And so the brave array advanced. The colours fluttered gallantly with the motion of the boats. The thousands of brilliant scarlet uniforms showed gaily between the masses of more sober blue. The drums were beating, the bugles blowing, the bagpipes screaming defiance to the foe; and every echo in the surrounding hills was roused to send its own defiance back.
The British halted for the night a few miles short of the north end of the lake. Next morning; the 6th, they set out again in time to land about noon within four miles of Ticonderoga in a straight line. There were two routes by which an army could march from Lake George to Lake Champlain. The first, the short way, was to go eastward across the four-mile valley. The second was twice as far, north and then east, all the way round through the woods. Since the valley road led to a bridge which Montcalm had blown up, Lord Howe went round through the woods with a party of rangers to see if that way would do. While he was pushing ahead the French reconnoitring party, which, from under cover, had been following the British movements the day before, was trying to find its own way back to Montcalm through the same woods. Its Indian guides had run away in the night, scared out of their wits by the size of the British army. It was soon lost and, circling round, came between Howe and Abercromby. Suddenly the rangers and the French met in the dense forest. 'Who goes there?' shouted a Frenchman. 'Friends!' answered a British soldier in perfect French. But the uniforms told another tale and both sides fired. The French were soon overpowered by numbers, and the fifty or so survivors were glad to scurry off into the bush. But they had dealt one mortal blow. Lord Howe had fallen, and, with him, the head and heart of the whole British force.
Abercromby, a helpless leader, pottered about all the next day, not knowing what to do. Meanwhile Montcalm kept his men hard at work, and by night he was ready and hopeful. He had just written to his friend Doreil, the commissary of war at Quebec: 'We have only eight days' provisions. I have no Canadians and no Indians. The British have a very strong army. But I do not despair. My soldiers are good. From the movements of the British I can see they are in doubt. If they are slow enough to let me entrench the heights of Ticonderoga, I shall beat them.' He had ended his dispatch to Vaudreuil with similar words: 'If they only let me entrench the heights I shall beat them.' And now, on the night of the 7th, he actually was holding the heights with his 3,000 French regulars against the total British force of 15,000. Could he win on the 8th?
Late in the evening 300 regulars arrived under an excellent officer, Pouchot. At five the next morning, the fateful July 8, Levis came in with 100 more. These were all, except 400 Canadians who arrived in driblets, some while the battle was actually going on. Vaudreuil had changed his mind again, and had decided to recall the Mohawk valley raiders. But too late. Levis, Pouchot, and the Canadians had managed to get through only after a terrible forced march, spurred on by the hope of reaching their beloved Montcalm in time. The other men from the raid, and five times as many more from Canada, came in afterwards. But again too late.
The odds in numbers were four to one against Montcalm. Even in the matter of position he was anything but safe. The British could have forced him out of it by taking 10,000 men through the woods towards Crown Point, to cut off his retreat to the north, while leaving 5,000 in front of him to protect their march and harass his own embarkation. And even if they had chosen to attack him where he was they could have used their cannon with great effect from Rattlesnake Hill, overlooking his left flank, only a mile away, or from the bush straight in front of him, at much less than half that distance, or from both places together. Always on the alert he was ready for anything, retreat included, though he preferred fighting where he was, especially if the British were foolish enough to attack without their guns—the very thing they seemed about to do. After Howe's death they made mistakes that worked both ways against them. They waited long enough to let Montcalm get ready to meet their infantry; but not long enough to get their guns ready to meet him.
Now, too, blundering Abercromby believed a stupid engineer who said the trenches could be rushed with the bayonet —precisely what could not be done. The peninsula of Ticonderoga was strong towards Lake Champlain, the narrows of which it entirely commanded. But, against infantry, it was even stronger towards the land, where trenches had been dug. The peninsula was almost a square. It jutted out into the lake about three-quarters of a mile, and its neck was of nearly the same width. Facing landward, the direction from which the British came, the left half of the peninsula was high, the right low. Montcalm entrenched the left half and put his French regulars there. He made a small trench in the middle of the right half for the Canadian regulars and militia, and cut down the trees everywhere, all round. The position of the Canadians was not strong in itself; but if the British rushed it they would be taken in flank by the French and in front by the fort, which was half a mile in rear of the trenches and could fire in any direction; while if they turned to rush the French right, they would have to charge uphill with the fire of the fort on their left.
Montcalm's men were already at work at five o'clock in the morning of the 8th when Levis marched in; and they went on working like ants till the battle began, though all day the heat was terrific. Some of the trees cut down were piled up like the wall of a log-cabin, only not straight but zigzag, like a 'snake' fence, so that the enemy should be caught between two fires at every angle. This zigzag wooden wall was, of course, well loopholed. In front of it was its zigzag ditch; and in front of the ditch were fallen trees, with their branches carefully trimmed and sharpened, and pointing outwards against the enemy. To make sure that his men should know their places in battle Montcalm held a short rehearsal. Then all fell to work again with shovel, pick, and axe.
Presently five hundred British Indians under Sir William Johnson appeared on Rattlesnake Hill and began to amuse themselves by firing off their muskets, which, of course, were perfectly useless at a distance of a mile. In the meantime Abercromby had drawn back his men from the woods and had made up his mind to take the short cut through the valley and rebuild the bridge which Montcalm had destroyed. This took up the whole morning; and it was not till noon that the British advance guard began to drive in the French outposts.
A few shots were heard. The outposts came back to the trenches. French officers on the look-out spied the blue rangers coming towards the far side of the clearings and spreading out cautiously to right and left. Then, in the centre, a mass of moving red and the fitful glitter of steel told Montcalm that his supreme moment had come at last. He raised his hand above his head. An officer, posted in the rear, made a signal to the fort half a mile farther back. A single cannon fired one shot; and every soldier laid down his tools and took up his musket. In five minutes a line three-deep had been formed behind the zigzag stockade, which looked almost like the front half of a square. The face towards the enemy was about five hundred yards long. The left face was about two hundred yards, and the right, overlooking the low ground, ran back quite three hundred. Levis had charge of the right, Bourlamaque of the left. Montcalm himself took the centre, straight in the enemy's way. As he looked round, for the last time, and saw how steadily that long, white, three-deep, zigzag line was standing at its post of danger, with the blue Royal Roussillon in the middle, and the grenadiers drawn up in handy bodies just behind, ready to rush to the first weak spot, he thrilled with the pride of the soldier born who has an army fit to follow him.
All round the far side of the clearing the blue rangers were running, stooping, slinking forward, and increasing in numbers every second. In a few minutes not a stump near the edge of the bush but had a muzzle pointing out from beside it. Soon not one but four great, solid masses of redcoats were showing through the trees, less than a quarter of a mile away. Presently they all formed up correctly, and stood quite still for an anxious minute or two. Then, as if each red column was a single being, with heart and nerves of its own, the whole four stirred with that short, tense quiver which runs through every mass of men when they prepare to meet death face to face. Behind the loopholed wall there was a murmur from three thousand lips—'Here they come!'—and the answering quiver ran through the zigzag, white ranks of the French, Montcalm's officers immediately repeated his last caution: 'Steady, boys. Don't fire till the red-coats reach the stakes and you get the word!'
At the edge of the trees the British officers were also reminding their men about the orders. 'Remember: no firing at all; nothing but the bayonet; and follow the officers in!' QUICK-MARCH! and the four dense columns came out of the wood, drew clear of it altogether, and advanced with steady tramp, their muskets at the shoulder and their bayonets gleaming with a deadly sheen under the fierce, hot, noonday sun. On they came, four magnificent processions, full of the pride of arms and the firm hope of glorious victory. Three of them were uniform masses of ordinary redcoats. But the fourth, making straight for Montcalm himself, was half grenadiers, huge men with high-pointed hats, and half Highlanders, with swinging kilts and dancing plumes. The march was a short one; but it seemed long, for at every step the suspense became greater and greater. At last the leading officers suddenly waved their swords, the bugles rang out the CHARGE! and then, as if the four eager columns had been slipped from one single leash together, they dashed at the trees with an exultant roar that echoed round the hills like thunder.
Montcalm gripped his sword, and every French finger tightened on the trigger. His colonels watched him eagerly. Up went his sword and up went theirs. READY!—PRESENT! —FIRE!! and a terrific, double-shotted, point-blank volley crashed out of that zigzag wall and simply swept away the heads of the charging columns. But the men in front were no sooner mown down than the next behind them swarmed forward. Again the French fired, again the leading British fell, and again more British rushed forward. The British sharp-shooters now spread out in swarms on the flanks of the columns and fired back, as did the first ranks of the columns themselves. But they had much the worse of this kind of fighting. Again the columns surged forward, broke up as they reached the trees, and were shot down as they struggled madly among the sharpened branches.
Montcalm had given orders that each man was to fire for himself, whenever he could get a good shot at an enemy; and that the officers were only to look after the powder and shot, see that none was wasted, and keep their men steady in line. His own work was to watch the whole fight and send parties of grenadiers from his reserve to any point where the enemy seemed likely to break in. But the defence weakened only in a single place, where the regiment of Berry, which had a good many recruits, wavered and began to sway back from its loopholes. Its officers, however, were among their men in a moment, and had put them into their places again before the grenadiers whom Montcalm sent running down could reach them.
Again and again the British sharpshooters repeated their fire; again and again the heads of the columns were renewed by the men behind, as those in front were mown down by the French. At last, but slowly, sullenly, and turning to have shot after shot at that stubborn defence of Montcalm's, the redcoats gave way and retreated, leaving hundreds of killed and wounded behind them. Montcalm was sure now that all was going well. He had kept several officers moving about the line, and their reports were all of the same kind—'men steady, firing well, no waste of ammunition, not many killed and wounded, all able to hold their own.' Here and there a cartridge or grenade had set the wooden walls alight. But men were ready with water; and even when the flames caught on the side towards the enemy there was no lack of volunteers to jump down and put them out. The fort, half a mile in rear and overlooking the whole scene, did good work with its guns. Once it stopped an attack on the extreme left by a flotilla of barges which came out of the mouth of the river running through the four-mile valley between the lakes. Two barges were sent to the bottom. Several others were well peppered by the French reserves, who ran down to the bank of the river; and the rest turned round and rowed back as hard as they could.
In all this heat of action Vaudreuil was not forgotten; but he would not have felt flattered by what the soldiers said. All knew how slow he had been about sending the Canadians, 3,000 of whom were already long overdue. 'Bah!' they said during the first lull in the battle; 'the governor has sold the colony; but we won't let him deliver the goods! God save the King and Montcalm!'
This first lull was not for long. On came the four red columns again, just as stubborn as before. Again they charged. Again they split up in front as they reached the fatal trees. Again they were shot down. Again rank after rank replaced the one that fell before it. Again the sharpshooters stood up to that death-dealing loopholed wall. And again the British retired slowly and sullenly, leaving behind them four larger heaps of killed and wounded.
A strange mistake occurred on both sides. Whenever the French soldiers shouted 'God save the King and Montcalm,' the ensigns carrying the colours of the regiment of Guienne waved them high in the air. The flags were almost white, and some of the British mistook them for a sign of surrender. Calling out 'Quarter, Quarter!' the redcoats held their muskets above their heads and ran in towards the wall. The French then thought it was the British who wished to surrender, and called out 'Ground Arms!' But Pouchot, the officer who had marched night and day from the Mohawk valley to join Montcalm, seeing what he thought a serious danger that the British would break through, called out 'Fire!' and his men, most of them leaning over the top of the wall, poured in a volley that cut down more than a hundred of the British.
The Canadians in the separate trench on the low ground, at the extreme right, were not closely engaged at all. They and the American rangers took pot-shots at each other without doing much harm on either side. In the middle of the battle the Canadians were joined by 250 of their friends, just come in from Lake Champlain. But even with this reinforcement they made only a very feeble attack on the exposed left flank of the British column nearest to them on the higher ground, in spite of the fact that this column was engaged in a keen fight with the French in its front, and was getting much the worse of it. When Levis sent two French officers down to lead an attack on the British column the Canadian officers joined it at once. But the mass of the men hung back. They were raiders and bush-fighters. They had no bayonets. Above all, they did not intend to come to close quarters if they could help it. Ticonderoga was no attack by men from the British colonies and no French-Canadian defence and victory. It was a stand-up fight between the French and the British regulars, who settled it between themselves alone.
About five o'clock the two left columns of the British joined forces to make a supreme effort. They were led by the Highlanders, who charged with the utmost fury, while the two right columns made an equally brave attack elsewhere. The front ranks were shot down as before. But the men in rear rushed forward so fast—every fallen man seeming to make ten more spring over his body—that Montcalm was alarmed, and himself pressed down at the head of his grenadiers to the point where the fight was hottest. At the same time Levis, finding his own front clear of the old fourth column, brought over the regiment of La Reine and posted it in rear of the men who most needed its support. These two reinforcements turned the scale of victory, and the charge failed.
Abercromby, unlike Montcalm, never exposed himself on the field at all. But, for the second time, he sent word that the trenches must be taken with the bayonet. The response was another attack. But the men were tired out by the sweltering heat and a whole afternoon of desperate fighting. They advanced, fired, had their front ranks shot down again; and once more retired in sullen silence. The last British attack had failed. Their sharp-shooters and the American rangers covered the retreat. Montcalm had won the day, the most glorious that French arms had seen in the whole of their long American career.
The British had lost 2,000 men, nearly all regulars. But they still had 4,000 regulars left, more than Montcalm's entire command could muster now. He went into action with 3,500 French regulars, 150 Canadian regulars, 250 Canadian militia, and 15 Indians: a total of 3,915. At four o'clock 250 more Canadians arrived. But as his loss was 400 killed and wounded, nearly all French regulars, he had not 4,000 fit for action, of all kinds together, at any one time; and he ended the day with only 3,765. On the other hand, Abercromby still had nearly all his 9,000 militia, besides 500 Indians; who, though worthless in the battle, were dangerous in the bush. Under these conditions it would have been sheer madness for Montcalm to have followed the British into their own country, especially as he lacked food almost more than he lacked men.
The losses of the different kinds of troops on both sides show us by whom most of the fighting was done. The Indians had no losses, either from among the 15 French or the 500 British. The Canadians and the American militia each lost about one man in every twenty-seven. The French regulars, fighting behind entrenchments and under a really great general; lost in proportion about three times as many as these others did, or one man in every nine. The British regulars, fighting in the open against entrenchments and under a blundering commander, lost nearly one man in every three.
Abercromby, having been pig-headed in his advance, now became chicken-hearted in his retreat. He was in no danger. Yet he ran like a hare. Had it not been for his steady regulars and some old hands among the rangers his return would have become a perfect rout. Pitt soon got rid of him; and he retired into private life with the well-earned nickname of 'Mrs. Nabby-Cromby.'
Montcalm was a devout man. He felt that the issue of the day had been the result of an appeal to the God of Battles; and he set up a cross on the ground he had won, with a Latin inscription that shows both his modesty and his scholarship:
'Quid dux? Quid miles? Quid strata ingentia ligna? En signum! En victor! Deus hic, Deus ipse, triumphat!'
'General, soldier, and ramparts are as naught! Behold the conquering Cross! 'Tis God the triumph wrought!'
But the glorious joy of victory did not last long. Vaudreuil claimed most of the credit for himself and the Canadians. He wrote lying dispatches to France and senseless orders to Montcalm. Now that reinforcements were worse than useless, because they ate up the food and could not attack the enemy, he kept on sending them every day. Montcalm was stung to the quick by the letters he received. After getting three foolish orders to march into the British colonies he wrote back sharply: 'I think it very strange that you find yourself, at a distance of a hundred and fifty miles, so well able to make war in a country you have never seen!' Nor was this all. Vaudreuil had also sent Indians, of course after the need for them had passed. They were idle and a perfect nuisance to the French. They began stealing the hospital stores and all the strong drink they could lay hands on. Montcalm checked them sharply. Then they complained to Vaudreuil, and Vaudreuil reproached Montcalm.
It was the same wretched story over and over again: the owls and foxes in the rear thwarting, spiting and robbing the lions at the front. Montcalm was more sick at heart than ever. He saw that anything he could say or do was of little use; and he again asked to be recalled. But he soon heard news which made him change his mind, no matter what the cost to his feelings. The east and the west had both fallen into British hands. Louisbourg and the Ohio were taken. Only Canada itself remained; and, even now, Pitt was planning to send against it overpowering forces both by sea and land. Montcalm would not, could not, leave the ruined colony he had fought for so long against such fearful odds. In the desperate hope of saving it from impending doom, he decided to stay to the end.
Having decided to stay in Canada Montcalm did all he could to come to terms with Vaudreuil, so that the French might meet with a united front the terrible dangers of the next campaign. He spoke straight out in a letter written to Vaudreuil on August 2, less than a month after his victory at Ticonderoga: 'I think the real trouble lies with the people who compose your letters, and with the mischief-makers who are trying to set you against me. You may be sure that none of the things which are being done against me will ever lessen my zeal for the good of the country or my respect towards you, the governor. Why not change your secretary's style? Why not give me more of your confidence? I take the liberty of saying that the king's service would gain by it, and we should no longer appear so disunited that even the British know all about it. I enclose a newspaper printed in New York which mentions it. False reports are made to you. Efforts are made to embitter you against me. I think you need not suspect my military conduct, when I am really doing all I can. After my three years of command under your orders what need is there for your secretary to tell me about the smallest trifles and give me petty orders that I should myself blush to give to a junior captain?'
When Montcalm wrote this he had not yet heard the bad news from Louisbourg and the Ohio, and he was still anxious to be recalled to France. Vaudreuil, of course, was delighted at the prospect of getting rid of him: 'I beseech you,' he wrote home to France, 'to ask the king to recall the Marquis of Montcalm. He desires it himself. The king has confided Canada to my own care, and I cannot help thinking that it would be a very bad thing for the marquis to remain here any longer!' There spoke the owl. And here the lion, when the bad news came: 'I had asked for my recall after Ticonderoga. But since the affairs of Canada are getting worse, it is my duty to help in setting them right again, or at least to stave off ruin so long as I can.'
Vaudreuil and Montcalm met and talked matters over. Even the governor began to see that the end was near, unless France should send out help in the spring of 1759. He was so scared at the idea of losing his governorship in such an event that he actually agreed with Montcalm to send two honest and capable men to France to tell the king and his ministers the truth. Two officers, Bougainville and Doreil, were chosen. They sailed in November with letters from both Montcalm and Vaudreuil. Nothing could have been better or truer than the letters Vaudreuil gave them to present at court. 'Colonel Bougainville is, in all respects, better fitted than anybody else to inform you of the state of the colony. I have given him my orders, and you can trust entirely in everything he tells you.' 'M. Doreil, the commissary of war, may be entirely trusted. Everybody likes him here.' But, by the same ship, the same Vaudreuil wrote a secret letter against these officers and against Montcalm. 'In order to condescend to the Marquis of Montcalm and do all I can to keep on good terms with him I have given letters to Colonel Bougainville and M. Doreil. But I must tell you that they do not really know Canada well, and I warn you that they are nothing but creatures of the Marquis of Montcalm.'
The winter of 1758-59 was like the two before it, only very much worse. The three might be described, in so many words, as bad, worse, and worst of all. Doreil had seen the stores and provisions of the army plundered by the Bigot gang, the soldiers half starved, the supposed presents for the Indians sold to them at the highest possible price, and the forts badly built of bad materials by bad engineers, who made a Bigot-gang profit out of their work. A report was also going home from a French inspector who had been sent out to see why the cost of government had been rising by leaps and bounds. Things were cheap in those days, and money was scarce and went a long way. When this was the case the whole public expense of Canada for a year should not have been more than one million dollars. But in Montcalm's first year it had already passed two millions. In his second it had passed four. And now, in his third, it was getting very near to eight.
Where did the money go? Just where all public money always goes when parasites govern a country. The inspector found out that many items of cost for supplies to the different posts had a cipher added to them. The officials told him why: 'We have to do it because the price of living has gone up ten times over.' But how did such an increase come about? The goods were sold from favourite to favourite, each man getting his wholly illegal profit, till the limit was reached beyond which Bigot thought it would not be safe to go. By means of false accounts, by lying reports and by the aid of accomplices in France who stopped letters from Montcalm and other honest men, the game went on for two years. Now it was found out. But the gang was still too strong in Canada to be broken up. In France it was growing weak. Another couple of years and all its members would have been turned out by the home government. They knew this; and, seeing that their end was coming in one way or another, they thought a British conquest could not be much worse than a French prison; indeed, it might be better, for a complete and general ruin might destroy proof of their own guilt. The lions would die fighting—and a good thing too! But the owls and foxes might escape with the spoils. 'What a country, where knaves grow rich and honest men are ruined!'
Montcalm wrote home to his family by every ship. He might not have long to do so. Just after Ticonderoga he wrote to his wife: 'Thank God! it is all over now until the beginning of May. We shall have desperate work in the next campaign. The enemy will have 50,000 men in the field, all together; and we, how many? I dare not tell it. Adieu, my heart, I long for peace and you. When shall I see my Candiac again?' On November 21, 1758, the last ship left for France. He wrote to his old mother, to whom he had always told the story of his wars, from the time when, thirty-one years before, as a stripling of fifteen, he had joined his father's regiment in the very year that Wolfe was born: 'You will be glad to hear from me up to the last moment and know, for the hundredth time, that I am always thinking of you all at home, in spite of the fate of New France and my duty with the army and the state. We did our best these last three years; and so, God helping us, we shall in 1759—unless you can make a peace for us in Europe.'
The wretched winter dragged on. The French were on half rations, the Canadians worse off still. In January Montcalm wrote in his diary: 'terrible distress round Quebec.' Then, the same day: 'balls, amusements, picnics, and tremendous gambling.' Another entry: 'in spite of the distress and impending ruin of the colony pleasure parties are going on the whole time.' He himself had only plain fare—horse-flesh and the soldier's half ration of bread—on his table. No wonder the vampires hated him!
May came; but not a word from France. For eight whole months no French ship had been able to cross the sea, to bring aid for the needy colony. Day by day the half-starved people scanned the St Lawrence for sight of a sail. At last, on the 10th, they had their reward. A French ship arrived; more ships followed; and by the 20th there were twenty-three in the harbour, all laden with provisions, stores, and men. The help was inadequate. There were only 326 soldiers for Montcalm on board, and there were not enough provisions to keep the soldiers and people on full rations through the summer, even with the help of what crops might be harvested while the farmers remained under arms. But Montcalm made the best of it: 'a little is precious to those who have nothing.'
Bougainville brought out plenty of promotions and honours for the victory at Ticonderoga. Montcalm was made lieutenant-general of the king in Canada. Bougainville told him his name was known all over France; 'even the children use it in their games.' Old Marshal Belle Isle, a gallant veteran, now at the head of the French army, and a great admirer of Montcalm, had sent out the king's last orders: 'No matter how small the space may be that you can retain, you must somehow keep a foothold in America; for, if we once lose the whole country, we shall never get it back again. The king counts upon your zeal, your courage, and your firmness to spare no pains and no exertion. You must hold out to the very last, whatever happens. I have answered for you to the king.' Montcalm replied: 'I shall do everything to maintain a foothold in New France, or die in its defence'; and he kept his word.
There was both joy and sorrow in the news from Candiac. His eldest daughter was happily married. His eldest son was no less happily engaged. But, at the last minute, Bougainville had heard that another daughter had died suddenly; he did not know which one. 'It must be poor Mirete,' said Montcalm, 'I love her so much.' His last letters home show with what a brave despair he faced the coming campaign. 'Can we hope for another miracle to save us? God's will be done! I await news from France with impatience and dread. We had none for eight months, and who knows if we shall have any more this year. How dearly I have to pay for the dismal privilege of figuring in the Gazette. I would give up all my honours to see you again. But the king must be obeyed. Adieu, my heart, I believe I love you more than ever!'
Bougainville had also brought out the news that Pitt was sending enormous forces to conquer Canada for good and all. One army was to attack the last French posts on the Lakes. Another was to come up Lake Champlain and take Montreal. A combined fleet and army, under Saunders and Wolfe, was to undertake the most difficult task and to besiege Quebec. There was no time to lose. Even Vaudreuil saw that. Pouchot was left at Niagara with 1,000 men. De la Corne had another 1,000 on the shores of Lake Ontario. Bourlamaque held Lake Champlain with 3,000. But the key of all Canada was Quebec; and so every man who could be spared was brought down to defend it. Saunders and Wolfe had 27,000 men of all kinds, 9,000 soldiers and 18,000 sailors, mostly man-of-war's-men. The total number which the French could collect to meet them was 17,000. Of these 17,000 only 4,000 were French regulars. There were over 1,000 Canadian regulars; less than 2,000 sailors, very few of whom were man-of-war's-men; about 10,000 Canadian militia, and a few hundred Indians. The militia included old men and young boys, any one, in fact, who could fire off a musket. The grand totals, all over the seat of war, were 44,000 British against 22,000 French.
Having done all he could for Niagara, Ontario, and Lake Champlain, Montcalm hurried down to Quebec on May 22. Vaudreuil followed on the 23rd. On the same day the advance guard of the British fleet arrived at Bic on the lower St Lawrence. From that time forward New France was sealed up as completely as if it had shrunk to a single fort. Nothing came in and nothing went out. The strangling coils of British sea-power were all round it. But still Montcalm stood defiantly at bay. 'You must maintain your foothold to the very last.'—'I shall do it or die.'
His plan was to keep the British at arm's length as long as possible. The passage known as the 'Traverse' from the north channel to the south, at the lower end of the Island of Orleans, was a good place to begin. Strong batteries there might perhaps sink enough of the fleet to block the way for the rest. These Montcalm was eager to build, but Vaudreuil was not. Had not Vaudreuil's Canadian pilots prophesied that no British fleet could possibly ascend the river in safety, even without any batteries to hinder it? And was not Vaudreuil so sure of this himself that he had never had the Traverse properly sounded at all? He would allow no more than a couple of useless batteries, which the first British men-of-war soon put to silence. The famous Captain Cook, who was sailing master of a frigate on this expedition, made the necessary soundings in three days; and the fleet of forty warships and a hundred transports went through without a scratch.
Vaudreuil's second chance was with seven fireships, which, having been fitted out by the Bigot gang at ten times the proper cost, were commanded by a favoured braggart called Delouche. The night after the British fleet had arrived in the Orleans Channel, the whole French camp turned out to watch what it was hoped would be a dramatic and effective attack on the mass of shipping which lay at anchor near the head of the island. The fireships were sent down with the ebb-tide, straight for the crowded British fleet. But Delouche lost his nerve, fired his ship too soon, jumped into a boat and rowed away. Five of the others did the same. The seventh was a hero, Dubois de la Milletiere, who stuck to his post, but was burned to death there in a vain effort to get among the enemy. Had the six others waited longer the whole of the seven French crews might have escaped together and some damage might have been done to the British. As it was there was nothing but splendid fireworks for both sides. The best man on the French side was killed for nothing; no harm was done to the British; and for equipping the fireships the Bigot gang put another hundred thousand stolen dollars into their thievish pockets. 'What a country, where knaves grow rich and honest men are ruined!'
Vaudreuil's third chance was to defend the shore opposite Quebec, Point Levis, which Montcalm wished to hold as long as possible. If the French held it the British fleet could not go past Quebec, between two fires, and Wolfe could not bombard the town from the opposite heights. But, early in July, Vaudreuil withdrew the French troops from Point Levis, and Wolfe at once occupied the shore and began to build his batteries. As soon as the British had made themselves secure Vaudreuil thought it time to turn them out. But he sent only 1,500 men; and so many of these were boys and youths at school and college that the French troops dubbed them 'The Royal Syntax.' These precious 1,500 went up the north shore, crossed over after dark, and started to march, in two separate columns, down the south shore towards Levis. Presently the first column heard a noise in the woods and ran back to join the second. But the second, seeing what it mistook for the enemy, fired into the first and ran for dear life. Then the first, making a similar mistake, blazed into the second, and, charmed with its easy victory, started hotfoot in pursuit. After shooting at each other a little more, just to make sure, the two lost columns joined together again and beat a hasty retreat.
With the opposite shore lost Montcalm had now no means of keeping Wolfe at any distance. But Montcalm had chosen his position with skill, and it was so strong by nature that it might yet be held till the autumn, if only he was allowed to defend it in his own way. His left was protected by the Montmorency river, narrow, but deep and rapid, with only two fords, one in thick bush, where the British regulars would have least chance, and another at the mouth, directly under the fire of the French left. His centre was the six miles of ground stretching towards Quebec between the Montmorency and the little river St Charles. Here the bulk of his army was strongly entrenched, mostly on rising ground, just beyond the shore of the great basin of the St Lawrence, the wide oozy tidal flats of which the British would have to cross if they tried to attack him in front. His right was Quebec itself and the heights of the north shore above.
Wolfe pitched his camp on the far side of the cliffs near the Falls of Montmorency; and one day tried to cross the upper fords, four miles above the falls, to attack Montcalm in the rear. But Montcalm was ready for him in the bush and beat him back.
The next British move was against the left of Montcalm's entrenchments. On July 31 Wolfe's army was busy at an early hour; and all along the French front men-of-war were under way with their decks cleared for action. At ten o'clock, when the tide was high, two small armed ships were run aground opposite the French redoubt on the beach a mile from the falls; and they, the men-of-war, and Wolfe's batteries beyond the falls, all began to fire on the redoubt and the trenches behind it. Montcalm fired back so hard at the two armed ships that the British had to leave them. Then he gave orders for his army to be ready to come at a moment's notice, but to keep away from the threatened point for the present. By this means, and from the fact that his trenches had been very cleverly made by his own French engineers, he lost very few men, even though the British kept up a furious fire.
The British kept cannonading all day. By four o'clock one British brigade was trying to land beside the two stranded armed ships, and the two other brigades were seen to be ready to join it from their camp at Montmorency. The redcoats had plenty of trouble in landing; and it was not till six that their grenadiers, a thousand strong, were forming up to lead the attack. Suddenly there was an outburst of cheering from the British sailors. The grenadiers mistook this for the commencement of the attack. They broke their ranks and dashed madly at the redoubt. The garrison at once left it and ran back, up the hill, into the trenches. The grenadiers climbed into it, pell-mell; but, as it was open towards its rear, it gave them no cover from the terrific fire that the French, on Montcalm's signal, now poured into them. Again they made a mad charge, this time straight at the trenches. Montcalm had called in every man there was room for, and such a storm of bullets, grape-shot, cannon-balls, and shells now belched forth that even British grenadiers could not face it. A thunderstorm burst, with a deluge of rain; and, amid the continued roar of nature's and man's artillery, half the grenadiers were seen retreating, while half remained dead or wounded on the field.
The two redcoat brigades from Montmorency had now joined the remnant of the first, which had had such a rough experience. Montcalm kept his men well in hand to meet this more formidable attack. But Wolfe had had enough. The first brigade went back to its boats. The second and third brigades marched back to Montmorency along the beach in perfect order, the men waving their hats in defiance at the French, who jumped up on top of their earthworks and waved defiance back. Before retiring the British set fire to the two stranded ships. The day had been as disastrous for Wolfe as glorious for Montcalm.
August was a hard month for both armies. Montcalm had just won his fourth victory over the British; and he would have saved Canada once more if only he could keep Wolfe out of Quebec till October. Wolfe was ill, weak, disappointed, defeated. But his army was at least perfectly safe from attack. With a powerful fleet to aid him Wolfe was never in any danger in the positions he occupied. His army was always well provisioned; even luxuries could be bought in the British camp. The fleet patrolled the whole course of the St Lawrence; convoys of provision ships kept coming up throughout the siege, and Montcalm had no means of stopping a single vessel.
Montcalm could not stop the ships; but the ships could stop him. He was completely cut off from the rest of the world, except from the country above Quebec; and now that was being menaced too. The St Lawrence between Quebec and Montreal was the only link connecting the different parts of New France, and the only way by which Quebec could be provisioned. The course of the campaign could not have been foretold; and Montcalm had to keep provisions in several places along the river above Quebec, in case he had to retreat. It would have been foolish to put all the food into Quebec, as he would not be able to take enough away with him, should he be obliged to leave for Montreal or perhaps for the Great Lakes, or even for a last desperate stand among the swamps of New Orleans. 'You must keep a foothold in America.'—'I shall do everything to keep it, or die.' Quebec was the best of all footholds. But if not Quebec, then some other place not so good: Montreal; an outpost on the Great Lakes; a camp beyond the Mississippi; or even one beside the Gulf of Mexico.
So, for every reason, Montcalm was quite as anxious about the St Lawrence above Quebec as he was about Quebec itself. Ever since July 18 Admiral Saunders had been sending more and more ships up the river, under cover of the fire from the Levis batteries. In August things had grown worse for Montcalm. Admiral Holmes commanded a strong squadron in the river above Quebec. Under his convoy one of Wolfe's brigades landed at Deschambault, forty miles above Quebec, and burnt a magazine of food and other stores. This step promised disaster for the French. Montcalm sent Bougainville up along the north shore with 1,000 men to watch the enemy and help any of the French posts there to prevent a landing. Whenever Saunders and Wolfe sent further forces in that direction Montcalm did the same. He gave Bougainville more men. He strengthened both the shore and floating batteries, and by means of mounted messengers he kept in almost hourly touch with what was going on.
The defence of the north shore above Quebec was of the last importance. The only safe way of feeding Quebec was by barges from Montreal, Sorel, and Three Rivers, which came down without any trouble to the Richelieu rapids, a swift and narrow part of the St Lawrence near Deschambault, where some small but most obstructive French frigates and the natural difficulties in the river would probably keep Holmes from going any higher. There was further safety to the French in the fact that Wolfe could not take his army to this point from Montmorency without being found out in good time to let Montcalm march up to meet him.
It was vital to Montcalm to keep the river open. It would never do to be obliged to land provisions above Deschambault and to cart them down by road. To begin with, there were not enough carts and horses, nor enough men to be spared for driving them; and, in addition, the roads were bad. Moreover, transport by land was not to be compared with transport by water; it was easier to carry a hundred tons by water than one by land. Accordingly, Quebec was fed by way of the river. The French barges would creep down, close alongshore, at night, and try to get into the Foulon, a cove less than two miles above Quebec. Here they would unload their cargoes, which were then drawn up the hill, carted across the Plains of Abraham, and down the other side, over the bridge of boats, into the French camp.
Montcalm was anxious, but not despairing. Vaudreuil was, indeed, as mischievous as ever. But now that the two enemies were facing each other, in much the same way, for weeks together, there was less mischief for him to make. He made, however, as much as he could. Everything that happened in the French camp was likely to be known next day in the British camp. Vaudreuil could not keep any news to himself. But he tried to keep news from Montcalm and to carry out thwarting plans of his own. Wolfe had no drawbacks like this. News from his camp was always stale, because the fleet was a perfect screen, and no one on the French side could tell what was going on behind it till long after the chance had gone by.
One day Captain Vauquelin, a French naval officer, offered to board a British man-of-war that was in the way of the provision boats, if Vaudreuil would let him take five hundred men and two frigates, which he would bring down the river in the night. Vauquelin was a patriot hero, who had done well at Louisbourg the year before, and who was to do well at Quebec the year after. But, of course, he was not a member of the Bigot gang. So he was set aside in favour of a parasite, who made a hopeless bungle of the whole affair.
The siege dragged on, and every day seemed to tell in favour of Montcalm, in spite of all the hardships the French were suffering. Wolfe was pounding the city into ruins from his Levis batteries; but not getting any nearer to taking it. He was also laying most of the country waste. But this was of no use either, unless the French barges on the river could be stopped altogether, and a landing in force could be made on the north shore close to Quebec.
Wolfe was right to burn the farms from which the Canadians fired at his men. Armies may always destroy whatever is used to destroy them. But one of his British regular officers was disgracefully wrong in another matter. The greatest blackguard on either side, during the whole war, was Captain Alexander Montgomery of the 43rd Regiment, brother of the general who led the American invasion of Canada in 1775 and fell defeated before Quebec. Montgomery had a fight with the villagers of St Joachim, who had very foolishly dressed up as Indians. No quarter was given while the fight lasted, as Indians never gave it themselves. But some Canadians who surrendered were afterwards butchered in cold blood, by Montgomery's own orders, and actually scalped as well.
The siege went on with move and counter-move. Both sides knew that September must be the closing month of the drama, and French hopes rose. There was bad news for them from Lake Champlain; but it might have been much worse. Amherst was advancing towards Montreal very slowly. Bourlamaque, an excellent officer, was retreating before him, but he thought that Montreal would be safe till the next year if some French reinforcements could be sent up from Quebec. Only good troops would be of any use, and Montcalm had too few of them already. But if Amherst took Montreal the line of the St Lawrence would be cut at once. So Levis was sent off with a thousand men, a fact which Wolfe knew the very day they left.
September came. The first and second days passed quietly enough. But on the third the whole scene of action was suddenly changed. From this time on, for the next ten days, Montcalm and his army were desperately trying to stave off the last and fatal move, which ended with one of the great historic battles of the world.
THE PLAINS OF ABRAHAM September 13, 1759
September 3 looked like July 31 over again. One brigade of redcoats came in boats from the Point of Levy and rowed about in front of the left of Montcalm's entrenchments. The two others marched down the hill to the foot of the Falls of Montmorency. But here, instead of fording the mouth and marching along the beach, they entered boats and joined the first brigade, which was hovering in front of the French lines. Meanwhile, the main squadron of the fleet, under Saunders himself, was closing in before these same lines, with decks cleared for action. Montcalm thought that this was likely to be Wolfe's last move, and he felt sure he could beat him again. But no attack was made. As the ships closed in towards the shore the densely crowded boats suddenly turned and rowed off to the Point of Levy. Wolfe had broken camp without the loss of a single man.
Now began for Montcalm ten terrible days and nights. From the time Wolfe left Montmorency to the time he stood upon the Plains of Abraham, Montcalm had no means whatever of finding out where the bulk of the British army was or what it intended to do. Even now, Vaudreuil had not sense enough to hold his tongue, and the French plans and movements were soon known to Wolfe, especially as the Canadians were beginning to desert in large numbers. Wolfe, on the other hand, kept his own counsel; the very few deserters from the British side knew little or nothing, and the fleet became a better screen than ever. For thirty miles, from the Falls of Montmorency up to above Pointe aux Trembles, the ships kept moving up and down, threatening first one part of the north shore and then another, and screening the south altogether. Sometimes there were movements of men-of-war, sometimes of transports, sometimes of boats, sometimes of any two of these, sometimes of all three together; sometimes there were redcoats on board one, or two, or all three kinds of craft, and sometimes not. It was a dreadful puzzle for Montcalm, a puzzle made ten times worse because all the news of the British plans that could be found out was first told to Vaudreuil.
Gradually it seemed as if Wolfe was aiming at a landing somewhere on the stretch of thirteen miles of the north shore between Cap Rouge, nine miles above Quebec, and Pointe aux Trembles, twenty-two miles above. Camp gossip, the reports from Bougainville, who was still watching Holmes up the river, and whatever other news could be gathered, all seemed to point the same way. But Saunders was still opposite the Beauport entrenchments; and the British camps at the island of Orleans, the Point of Levy, and the Levis batteries still seemed to have a good many redcoats. The use of redcoats, however, made the puzzle harder than ever at this time, for Saunders had over 2,000 marines, who were dressed in red and who at a distance could not be told from Wolfe's own soldiers.
Perhaps Wolfe was only making a feint at Pointe aux Trembles, and might, after all, come down against the entrenchments if he saw that Montcalm had weakened them. Perhaps, also, he might try to land, not at either end of the French line, but somewhere in the middle, between Cap Rouge and Quebec. Nothing could be found out definitely. Certainly the British were looking for the weakest spot, wherever it was. So Montcalm did the best he could to defend nearly thirty miles of shoreline with the reduced army of 13,000 men which he now had. Sickness, desertion, losses in battle, and the reinforcements for Lake Champlain had taken away a good 4,000. Again he reinforced Bougainville, and told him to watch more carefully than ever the menaced thirteen miles between Cap Rouge and Pointe aux Trembles. He himself looked after the garrison of Quebec. He made sure that the bulk of his army was ready to defend the Beauport entrenchments as well as before, and that it was also ready at a moment's notice to march up the river. He sent a good battalion of French regulars to guard the heights between Quebec and Cap Rouge, heights so strong by nature that nobody else seemed to think they needed defending at all.
This French battalion, that of La Guienne, marched up to their new position on the 5th, and made the nine miles between Quebec and Cap Rouge safe enough against any British attack. There were already posts and batteries to cover all the points where a body of men could get up the cliffs, and the presence of a battalion reduced to nothing the real dangers in this quarter. By the 7th Vaudreuil had decided that these real dangers did not exist, that Montcalm was all wrong, especially about the Plains of Abraham, that there could be no landing of the enemy between Quebec and Cap Rouge, that there was not enough firewood there for both the Guienne battalion and the men at the posts and batteries, and that, in short, the French regulars must march back to the entrenchments. So back they came.
On the 8th and 9th the British vessels swarmed round Pointe aux Trembles. How many soldiers there were on board was more than Bougainville could tell. He knew only that a great many had been seen first from Cap Rouge, that later a great many had been seen from Pointe aux Trembles, and that every day bodies of soldiers had been landed and taken on board again at St Nicholas, on the south shore, between the two positions of Cap Rouge and Pointe aux Trembles. The British plan seemed to be to wear out their enemy. Daily the odds against the French grew; for shiploads of redcoats would move up and down with the strong tide and keep Bougainville's wretched, half-starved men tramping and scrambling along the rough ground of the heights in order to follow and forestall this puzzling and persistent enemy.
On the 10th a French officer near the Foulon, one of the posts on the heights between Quebec and Cap Rouge, saw, through his telescope, that six British officers on the south shore were carefully surveying the heights all about him. When he reported this at once, Montcalm tried again to reinforce this point. He also tried to send a good officer to command the Foulon post. The officer stationed there was Vergor, one of the Bigot gang and a great friend of Vaudreuil's. Vergor had disgraced himself by giving up Fort Beausejour in Acadia without a fight. He was now disgracing himself again by allowing fifty of the hundred men at the post to go and work at their farms in the valley of the St Charles, provided that they put in an equal amount of work on his own farm there. It was a bad feature of the case that his utter worthlessness was as well known to Wolfe as it was to Montcalm.
On the 11th and 12th the movements of the fleet became more puzzling than before. They still seemed, however, to point to a landing somewhere along those much threatened thirteen miles between Cap Rouge and Pointe aux Trembles, but, more especially, at Pointe aux Trembles itself. By this time Bougainville's 2,000 men were fairly worn out with constant marching to and fro; and on the evening of the 12th they were for the most part too tired to cook their suppers. Bougainville kept the bulk of them for the night near St Augustin, five miles below Pointe aux Trembles and eight miles above Cap Rouge, so that he could go to either end of his line when he made his inspection in the morning. He knew that at sunset some British vessels were still off Pointe aux Trembles. He knew also that most of the British vessels had gone down for the night to St Nicholas, on the south shore, only four miles nearer Quebec than he was at St Augustin. Bougainville and everybody else on both sides—except Wolfe and Montcalm themselves—thought the real attack was going to be made close to Pointe aux Trembles, for news had leaked out that this was the plan formed by the British brigadiers with Wolfe's own approval.
Down the river, below Quebec, in his six miles of entrenchments at Beauport, Montcalm was getting more and more uneasy on the fatal 12th. Where was Wolfe's army? The bulk of it, two brigades, was said to be at St Nicholas, thirteen miles above Quebec, facing the same thirteen miles that Bougainville's worn-out men had been so long defending. But where was Wolfe's third brigade? Saunders remained opposite Beauport, as usual. His boats seemed very busy laying buoys, as if to mark out good landing-places for another attack. He had redcoats with him, too. Which were they? Marines? Soldiers? Nobody could see. There were more redcoats at the island of Orleans, more at the Point of Levy, more still near the Levis batteries. Were these all soldiers or were some of them marines? Why was Saunders beginning to bombard the entrenchments at Beauport and to send boats along the shore there after dark? Was this a feint or not? Why were the Levis batteries thundering so furiously against Quebec? Was it to cover Wolfe's crowded boats coming down to join Saunders at Beauport?
Montcalm was up all night, keeping his men ready for anything. That night Bougainville reported much the same news as for several days past. He expected to see Holmes and Wolfe back at Pointe aux Trembles in the morning. If occasion arose, he was, however, ready to march down to Cap Rouge as fast as his tired-out men could go. His thirteen miles were being well watched.
What, however, about the nine miles of shore under his guard between Cap Rouge and Quebec? About them Vaudreuil was as stubborn as ever. They were a line of high cliffs, seemingly impregnable, and Vergor who defended them was his friend. Surely this was enough! But Montcalm saw what a chance the position offered to a man of such daring skill as Wolfe. Again he tried to have Vergor recalled, but in vain. Then, in the afternoon of the 12th, he took the bold but the only safe course of ordering the Guienne battalion, four hundred strong, to go up at once and camp for the night at the top of the Foulon, near Vergor. The men were all ready to march off when Vaudreuil found out what they were going to do. It was no order of his! It would belittle him to let Montcalm take his place! And, anyhow, it was all nonsense! Raising his voice so that the staff could hear him, he then said: 'The English haven't wings! Let La Guienne stay where it is! I'll see about that Foulon myself to-morrow morning!'
'To-morrow morning' began early, long before Vergor and Vaudreuil were out of bed. Of the two Vergor was up first; up first, and with a shock, to find redcoats running at his tent with fixed bayonets. He was off, like a flash, in his nightshirt, and Wolfe had taken his post. He ought to have been on the alert for friends as well as foes that early morning, because all the French posts had been warned to look out for a provision convoy which was expected down the north shore and in at the Foulon itself. But Vergor was asleep instead, and half his men were away at his farm. So Vaudreuil lost his chance to 'see about that Foulon himself' on that 'to-morrow morning.'
Saunders had been threatening the entrenchments at Beauport all night, and before daylight the Levis batteries had redoubled their fire against Quebec. But about five o'clock Montcalm's quick ear caught the sound of a new cannonade above Quebec. It came from the Foulon, which was only two miles and a half from the St Charles bridge of boats, though the tableland of the Plains of Abraham rose between, three hundred feet high. Montcalm's first thought was for the provision convoy, so badly needed in his half-starved camp. He knew it was expected down at the Foulon 'this very night, and that the adjacent Samos battery was to try to protect it from the British men-of-war as it ran in. But he did not know that it had been stopped by a British frigate above Pointe aux Trembles, and that Wolfe's boats were taking its place and fooling the French sentries, who had been ordered to pass it quietly.
Yet he knew Wolfe; he knew Vergor; and now the sound of the cannonade alarmed him. Setting spurs to his horse, he galloped down from Beauport to the bridge of boats, giving orders as he went to turn out every man at once.
At the bridge he found Vaudreuil writing a letter to Bougainville. If Vaudreuil had written nothing else in his life, this single letter would be enough to condemn him for ever at the bar of history. With the British on the Plains of Abraham and the fate of half a continent trembling in the scale, he prattled away on his official foolscap as if Wolfe was at the head of only a few naughty boys whom a squad of police could easily arrest. 'I have set the army in motion. I have sent the Marquis of Montcalm with one hundred Canadians as a reinforcement.'
Montcalm took up with him a good many more than the 'one hundred Canadians' Vaudreuil ordered him to take, and he sent to Bougainville a message very different from the one Vaudreuil had written. What hero was ever more sorely tried? When he caught sight of the redcoats marching towards Quebec, in full view of the place where Vaudreuil was writing that idiotic letter, he exclaimed, as he well might: 'Ah! there they are, where they have no right to be!' Then, turning to the officers with him, he added: 'Gentlemen, this is a serious affair. Let every one take post at once!'
The camp was already under arms. Montcalm ordered up all the French and Canadian regulars and all the militia, except 2,000. Vaudreuil at once ordered a battalion of regulars and all the militia, except 2,000, to stay where they were. Montcalm asked for the whole of the twenty-five field guns in Quebec. Vaudreuil gave him three.
Wolfe's 5,000 redcoats were already on the Plains when Montcalm galloped up to the crest of ground from which he could see them, only six hundred yards away. The line was very thin, only two-deep, and its right did not seem to have come up yet. Some sailors were dragging up a gun, not far from the Foulon. Perhaps Wolfe's landing was not quite completed?
Meanwhile half the 5,000 that Montcalm was able to get into action was beginning to fire at the redcoats from under cover and at some distance. This half was militia and Indians, 2,000 of the first and 500 of the second. The flat and open battlefield that Wolfe had in his front was almost empty. It was there that Montcalm would have to fight with his other 2,500, in eight small battalions of regulars—five French and three Canadian.
These regulars wasted no time, once they were clear of Vaudreuil, who still thought some of them should stay down at Montmorency. They crossed the bridge of boats and the valley of the St Charles, mounted the Heights of Abraham, and formed up about as far on the inner side of the crest of ground as Wolfe's men were on the outer side. Montcalm called his brigadiers, colonels, and staff together, to find out if anyone could explain the movements of the British. No one knew anything certain. But most of them thought that the enemy's line was not yet complete, and that, for this reason, as well as because the sailors were beginning to land entrenching tools and artillery, it would be better to attack at once.
Montcalm agreed. In fact, he had no choice. He was now completely cut off from the St Lawrence above Quebec. His army could not be fed by land for another week. Most important of all, by prompt action he might get in a blow before Wolfe was quite ready. There was nothing to wait for. Bougainville must have started down the river bank, as hard as his tired-out men could march. To wait for French reinforcements meant to wait for British ones too, and the British would gain more by reinforcements than the French. The fleet was closing in. Boats crowded with marines and sailors were rowing to the Foulon, with tools and guns for a siege. Already a naval brigade was on the beach.
Montcalm gave the signal, the eight battalions stepped off, reached the crest of the hill, and came in sight of their opponents. Wolfe's front was of six battalions two-deep, about equal in numbers to Montcalm's eight battalions six-deep. The redcoats marched forward a hundred paces and halted. The two fronts were now a quarter of a mile apart. Wolfe's front represented the half of his army. Some of the other half were curved back to protect the flanks against the other half of Montcalm's; and some were in reserve, ready for Bougainville.
Montcalm rode along his little line for the last time. There stood the heroes of his four great victories—Oswego, Fort William Henry, Ticonderoga, Montmorency. He knew that at least half of them would follow wherever he led. The three Canadian battalions on his right and left might not close with an enemy who had bayonets and knew how to use them, when they themselves had none. The Languedoc battalion of Frenchmen was also a little shaky, because it had been obliged to take most of the bad recruits sent out to replace the tried soldiers captured by the British fleet in 1755. But the remainder were true as steel.
'Don't you want a little rest before you begin?' asked Montcalm, as he passed the veteran Royal Roussillon. 'No, no; we're never tired before a battle!' the men shouted back. And so he rode along, stopping to say a word to each battalion on the way. He had put on his full uniform that morning, thinking a battle might be fought. He wore the green, gold-embroidered coat he had worn at court when he presented his son to the king and took leave of France for ever. It was open in front, showing his polished cuirass. The Grand Cross of St Louis glittered on his breast, over as brave a heart as any of the Montcalms had shown during centuries in the presence of the foe. From head to foot he looked the hero that he was; and he sat his jet-black charger as if the horse and man were one.
He reined up beside the Languedoc battalion, hoping to steady it by leading it in person. As he did so he saw that the Canadians and Indians were pressing Wolfe's flanks more closely from under cover and that there was some confusion in the thin red line itself, where its skirmishers, having been called in, were trying to find their places in too much of a hurry. This was his only chance. Up went his sword, and the advance began, the eight six-deep battalions stepping off together at the slow march, with shouldered arms. 'Long live the King and Montcalm!' they shouted, as they had shouted at Ticonderoga; and the ensigns waved the fleurs-de-lis aloft.
Half the distance was covered in good formation. But when the three battalions of Canadian regulars came within musket-shot they suddenly began to fire without orders, and then dropped down flat to reload. This threw out the line; and there was more wavering when the French saw that the Canadians, far from regaining their places, were running off to the flanks to join the militia and Indians under cover. Montcalm was now left with only his five French battalions—five short, thick lines, four white and one blue, against Wolfe's long, six-jointed, thin red line. He halted a moment, to steady the men, and advanced again in the way that regulars at that time fought each other on flat and open battlefields: a short march of fifty paces or so, in slow time, a halt to fire, another advance and another halt to fire, until the foes came to close quarters, when a bayonet charge gave the victory to whichever side had kept its formation the better.
A single British gun was firing grape-shot straight into the French left and cutting down a great many men. But the thin red line itself was silent; silent as the grave and steadfast as a wall. Presently the substitutes in the Languedoc battalion could not endure the strain any longer. They fired without orders and could not be stopped. At the same time Montcalm saw that his five little bodies of men were drifting apart. When the Canadian regulars had moved off, they had left the French flanks quite open. In consequence, the French battalions nearest the flanks kept edging outwards, the ones on the right towards their own right and the ones on the left towards their own left, to prevent themselves from being overlapped by the long red line of fire and steel when the two fronts closed. But this drift outwards, while not enough to reach Wolfe's flanks, was quite enough to make a fatal gap in Montcalm's centre. Thus the British, at the final moment, took the French on both the outer and both the inner flanks as well as straight in front.
The separating distance was growing less and less. A hundred paces now! Would that grim line of redcoats never fire? Seventy-five!!—Fifty!!—Forty!!!—the glint of a sword-blade on the British right!—the word of command to their grenadiers!—'Ready!—Present!—Fire!!!' Like six single shots from as many cannon the British volleys crashed forth, from right to left, battalion by battalion, all down that thin red line.
The stricken front rank of the French fell before these double-shotted volleys almost to a man. When the smoke cleared off the British had come nearer still. They had closed up twenty paces to their front, reloading as they came. And now, taking the six-deep French in front and flanks, they fired as fast as they could, but steadily and under perfect control. The French, on the other hand, were firing wildly, and simply crumbling away before that well-aimed storm of lead. The four white lines melted into shapeless masses. They rocked and reeled like sinking vessels. In a vain, last effort to lead them on, their officers faced death and found it. All three brigadiers and two of the colonels went down. Montcalm was the only one of four French generals still on horseback; and he was wounded while trying to keep the Languedoc men in action.
Suddenly, on the right, the Sarre and Languedoc battalions turned and ran. A moment more, and Bearn and Guienne, in the centre, had followed them. The wounded Montcalm rode alone among the mad rush of panic-stricken fugitives. But over towards the St Lawrence cliffs he saw the blue line of the Royal Roussillon still fighting desperately against the overlapping redcoats. He galloped up to them. But, even as he arrived, the whole mass swayed, turned, and broke in wild confusion. Only three officers remained. Half the battalion was killed or wounded. Nothing could stay its flight.
On the top of the crest of ground, where he had formed his line of attack only a few minutes before, Montcalm was trying to rally some men to keep back the pursuing British when he was hit again, and this time he received a mortal wound. He reeled in the saddle, and would have fallen had not two faithful grenadiers sprung to his side and held him up. His splendid black charger seemed to know what was the matter with his master, and walked on gently at a foot's pace down the Grande Allee and into Quebec by the St Louis Gate. Pursuers and pursued were now racing for the valley of the St Charles, and Quebec itself was, for the moment, safe.
Never was there a greater rout than on the Plains of Abraham at ten o'clock that morning. The French and Canadians ran for the bridge of boats, their only safety. But they came very close to being cut off both in front and rear. Vaudreuil had poked his nose out of one of the gates of Quebec when the flight began. He then galloped down to the bridge, telling the Canadians on the Cote d'Abraham, which was the road from the Plains to the St Charles, to make a stand there. Having got safely over the bridge himself, he was actually having it cut adrift, when some officers rushed up and stopped this crowning act of shame. This saved the fugitives in front of the broken army.
Meanwhile the flying troops were being saved in the rear by the Canadians at the Cote d'Abraham under a French officer called Dumas. These Canadians had not done much in the battle, for various reasons: one was that the fighting was in the open, a mode of warfare in which they had not been trained; the British, moreover, used bayonets, of which the Canadians themselves had none. But in the bush along the crest of the cliffs overlooking the valley they fought splendidly. After holding back the pursuit for twenty minutes, and losing a quarter of their numbers, they gave way. Then a few of them made a second stand at a mill and bakery in the valley itself, and were killed or wounded to a man.
Montcalm heard the outburst of firing at the Cote d'Abraham. But he knew that all was over now, that Canada was lost, and with it all he had fought for so nobly, so wisely, and so well. As he rode through St Louis Gate, with the two grenadiers holding him up in his saddle, a terrified woman shrieked out: 'Oh! look at the marquis, he's killed, he's killed!' 'It is nothing at all, my kind friend,' answered Montcalm, trying to sit up straight, 'you must not be so much alarmed!' Five minutes later the doctor told him he had only a few hours to live. 'So much the better,' he replied; 'I shall not see the surrender of Quebec.'
On hearing that he had such a short time before him his first thought was to leave no possible duty undone. He told the commandant of Quebec that he had no advice to give about the surrender. He told Vaudreuil's messenger that there were only three courses for the army to follow: to fight again, surrender, or retreat towards Montreal; and that he would advise a retreat. He dictated a letter to the British commander. It was written by his devoted secretary, Marcel, and delivered to Wolfe's successor, Townshend:
'Sir, being obliged to surrender Quebec to your arms I have the honour to recommend our sick and wounded to Your Excellency's kindness, and to ask you to carry out the exchange of prisoners, as agreed upon between His Most Christian Majesty and His Britannic Majesty. I beg Your Excellency to rest assured of the high esteem and great respect with which I have the honour to be your most humble and obedient servant,
And then, his public duty over, he sent a message to each member of his family at Candiac, including 'poor Mirete,' for not a word had come from France since the British fleet had sealed up the St Lawrence, and he did not yet know which of his daughters had died.
Having remembered his family he gave the rest of his thoughts to his God and to that other world he was so soon to enter. All night long his lips were seen to move in prayer. And, just as the dreary dawn was breaking; he breathed his last.
'War is the grave of the Montcalms.'
Montcalm is, of course, a very prominent character in every history of New France. Parkman ('Montcalm and Wolfe') tried to be just, but the facts were not all before him when he wrote. The Abbe Casgrain ('Guerre du Canada, 1756-1760: Montcalm et Levis') was unfortunately too prejudiced in favour of Vaudreuil and Levis to be just, much less generous, towards Montcalm; but the Honourable Thomas Chapais's work ('Le Marquis de Montcalm, 1712-1759') based on much more nearly complete materials, does honour both to Montcalm and to French-Canadian scholarship. Captain Sautai's monograph on Ticonderoga ('Montcalm au Combat de Carillon') is the best military study yet published. An elaborate bibliography of works connected with Montcalm's Quebec campaign is to be found in volume vi of Doughty's 'Siege of Quebec'. The present work seems to be the only life of Montcalm written by an English-speaking author with access to all the original data, naval as well as military.
See also in this Series: 'The Winning of Canada'; 'The Great Fortress'; 'The Acadian Exiles'.