stand as if willing to renew the action; but a few platoons from these corps completed our victory. Then it was that Brigadier Townshend came up, called off the pursuers, ordered the whole line to dress and recover their former ground.
Our joy at this success is inexpressibly damped by the loss we sustained of one of the greatest heroes which this or any other age can boast ofGeneral James Wolfewho received his mortal wound as he was exerting himself at the head of the grenadiers of Louisbourg; and Brigadier Monckton was unfortunately wounded upon the left of the forty-third and right of the forty-seventh regiment at much the same time, whereby the command devolved on Brigadier Townshend, who, with Brigadier Murray, went to the head of every regiment and returned thanks for their extraordinary good behavior, congratulating the officers on our success. There is one incident very remarkable, and which I can affirm from my own personal knowledge,that the enemy were extremely apprehensive of being rigorously treated; for, conscious of their inhuman behavior to our troops upon a former occasion, the officers who fell into our hands most piteously (with hats off) sued for quarter, repeatedly declaring they were not at Fort William Henry (called by them Fort George) in the year 1757.3 A soldier of the Royal Americans who deserted from us this campaign, and fought against us to-day, was found wounded on the field of battle. He was immediately tried by a general court-martial, and was shot to death pursuant to his sentence.
While the two armies were engaged this morning there was an incessant firing between the town and our south batteries. By the time that our troops had taken a little refreshment, a quantity of intrenching tools were brought ashore, and the regiments were employed in redoubting our ground and landing some cannon and ammunition. The officers who are prisoners say that Quebec will surrender in a few days. Some deserters who came out to us in the evening agree in that opinion, and inform us that the Sieur de Montcalm is dying, in great agony, of a wound he received today in their retreat.
Thus has our late renowned commander by his superior eminence in the art of war, and a most judicious coup d'état, made a conquest of this fertile, healthy, and hitherto formidable country, with a handful of troops only, in spite of the political schemes and most vigorous efforts of the famous Montcalm, and many other officers of rank and experience at the head of an army considerably more numerous. My pen is too feeble to draw the character of this British Achilles; but the same may, with justice, be said of him as was said of Henry IV of France: he was possest of courage, humanity, clemency, generosity, affability, and politeness. . . .
Deserters who are come over to us since the action inform us that it was very difficult to persuade Monsieur de Montcalm and the other commanders that the flower of our army were behind the town; and, after the marquis had marched his troops over the river Charles, and taken a view of us, he said: "They have at last got to the weak side of this miserable garrison. Therefore, we must endeavor to crush them with our numbers, and scalp them all before twelve o'clock." Every coppice, bush, or other cover that stood on our ground this morning were cut down before night, and applied to the use of our new works. The houses were all fortified and several redoubts thrown up round our camp, which is about one thousand yards from the garrison, before ten O'clock. . . .
The Sieur4 de Montcalm died late last night. When his wound was drest and he settled in bed, the surgeons who attended him were desired to acquaint him ingenuously with their sentiments of him; and, being answered that his wound was mortal, he calmly replied, "he was glad of it." His Excellency then demanded "whether he could survive it long, and how long." He was told, "About a dozen hours, perhaps more, peradventure less." "So much the better," rejoined this eminent warrior. "I am happy I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec." He then ordered his secretary into the room to adjust his private affairs, which, as soon as they were dispatched, he was visited by Monsieur de Ramsey, the French king's lieutenant, and by other principal officers who desired to receive his Excellency's commands, with the farther measures to be pursued for the defense of Quebec, the capital of Canada. To this the marquis made the following answer: "I'll neither give orders nor interfere any farther. I have much business that must be attended to, of greater moment than your ruined garrison and this wretched country. My time is very short, therefore pray leave me. I wish you all comfort, and to be happily extricated from your present perplexities." He then called for his chaplain, who, with the bishop of the colony, remained with him till he expired. Some time before this great man departed, we are assured he paid us this compliment: "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 their number of British troops." . . .
After our late worthy general5 of renowned memory was carried off wounded to the rear of the front line, he desired those who were about him to lay him down. Being asked if he would have a surgeon, he replied, "It is needless: it is all over with me." One of them then cried out, "They run, see how they run!" "Who runs?" demanded our hero with great earnestness, like a person roused from sleep. The officer answered: "The enemy, sir. Egad, they give way everywhere." Thereupon the general rejoined: "Go, one of you, my lads, to Colonel Burton; tell him to march Webb's regiment with all speed down to Charles River, to cut off the retreat of the fugitives from the bridge." Then, turning on his side, he added, "Now, God be praised, I will die in peace!" and thus expired.
1From Knox's "Historical Journal of the Campaign in North America." Knox accompanied the expedition and wrote his "journal" from day to day. It was published in London, in two volumes, a few years after the battle. The victory of Wolfe has been recognized by many writers as of the utmost importance in modern history. Parkman says it "marks an epoch than which none is more fruitful of grand results. With it began a new chapter in the annals of the world." Green, in his "History of the English People," says: "With the triumph of Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham began the history of the United States." John Fiske wrote that "the triumph of Wolfe marks the greatest turning-point as yet discovered in modern history." This importance came from the fact that the battle decided for North America that her civilization should be English rather than French.Return to text.
2This place is now called Wolfe's Cove. It Is a few miles above Quebec.
3The fort at the southern end of Lake George which in August, 1757, the English had been obliged to surrender to the French under Montcalm.
4A Knox remarks in a foot-note to his narrative: "The appointments of this great man as lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief etc., did not exceed a thousand sols per day; and I have been credibly informed that all his other emoluments did not amount to more than the like sumthe whole equivalent to about nine hundred and thirty pounds sterling per annum."
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5Wolfe. . . .